December has finally arrived at the RSPB Lochwinnoch which means plenty of Christmas spirit and looking forward to a new year. There has been plenty of wildlife to see around the reserve this month and that has included very exciting visitors to the reserve, a redhead smew and a drake smew. The smew is a small diving bird, the drake is very distinctive with white colouring and a black mask which has led to its nickname the "white nun" while the female duck is grey with a reddish-brown head. These birds are rare winter visitors to the UK with only around 180 wintering here and they travel to the UK from Scandinavia and Russia. Smew are on the red list which means that the species is threatened globally and of conservation concern. This has been due to their breeding habitat being threatened by deforestation, agriculture intensification and destruction due to river canalisation. They are also predated on by American mink which has led to their numbers taking a large hit.


There has also been over 40 goosander counted on the Aird meadow loch this month. This duck belongs to the sawbill family and their long narrow bills with saw like teeth allow them to efficiently catch and grip fish. When in flight their wings make a distinctive whistling noise.  They first colonised Scotland in 1871 and have since spread over the entirety of the UK. These ducks can form large flocks where several thousand can be present as they are gregarious birds. After the breeding season the males all disappear and for a long time it was a complete mystery as to where they went. We now know that amazingly they migrate to Tanafjord in Norway where they fully moult their flight feathers for around 3 months and remain there until the conditions become too cold. They will then return to the UK from late October to December in large numbers and re-join the females that remain in the UK to moult.


Goosander on the Aird meadow


It's been robin galore around the reserve this December which fits in nicely with our Robin Robin adventure trail. Although robins are commonly sighted on the reserve, they remain a firm favourite and their appearance is always associated with the countdown to Christmas. Robin numbers tend to increase in the UK over the winter months as migrants from Scandinavia, Russia and Europe join the resident birds usually because their homes have become too cold and food is limited. Robins may look small and cute but they are feracious birds that will fight to the death in order to defend their territories.


Robin on the Aird Meadow trail, Photograph by Rachel Reid


There have been plenty of other sightings on the reserve this month with large numbers of chaffinch spotted on the feeding station on the Aird Meadow trail and nuthatch have also remained a common sighting at the feeding station. There have been several wigeon on the Aird Meadow, wigeon become much more abundant and widespread during the autumn and winter months. A male hen harrier was spotted on the reserve on the 12th of December. A water rail was spotted on the Dubbs trail on the 15th of December, water rails are classed as common, but it is rare to spot these birds due to their elusive nature, but they are easier to find in winter when they become more abundant and widespread. Water rail are often more likely to be heard rather than seen as they have a very distinct call.


Chaffinch at the feeding station, photograph by Rachel Reid

Written by Rachel Reid - Volunteer