The trouble with working on a reserve the size of Strathbeg is you don’t get to see all of it very often, there is a lot to do that doesn’t involve binoculars, and rarities can slip through without us noticing unless someone who’s actually here to do some birdwatching lets us know! Add to that several lightning strikes which have disconnected us from the internet for a total of about two months and you end up with perhaps less information going out about ‘what’s about’ than we’d like. Fortunately, social media tends to fill the gap, with contributions from many of our regular visitors (and this is sometimes how we find out what’s about as well!).

So – what’s about, or has been about? September saw a brief flurry of migrant activity, but with fewer people visiting the Plantation there were few records – the inevitable yellow-browed warbler (who DIDN’T have one of these on their patch?) and a crossbill of unidentified species - as well as the usual waders – spotted redshank on 20 Sep, an American golden plover which helpfully stayed around for a while on the Starnafin pools from 11 Oct, as well as the usual ruff, greenshank and black-tailed godwits. Cranes and marsh harriers left for warmer places. Red-backed shrikes at Rattray didn’t quite make it onto the reserve list, although they were reasonably easy to see.  Our long-staying little egret has been joined by others and there are now three of them regularly sighted on the pools. A great white egret has been in and out; I don’t know if this is the same bird that’s been down on the Ythan, some of the timing may be a bit tight for one bird to manage…  One waxwing caused some excitement amongst the team on 4th and 5th Nov.

Pinkfooted geese… where are our geese? They arrived nearly two weeks early this year, with the first group of over 30 ‘feet-on-ground’ on the reserve on 3 Sep, which gave us the odd experience of hearing both geese and swifts at the same time, as the swifts, swallows and martins were around later than usual. At the monthly WeBS count on 17 Sep, we had 17,275 pinkfeet counted leaving the reserve to feed on the stubble fields, and there seemed to be a lot around generally. On 23 Sep we had 700 barnacle geese, although they didn’t stay long. Numbers continued to drop, with 7,681 pinkies on the October WeBS, mostly roosting at the south end or on the beach and in the dunes. Only 946 remained for the 17 Nov count, and less than 600 were here on 24 Nov. So…who’s got our geese? I suspect they’ve gone further south, looking at the large numbers being posted at Montrose Basin…

On the plus side, we have whooper swans. LOTS of whooper swans – over 1000 of them. Noisy, beautiful, and right up close – there were over 300 on Starnafin on 24 Nov – they are the first thing I hear on coming to work and the last thing I hear when going home at night. They look to have had a good breeding year, with up to 6 cygnets in some family parties. Lapwing and golden plover numbers are growing as the flocks gather. We’ve had a brief visit from a hen harrier, and regular action from a large female peregrine. There are large numbers of wigeon and teal on the Loch and wetlands, with smaller groups of shoveler, pintail, mallard and tufted ducks. Our volunteers saw a twite on the 18 Nov as they came out of the house. Our bird feeder area has been very active – look out for us on BBC ‘Landward’ talking about feeding the birds and the Big Garden BirdWatch (25-27 January 2020).

There’s still another month to go before the end of the year and we tally up what’s been seen – keep letting us know if you spot something interesting, or unusually large numbers of the more common species.  There’s going to be some work being done putting up a predator fence around the Starnafin pools in the coming weeks, so we apologise in advance for the disturbance (see Lorna’s blog entry for more information).