Last week I achieved my first sunburning of the year and saw my first swallows of the year - two great spring landmarks. The swallows were first seen at the Mull this year on Friday the 13th April. It's good to see them back. Last year I held one for the first time, when it flew into the office, and I got the opportunity to have a close look - beautiful, sleek birds, full of energy and purpose. Speaking of birds inside buildings, we had a goldcrest flying about inside the visitor centre a few weeks ago as well.
On the reserve, the wheatears are back, prancing about, singing and flicking those white 'rear-ends' of theirs. Meadow pipits are displaying - flying up in the air and then dropping to the ground. The peregrine pair have been seen quite often out and about together, the male displaying his aerial stoops. We've had a few inter-species duels in the last week, with a raven seeing off a buzzard in the skies above the visitor centre, a greater black-backed gull pecking at a seal each time it surfaced, and then making off with it's fish just off the foghorn, and even a wheatear having a bit of a go at a stonechat for no apparent reason. Play nicely animals.
The spring squill is just starting to blanket the tops of the cliffs, and thrift, sea campion and dog violets are springing up like jewels all over the place. We have about four shag nests that we are keeping a close eye on on the visitor centre cameras - we are expecting them to hatch any day now. Guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes are around in large numbers, coming and going from the cliffs, and a pair of fulmars are sitting directly below one of our cameras in a perfect nest spot. Last year they didn't lay any eggs, so they are probably immature - they don't breed until they are about 9 years old. We are really hoping they'll nest and raise young this year. We even had a chough visit early in the spring, probably one from the Isle of Man prospecting for nest sites. It didn't stay long, so I can only assume it wasn't too impressed. Still, it's a good sign, and hopefully in the next few years a pair might visit and actually decide to stay.
Off the reserve, I've been hide guiding a couple of times at the new bird hide at Castle Kennedy Gardens. Last time I was there I counted 16 species of birds, including a mallard with 16 ducklings! That's my record of ducklings seen I think, if anyone's seen more than that in one family, let me know. Also there are great crested grebes, tufted ducks, teal, shelduck, cormorants and greylag geese amongst other beauties. I'l be down there a couple of times a month for the whole season this year, so if anyone wants a bit of help in identifying water birds come along. I'm next there on the 16th and 25th May, and check out their website for further dates - http://www.castlekennedygardens.co.uk.