Hello again everybody,

It’s been a while since my last blog. I know that many of you will have spent much of the time sitting patiently at your computer or staring wistfully at your phone hoping that a new blog will suddenly appear, all the while muttering, “Come on Chris, we need to hear about the blimmin’ Goose Roost event”. Well, at last your wait is over. Not only am I here to tell you all about the Goose Roost event (or the Deserted Loch event as we’re thinking of renaming it…that might give you a clue as to how the evening unfolded), I’m also going to share the latest gossip from the reserve including some very exciting news regarding 2019 (which most of you probably know already).

So, first to the Goose Roost event. On Saturday 20th October we were joined by around 60 hardy souls at the head of Loch Garten, anticipating the arrival of a few hundred geese and swans, coming in to roost for the night. With baited breath we waited…and waited…and waited. At one point the cry went up “Swans. On the loch”. And indeed, there were swans on the loch. Four swans to be precise. But it was a start and as darkness continued to creep in, we turned our ears to the sky for the tell-tale honking and beating of heavy wings that signal the arrival of weary wildfowl. Unfortunately, those four were as good as it got and we didn’t see or hear any more geese or swans at all after that. Although this was obviously disappointing, spending an hour on the shore of a beautiful loch as night sets in around you, as the stars emerge and the forest settles down for the night is nonetheless a wonderful thing to do. With hot soup in our cups and shortbread in our stomachs we enjoyed pleasant conversation and fun crafts – making tea light lanterns out of old jam jars. I think (hope) a good time was had by all, although a few more geese wouldn’t have gone amiss!

Now you see me...(image by Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

                The big news for Loch Garten in 2019 (fanfare, please) is that the BBC are bringing their Winterwatch, Springwatch and Autumnwatch programmes to the Cairngorms (apparently Summer isn’t TV worthy). As I said, this probably isn’t news to most of you as it has been announced on social media and across the BBC, but for those of you who’ve managed to miss it there, this will no doubt be HUGE! The shows will be based right on the doorstep of RSPB Abernethy, and will feature the wildlife and habitats of the Cairngorms Connect area. For anyone who doesn’t know about Cairngorms Connect, it is a massive, landscape scale partnership aimed at connecting huge areas of wild land between many different estates, restoring the Caledonian pine forest and preserving rare species and precious habitats for the future. You can find more info on the project here. With the BBC showcasing the natural beauty of the Highlands and the threats faced by many of its iconic species, we hope that a new audience of nature lovers will come to understand and appreciate how fragile the natural ecosystems are and why we all need to play our part in looking after them. Plus, I’m hoping I’ll grab a good bit of screen time and it’ll prove to be my big break (no comments about me having more of a face for the radio, thank you, I’ve heard them all already). We’ll keep you posted on exact dates and times for when the shows will be aired but Winterwatch will be on your screens in late January. Exciting!

                2019 is also a big year for Loch Garten because it signifies the 60th anniversary of the site being opened to the public to view the ospreys. In 1959 this was not the way to do things – conservation was about secrecy and stealth – but George Waterston (RSPB Scotland Director at the time) decided that getting the public on board and educating visitors as to the plight of these incredible birds was the way forward. It was a brave step but it undoubtedly paid off. 14,000 people arrived in that first year to get a glimpse of possibly the only breeding ospreys in the UK. Since then, almost 3 million visitors have been inspired at Loch Garten and ospreys are flourishing throughout Britain. Next summer we’ll be holding a massive birthday party for the Osprey Centre, celebrating the amazing success, with activities, games, interactive experiences and much more. I wanted to send everyone an invitation but it just proved too difficult (licking 60 million envelopes is not fun) so rest assured that you are all invited and welcome to share in the celebrations with us. Stand by for more details in the new year.

Osprey viewing in the good old days (RSPB images)

                Anyway, back to the here and now, things are chugging along nicely at Abernethy. We’ve had our first real dustings of snow over the past day or so (although the mountain tops have been white for a while). Wildlife-wise, it’s always a time of year I quite enjoy. The flocks of fieldfares and redwings moving through the canopy are incredible. A couple of weeks ago I was watching for about 10 minutes as a huge group passed over my head. The local rowans have been well and truly stripped of their berries by now as these winter thrushes feed themselves. Local birders (and some not-so-local) were excited to hear of a hoopoe being spotted just on the edge of the reserve last week. Hoopoes migrate between mainland Europe and Africa and they are an occasional visitor to these shores, more usually in spring when they “overshoot” their migration north. My own forays to view the elusive visitor proved fruitless and with no sightings over the past week, it seems the hoopoe has long since left the area for somewhere a little warmer!

Hoopoe (Upupa epops) by Mike Langman

An (unofficial) staff expedition one lunchtime to look for salmon in the river Nethy yielded some exciting results. We managed to spot 8 of the huge (to my eyes at least) fish swimming against the not inconsiderable current. Salmon spend most of their adult lives at sea, but travel up rivers and even small streams to spawn. Amazingly, individuals will return to the same river in which they themselves were born! Female salmon lay their eggs in gravel depressions known as redds. As a female releases her eggs, an adult male (or mature juvenile) immediately fertilises them. The female then covers the fertilised eggs with gravel. The young salmon stay in the river for a few months through a series of different life stages; alevins to fry to parr and finally to smolts. By late spring next year, these young fish will have undergone a physiological change, allowing them to survive in salt water, and will have headed back out to sea.

The River Nethy is a perfect spawning ground for salmon (image by Andy Hay rspb-images.com)

If you can visit the reserve over winter, it’s well worth it. On a fresh, frosty morning there’s no sight more beautiful than the heather glistening with frozen spider webs and the loch reflecting the low winter sun as you crunch through the icy puddles on the path. You’ll almost certainly hear a crested tit calling playfully from the canopy or be told off by a wren for rudely disturbing her. You might even, if you’re extremely lucky, see the “fictional” otter that frequents Loch Garten…

Loch Garten - a winter wonderland! (Image by Andy Hay rspb-images.com) 

                That’s about it from me. I know what you’re thinking – “A blog in December that doesn’t mention Christmas even once? This is unacceptable, Chris”. But fear not, I will be back with a Christmas blog later in the month, I just need to think up more hilarious festive puns…


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