It´s been just over a year since the Flows Lookout was built at RSPB Forsinard Flows. More than 3000 visitors have been up since the opening in June 2016 and have enjoyed the view across the blanket bog and the dubh lochans pools from the top. In less than a year the building has been awarded a RIAS (Incorporation of Architects in Scotland) architectural award and has attracted the attention of National Geographic photographers. It has also proved very useful to shelter the visiting school groups from the wind and the rain during the outdoor learning sessions. But what is more, in less than a year this structure has given nature a home. The Flows Lookout was used as a roost by a barn owl last winter and it has been recently used as a breeding site by a pair of barn (or shall we say bog?) swallows.
7th June-Swallows seen for the first time
As the Visitor Experience Officer for this season at Forsinard Flows I go to the viewing tower a few times a week, either leading guided walks, to check the path is in good condition or for fun in my own time. I first saw the pair of swallows on the 7th of June, sitting on the rail at the bottom of the Flows Lookout.
Since then, I kept seeing them every week, feeding around the tower, but there wasn´t any sign of breeding. Later on, a visitor told me he had seen them going inside the tower, so I went to have a look and...There it was, a fully built nest, half way up the tower in one of the edges. There were also two half-built ones just by this one, probably trials...
20th June- Nest built!
I could just reach the nest and I carefully touched inside to feel whether there were any eggs. To my disappointment it was empty. I thought it was quite late for them to breed and that maybe they were new birds from last year practising their nest building skills! A few days after, I went on the walk one evening to stretch my legs; I checked on the nest just in case and I could feel some tiny eggs inside! This was about a month after I saw them for the first time (5th July).
5th July- Eggs discovered!
Ten days later, Naomi, our Visitor Operations volunteer, found an egg shell lying at the bottom on the stairs. She couldn´t hear any bird chipping and we thought it was too early for them to have hatched, but there they were, 4 swallow chicks just hatched. I didn´t want to disturb them so I took a picture really quickly before the adults came back (and that´s why it isn´t a very good one!)
15th July – Egg shell found at the bottom of the Lookout, currently exhibited in the Visitor Centre.
17th July – 12 days after discovering the eggs. You can see three of the four chicks barely covered in down.
We were really excited that the Lookout swallows had been successful but the chicks were too small and completely dependent on their parents so we decided to keep it quiet to avoid disturbance.
21st July - Four days after previous photo
26th July - Five days after previous photo
1st August - Six days after previous photo
A week after the last photo, on the 8th of August, a lovely couple showed me a picture of the chicks sitting on the rail inside the tower, they were impossible to miss. They had left the nest. I wasn´t sure for how long they were going to be around before going away and feed by themselves. I wanted to see them before that happened so I went to the Lookout a few hours later. There wasn´t a sign of them! Well, apart from the mess they had left behind...
Of course the chicks didn´t want that pile of guano in their nest (it wouldn´t have even fit in it!). Clever little things...
We are really glad the swallows were successful in the tower. Despite the visitors going up and down, the tower has proved to be a good place to breed. Sheltered from the harsh weather, out of reach from predators and close to water and food sources, the Flows Lookout is been like a 5 star hotel for this swallows. We hope they survive the migration to South Africa and that they come back next year to delight us again! Good luck!
Photos taken by Daniel Roberts (Residential Volunteer) and Marina Bollo Palacios (Visitor engagement officer).
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