RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes:

Delighted to have my first sighting of moorhen chicks at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven and what peculiar chicks they are with their black, downy feathers, their tiny wings edged with orange which they hold out like ruffle collars when demanding food from their parents!

I watched both parents take it in turns to tend to the four chicks, sifting through mud and dead stems to find the seeds, insects and worms on which they feed. The yellow tip of the moorhen's beak looked, each time, as if the parent were returning with a piece of golden corn for its chicks, which could be seen hugging the island closest to the Carden Hide.

The Carden Hide was thriving with activity: moorhens, coots, gadwalls, mallards, tufted ducks, greylag geese, little grebes, great crested grebes, swallows, and black-headed gulls. The geese were splooshing and washing themselves with great gusto and the black-headed gulls provided a cacophonic background, almost drowning out the other calls of ducks, geese, swallows and skylarks.

Black-headed gulls are the UK's most common small gull and it's good to see they are breeding at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven. There were many pale brown-feathered juveniles among the resident colony on the floating island opposite the Carden Hide, and also, along the water's edge.

Also to be seen around the Carden Hide were many blue-tailed damselflies glinting in the sunlight ...

... and, in the distance, through the shimmer of heat haze, a single reed bunting singing its heart out.

The woodland walk too was bustling with bird song and activity: blue tits, goldfinches, chaffinches, coal tits and great tits on the feeders and flittering and fluttering through the trees. I sat for a long time in the secret garden watching robin fledglings (with their brown-spotted feathers and no sign of a red breast!) feed among the dead leaves and wood piles, often coming quite close. There were blackbirds there too and a family of three or four tree sparrows foraging furiously among the undergrowth. I love the tree sparrows with their copper coloured crowns and the many fascinating stories associated with them .....

...in particular the story from China when Mao Zedong mobilised three million citizens to do battle with the tree sparrow population which he believed was responsible for crop shortages, due to the bird's penchant for grain seeds. However, in a demonstration of the finely-tuned balance of nature the result of reducing the tree sparrow population was disastrous, with grain yields plummeting even further given the subsequent increase in locusts, a favourite food of the tree sparrow in the East!

There is Eastern folklore also associated with another breeding bird at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven - the swallow ...

 ... in the familiar saying, "when the swallows fly high, the weather will be dry; when the swallows fly low, rain is nigh." Fortunately for me, the swallows were flying high on my last visit and I left the reserve with the rich, sweet smell of wild blossom in my nostrils and the heady sound of full-throated summer in my ears.

Photo credits: Moorhens - Alex Gilfillan; Black-headed gulls (group) - Paul Ashcroft; Black-headed gulls (single) - Alex Gilfillan; Blue-tailed damselfly - Paul Ashcroft; Reed bunting - Alex Gilfillan; Tree sparrow - Paul Ashcroft; Swallows - Alex Gilfillan;

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