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

If two swallows make a summer then one swallow must make spring official! And the first swallow was sighted over RSPB Scotland Loch Leven on 12th April which means the reserve will soon be full of their screeching cries and swooping flights once more.

The lapwings have already started nesting with 12 nests counted on the reserve so far and more anticipated. The numbers are up on last year and we expect to see the first chicks on the reserve within the next four to eight weeks.

Although the biggest predators of lapwing eggs are badgers and foxes, the lapwings have begun their annual battle with the crows. I watched one lapwing distract three crows, taking up a huge amount of its energy. The lapwings are very territorial during the breeding season and have even been know to fend off little ringed plovers (as in the photo below) despite the fact these small birds pose no threat to their eggs whatsoever!

From the Gillman Hide, tufted ducks, goldeneyes and pairs of gadwalls could be seen. The gadwalls, like most ducks, differ strikingly between male and female. Each has their own beauty: the males look as if their rear ends and beaks have been dipped in black ink; the females have beautiful orange sides to their beaks and both have a bright white speculum. Loch Leven is an important breeding site for these wild ducks, of which there are 1200 breeding pairs throughout the UK - a breeding success story given that in 1850 there was just one breeding pair in the whole country. (1).

Barnacle geese could be seen on St Serf's Island and there were many greylag geese on the reserve. I watched the mating ritual of one pair of greylags which involved much dipping of heads into the water then raising of beaks to the sky. After the deed there was much splashing and washing from the female, the silver rivulets of water running off her feathers. Once back on land there was also much wing stretching and preening from both male and female.

Other ducks and birds to be seen from the hides included wigeons, curlews, a reed bunting, oystercatchers and coots. The oystercatcher is distinctive with its long orange beak or "blunt vermilion bludgeon" as the bird artist Eric Ennion described it. (2) According to Mark Cocker, this wader can be remarkably long-lived. At 35 years of age, one oystercatcher caught on the Wash in 1967 and retrapped in 2002, "holds the longevity record for any wader in Britain." (3)

Oystercatchers are often seen alongside the coots at the reserve, which, like the lapwings, are very territorial during the breeding season. They are distinctive with their white bill shields and attack each other in a flurry of black and white if they feel at all threatened.

With the breeding season in full swing at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven, there promises to be much activity during the coming weeks! Why not pop along and see for yourself!

Photo credits: Swallow (Paul Ashcroft); Lapwing nest (RSPB staff); Lapwing and little ringed plover (Alex Gilfillan); Gadwall (Paul Ashcroft) Greylag geese (Alex Gilfillan); Oystercatcher (Paul Ashcroft); Oystercatchers and coots (William Russell); 

References: (1), (2) & (3) Birds Britannica by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey 2005, Chatto & Windus

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