In our final blog celebrating Volunteers’ Week Colin Miller looks back at his time as an intern at our Central Highland Reserves and fills us in on some of the work he was involved with.

My time as a Central Highland Reserves intern

Wading around the shallower section of Loch Ruthven (full loch survey). Image by Isabel Morgan.

While working as an intern, I was lucky to work on one of the best sites for Slavonian grebe at Loch Ruthven. In both mid and late May, I assisted in two full loch surveys, ultimately in search of grebe, which both turned out to be excellent experience. The survey involved navigating various tricky obstacles – from the initial plunge in to freezing thigh-deep murky water, to walking amongst the reeds and sedge beds, flushing grebes and other waterbirds as you go. Possibly the toughest aspect is the thought of undertaking this journey in wellies, which inevitability gather silt and pebbles, along with the extra litre of water that you keep making every effort to get rid of, however it seems to keep finding its way back in. Despite this, we were able to successful get a great count overall of the birds which inhabit Loch Ruthven – especially the Slavonian grebe population. Furthermore, in late July Slavonian grebe productivity surveys were carried out to establish an idea of the number of chicks which had successfully fledged at Loch Ruthven, using the same methodology as the full loch surveys carried out two months earlier.

Touring the Corrimony Reserve – Simon Mclaughlin (Site Manager) discussing the new hydro scheme that had just been built. Image by Isabel Morgan.

I was able to visit the nearby Corrimony Reserve often, which was excellent to gain further knowledge in the management practices which are needed to preserve and improve the moorland and Caledonian forest, while also learning of some of the challenges that are faced. Assisting in Black grouse surveys on two occasions was terribly exciting, albeit once you get over the initial shock of waking up at such an absurd time of the morning, getting on site and ready to get out there before the sun begins to rise. I really enjoyed this because it was unlike anything that I had ever done before – a great first experience in upland surveying on an open moorland, particularly with a species I hadn’t previously encountered before. I also enjoyed my other venture to Corrimony in what essentially was a modified work party, where a group of staff and interns from CHR, Insh and Abernethy were shown around the reserve and then attended a small scale event to remove exotic trees from a section of the reserve.

'Twiggy' – an unringed male Osprey seen on the nest at Loch Garten’s Osprey Centre. Image by Chris Tilbury.

As an intern, working from the RSPB North Scotland Regional Office (NSRO) in Inverness has given me first-hand knowledge of the RSPB organisation as a whole, the way it operates and in all of the varied roles that it employs – from the conservation officers and the conservation science team, to the land agents, reserves ecology and the regional health safety and environment advisor. Networking while at the NSRO has also been an important aspect to the CHR internship, whether it is because of staff or other volunteers visiting the central hub that you come into contact with or in scheduled in visits to nearby reserves to learn more about the wider work being done around North Scotland. I was able to take full advantage of available opportunities which were presented to me, such as the week which I spent working at Loch Garten’s Osprey Centre (visitor engagement work - largely consisted of informal conversations with visitors and in giving presentations) and the week I had working with the reserves team at Abernethy (exotic tree removal, deadwood creation and participating in a deer push). There are also plenty of other chances to partake in assisting other members of staff who also work out of the NSRO, such as with the Capercaillie team assisting in cold searches and Caper brood counts.

As they say, all good things must come to an end, and with that I moved on to employment, which ultimately mean that the last ten months of the residential internship has been an overwhelming success!

If you're interested in volunteering for us you can find out more here