What have we been up to?

For the last few months now Savvas and I (Katie) have been residential volunteers at Loch of Strathbeg. We have been living and working on the reserve and it has been great getting to know the reserve and the people that work here. Even in this short amount of time we have done so much and learnt lots of great skills, so I thought it would be a good idea to give a short account of some of the things we have gotten up to over the last few months.

Fencing

From the very beginning of our stay we have helping out with the new fencing that has been going up around the reserve. These new fences are to replace some older ones as well as creating new areas for the reserve’s Konik ponies to roam. Though its hard and sometimes very muddy work it is very satisfying seeing a nice straight fence at the end of the day and the ponies have been very happy with their new space and fresh vegetation to munch on. It also been a great opportunity for us volunteers to learn a great set of new skills.


Konik ponies inspecting their new fence. Photo by Katie Bell

WeBS

During the autumn and winter months the WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) counts are done across the reserve. We each take up a position on the reserve (at a rather unsociable hour) and wait and possibly wait a bit more. Eventually the geese leave their night-time roosting areas and we count them once they have flown out of the reserve, this reduces the likelihood of double counting. Once all the geese had left we can move on to the ducks and other waterfowl. Carrying out these surveys has been a great chance to become familiar with the bird species found on the reserve and a brilliant chance to see some rarer species, including American Wigeon, Bearded Tits and a Glossy Ibis, some of which were a first for me!

Loch Spynie

In December, we visited Loch Sypnie, a reserve the RSPB have very recently become involved in helping manage. An information board to tell visitors about the reserve and what they can see had to be erected. Some assembly was required, but with some careful planning and great team work we got it put together in no time! We put up the new information board on the path close to the car park and then spent some time in the bird hide to have some lunch and enjoy the sights and sounds of the birds. It is a beautiful little loch and it’s a great spot for bird watching.


The new information board at Loch Spynie. Photo by Katie Bell

Bird Boxes

Around the visitor centre at Loch of Strathbeg and in nearby patches of woodland are a number of bird boxes. These are primarily put up for the large number of tree sparrows that are found here, though other species such as great tits and blue tits do use some of the boxes. Over the years however, and with a little help for some wild Scottish weather some of the boxes are looking a bit sorry for themselves. So for the last few weeks we have been carrying out repairs and replacing badly damaged boxes. Once all the new boxes are up the reserves sparrows will have plenty of options to raise this year’s chicks.


New bird box in the Woodland Walk. Photo by Katie Bell

The Fowlsheugh steps

This month we have spent some time at the sea cliff reserve Fowlsheugh, adding some more steps to an area of path that was becoming eroded. We dug several wooden steps into the ground and added a couple posts to keep them in place, all of which would have been a lot easier of the ground wasn’t frozen. Once they were in we filled the space behind the steps with hardcore and levelled them off. While we were there we also visited the newly built shelter that provides some amazing views across the cliffs. We were even lucky enough to see a pod of at least twenty bottlenose dolphins swim by. It is a great reserve that I had previously never been to before and I can’t wait to get back there in the summer when the puffins have returned.



Photos by Katie Bell

I have really enjoyed my time here, I have learnt so much and met some great people. I have seen bird species I had never seen before and got to know reserves I had never visited before. Being a residential volunteer with the RSPB at Loch of Strathbeg has been a brilliant experience that I would recommend to anyone considering a career in conservation.

Katie Bell

Residential Volunteer

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