Welcome back, and a Happy New Year to all our readers!

It’s been a while since we updated the blog, what with the festive season and folks heading off on holiday, but now we’re back it’s time to look back at last year, and forward to this one – and what a year it’s going to be!

Male bearded tit – Brian Sandison

Bird-wise, December brought us the traditional bittern sighting on the 3rd, fieldfares in the hedgerows around the wild-bird cover fields, and continuing sightings of bearded tits, in quite large groups around the Tower, and from Fen Hide – always worth checking for them if the weather is calm! Three little egrets remained around the Savoch Low Ground, although I suspect they were (r)egretting being there when the weather got worse. A firecrest was a serendipitous find when one of our visitors was going through his photos from the boardwalk, and happily it remained around until about 17 December. Farmland birds continued to increase in numbers, with 130 linnets, 20 greenfinches, and 35 reed buntings, not to mention the resident tree sparrow gang around the farmyard, which are present all the time!

Little egret in flight – Brian Sandison

Duck numbers were low-to-reasonable; 1496 wigeon, 265 teal (probably an undercount on a windy day when they were all in the reeds), 8 shoveler, 12 pintail, 413 mallard, 29 goldeneye, a few gadwall, and one green-winged teal spotted on 7 December. Swan numbers were good, 104 mute swans and 195 whoopers on the WeBS count. Goose numbers were disappointingly low in December, with only 4462 pinkfeet recorded, 1 Greenland white-fronted goose and 77 greylags. (Goose numbers did recover somewhat after the turn of the year, with 12,129 pinkfeet seen on the WeBS count of 18 January). A jack snipe was a good spot during the farmland bird survey of the fields near Starnafin on 15 December.

So, all in all, 2014 wasn’t a bad year...four new Konik foals to add to the herd, breeding bearded tits, breeding snipe, the first on-reserve record of blue-winged teal back in June, the first ring-necked duck in 22 years, the third-ever record of barred warbler, and the second-ever of Savi’s warbler. Despite the huge fire in June, the dunes are recovering well. The terns and black-headed gulls bred successfully for the first time in years, thanks to the otter-fencing and new tern rafts. A big thanks to all those involved in reshaping the island, digging the fence in and providing/launching the rafts! We said a sad farewell to Vicky Anderson (now enjoying life in the Outer Hebrides amongst the machair and the corncrakes) and a warm welcome to our new Habitats and Species warden Derren Fox. Ed Grace was promoted to Estate and Livestock warden. Our two volunteer interns, Paula Redman and Emma Parker have now left us, Paula to become a trainee with the Field Studies Council, and Emma to look for a job in conservation that actually pays her! (Good luck with the interviews, Em!) We also welcome our new intern, Isis Lake, to the team for 2015. Our regular volunteers Charlie, Pauline and Roger, continue to give their valuable time to all the odd jobs around the place; it’s thanks to them and to our residential volunteers that we can keep everything running smoothly.

The coming year presents us with quite a few challenges, notably the changes that will be happening at Starnafin. You may have seen on the RSPB main site or in the news that we have received a substantial grant from the Coastal Communities Fund, helping us to transform the visitor centre and volunteer accommodation, enabling us to have more residential volunteers and visiting researchers in better living quarters, making changes to the Visitor Centre and toilet block, and providing a new office for the staff. All this will inevitably have an effect on access to the reserve – the Loch hides and Tower Pool Hide will remain accessible, but there may be closures and changes to parking at various times; we’ll keep you posted on our Twitter feed and Facebook pages. We're not letting the changes stop us doing things though - we're planning another craft fair at Easter, and there will be a Beach Clean-up in the spring/summer. More events as plans are drawn together - they'll be listed on our Reserve Events page and on social media.

Thanks for all your support during 2014, and we hope to see you in 2015!

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