The April WeBS count is perhaps the most brutal one for those of us who are not ‘morning people’; being out in the field at 4.30 am, alert and ready to count geese can be quite challenging. You do get the reward of glorious sunrises, though, and a real sense of the year turning – on mid-winter counts from where I’m normally situated, the sun comes up behind the Rookery, but now it rises from the sea to the north of the aerials of Crimond airfield – and if we watched it around mid-summer, it would be coming up out of the Cut or even further north!

Sunrise with geese - Christine Hall

So what did we get for our early-morning efforts? Around 3720 pink-footed geese were still with us, although they seemed to be heading north, climbing quite high as they crossed the loch, possibly heading for the breeding grounds in Iceland. One little egret was spotted, mostly seen hanging around on the Savoch Low Ground, and a couple of black-tailed godwits were on the Starnafin pools. There are still quite a lot of swans on the loch and in the silt trap, 52 mute swans and 29 whoopers in all. Wader numbers were about average – 18 snipe, 208 curlews, 117 golden plovers, 11 lapwings, three redshanks and two ringed plovers, while duck numbers were down – 27 mallards, 59 goldeneye, 12 shelducks, 286 teal, 15 gadwall, 59 wigeon, one shoveler, six tufted ducks and four pintails. Numbers of ducks do drop as the breeding season starts, as they hide away in the reeds and undergrowth. Five great crested grebes were recorded, and two goosanders.

Summer migrants are starting to arrive – our first swallow was seen on 5 April, and sand martins on 10 April. A Sandwich tern was seen on 9 April, and visitors reported a great white egret on 5 April and a common crane flying over the reserve on 8 April; chiffchaffs are singing, and the great spotted woodpecker is drumming noisily.

Work continues on the office and visitor centre – the painters are in at last, and most of the scaffolding has come down, although we still don’t have a date for moving in. Once we DO move, work can commence on the volunteers’ accommodation...and once that’s done, our 2016 interns can begin! Roddy Hamilton, our Meadows Officer, has his first school group next week, and our new Assistant Warden, Amelie Sumpter, starts in a couple of weeks. We also have Annalise Bokenkamp with us for a while (from the USA via Glasgow University), who is doing postgraduate work on nest predation, and finding some very wet ditches along the way!

The Konik ponies are chewing their way through yet more rushes, but that’s not the reason the mares are looking very round - it won’t be that long before this year’s foals make an appearance. The Starnafin herd are still displaced from their usual fields until the work on the centre is complete and we can put up a fence to prevent them from chewing the new cladding!