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

A blustery day at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven with a cold easterly wind sending many birds to find shelter, with others seeming to enjoy the wild conditions.

There were curlews aplenty to be found in the Bumblebee Meadow, their presence highlighted by a flock of starlings flying over in tight formation, sparking the curlews to rise from the ground in flashes of wood brown and silver. The sky was full of their plaintive cries - doy-doy and curleee-curleew-cuw. Despite the cold blast it's a sound that promises spring is just around the corner, a sound that lifts the heart.

Next came a sight to remember. The Gillman Hide was empty when I entered, and in that quietness a kestrel landed on the fencepost close by, its colours beautifully visible: the grey head, the black markings around the eye, the black tips to its wing and tail feathers, its gloriously chesnut brown back. Alone in its element, the wind buffeted this kestrel and the kestrel countered the wind with its tail. For a moment there was just me, the kestrel, and the sound of the wild wind. Then the kestrel rose so effortlessly, skimmed the air between water and bank, and was gone as if it had never been.

Best-known for its impressive hovering techniques, captured so elequently in The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins, when seen close up the kestrel is a falcon of breathtaking beauty.

From beauty to comedy! Also visible from the Gillman Hide was our resident moorhen. I watched this water-hen pick its way delicately from the pond's edge before dashing furtively to the bird feeders and then dashing back to the water. On land, this wetland bird is a comical sight, with its long green legs and furtive movements. Back in the water however it potters about as if it has all the time in the world. Which makes its sudden energetic movements - on land and occasionally on water - all the more surprising.

From the Gillman Hide there were lapwings, oyster catchers and mute swans to be seen and, out on the loch, a mixed flock of goldeneyes, pochards and tufted ducks. The goldeneyes were happy diving into the waves to feed, facing the east wind whipping vigorously across the loch full-on. Not surprising to discover then, that goldeneyes are "cold-weather sea ducks which breed in Arctic forest zones". (1) They first nested in Scotland from 1970 onwards and there are now estimated to be 200 breeding pairs throughout the UK.

Although named after the irides of their eyes, male goldeneyes also have a distinct circular white patch between beak and eye, which makes them easily recognisable from a distance.

On the way to the Gillman Hide, the woodland birds were in full spring song despite the cold weather and I sighted goldfinches, chaffinches and tree sparrows and also a male pheasant at the feeders. The first signs of spring are definitely here with catkins now hanging on the branches and masses of snowdrops still lining the path to the reserve. Well worth a visit just to see these alone - but hurry, the snowdrops won't be here for much longer!

Photo credits: Mixed flock, curlew and starlings (Paul Ashcroft); Kestrel (Alex Gilfillan); Goldeneye (Paul Ashcroft); Moorhens (Alex Gilfillan); Snowdrops (Anita John)

References: (1) Scottish Birds, Culture and Tradition by Robin Hull (Mercat Press)

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