Ailsa Craig is a tiny island in the Firth of Clyde, off the West coast of Scotland, famous for its granite being used to make 60-70% of the world’s curling stones. However, as workers for the RSPB we were going there for the 73,000 breeding seabirds, including the UK’s third largest gannetry!
After a slightly rocky crossing from Girvan, we set up camp and re-fuelled with a round of tea (an integral part of doing conservation work I’ve found). Several of us then went off to start checking the rat bait stations. The importance of the monitoring the island for the presence of rats is that they heavily affect the breeding puffins, which are especially vulnerable as they nest in underground burrows. As well as checking the ground for threats to seabirds, we also did counts of the many gull nest sites around the island, providing us with a few views of young fluffy chicks amongst the eggs!
During our second day, we conducted onshore and offshore seabird counts of gulls, kittiwakes, puffins, shags, razorbills, oystercatchers, guillemots and black guillemots. All the while with several grey seals following us as we walked around the bottom of the cliffs, but of course whenever a camera lens appeared they would dive back down underwater. After a day of bird counts and walking up to the top of Ailsa, where we only ended up seeing a lovely view of the inside of the cloud and a few gulls that were close enough, we spotted a small pod of harbour porpoises milling just offshore!
One other bird that we had to try to find was the Manx shearwater. When we were sat gathered around our driftwood bonfire and the light had finally faded, we started to hear the characteristic calls that could only be coming from a shearwater flying overhead. Unfortunately, though, we were not able to confirm that they were breeding in any of the many old rabbit burrows on the granite cliffs.
Our last day brought the best weather we could have hoped for, blue skies and flat calm sea, perfect for our round the island boat trip. Each of us had an assigned seabird species and was sat with binoculars and a clicker at the ready to count the island totals, with hats on and hoods up in preparation for the threat of aerial attack from the masses of gannets we were about to encounter! Luckily, as this was my first big seabird count, I did not have one of the more abundant species; instead, I got to focus on one of my favourite seabirds, the puffins! After we had circled the island once to complete our counts, we went around again giving us a chance to focus on the whole view of the island and not just that of one species through binoculars. At the end of a long couple of days we set off back to the mainland. After a final appearance of a harbour porpoise behind the boat we made it back to civilisation and headed straight to the nearest chip shop.
when you walk around mersehead you might see this shy bird hiding in the hedgerow or feeding at the visitor centre. Tree sparrow is smaller than house sparrow and has a chestnut brown head and back of the neck where as a house sparrow has a grey cap. The most obvious feature which helps to identify tree from house sparrow is its two black cheek spots. Tree sparrows are usually found in small colonies on farmland and rural areas with mature trees with holes in which to nest. They need insects to feed young in the spring and water bodies for foraging.
Photo by Steve Knell (rspb-images.com)
The BTO Atlas indicates that the tree sparrow population has shown some localised increases in northeast England and northeast Scotland but the population remains significantly lower than before its severe decline in the 1970’s. As a farmland bird tree sparrow require habitat which provides insect food for their chicks and seed food in the winter.
At Mersehead and at other key areas in Dumfries and Galloway , we are working within our reserves and local farmers to provide a home for these birds by providing nest boxes and creating new areas of habitat. Around mersehead the warden has gone out and placed over 50 new nest boxes to help these birds and this year we have had a breeding pair of tree sparrows with two fledged young.
Photo by Kirsty Griffiths
If you see any of these birds we would like to know please contact Julia Gallagher on 01556 670478 or email email@example.com
Well at Mersehead it has been sunny and all the birds have been singing. As you walk around the reserve it is full of bird song, you can hear the sedge warbler in the reeds, the chiffchaff and whitethroat in the woods and the swallows darting around catching flies. During the day the birds rule the reserve but at night there are other creatures that lurk around which include the Natterjack which have been croaking away and the deer barking in the mist. With all the mammals and birds around the site you would forget to look on the flowers to see what insects around. There have been small copper, orange tip and peacock butterflies.
With all the sunshine it has help the young bird fledged and outside the visitor centre we have seen young tree sparrow, yellowhammer, greenfinch, house sparrow,dunnock and mallard..
Below are the recent sightings from Mersehead
Meida Hide- little grebe, mute swan, canada goose, great spotted woodpecker, mallard, hen harrier, shoveler, willow warbler, gadwall, kingfisher, heron and moorhen
Bruaich Hide- long tailed tit, spotted flycatcher, wigeon, sedge warbler, heron, reed bunting, jackdaw and whitethroat
Visitor Centre- tree sparrow, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, yellowhammer, lapwing, blackbird, swallow, magpie, dunnock, house sparrow, wren and redpoll
Trails- skylark, tree pipit, ringed plover, linnet, sedge warbler, cuckoo, barn owl, oystercatcher, meadow pipit, chiffchaff and reed bunting
Other animals- otter, stoat, hare, small copper butterfly, orange-tip butterfly, peacock butterfly and fox