RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes: November is one of the best times to see the abundance of woodland birds living along the Heritage Trail at Loch Leven, since there are few leaves for them to hide behind! If you're lucky, you may spot the small flocks of long-tailed tits that feed on the willow, birch and hazel. They come in damp weather with a chatter and chirrup and dash of movement through the leafless trees and are always a joy to behold, with their subtle colours and light dance of feathers through bare branches. They never stop for long though: here for a moment, and then gone. Just passing through.
While watching the long-tailed tits, a sudden flash of bright pink-red made me look up and a male bullfinch landed right overhead to feed on the birch catkin seeds, seemingly oblivious to my standing in awe just a few feet below. This is the second time I've seen a male bullfinch along the trail. These wild, woodland birds were once caught and caged for their beauty and ability to mimic pipe music, a practice which, fortunately, is now illegal. Bullfinch pairs mate for many years and so the female - pretty in her own way with her mix of black, white, grey and buff feathers - must have also been close by.
Great tits and blue tits were also feeding along the Heritage Trail, as were coal tits and chaffinches. So much activity in a single patch of trees!
Around the Leafy Loop there was much activity too, from the antics of the diminutive treecreeper ...
to the antics of our resident red squirrels - six in total have been spotted so far at any one time!
Out on the Loch, pink-footed geese and whooper swans have returned to over-winter, and mixed flocks of tufted ducks, goldeneyes, pochards, great-crested grebes, goosanders, pintails and teal have been sighted. A single long-tailed duck has also been spotted! A rare sighting for Loch Leven as these sea ducks are normally found close to coastal areas.
We all wondered why the long-tailed duck was so far from the rest of its kind, sleeping, as it was, among a large flock of tufties. The tufted ducks were clearly visible with their bright white side patches, flashing almost flourescent when the sun caught them.
The goldeneyes were also easily distinguishable - even those still in their eclipse plumage - by their white barred wings and flash of white disc, close to the beak, when diving. These active ducks were feeding close to the shore, appearing and disappearing quickly, sometimes a trail of circular rings on the water the only sign of their presence. Like most diving ducks, they can stay underwater for upwards of a minute or more.
Finally, flocks of teal brightened up the mostly grey and cloudy day, thanks to their gloriously green wing patches. It's always a joy to watch these ducks fly and, with the stillness of the water, the ducks appeared to be tied to their own shadows. Even more of a joy to watch, accompanied, as they were, by the call of the curlew warbling through the still air across the water.
All in all, November is a great time to visit the reserve!
Photo credits: Long-tailed tit: Marcus Hill; Chaffinch: Alex Gilfillan; Treecreeper: Marcus Hill; Red Squirrel, Tufted duck, & Goldeneye: Paul Ashcroft; Teal: Alex Gilfillan, Juvenile long tailed duck and female bullfinch: Stuart Gillies.
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