RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes: A cold but sunny day at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven where the voluble calls of ducks, geese, swans and woodland birds all indicate that spring is just around the corner.

The first cries to be heard on arrival were the distinctive kleep keep of a pair of oystercatchers. These strikingly handsome wading birds move inland from our coastline to breed and while they mainly eat cockles and mussels along the shoreline, their inland diet is made up mostly of worms. Small groups of oystercatchers have been seen feeding at the reserve in recent weeks.

Also, providing much interest at the moment are our little egrets. Around two years ago a single little egret was regularly sighted at the reserve so it is heartening that this year, five little egrets have been seen at any one time. On my visit I saw three little egrets, one bonded pair keeping very close to each other and a single little egret keeping itself to itself some distance away.

Sadly, I later learned that during the hard February storms a buzzard was witnessed attacking and flying away with our fifth little egret. This sort of behaviour is rare except in extreme circumstances and the buzzard was obviously extremely hungry - hungry enough to take on a small heron with its long powerful beak. Nature can sometimes be very cruel ....

... and at other times nature can be breathtakingly beautiful - like the flash of emerald in a spring of teals.

These dabbling ducks can regularly be heard at the reserve and are easily identified by their constant whistling, piping calls even, apparantly, in pitch darkness. (1) They have been sighted recently both in large (60) and smaller flocks and can often be seen from the Carden Hide.

Other water fowl to be seen from our hides include, in recent weeks, goldeneyes, pochards, mute swans, mallards, tufted ducks, shelducks, red breasted mergansers, as well as many pink footed, barnacle and greylag geese (often on St Serfs Island). All wildfowl are pairing up at the moment and there is lots of noisy fighting be be seen and heard - especially when threesomes are involved!

From the Gilman Hide, there is the pleasure of watching woodland birds forage from the feeders, including goldfinches, coal tits, great tits (the noisiest of them all at this time of year), hedge and house sparrows, through to blue tits ....

.... and greenfinches. The woodland birds are in their prime breeding plumage right now and it's always a thrill to catch sight of the beautiful, lemony-green wing flashes of the greenfinch, together with its strong, chunky bill, perfect for eating seeds of all kinds.

Now is an ideal time to visit RSPB Scotland Loch Leven as the lack of foliage on trees allows you to see the woodland birds more clearly - and to hear them! And also, perhaps, you might be lucky enough to spot our resident stoat - this photo was taken near to the Carden Hide and shows our stoat in his (or her!) beautiful ermine coat.

Hope to see you soon!

Photo credits: Oystercatcher - Paul Ashcroft; Little egrets - Alex Gilfillan; Buzzard & egret - Alex Gilfillan; Teals in flight - Alex Gilfillan; Greylag geese - Alex Gilfillan; Bluetit - Paul Ashcroft; Stoat - Alex Gilfillan;

References: (1) Birds Britannica, eds Mark Cocker & Richard Mabey, pubs Chatto & Windus 2005

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