RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes: Chicks are taking centre stage at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven right now and the most striking chicks must be the coots with their GlamRock colours and bizarre ruffs.

From the Carden Hide four coot chicks can be seen making regular exploratory journeys onto the flood waters from their nest which is well and truly hidden in the reeds. The silvery-grey feet of the adult coot are almost the same size as their chicks, if not bigger, and it's a wonder the chicks aren't sometimes squashed! As for their striking appearance, research has shown that coot parents prefer the most ornamented chicks from their brood. (1) 

The chicks of gadwalls and tufted ducks can also be seen from the Carden Hide. Gadwall chicks are coloured bundles of orange splodges and dark stripes (I spotted nine on my visit). In comparison, the ten tufted duck chicks sighted were like sooty fluff balls. Both tufted ducks and coots seem more than happy to share their space with the abundant black-headed gulls dominating the floating islands in front of the Carden Hide, including leaving their chicks in close proximity to the gulls. The moorhens, on the other hand, aggressively chase away the black headed gulls if they venture too close.

The noise of the black-headed gulls around the flood is almost deafening at times: constant laughter and squawks, soft-throated mews and full-throated cries when the adults have to defend their young or territories from others venturing too close. I watched one black headed gull returning time and again to regurgitate food for its juvenile on the water. 

Also on the flood was a huge flock of male tufted ducks (50 plus in total) with their golden yellow eyes; a little grebe with dabchick chicks (the russet on the head already showing through); swallows skimming the water for food in front of the hide, and great-crested grebes (one on the nest over chicks, one in the water);

Moving to the Waterston Hide towards the end of day, a male reed bunting was sighted on the fence wires singing his heart out. His song was constant, rhythmic and soothing and each time he threw back his head to sing it seemed he was singing specifically for me.

It was only by chance that I spotted the three fledgling reed buntings sitting further along the wires and could only guess that the adult's song provided a reassuring presence to the youngsters. The fledglings' chestnut heads were clearly visible, as were their white neck collars.

A single snipe was sighted from the Waterston Hide skulking in the grasses and also one lapwing and its chick. Numerous lapwing chicks and fledglings can be seen at the reserve right now although their super camouflage makes them difficult to spot. Their camouflage, however, together with the thick vegetation of the water meadows, provides excellent protection from their many predators including crows and black backed gulls.

Lapwing chicks can also be sighted in the Bumblebee Meadow, as can many species of damselflies and butterflies. Here and along the wetland trail the following have been sighted: emerald, common blue and blue-tailed damselflies; common blue, small copper, meadow brown and ringlet butterflies. The meadow browns just love to feed on the common ragwort at the reserve ....

And the ringlet's favourite nectar sources are bramble and wild privet flowers  .....

Why not come along to the reserve and see how many species of birds, damselflies and butterflies you too can spot?

REFERENCES

(1)  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191231111817.htm

PHOTO CREDITS: Adult coot with chick: Alex Gilfillan; Coot chick: Alison Garwood; Black headed gulls and great crested grebe: Paul Ashcroft; Reed bunting: Alex Gilfillan; Lapwing chick: Paul Ashcroft; Meadow brown and ringlet butterflies: Anita John

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