Hi folks, like many other organisations, the RSPB has furloughed some of its staff during the Covid-19 crisis, which is why it's me who'll be posting any blogs for the foreseeable future, as Fergus has been furloughed for a wee while.

So, you've already met Rishane, and here she is again, with some of her beautiful photos of species she has seen around Abernethy since she arrived. Many of these pictures were taken before the current restrictions were in place, when Rishane and the team were still free to travel to other parts of the reserve. Grab a cuppa and enjoy...

 

Abernethy reserve, Loch Garten

 

If you’ve got some time to kill… - oh wait you do! So have a little scroll and read through the different species I’ve seen since I first arrived here at Loch Garten.

Upon my arrival in the Abernethy reserve, Bethia, one of the Visitor Experience Officers at the Loch Garten Nature Centre, was determined to make me discover one of the many incredible sightings you can get in the area. For me, getting to see a group of 5 roe deer in the Balnagowan wood in Nethy Bridge, in such close proximity, was a privilege.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)

In Southwest France, seeing one of these has been a rare wildlife encounter. Often seen bounding in between hectares of vineyards at the forest edge, they have been a main target for trophy hunters in the past.

Thanks to Bethia’s keen eye, we were able to slowly add up the number of roe deer observed in the woods. Although their signature white tush seems to be an easy giveaway, trying to distinguish them in between the dense undergrowth and hilly terrain is no easy task.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgeris)

Now onto the iconic red squirrel. Isn’t it marvellous when a photo turns out just right and all the surroundings work together to create a fairy tale like setting? I finally got to see my first snow in Abernethy. On top of that, I took a shot of a hungry little guy on the feeder wondering what an imposter, like myself, was doing so close to his nuts.

   

This was also my first ever red squirrel encounter. Did you know that there are only, approximately, 15,000 remaining red squirrels in England? Now, this seems like a lot. But when you compare that number to Scotland’s, it puts things into perspective. Scotland’s red squirrel population is estimated to be 10 times that of England’s.

Why such a big geographical difference? You may know all this already or have noticed the larger grey squirrels causing a ruckus in your back garden if you’re further south in the UK. Introduced from North America, these guys basically imposed themselves as the Alpha Squirrels, competing over food but also spreading the pox virus, which does not affect them, but is deadly to the red squirrel. Grey squirrels are a prime example of generalist species, able to adapt to their environments and dietary needs, they can even ingest unripe acorns.

So how come they haven’t reached northern Scotland and kicked the remaining red squirrel population out? Well, grey squirrels don’t do so well in the Highlands for several reasons. Deciduous trees have larger seeds and are most abundant in the south. Their scarcity up North reduces the chances of the large grey squirrels colonising conifer plantations in the Highlands that contain smaller seeds. In other words, the bigger the seed, the bigger the squirrel! (Or something like that...).

Also, grey squirrels have an elusive predator to be wary of here in Abernethy: The pine marten. It has been suggested that grey squirrels are more susceptible to predation by pine martens than red squirrels. More agile, red squirrels may avoid the predator more successfully and recognise the danger through their known scent of the pine marten. Like tourists from overseas, grey squirrels would be less cautious and unaware of their surroundings & local predators.

 

The great tit (Parus major)

The great tit: big, colourful & one of the most familiar of garden birds. Who wouldn’t want to see them peacefully feed upon your bird feeder, cheerfully tweeting away? But beware! Some chilling reports have been published on the great tit’s “murderous tendencies” and use of its powerful bill to kill smaller passerines birds. For instance, two or three cases of pied flycatchers were found dead with smashed skulls in nests taken over by great tits.

Better yet, in 2010, great tits were recorded to have bashed the heads of hibernating bats in and to have eaten them. And by them, I mean their brrrraaaains… Zombie bird or harmless garden companion? Will the great tit star in the next “Dawn of The Deadly Tit”?

 

Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Now. I know Fergus has mentioned my alleged photography skills. But oh boy! Let me prove him wrong. This is my best attempt at photographing a golden eagle. Yes, it is one. Look closely, bit more… Squint, you might have to.

Unfortunately, these elegant birds of prey are often only seen from far, far away over a high peak. Literally like a dark dot in the sky. Lucky for me, during a hike, where I struggled more than I am proud to say, this golden eagle flew right past me off the hill and into the valley. Out of breath and too excited to compose myself, I took out my camera and shakily attempted to capture the moment. In vain.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Tiny, but Fearless

One of the many wonders of Loch Garten are the coal tits. They are one of Europe’s smallest birds and are found anywhere where conifers stand tall. And actually, they take advantage of the Caledonian pines to hide much of their food in tufts of pine needles. What’s great about them is that they take little notice of you and visit feeders frequently, so stay quiet and look around!

 

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

I have seen these before, who hasn’t, am I right? Quite an underrated bird the chaffinch is. Just wanted to show you guys how beautiful they are, but also because they’ve been the easiest to photograph up close! Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t enjoy hearing the cheerful, rattling and far carrying song of the chaffinch, as the early signs of spring make their appearance?

In these challenging times, it’s important to try and enjoy the little things. For me? It’s trying to identify all the different colours and plumage the birds on my feeder have. It’s incessantly asking my flatmate what kind of bird gave out that call from outside our living room window. It’s finding new & creative ways to communicate nature to the rest of you.

 

If you’ve enjoyed this, please stay tuned for more weekly sightings & discoveries! Either from my front porch, or during my daily outdoor exercise out in the reserve.

 

Rishane, Visitor Experience Assistant

www.intothewildconservation.com

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