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With over a hundred bird boxes on site, it’s always interesting to see the results of the annual survey and this time we have exciting news. Ten years ago there were no tree sparrows nesting at RSPB Loch Leven and this year we had 15 nest boxes being used by tree sparrows, a great result.
In the past we had been aware of tree sparrows nesting nearby at Levenmouth but there were no known records of them nesting on the reserve. So in 2008 the warden of the time made it his mission to make homes for this red listed species and together with volunteers built over fifty additional tree sparrow boxes.
Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
How did we encourage tree sparrows?
Wooden bird boxes have different sized entrance holes to the box encourage different sized species. A standard entrance hole is 32mm but for a tree sparrow you need a width of 28mm. Some birds, like woodpeckers, enlarge the hole to suit them so people sometimes include a metal plate in the design to prevent crafty alterations.
Positioning a nest box requires some thought. Never put them up facing south as they might over heat (hard as that is to imagine just now), a north or north-east aspect is much better. Think about potential predators, this normally means they should be at least 2m up. Giving your box a good clean after the nesting season (normally Oct to Jan is safe) is important and means you should make sure you can easily reach it. As tree sparrows like to nest in groups, the boxes were positioned in clusters around along the heritage trail, in the woodlands and close to the Gillman hide on the wetlands.
What to look out for
Most nesting takes place between April and June. Early in nesting season you can watch prospective parents checking out the boxes to see if it’s a good patch. After a while they may decide it meets the grade and begin entering with nesting materials. If you begin to see only one bird coming and going the female is probably on eggs. Soon after you may see both parents darting about with food which means there are probably young ones. Remember to leave well alone if you think there is any activity (it’s the law!).
Often it’s only when cleaning the box that you can tell it’s been used, different species have their own ways of using the nest so a bit of detective work is needed. Tree sparrows build a feathery cup then cover it over with a block of feathery down material.
Photo: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)
Help us to monitor nests at RSPB Loch Leven
Now a team of five brilliant volunteers (David G, Mark, Linda, David B and Alan) keep an eye on nest box activity and are always keen to hear reports of birds making use of the boxes. If you see any boxes in use when you are visiting, look out for the number and let us know either at the visitor centre or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you are lucky enough to get a photo any of the boxes in use, please send them in!
Put up your own nest box
If you would like to put up a nest box you grab one from our reserve shop or can make your own and from time to time we do building sessions at RSPB Loch Leven. Pop along to the visitor centre this Sunday 30 January from 1pm – 4pm as part of our Big Garden Birdwatch event and make a box to take home. Earlier in the day we’ll also have a bird ringing demonstration with the Tay ringing group (weather permitting) and will be offering hints and tips about spotting wildlife and giving nature a home in your garden. For more info on bird boxes, visit our advice page.
Posted by Alice O
I must say it’s been a refreshing start to 2016 at Loch Leven, with frosty mornings and trees bare the list of wildlife spotted is looking good.
Flocks of bullfinches, curlews, lapwings, goosanders and barnacle geese have been around all week. Today we’ve had over sixty cormorants and fifty coots swimming in the bay, a kingfisher spotted from the first hide along with a sparrowhawk and a kestrel sitting next to the bird feeders waiting for an unlucky small bird to drop in. Daily red squirrel sightings (or even two if you are lucky) next to the visitor centre have also been great fun. Don’t forget to let us know what you see around, it’s great to spread the word.
Our winter visiting white tailed sea eagle has been around regularly on St Serfs Island and this weekend was joined by another eagle, thought to be from the west coast reintroduction programme. Watch this space.
Coming up this month we have our first Nature Tots event where we'll be investigating footprints, Scott Paterson is running his highly recommended introduction to birdwatching course on Wed 20 (just a few spaces left) and we'll be nest box building and bird ringing with BTO as part of the Big Garden Birdwatch on Satursday 30 Jan. See our events listings for more details.
If you are interested in helping out during this year’s breeding season at Loch Leven we’ll soon be advertising for a volunteer lapwing assistant to help monitor nests, get in touch for more information. We are also offering an outdoor learning internship position, for details visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/volunteering/details.aspx?id=7754
Here’s to a great 2016!
December is a brilliant time for birds on the wetland and there have been some unusual and exciting visitors recently. Two short eared owls were the first excitement of the week. Kingfishers, a female smew (known as a redhead), a green-winged teal, a stonechat, peregrines, goosanders and thousands of pink footed geese about continue to keep things interesting.
Now the leaves have fallen it's also a lovely time to appreciate the great visibility in the woodlands with red squirrels visiting the centre daily, robins and great spotted wood pecker tapping high above.
Freshly baked cakes, hot chocolate and soup wait for you in the cosy visitor centre. With the sale now on in the shop you can find great value special gifts and last minute stocking fillers, but without the rush of the busy high street or the need to brave the traffic.
For anyone interested in getting into environmental education we have a new internship opportunity with the learning team. For more info visit http://bit.ly/1Pac3Wh
If you plan on visiting on visiting over the festive season the visitor centre is open every from 10-4pm and cafe till 3pm, closing only on 25-26 Dec and 1-2 Jan. During the week between Christmas and New Year the centre shuts an hour earlier.
Photo credits: Short-eared owl - Lip Kee (Creative commons), Red Squirrel - Allan Brown (Loch Leven)
The Eagles are back!
The short cold snap this weekend saw the return of White-tailed Eagles to Loch Leven, making it the 3rd year running that the birds have shown up in November; checking back, previous dates were the 28th November in 2013, and the 30th November in 2014. A single bird with a turquoise tag was seen on Reed Bower on the 21st, and was joined on the 22nd by a second bird spotted on St Serfs. These are likely to be female Turquoise H (2009 release bird) and her new mate, which is a west coast bird.
For those interested in obtaining further information on the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction program, Rhian Evans, RSPB East Scotland Sea Eagle Officer, is giving a talk at RSPB Loch Leven on the 3rd of December. There are still a few places left, so book now.
Other highlights last week included Short-eared Owl, with two being spotted on the 14th and 21st, and one on the 15th and 20th. Flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings have been decimating the large crops of Rowan berries along the verge across from the visitor centre, with one flock of 144 (or a gross for older readers) reported on the 15th in the Bumble Bee Meadow. There have been a few Hen Harrier sightings, with a male seen on the 20th and a female bird on the 19th and 22nd.On the goose front, a count on the 16th recorded 11,260 Pink-footed Geese and 527 Greylag Geese. A flock of 161 Whooper Swans visited the Carden Flood on the 21st.
Regular visitors to the reserve may have noticed that the signs have had a "freshen up", thanks to the reserve volunteers. To quote our Visitor Experience Officer, Alice, "you aint seen nothing yet" (I'm not sure whether she is actually a secret Bachman Turner Overdrive fan or not). Anyway, watch out for further developments.
Posted by Ken Brown
Despite being the "quiet" time for birds, in late June into early July, a situation not helped by the poor weather we've just had, its been an interesting time around the reserve recently.
A pair of Garganey have been skulking around the Carden Flood since the 13th of the month. An elegant little duck in breeding plumage, as can be seen below
Male and female Garganey - Roger Wilmshurst (rspb-images.com)
Unfortunately, they have now entered moult and are a bit more nondescript.
There was an Osprey present over the wetland on the 21st (with 4 being seen from Kirkgate above the loch on the evening of the 20th)
A Temminck's Stint appeared on the Carden Flood on the 23rd, and was seen again on the 24th.
Temminck's Stint (Photo - Arend Wassink)
To cap that, today (24th) there was a female Smew (Redhead) on the Flood. A real surprise, this, since it should be on its breeding ground in northern Europe at this time of year.
Female Smew (Photo - Dick Daniels)
And there's still half the week to go.
If there's one species that marks April on the reserve, it's the Lapwing. Mating, nesting, displaying, calling; they seem to be everywhere, though by far the best place to see them is from the Waterston Hide. This year is already looking good, with 13 nests identified so far, 9 up on the same time last year.
Another prominent group just now are the Black-headed Gulls. These birds are hard to miss, especially at the Carden hide, where the din they make tends to drown out the Skylarks. This small colony has continued to increase in size over the last three years.
Just recently arrived, for the third year running, is Little-ringed Plover. So far there is only one bird, first spotted on Tuesday the 7th, and it's been seen at the back margin of the Carden Flood for the past three days now.
Pairs of Pintail and Shelduck have been pretty constant visitors on the Carden Flood, and the Redshank are beginning to venture out around the margins. Earlier this week, I watched a male Wheatear in bright spring plumage on the fence over by Kirkhills
Up at the Visitors Centre, most of the the infrastructure work to spruce up the east side is now finished. It does look a bit bare , but the plan is now to plant with a selection of native flowers and shrubs.
The Chiffchaff are back, and can be heard singing around the Centre, competing with the ever-present call of the Great Tit
The Pink-footed Geese are leaving us now, as they move north, though there is still a chance to see the occasional flock on passage.
This week saw the return of the White-tailed Eagles, spotted on Reed Bower last Sunday, together with colder more wintery conditions.
The frozen pools meant fewer birds around on the wetland area, however Vane Bay remained unfrozen.
On the 26th, two female and three male Scaup were in the bay.
A female Smew has been a persistent visitor over the past few weeks, but was joined on Friday (30th) by a male. Several pairs of Pintails have also been present.
A Merlin was seen over the wetland, also on the 30th.
Those hardy souls making the trek to the Carden hide, despite the weather, will hopefully be impressed by the new benches just installed. We hope to replace the benches in the Waterston hide shortly, also.
Access to the Gilman and Waterston hides will be disrupted for short period this month, as some of the windows are replaced.
In addition, work starts on Monday at the east end of the centre beside the ramp, as the area is being remodelled, so some disruption will occur here also.
Whilst it may seem quiet, a fair bit of work is happening out on the reserve also. More vegetation is being cut to increase the areas of suitable Lapwing nesting habitat, and as Lapwings like bare earth, some areas will be de-turfed.
The Bumblebee meadow is looking a bit wet, so the drainage is to be improved.
As I sit here with the rain bucketing down outside, I'm thinking that it was only three weeks ago, I was in the Waterston hide with the door and windows open, a balmy 19°C in the bright sunshine, listening to Skylarks singing away, whilst watching Meadow Pipets, Pied Wagtails, Linnets and a family of Stonechats.
It's been a quiet time on the reserve over the last few weeks. Despite the strong westerlies, bringing the usual heavy rain, unfortunately no mega-rarities showed up. The water levels in the scrapes and the loch have risen a fair bit, which has had the effect of moving some of the wildfowl away.
There's been a female Smew hanging around the bay, off and on, since the 22nd October, amongst the Goosanders and Pochards. Amongst the swans in the bay on the 31st October, a Whooper Swan with a yellow leg ring, and a Mute Swan with a green ring were spotted by Jeremy from SNH. A Jack Snipe was seen from the Gilman hide in the west lagoon, as well as a pair of Snipe at the back of the Carden flood on the 2nd November. A male and a female Pintail were on the Carden flood today (6th).
The familiar 'wink wink' call of the pink-footed goose is with us once again - autumn is well and truly here. Large flocks of geese are moving around Loch Leven and the surrounding fields regularly providing wonderful spectacles throughout the day.
The first NNR goose count took place on Friday morning and, despite the iffy weather, the 5 people stationed around the loch counted a total of 8799 pinkies - slightly up on the same week in 2013. Greylag numbers were down by a couple of hundred, with 481 recorded in the gloom.
The geese have been very visible and very vocal in the last week and we're expecting more geese to be passing through. The 2013 peak was mid-October and peaked at just over 23,000, so we're all very excited to see what turns up this year. The next count is scheduled for the weekend of the 18th, so we'll update you with the results.
Other recent sightings have included the American wigeon, it's been about week since it's been spotted, but it's worth keeping an eye out on the loch amongst the gathering wildfowl. Flocks of lapwing and curlew continue to be seen on the loch shore and surrounding stubble fields, while a flock of around 70 linnet is moving around the reserve feeding in the disturbed areas. A small number of whooper swans have arrived, with a handful seen in Vane Bay last week, the numbers will continue to build in the coming weeks as they arrive from Iceland.
A little closer to the visitor centre, and right outside my window, 2 grey wagtails have been hanging out by the teaching pond. They've been skulking on the edge, dipping down onto the surface to feed and enjoying the easy pickings.
Posted by Vicky Turnbull
Grid reference: NT1699 (+2km)
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