This month at the RSPB has been an exciting time for sightings as we enter the winter months. One of the more unusual sightings on the reserve this month was an American Wigeon which was seen on the Aird Meadow Loch on the 23rd of November. There has been fewer than 20 records of these birds in Britain as they are scarce visitors. They will usually breed in North America and then spend the wintering months in South America. These birds used to be known as "Baldpate" as its distinctive white stripe on its crown resembled a bald man's head. They are rather compact ducks and are smaller than a mallard and are extremely vocal birds. It was definitely an unexpected treat to have one of these birds pay a visit to the reserve.

There has also been an abundance of snipe spotted on the reserve this month with over 60 counted, the work that has been carried out on the scrape allows for these birds to be more easily seen from the visitor centre. These birds are very distinctive looking waders with their short legs and long straight bills. In the winter birds from Northern Europe join the populations that are resident here. It is always fantastic to have such a large number of snipe on the reserve as they currently have an amber conservation status. The UK population has suffered declines in the last 25 years particularly in lowland wet grassland. This has been due to the drainage of grassland and moorland. The scrape has also attracted large numbers of lapwing this month. Lapwing can often be found in farmland and wetland habitats; they make for a magnificent sight when they are flying through the skies in large flocks in winter. They are easily recognisable with their broad round wingtips and their stunning black and white patterns; the males have a distinctive "peewit" call when displaying in the breeding season which led to them being named Peewit. The lapwing is another bird species which has undergone significant declines over the years and currently has a red UK conservation status which is the highest conservation priority. These declines have been greatest in Southern England and Wales where farmland changes have contributed to these declines and since 1960 the numbers dropped by 80%. The decline hasn’t been quite so drastic in Scotland although their numbers have still dropped by 29% since 1987.

 

Lapwing on the scrape, photograph by Rachel Reid

There has been plenty of other sightings on the reserve this winter, robins can be spotted and heard all across the reserve and long tailed tits have been delighting visitors on the Aird Meadow Trail. Fieldfare have also been spotted around the reserve; these are large colourful thrushes that can often be spotted in large flocks around the UK during the winter months. Redwing was also spotted from the visitor centre which is another winter visitor to the UK and is the UK’s smallest thrush species, only a very small number of redwing remain in the UK all year round to breed. The vast majority of redwing will return to Iceland, The Faroes or Scandinavia. They are very social birds and can often be spotted in mixed flocks with fieldfare foraging for food. Another exciting sighting this month was a male hen harrier spotted flying over the reserve.

Fieldfare on the Aird Meadow Trail

Hen Harrier flying over the reserve, Photograph by Richard bennet

The nuthatches remain regulars at the feeders on the Aird Meadow trail which always makes for a fantastic sighting on the reserve. Greater Spotted woodpeckers has also been a regular visitor at the feeders. Visitors have reported seeing bullfinches along the Aird Meadow Trail, these small finches can often be seen in Scotland throughout December and January. The males are unmistakable when spotted with their black cap and flaming red breast. Bullfinches are very skilled at mimicry which is one of the reasons they were popular birds to cage and tame.

Male bullfinch at the visitor centre

Written by Rachel Reid - Volunteer

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