RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes:
Ospreys have been sighted flying and fishing over RSPB Scotland Loch Leven in recent weeks - probably females as they are usually the first to begin their migration south to Africa, early as it may seem! Throughout August and September the females will be followed by male osprey and then the young, according to research from satellite-tracked osprey which you can read more about here.
British ospreys have been tracked crossing the English Channel and travelling down through France and Spain into North and West Africa. Apparently, each bird travels alone and follows its own route, some even crossing the Sahara Desert. During my visit I was lucky enough to see three of these magnificent flying and fishing birds passing over the Loch.
Another sight to take the breath away has been a marsh harrier! Frequenting the loch in recent weeks, its visits have caused, each time, a fracas among the wildfowl and their fledglings, of which there are many!
It's no wonder the parents are so anxious when the marsh harrier is around given the latter's diet of small birds, mammals and fledglings. In Eric Hosking's observations of food brought by both male and female marsh harriers to their chicks he reported the following: young pheasant, newly fledged meadow pipits, a young rat, day-old partridges, a half-grown lapwing and parts of rabbits! (1) The marsh harrier has been sighted flying around the Carden Hide, where there are many juveniles, including growing moorhen chicks and, during my visit, I counted at least 22 rapidly growing tufted ducklings, on which the harrier probably had its eye!
From the Carden Hide, as well as many tufted ducks, there were moorhen, little grebe, coot, black backed gulls, lesser black backed gulls and many greylag geese to be seen, most with their growing youngsters in close proximity. Tufted ducks and their growing ducklings were also seen from the Gillman Hide, as were several pairs of great crested grebes, two with their young.
One set of parents was dedicated to diving and bringing fish back for their patiently waiting charge while the other juvenile was happily diving and fishing for itself, following the pattern set by the adults. As I watched, I was treated to a flash of gold each time the adults turned their head and their vibrantly coloured feathers caught the sun.
From the Gillman Hide chaffinches and great tits were busy on the bird feeders as well as an animated family of tree sparrows. And walking back from the Carden Hide, at the end of day, I was treated to a volery of pied wagtails comprising nine youngsters and one adult, feeding along the path. I stood a long time watching them dart here and there in low dashing movements to catch their prey: spiders, ants and beetles that were taking advantage of the warmth of the path in the end of day sunlight. When the pied wagtails moved away, they had cleared the path of all signs of life - whereas the section of path they had not visited was still teeming with insects and invertebrates.
The juvenile pied wagtail does not have the distinctive black crown and black of the adult and it was lovely to see so many young in one place - testament that RSPB Scotland Loch Leven provides a great breeding site for so many species of our native birds and water fowl. The youngsters are rapidly growing though so why not pay us a visit as soon as you can?
Photo credits: Osprey - Alex Gilfillan; Marsh harrier - Alex Gilfillan; Tufted duck - Paul Ashcroft: Great crested grebes - Alex Gilfillan; Pied wagtail - Paul Ashcroft
References: (1) An Eye for a Bird by Eric Hosking, Arrow Books Ltd, 1973
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