Fact 1- Volunteering is good for you. It has only positive outcomes for all involved, for the giver and for the receiver. Barack Obama famously said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” And I agree. It feels great to give up your time and energy to a worthwhile cause, to do something positive because you can.
Fact 2 -. It has been proven that getting out into nature and wrapping yourself up in what Mother Nature has to offer can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses. So, in effect volunteering for the RSPB has a double-whammy effect of feelgoodness (yes, I made that word up!)...twice the benefits you might say.
When I began my foray into volunteering just last year little did I know just how life-changing it would be. Not life-changing in a physical or geographical sense, but moreover a spiritual sense. It quite literally lifts my soul. I love being at Tollie. I love the tranquillity of the place, the fact that at only 5 miles from my door it feels like another world, that each visit is unique, the sheer variety of bird species and of visitors, and of course I love the kites.
Tollie building - by Brad Chappell
Volunteers at Tollie are on a rota to come along and feed the kites each day, stay for a while and talk/inform any visitors about the centre and about kites in general. I tend to be mostly available at weekends, so it is usually a quiet weekend morning that I pack my Tollie things into the car and anticipate the day ahead. Sometimes I’ll go for a run before-hand, down the Dingwall canal and along the river Conon to observe the wildlife as I’m jogging (slowly) past – indeed there’s no better excuse to stop for a breather than to watch an osprey fishing for his breakfast! Driving up to Tollie after lunch gives me the opportunity to see if there are any kites hanging around the centre, waiting patiently for their own lunch. Eager eyes tend to spot me emerging from the car in my RSPB fleece and badge. Not the birds, but visitors who have come to hopefully observe the spectacle of the kites feeding, and who are hovering in the car park watching the skies and the woods with their binoculars and state-of-the-art telescopic cameras.
After greeting any visitors I walk down to the table to put out -and in effect display- the meat for the birds from my bucket, subconsciously noting whether I can hear or see any kites watching me, or whether I ‘just know’ that they are around! Sometimes a kite will circle low over me as I’m at the table, which is always a thrill. After quickly retreating into the sanctuary of the centre it’s then time to wait – sometimes not for long!- and chat some more to the visitors.
First more often than not you’ll see a crow fly over and recce the table. Then a crow will land on the fence next to the table. Then, when the kites can’t resist any longer they come! It’s a wonderful moment when I just know the kites are coming and the visitor’s eyes light up with glee, cameras raised to take the shot, binoculars poised. It’s a scene I’ve seen again and again, but it never fails to fill me with the wonder of nature. The sheer elegance and manoeuvrability of the kites just blows me away, they’re a real contradiction of grace and greed, beautiful ballerina pirates. They fly over the table, check and dive, swooping up at the last moment to grab some meat and twist away, bringing their feet up as they bank away to take a look and a nibble at what they managed to get. Buzzards often get involved, although they will land on the table to feed. Interactions between the two raptor species are minimal surprisingly, as they are neither a threat or prey to one-another, both are top of the food chain, and there’s plenty for everyone. After this frenetic frenzy of feeding the table is just about emptied and the crows chance it for some slim pickings and scraps on the ground, and the show is over, as quickly as it began. Visitors eye’s wide, their grins wide too.
Red kite and buzzard at the feeding table at Tollie - by John Brierley
After staying as long as is needed, and after filling up the feeders, filling in the days log and message book and checking the whiteboards I head off home. A little warm glow heats my chest as I drive down the road with my smelly empty bucket, and I know that I could never get that feeling from working behind a desk, or from meticulously cleaning the house every day.
It’s official, its proven. Fact 3 – Volunteering at Tollie is chicken soup for the soul.
For your own bowl of chicken soup you can check out volunteering opportunities on the RSPB website.
Last week the new satellite tracking page for our Red kites went live, of the birds we track by this method we are putting the details of six on the page, two birds from 2009 and four from 2011. On posting the data for Lewis one of the 2009 birds we noticed that he hadn’t moved for a few days so a colleague went to check out the site, expecting to pick up and injured bird, or worse. What he found was Lewis sitting on a nest, what we thought was a male bird was in fact female and even better she was on a nest that we knew nothing about. I’m not sure gender reassignment is an option for kites at the moment, so I guess we got it wrong.
Lewis, or should that be Louise.
You can follow the birds here. Few details of the nesting birds have been posted as we do not want to give the nest locations away.
As I said in my last blog we were looking for a name for the bird nesting near the visitor centre, and Tollie came out as the preferred choice so Tollie it is. Ringing and tagging of the kites starts soon, so as soon as I know any details of the nest I will let you know.
The newly named 'Tollie', thanks to Ronald for the photo.
Tragedy struck at Tollie last week when the Blue tit box was raided by woodpeckers, one of the chicks, close to fledging, did manage to escape and it was seen hiding in the undergrowth by the bug stack, it was found by the parents and was being fed so hopefully it did manage to get away. Metal plates have been ordered, too late for this year but hopefully they will save this happening in future years.
We have noticed a lot of Buzzards around at Tollie recently; it appears that some of the young birds from last year are back. Also, one of the older Buzzards has started to swoop at the table, kite like, instead of landing on it and eating its fill, perhaps it had been knocked off the table just once too often. When I first saw it happen the Buzzard was not that good, but after a few days of practice, it is now a lot better and even putting in a few fancy moves to thrill the visitors.
A Buzzard not quite getting it right, it is much better now, another one of Ronald's great photos.
For the last few years we have been putting satellite tags on to some of our kites and you have been able to follow their progress through the Eyes to the Skies website. That website is no longer being updated but we have our new site on the main RSPB website and of course the community page which you have already found as you are reading the blog. It is our intention to have a tracking page from the main website too. So the kites are flying around happily transmitting data from their backs up into space, the data is being beamed back down to Sat Tag HQ where it is sent to me via email, I process the data and then upload the relevant bits on to the website, now here is where the problem lies, we are still having a few issues with this webpage, so the data is failing at the last hurdle and not getting to your computers. We have the RSPB’s finest minds working on the problems and hope to get it resolved very soon, so watch this space.
Here we see Lewis being fitted with his tag.
On Friday 27th April we held the official opening for Tollie, RSPB members of staff, volunteers and representative from the Brahan estate and the other agencies involved in the project were there to see guest of honour Dave Thompson MSP cut the ribbon. After all the time we have fed venison to the kites, it was only right that we got the BBQ out and cooked a few venison burgers for the guests, this was accompanied by Red Kite beer so a good time was had by all. I was interviewed by BBC Alba for the evening news, sadly I was left on the cutting room floor, so my bid to be the next Springwatch presenter as taken a bit of a hit.
Sarah Walker, RSPB Volunteer and cake baker with Dave Thompson MSP
Of the Kites themselves, we have two birds that are currently nesting, Professor Feather is in the same area are last year with an Aberdeen male, we also have Lewis who looks to be nesting in the Munlochy area. We also have two of the 2011 birds around our reserve at Loch Ruthven whilst the rest of the tagged birds are still around the Black Isle area. We are also seeing what looks to be nesting activity around the visitor centre, so we are just waiting to confirm this, it would be great to see this develop through the season.
We are now getting regular sightings of the Osprey over Tollie along with lots of other migrants, Chiff-Chaff and Willow Warblers are very vocal up there at the moment, Swallows have been sighted, just waiting for the Swifts and Whitethroat to put in an appearance. The last time I looked the year list at Tollie was sitting at around 64, so still some way to go to get the 100, but getting there.
It has been a while since my last blog and much has happened at Tollie and the Red kite population since then. Sadly, there was the loss of Red T, one of the last of the Swedish birds brought over in 1993 to RAF Kinloss. It was even reported by STV.
I was serving in the Photographic Section at RAF Kinloss in the late 80’s when the first of the kites were brought in. I remember going out to meet the aircraft as there was quite a bit of interest. Little did I know that 30 years later I would be so involved with their offspring.
Work has started on a bug stack in the grassy area adjacent to the visitor centre. At the moment it looks like a pile of pallets, but come the summer it is hoped that it will be teeming with all sorts of bugs and beasties. More work will be done on the stack and we hope to get a pond started in the future.
Should you want to do something similar in your own garden take a look at the Homes for Wildlife Community page. There are lots of great tips and ideas and you don’t all need a stack of pallets!
As you are probably aware we use satellite tags to track the kites as they make their way around the local area and on occasions further afield. Whilst this technology is normally associated with the likes of James Bond tracking the baddies round the world it has on this occasion shown that a tagged Red kite has visited Tollie for a feed. Here are the details of a few days in March which show the bird, wing tagged 9G at Tollie:
Here is another photo of 9G swooping to the table, this was taken on the 24 February, you can just make out the aerial of the sat tag on her back. Thanks must go to Ronald Mackinnon for this and many of the other great photos posted to the website.
9G, a female bird that fledged in 2011 from a nest in the Tain area, was found caught in a fence in August and spent some time in the SSPCA wildlife hospital near Dunfirmline. She was released in September, now fitted with the satellite tag. At the moment she can regularly be seen at Tollie.
Of all the other tagged birds we have, most are still in the area around Inverness, though a couple have ventured further afield and are down in Angus and we do have one at Loch Ruthven, so if you go over there to see the Slavonian grebes keep your eyes peeled for a kite or even two as we are now starting to see the birds pairing up.
On a recent visit to Tollie, I heard a young lad exclaim 'the Tardis! ' when he saw the new toilet that has just been installed. Whilst it does appear to be larger on the inside, we won’t be able to travel back in time to when our waistlines were smaller and our hairlines a little closer to our eyebrows.
The toilet is an evaporation unit and at the forefront of waterless toilet technology. Without going into to much detail, once everything has been dried out by the wind (hence the chimney on the unit) the remains can be composted.
Here we can see James from Woo Woo - and that is the name of the company, and not a planet in the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant of space - wielding his sonic screwdriver during the final stages of construction.
You can use the Woo Woo evaporating toilet for free. So now that there will be no more nipping into the woods to spend a penny, all those pennies can go into the donation stone!
Sorry it has been a while, again, since I last wrote anything, as always, I have good intentions but it is so easy to get sidetracked.
There are indications that the quiet time at Tollie is coming to an end, I was there on the 23rd Sep. and there was a lot of Buzzard activity with a few Crows in amongst them and of course this attracted at least three Kites, may have been more as some of them were untagged. Whilst there was no feeding seen while I was there, there were some good views of the birds. The Woodpeckers are still giving a good account of themselves and we are now getting a sizable flock of Goldfinch in to feed on the thistles in front of the visitors centre.
Improvements have been made to the Satellite tracking page and the birds can now be followed on Google Earth, click on the Google Earth link below the map on this page and follow the instructions.
You will see we have added four new birds for 2012, Millie, Merida, Ruaridh and Wyvis, this bird should not be confused with the 2011 with the same name that sadly died earlier this year, the name has been used again as it is the Wyvis Primary School in Conon Bridge that helped us to secure the tags for this year. Merida has been named after the lead character in the Disney film Brave, RSPB see here for more details. Millie is named after the scientific name for the Red kite, Milvus milvus and Ruaridh, the only male, is Gaelic for Red King. Sadly, no photos were taken of the birds when they were tagged but they all have blue, left wing, and red, right wing, tags with the follow codes:
Millie - 1VMerida - 2VRuaridh - 5VWyvis - 6V
So the challenge to any photographers out there is to send in photos of these birds, two have been to Tollie and as you can see from the tracking page all four of them are quite active at the moment.
The two tagged birds that bred this year, Lewis, on the Black Isle fledged one chick, who apparently was quite feisty when being tagged. Professor Feathers, in Angus, fledged three chicks and as far as we can tell all are doing well.
Other developments up at Tollie, we have had a wasps nest under the feeding table which made feeding quite lively, this was successfully moved to a more suitable site in the woods. We have also had a bumble bee nest in a gap between two of the logs that line the edge of the car park. Slow worms have also been spotted along with toads under the two panels we put out to attract such things. Some photos of other things that have been spotted in and around Tollie.
Four Spotted Chaser
Black Darter (Immature)
Silver-ground Carpet Moth
Speckled Wood Butterfly
Thanks to Liz for the photos, lets hope we get more like this and more of the kites.
Finally, now that we are starting to see the winter migrants we may be able to advance the Tollie bird list closer to the 100 target, it has been stalled in the mid 60s for a while now.