RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes: It is a day full of bird sound at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven - skylarks singing, cuckoos calling, lapwings peewiting and black-headed gulls squawking, the latter from their noisy island nursery where their chicks have hatched and are beginning to venture forward into the world.
The chicks can be viewed clearly from the Carden Hide. I'm surprised to find that they are small balls of beige down - the splash of black spots covering their backs and heads the only nod to their black-headed parents. As I watch, one small chick makes its way to the edge of the nesting island and begins its journey, alone, to the mainland. I hope it survives the many dangers that lie ahead!
Other chicks beginning to venture out alone are those of the lapwings. While their parents wheel and dive overhead to distract potential predators, these brave souls investigate their surroundings, oblivious, it seems, to the dangers spotted by the adults above. Thirty-one nests have been counted so far, thirteen of which have hatched, so still more chicks to come!
The Flood in front of the Carden Hide is a hive of activity with shovelers, gadwalls, tufted ducks, mallards, great crested grebes and shelducks all making an appearance, in addition to the black-headed gulls and lapwings. The shelduck is a beautiful wildfowl of many colours - from its red beak to its striking black and white feathers and the sandy bar across its breast. A bonus is the sudden sheen of metallic green to be seen when it opens its feathers in flight. A duck of strange habits, in that it often nests in rabbit burrows if they can be found, it is a wildfowl not easily missed. A video of these ducks in action can be seen here (scroll to bottom of site).
At the Gillman Hide there are coots, moorhens and gadwalls to be seen close by and many woodland birds at the feeders, including great tits, goldfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, dunnocks, sparrows and tree sparrows. I watch one family of tree sparrows feed their young with food from the fat balls and make a great chucking song and dance about it as if it is their first journey out into the world! It is a pleasure also to see the woodland birds visit the water's edge to bathe and drink.
Out on the loch there are tufted ducks, mute swans, greylag geese with their goslings and a small raft of around a dozen great crested grebes.
No great crested grebe chicks are currently visible but they should be out and about shortly and hopefully you will be lucky enough to see them riding on their parents' backs if you visit the reserve during June!
The project to create a new path under the main road is progressing well. The new road diversion is in and tunnelling under the road will shortly begin. The new underpass will provide access for all and get rid of those steep steps which are currently the only means of getting from the RSPB Scotland Loch Leven Visitor Centre to the reserve's hides, the Loch Leven Heritage Trail and the Fife Core Path Network. You only have until mid-day on 12 June if you would like to make a donation to this project via our crowdfunding campaign (see here). All donations, large and small are most welcome and there are some wonderful rewards including your name on a sign in the new tunnel, and an exclusive tour of the reserve with one of our wardens.
Work on the underpass is expected to be completed in early September. Meanwhile, RSPB Scotland Loch Leven is open for business as usual. We look forward to welcoming you to the reserve!
Photo credits: Black-headed gulls, adults and chick, Lapwing chick, Shelduck, Tree Sparrow, Great Crested Grebe on nest: all by Paul Ashcroft. Pair of Great Crested Grebe by Alex Gilfillan.
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