RSPB Scotland Loch Leven's Writer in Residence Anita John brings us the latest sightings from the reserve and writes: RSPB Scotland Loch Leven was alive with bird song on my last visit, the air full of cheepings, twitterings, whistlings, trillings, and chinkings. I stood to absorb the sounds when a sedge warbler landed close by to begin his own noisy and elaborate chorus, his pitch rising and falling in a splendid display of virtuosity. No wonder the Scots name for the sedge warbler is "nichtingale." (1)

These summer visitors are able to mimic the calls of other wetland birds and, in a bid to attract females, apparently never sing the same song twice!

As well as sedge warblers you are likely to hear willow warblers on your visit to the reserve, especially around the Leafy Loop area, although they are much more difficult to spot among the tree foliage.

The willow warbler is one of the most common summer visitors to the UK, with an estimated 2.4 million breeding territories.

Other birds to be heard pouring out their hearts in song are meadow pipits and skylarks, despite the latter having declined rapidly in the UK in recent years due to habitat loss. Birds of the air, these inspirational songsters build their nests on the ground and are often hard to spot if they are not in the sky, as in the photo below. See here (scroll down to bottom of page) for wonderful footage of a skylark bringing food to its chicks on the ground.

It's that time of year when not only are the birds singing, but they're also hard at work foraging for food to feed their youngsters and the swallows are no exception! It's heartening to see them once more in their annual nesting sites around the courtyard of RSPB Scotland Loch Leven. The first brood of youngsters have already fledged and can be seen on the wires and fence posts around the reserve. Ask a member of staff, or one of our many volunteers, to point out the nest sites close to the cafe and shop and spend a few minutes - at the very least - marvelling at the aerobatic antics of these spectacular fliers!

Away from the woodlands and down to the hides there was much to be seen including five bar-tailed godwits and a gallant (twenty or more) of great crested grebes. Some of the latter were busy diving for fish while one pair seemed to be still performing their peculiar mating routinue of neck dancing and head shaking. A joy to watch!

As well as coots, moorhens, gadwalls, tufted ducks, pochards, wigeons and little grebes there was also a single ruddy shelduck spotted among a raft of 200 or more greylag geese. There were no youngsters with the greylag geese and it was assumed, therefore, that the flock was a mixture of non-breeding males and females. Greylag geese are resident all year round at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven but their numbers are boosted in winter by geese migrating south from Iceland.

The paths to and from the hides are ablaze with wild flowers at the moment - a haven for many species of butterflies and bees. There are foxgloves and oxeye daisies, meadow buttercups and cow parsley, red campion and common mouse ear, bird's foot trefoil and speedwell and thistles and common sorrel to name just a few!

And finally, our resident red squirrels have been entertaining visitors with their cheeky antics in the Leafy Loop area of the reserve - and even stopped long enough to pose for the camera!

Why not head along to the reserve and see how many species - of birds, mammals and flowers - you can spot for yourself?

Photo credits: sedge warbler - Paul Ashcroft; willow warbler - Paul Ashcroft; skylark - Paul Ashcroft; swallows - Paul Ashcroft; great crested grebe - Alex Gilfillan; greylag geese - Alan Brown; flowers - RSPB staff; red squirrel - Alistair Coleman.

References: (1) - Scottish Birds, Culture and Traditions by Robin Hull, Mercat Press, 2001

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