We’ve had quite an exciting time this month as the days start to become longer and the nights brighter. March kick-started with our first kingfisher sighting of the year on 1 March on Dubbs Water Trail! Always a lovely one to look out for!
Kingfisher by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Our drake smew has been delighting visitors daily throughout March. The latest recorded smew at the reserve is 28 April, so chances are he won’t stay here for too much longer.
We have been getting excellent views of great crested grebes displaying on the Aird Meadow Loch this month. The highlight being two pairs ‘dancing’ on 30 March and eight on the Barr Loch on 26 March. Their elaborate display consists of them shaking their heads at each other and carrying reeds in their bill.
Great crested grebe by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
We are keen to watch out for the summer migrants arriving and the first of these was a sand martin on 15 March. Since then numbers have been increasing with the biggest count so far being 220+ at Castle Semple Loch on the evening of 31 March. To add to that, our first swallow of the year arrived on 30 March near the Barr Loch and then later over the Aird Meadow. These hirundines cover around 200 miles a day when flying to and from South Africa where they spend the winter. They are extremely agile in flight and can reach speeds of up to 35 mph. As we move into April the numbers of these will increase and we should start to see some other migrants like house martins and swifts in the coming months.
Sand martin by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Beautiful siskins have been busy at our feeders in front of the visitor centre with up to 10 at a time. Other sightings at the feeders have been reed buntings, goldfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, robins, house sparrows, one brambling on 8 March and two bullfinches on 13 March.
Bullfinch by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
We have also had a variety of birds of prey sightings in March; including a hen harrier interacting with a merlin at Barr loch on 1 March, a peregrine over the Aird Meadow on 16 March, a kestrel displaying over the Aird Meadow on 23 March and quite regular views of a sparrowhawk and up to 3 buzzards on 21 March.
The quite common, but secretive water rail has made a couple of appearances this month, on 14 March flying over our new channel and on the 21 March at Dubbs Water Trail. These birds are more often heard than seen with their ‘pig-like’ squealing so it is quite a treat to get a glimpse of them.
Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
As well as the exciting wildlife sightings we have had the digger back at the reserve to tweak the habitat work on the Aird Meadow. We have smoothed out the edges of the channel and created a small island. We’re hopeful that the changes will attract different wildlife closer to the visitor centre and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens over the next few months. There have already been oystercatchers, black headed gulls and pied wagtails showing a lot of interest in the muddy banks. Other waders include 15 curlew on our pond in the Aird Meadow on 15 March and up to 30 snipe on 10 March.
Oystercatcher by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
At the end of the month a sure highlight for us has been an immature, male long-tailed duck on the Aird Meadow Loch on 30 March. These neat, sea ducks are winter migrants and are normally found in northern Scotland so it’s quite an unusual sighting for us! The last record of a long-tailed duck at the reserve was in November 2008 so it’s certainly a special one.
Long-tailed duck by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Our species list for the year finished on 88 for March so we are all looking forward to seeing what surprises spring brings.
Happy wildlife watching!
It is certainly starting to feel a bit more like spring these past few days as we leave behind an extremely damp and grey February. The snow drops along the trails and around the visitor centre are gorgeous, and brighten up some of the darker corners on a dull day.
Our wildfowl population has begun to shift into more spring-like behaviour, with goldeneye starting to display on the loch, throwing their heads back and forwards to attract a mate; they won’t actually breed here, but will head further north in April. We’ve had around 120 individuals roost on Castle Semple Loch on 3 February.
Goldeneye by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
The great crested grebes are also getting in the mood and coming into their full breeding plumage. At the end of the month a pair on the Aird Meadow Loch were doing some head bobbing and will be thinking about shifting into full display mode soon.
We’ve had excellent views of goosander from the visitor centre, as one or two have been using our new channels and flooded pond; there were up to 44 on the Barr Loch on 11 February. Lapwing have also been making use of our flooded pond, in the Aird Meadow, treating us to excellent views of up to 50 landing on the islands of the pond, and flocks of 100+ flying overhead. Other regular sightings have been whooper swans (up to 36 on pond in Aird Meadow), wigeon (up to 87 on Barr Loch), teal (up to 250 on Barr Loch), reed buntings (up to seven at visitor centre), tufted duck (up to 75), four separate kestrel sightings on 3, 11, 16 and 24 February, as well as regular views of sparrowhawks and buzzards.
Wigeon by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
The feeders continue to be a hive of activity with continual visits from chaffinches, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, coal tits, blackbirds, robins and great spotted woodpeckers.
Long-tailed tit by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
For the more unusual sightings and the few and far between we had two gadwall on 8 February, four pintail on 16 February, three separate water rail sightings on 1, 16, and 20 February; a skylark on 24 February, a curlew on 23 February, a dipper on 11 and 12 February; and a hen harrier on 3, 13, and 16 February.
Pintail by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Our species list for the year has been ticking upward steadily as we move into March. The total now stands at 82, with new additions in February being a Mediterranean Gull and of course a highlight for all of us, the return of the drake smew! He arrived on 21 February, which amazingly, is the same date as last year. It is a few people’s opinion that it may well be the same bird and I personally think that it is. What a delightful duck! Since his arrival we have had daily sightings of him on the Aird Meadow Loch and on Barr Loch as well. I wonder if a female will join him this year?
Smew by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
We were lucky enough to have two sightings of a barn owl on the 10 and 27 February; this beautiful owl would be such a treat to see at the reserve, but unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure here yet.
Barn owl by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Other highlights at the reserve have been more otter sightings! The most exciting being two otters playing together on their usual spot on the western side of the Aird Meadow Loch on 28 February. From what we could see, we believe they could be an adult male and female, so here’s hoping some young might be visiting us in the not too distant future.
Here’s to more springtime sunshine, wildlife watching and less rain this month!
January at the reserve has been an example of sightings of regularly seen species mixed with a few unusual surprises. The most unusual has to be the kittiwake we had on 12 December on the Aird Meadow Loch. This marine gull must have been exhausted because of the terrible weather conditions at the time meaning it had to touch down and rest. Subsequently the bird was seen in a bad way over at Castle Semple where the ranger team contacted Hessilhead wildlife sanctuary who took the bird into care. Fingers crossed it makes a full recovery.
Sightings of Scaup continued during the first few weeks of the month both on Castle Semple and Aird Meadow Lochs proving that you often get out of bird watching what you put in, although I admit that from a distance it can be difficult sifting through the many tufted duck in the hope of catching a glimpse of something rather more unusual.
Requiring less effort in the way of straining one’s eyes have been the excellent and close views of great spotted woodpecker and sparrowhawk from the comfort of the visitor centre. There has been a male woodpecker consistently coming for fatty, high-energy treats in the tree stumps in front of the viewing window, and it has recently been joined in this habit by a treecreeper. All this action has played out under the watchful gaze of two separate sparrowhawks that have individually been ambushing small birds at the feeding station. One is clearly a male bird with a slate grey back and orange colouration to the breast, and a second all together browner bird which I think is a young male. Both equally beautiful and both equally deadly!
Kittiwake, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
Further afield on the reserve there have been a few noteworthy records such as a dipper seen on the River Calder on 23 January, one of my favourite birds. I have been re-inspired to get out there and seek this species once again due to the fantastic feature on these charismatic birds on BBC winter watch recently.
Sparrowhawk, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
Speaking of water-loving species, an otter was seen on the western corner of the reserve on 8 January. It is always great seeing otters in real life, but this sighting was made extra special as I was watching it whilst stood next to BBC Wildlife cameraman and filmmaker John Aitchison! He was judging a photography competition at the reserve and caused quite a stir among the wildlife enthusiasts!
Dipper, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
When you think of Lochwinnoch reserve in the wintertime, species of birds such as whooper swan and hen harrier come to mind, and indeed both these species have featured heavily in our January sightings. The whoopers have gradually increased in number throughout the month reaching a peak of 44 birds on the pond in front of the visitor centre on 22 January. This week we have had one particular bird which had a yellow leg ring reading “VXL”. Our records tell us that this bird was ringed at Martin Mere on 15 February 1996 and has been seen all over the country since then including several visits to Lochwinnoch. Amazing stuff!
Whooper swan, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
We believe the hen harrier seen throughout the month was a female bird which had previously been in the care of the team at Hessilhead wildlife sanctuary in Beith. It spent several days wowing visitors by flying incredibly close to the channel in front of the building but has not been sighted over the Aird Meadow since 21 January. Perhaps it has moved on.
My personal highlight of this month has to be the unbelievably close views we had of a red-breasted merganser in the closest corner of the pond in front of the centre on 25 January. The bird flew in, landed on the pond and dived under a few times before setting off and flying north over Castle Semple Loch. We presume this is the same bird sighted on Castle Semple Loch a few days previously; a male bird, and the first sighting at the reserve for a number of years.
Red-breasted merganser, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
We hope to welcome you to the reserve over the next few weeks so you can have a chance of seeing some of this wonderful wildlife.