RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes: The sky is full of the haunting polysyllabic cries of wigeon and curlew today at RSPB Loch Leven. Waders of watercolour landscapes, the curlews fall and rise like smoke over the loch to land on the far bank alongside a coil of whee-euing wigeon.
It’s good to see flocks of up to 250 curlews or more feeding along the water’s edge as curlews are currently in crisis. Numbers have almost halved across the UK since the mid-1990s and if this decline continues then their distinctive curlee curlee cries might no longer be heard as spring approaches and we might no longer see their long curved beaks probing the soft ground of our estuaries and moorland. The RSPB's Curlew in Crisis Campaign during May aims to help stop this decline.
Feeding alongside the curlews are 35 wigeon or more. Where the curlew's call is "bubbling" or "melancholy,' the wigeon's call is more of a whistling "whee-eu," an evocative sound of winter, come spring. It’s wonderful to catch sight of the chestnut heads and daffodil-yellow crowns of the wigeon, shining bright when the sun bursts from the clouds.
Thirty or so lapwing are also visible from the Carden Hide. Mostly resting on the spit of grassland with their heads facing into the fierce wind, they suddenly take to the sky as one long shimmering cloud of black and white, high over the water before landing on the grasslands once more. These farmland birds are also in decline, with a 30 per cent drop in numbers in Scotland since 1987.
Other wildfowl feeding at the water's edge include oystercatchers, greylag geese, and also our resident little egret. As many as four little egrets have been seen at the reserve recently, which is a record during the four years I've been visiting Loch Leven.
Close up, the little egret is a marvellous sight, with its pure white feathers and bright yellow feet. The one I can see must be a juvenile as its legs are still a greenish colour. The little egret is a success story as UK breeding pairs have boomed from just one to around 700 since it first bred in Dorset in 1996. The population is moving steadily north but so far there are no breeding pairs in Scotland. How exciting if the four little egrets seen at Loch Leven stay to breed this year!
It's amusing to watch the little egret feed along the water's edge. It shoogles one of its feet underneath the water to disturb the silt and cause small fish, amphibians and invertebrates to make a dash for it before grabbing them quickly with its long beak!
As I watch, the view from the hide is ever-changing. A large flock of ducks fly in and it's difficult to distinguish them until they land when the flashes of green and white and blue all shout mallard.
There are teal in there too, about half and half, the teal much smaller than the mallard but equally striking, the male with his bright green speculum and yellow undertail which looks as though it's been dipped in a pot of paint.
Other wildfowl to be seen at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven today include a raft of 40 tufted duck, two gadwall, several mute swans and a large flock of greylag geese on the far bank, occasionally taking to the air. More geese fly in to feed as I watch.
As the light begins to turn, the teal move closer to the Carden Hide to wash and feed. I hear the pattering sounds of their beaks as they search through the mud at the sides of the banks. They are fast and nervy in their feeding with an urgency linked perhaps to the dying light. Quick waddles, splashes and sudden disputes break out, all the time to the piercing backdrop of curlew and wigeon cries. I feel privileged to see these wild creatures at such close quarters. RSPB Loch Leven is a magical place to be. With spring just around the corner why not come along and experience this magic for yourself?
Photo credits: curlews flock - Paul Ashcroft; single curlew - Alex Gilfillan; lapwing - Alex Gilfillan; flying little egret - Adrian Plumb; little egret with fish - Alex Gilfillan; mallard - Paul Ashcroft; teal - Alex Gilfillan; greylag geese - Paul Ashcroft.
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