A little bit of an update

I’ve not been at my computer much this week and Loch Leven NNR so I’m just getting round to doing a update about what’s been going on around the reserve this week.

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The duck flapping in the centre of the picture is a Ring-necked Duck. It’s a rare visitor to the reserve. It was spotted at the Factory Bay hide a fortnight ago.

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Here is a close up of the bird that was in Pitlochry last year. it differs from a Tufted Duck by being bulkier, more of a peaked crown without a tuft, white around the bill base and and a white band across the bill and grey flank with a white spur at the front.

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Its a rare duck from North America. This is the first record at Loch Leven since August/September 2012.

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Oystercatchers are back in force at Loch Leven. They are back on territory. Up to three pairs nest in the Kirkgate area.

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The Oystercatchers feed on worms from short grass and fly to pier for safety.

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Here is a bit of habitat creation. We felled a willows overhanging branches into the loch. This creates habitat for broods of ducklings and helps break up the wave action and slowing down erosion.

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Some chaps are good at making sculptures with chainsaws. A hinge in the tree is about the extent of my skills.

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We’re into phase one of trout in the classroom. Neil has delivered the eggs to the schools.

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Willie Wilson in full flow telling the children about the trout ecology at the loch.

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Many thanks to Haggis Adventures/Radical travel who came out to help us thinning out the new plantings at Carsehall. It was a great day and everyone worked hard. The packed lunches were once again fantastic.

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The Supermoon was quite spectacular at Loch Leven. About a dozen photographers were around the pier were present for the spectacle.

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We are also seeing some nice pastel sunsets.

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Gull numbers are growing at Loch Leven. We can see over 20000 gulls roosting on the loch. Most of them are Common Gulls with smaller numbers of Black-headed and Herring.

Some of the staff from Battleby came down to video of the volunteers a couple of weeks ago. The video has gone live on the SNH YouTube channel.

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https://www.youtube.com/user/ScotNaturalHeritage1

Please go on and have a look.

I’m still catching up on the social media writing but want to get a Winterwatch highlights page out later this week so keep an eye out for that.

 

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World Wetlands Day 2018

Loch Leven NNR – Worlds Wetlands Day 2018

February the 2nd is World Wetlands Day. It is the day we celebrate wetlands and their importance to us. Loch Leven is a recognised Ramsar site. A Ramsar site is an internationally important wetland.

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The name Ramsar comes from the place on the Caspian Sea, Iran where the first International Wetlands Convention was held in 1971. A treaty was signed to protect wetlands across the world.

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Back then 18 countries took part with the UK being one of them. Now there are 169 countries involved covering 810,000 square miles of wetlands, which is approximately twice the size of France.

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Loch Leven was on the original list of wetlands. It is up there with the great wetlands of the world like Lake Baikal in Russia, Lake Nakuru in Kenya and the Everglades National Park in the United States of America.

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Loch Leven was put on the list because of the uniqueness of the habitat, the internationally important numbers of wintering birds and the high density of breeding wildfowl. It has the highest breeding density of freshwater ducks in western Europe.

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The table below gives the approximate amount of the highest total of species counted around the reserve over the years.  In the autumn of 50000 wildfowl can be using the site at once. The clean water is full of aquatic plants for them to feed on.  The table below does not include non wildfowl like Swifts, Sand Martins and Swallows. Their numbers regularly hit five figures at Loch Leven feeding on airborne insects that thrive in the clear waters of the loch.

Shelduck 100
Mallard 3000
Gadwall 800
Pintail 1500
Shoveler 600
Widgeon 2000
Teal 11000
Pochard 5000
Tufted Duck 12000
Goldeneye 800
Goosander 500
Red-breasted Merganser 100
Coot 5000
Pink-footed Geese 30000
Whooper Swan 800
Mute Swan 700

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Many of our internationally important wetlands are threatened by drainage, pollution, over grazing, recreational disturbance and climate change. We all have a duty to look after these sites so they can be enjoyed for years to come.

Further information.

The Ramsar website – Here

List of Ramsar sites around the world – Here

 

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Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!

The weather has made it quite an eventful week at Loch Leven NNR.

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But firstly my colleague Peter sent me this picture from 2010. The boat was stuck in the ice that winter. We’ve got off quite lightly this year.

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Over the weekend the snow was adequate enough to ski around the trail.

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The ice had thinned out by Monday and the temperature rose dramatically with the snow gone by Tuesday.

But as the snow departed the wind and rain arrived with over an inch of rain and gusts of more than 50mph locally.

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The South Quiech rose so much, swollen by the rain and snow melt, it was just 6 inches off the bottom of the bridge….

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And the path was flooded briefly.

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The flow was so strong that it cut off the peninsular which was flowing strongly into the harbour.

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The Softrack arrived this week. We’ll be out cutting next week if it dries up a bit. Thanks to Susan for the photos. we’ll be hearing plenty about this in the coming weeks.

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Therehave been a few Bramblings around the trail in the wooded areas recently. These birds are similar to Chaffinches but are more orange with a white rump and a buzzing call. Bramblings breed across Scandinavia but don’t breed in the UK. Keep an eye out for them on your garden feeder as they are partial to the occasional sunflower heart.

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This covey of Grey Partridge was over the east side of the loch. This species is rapidly declining locally so it was good to see a covey of six together. Other birds that have been spotted around the reserve this week include a Tawny Owl, Jack Snipe and a Woodcock.

 

 

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Snow

We’ve had a little snow at Loch Leven NNR. Not as much as other parts of Scotland. It’s been a pleasant wintry scene around here. We’ve had few visitors to enjoy it though.

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This lovely Grey Wagtail is still feeding outside the Burleigh hide.

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This gang of female Greater Scaup were just offshore at Burleigh on Monday. Scaup are closely related to Tufted Duck. They vary by being slightly bigger and bulkier not having a tuft and the drakes have a grey vermiculated back. We have had flocks of over 50 here in the past and in 2014 a pair bred at Loch Leven. They normally breed much further north and only rarely breed in the UK.

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Today we were out counting geese. Numbers are quite low right now with 2300 Pinkfeet and 230 Greylags roosting on the reserve. I was down at Carsehall. I was hidden behind the gorse…..

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And the geese were flying low over my head to the field behind me. Numbers of geese are generally low at this time of year at Loch Leven. The numbers will rise as the weather improves into February. Our highest ever count was made in the late 90’s when there was snow to the north and south of us.

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On Wednesday SNH photographer Lorne Gill came down to visit Loch Leven to get some footage of the volunteers working around the reserve. They were also interviewed and the film will appear on the SNH YouTube channel.

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Here is Richard re-writing the update signs

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We’d just like to remind everyone that SNH have a new website. It’s still under construction but you can look all the other work SNH do throughout Scotland on – www.nature.scot

 

 

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First week back

 

We’re back in the office at Loch Leven NNR. It’s been a quiet start to the new year.Great to be catching up with admin and starting to plan the next few weeks of work.

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Many apologies. I’d planned to bonus blog with a few highlights from last year this week but I couldn’t get the photos so I’ll get a bonus blog on next week.

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I started off the week with a count of the ducks around the loch. This was relatively easy as the ducks were on small holes in the ice. Numbers on our side were quite low but I still picked out a drake Smew off Burleigh and a Little Egret at the factory hide.

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There is also a Greenshank hanging around the north shore. These birds are scarce in Scotland in the winter and even rarer inland. We will see up to two loosely associating with the Redshank.

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This Stonechat is one of a few pairs locally around the trail. In the winters of 2010/11 the population appeared to crash with very few seen around the reserve but they are dotted all around the trail.

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We’ll be doing the January goose count next week. It appears there are reasonable numbers out roosting on the ice.

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While we were out before Christmas we spotted this red collared Greylag Goose. We assume most of our Greylag Geese at Loch Leven are re-naturalised local stock as ‘wild’ Greylag Geese tend to stay further north in the Highlands and Orkney.

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Many thanks to Bob Swann who supplied the information about this bird. The bird was rung in Blondhous in north west Iceland in summer 2016. It is the first time this bird has been spotted in the UK.

At the time of writing the ice is slowly melting out on the loch. I dug into the archives and found some photos from the winter 2010/11 when the ice was nine inches thick in places. A combination of mild weather and storms meant the ice broke up quickly. These pictures demonstrate the power of ice on such a large water body.

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The distant white line is piles of ice visible from the other side of the loch.

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I saw piles of broken ice over 2 metres high

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The ice took out fences and caused erosion. See the sods of turf lifted off from around the loch shore.

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We lose valuable shoreline willows during these events.

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Fancy a challenge over the weekend? Go and find a Short-eared Owl around Loch Leven. The best places to search are around the north shore or hunting over St Serfs.

Happy hunting.

 

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Quick Update from around the reserve

We’ve been out of the office for a while at Loch Leven NNR. Many thanks or the guest blog from Craig Nisbet. We wish him all the best on Handa in the summer and I’m sure I’ll manage a visit and report back.

We’ve apparently had all weather thrown at us this over the holiday period and January is looking like it might be quite cold.

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In December the loch froze over. this is the first really big ice event at Loch Leven since the winter of 2010/11.

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Reed Bower was lost in the early morning mist

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The Green Isle

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This ‘Murder’ of Carrion Crows gathered on the ice for a brief noisy meeting.

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Many thanks to my mate Paul Lomas who sent me through some photos from up at Bee Craigs and West Lomond. Loch Leven is lost under the mist during a temperature inversion where the loch acts like a sink for cold air and the mist gathers over the water. Winter hill walkers can enjoy this spectacle quite often at Loch Leven.

We’ve been exceptionally busy up to Christmas around the loch.

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We’ve had our digger in, clearing the ponds and re-profiling at Burleigh. We were also removing stumps at Mary’s Knowe.

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It makes clearing ponds quite difficult when there is 4 inches of ice!

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We’ve also been round  clearing the dangerous trees around the reserve. This tree was hung up on another one. with a trunk about nearly three feet thick it took quite a lot of effort to winch it off the other trees. This saved the tree it was hung up on.

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I say this on the blog every year. Shelduck have a strange status at Loch Leven. They arrive in late December and are present until July. I describe birds at this time of year the first breeding migrants of the year followed by the first Oystercatchers which arrive in the first week of January to start defending their territories.

Start listening for Collared Doves, Mistle Thrush and Dunnocks. These birds will all be singing soon. I’ve been hearing them in Gloucestershire already.

I will be adding a few highlights from last year and we will be back in the blogging groove next week.

Happy New year to you all.

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Guest Blog – Craig Nisbet, Norwegian adventure and looking forward

Norway Expedition 2017

It’s been a while since my last contribution to this blog, but great to see that Jeremy and Gus have been keeping things ticking over nicely since my departure. A brief outline and pictures of my recent trip to Norway is what Jeremy asked for – a tricky task for such an epic expedition, but here goes…

My Dutch friends Melvin and Fiona, whom I met in Shetland during my 4 seasons up on Noss, invited me to join them as boatman on their second expedition to Arctic Norway filming Killer Whales and Humpbacks feeding on the Herring population that moves closer to shore during the winter months.

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 Craig the boatman, with Melvin behind, and Hilco to the left (Fiona behind the camera)

After last winter’s expedition they knew that the action would be further north this year, so with the help of Fiona’s parents they located fantastic accommodation on a small island called Rebbenesøya. On arrival it quickly became clear that we’d need to relocate even further north in order to get the footage that they were hoping for. So after several long boat journeys north, we found a new home in the Skjervoy area.

The relocation immediately paid off, and within half an hour we were in the midst of hundreds of Orcas and dozens of Humpbacks.

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A bull Orca

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Tail-slapping Orca

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Spy-hopping Orca

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Humpback Whales

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A diving Humpback

Each day we set off in their small, but very well equipped rigid inflatable boat (RIB) in search of feeding whales and interesting behaviour. Every day on the water brought with it new challenges, both in terms of locating the whales in sometimes challenging sea conditions, and in terms of gaining the desired footage by getting Melvin in the water with his underwater camera equipment. Other recording media included regular cameras, a drone and 5 Go Pros positioned at various locations around the boat.

 

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Melvin equipped and ready to submerge

Their aim was to accumulate good footage. They also invited a Dutch friend and documentary maker, Hilco Jansma to join them with a view to creating a documentary about the expedition. Their regular video blogs throughout the trip (primarily aimed at a Dutch audience, but with plenty of content to interest people of all nationalities) gave people an insight into the difficulties, methods and successes encountered throughout the trip. Follow the ‘Melvin Redeker Explore’ Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MelvinRedekerExplore/) to view the vlogs and to view some of the incredible underwater and drone footage that we’ve obtained over the season.

Feeding frenzies

Melvin filmed several underwater encounters with Orcas herding schools of Herring to the surface, before using their tails to stun the fish then picking them off one by one. Where the Orcas hunted, the Humpbacks were never far behind, often feeding at the surface as they lunged upwards and swallowed vast numbers of Herring that were bunched together in an attempt to avoid predation by the Orcas. During one such encounter Melvin was taken by surprise as a 15 metre long Humpback appeared from the dark water below, lunging within 2 metres of him as the camera rolled.

Fishing vessels

The whales are drawn to the Herring in the same way the Norwegian fishing fleet is, and every year both man and whale plunder the billions of fish, wherever they happen to be each season. As the winter rolled on, the whales began to turn their attention more toward the larger fishing vessels, often gathering in large numbers as the purse seiners hauled in their nets, waiting for any opportunity to mop up the escapees. This strategy has proved fruitful for them, and has resulted in conflict between fishing vessels and Orcas. As highlighted in the final episode of Blue Planet 2 recently, the Norwegian fishery is now carefully monitored and managed with a view to ensuring that the fishing fleets and whale populations are able to co-exist and benefit from the plentiful supply of food.

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Orcas surround a fishing vessel as it hauls in its nets

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A Humpback lunges into view as Orcas pick off individual escapee Herring from the net

Orca Identification

This feeding strategy resulted in many pods of Orcas remaining quite inactive during the daylight hours, as the fishing fleet waits for the Herring to rise to the surface during the hours of darkness. Whilst restricting opportunities to film interesting activity in the daylight hours, their hours of rest allowed us plenty of opportunities to attain identification photographs for our friends from the Norwegian Orca Survey (www.facebook.com/norwegianorcasurvey). The Norwegian ID Catalogue (https://www.norwegianorca-id.no) is an extensive database with over 900 individual Orcas identified using nicks on dorsal fins and scarring on saddle patches. The catalogue represents an excellent citizen science initiative that allows everybody the opportunity to contribute their sightings to the database, increasing knowledge of this population and enabling scientists develop a deeper understanding of where and on what, individual whales are choosing to feed.

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One of the easier females to identify – NKW607 ‘Froya’ showing her distinctive saddle scar

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NKW-686 – displaying distinctive scarring and an obvious dorsal fin nick

Humpback Identification

With the relatively recent arrival of Humpback Whales to the area, another citizen science project is also in place to contribute identification photos. Humpback tail flukes are like fingerprints, and individual animals can be identified using images of the underside. The North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (http://www.hvalid.no) is used to record individuals of this population, and by using these records, as well as satellite tags, it is now understood that this population migrates between the Caribbean and Norway, crossing the Atlantic each year and often frequenting British waters on route.

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NNHWC-286 – one of several successful matches obtained from the North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue

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An unidentified tail fluke submitted to the catalogue

Fin Whales

Fin Whales are also known to occur as Herring come close to shore in the winter months. The second largest animal on Earth is known to reach a length of 22 metres, and our brief encounters with a pair of these giants was enough to appreciate their sheer scale and elegance. Look back through Melvin’s vlogs and you will find awesome drone footage of them surfacing for air during one such encounter.

 

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The long back of a Fin Whale

Bird life

In addition to the cetaceans, other Norwegian highlights included the birdlife. White-tailed Eagles are common in this part of the world, and watching the so-called ‘flying barn doors’ swooping down to grab fish from the surface was a spectacular sight. Seabirds were also well represented, despite being the off-season for breeding birds. Amongst the more common Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, Glaucous Gulls were often spotted, and 5 species of auk were often seen on the water in their winter plumage, with Little Auks the most frequent. Long-tailed Ducks and Eider Ducks were also regular around the coast, but unfortunately the King Eiders eluded me on this visit. Passerines are less common in winter, but Fieldfare remain common, as well as Snow Bunting, Great Tit, Hooded Crow, Magpie and Greenfinch.

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White-tailed Eagle

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White-tailed Eagle

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White-tailed Eagle with a huge catch

Aurora

Undoubtedly one of the biggest draws to Arctic Norway in winter is the spectacular Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. We were not disappointed during my 5 week stay, with frequent displays, and several truly spectacular moments of green and purple shimmering curtains. Photographs rarely capture the magnificence of this natural phenomenon, but Melvin’s time-lapse photography sets and videos demonstrate more clearly the movement that can be seen with the naked eye.

 

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Aurora highlights – too many to choose from!

Visit Norway!

Safe to say that this experience has been unforgettable, and the welcome we have enjoyed from the locals on Rebbenesøya during our time there has been exceptional. If you are ever keen to visit yourselves, I can thoroughly recommend the Nordhavet Guest House (www.facebook.com/nordhavetguesthouse). Marit, Tone and May-Kristin were wonderful hosts and would be delighted to welcome more visitors to their island, whatever the time of year!

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Norhavet Guest House, Rebbenesøya

What now for me?

As many of you will know, I’ve enjoyed 4 great seasons on Noss NNR in Shetland. Next season I’m moving to Handa (www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserve/handa-island), another spectacular seabird island to the north of Ullapool, where I look forward to working for Scottish Wildlife Trust for the first time with my partner Francesca. Another beautiful corner of Scotalnd awaits, and I hope that a few of you will find the time to stop in on your travels in the New Year. Keep an ear to the ground for social media updates as Francesca and I settle in to our new role up there.

If you’d like to look back at the many photos and news I posted during my time in Norway, or if you’re interested in hearing all about our upcoming season on Handa, feel free to follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/craig.nisbet.31.

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Winter is here

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It’s all Change at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. Last week it was just a cold brisk wind. Now it’s full on winter. I’m personally glad we’ve not had snow yet here.

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On Saturday a light breeze was keeping the loch free of ice with just a gentle ripple going across. Over night the loch iced over to nearly 100% coverage.

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Unfortunately we have no eagles as yet but many of our wildfowl have decided to stay. There are various parts of the loch away from the burn inlets that are being kept ice-free by the sheer number of wildfowl on site.

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There were a pair of Smew in with the wildfowl.

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We’ve had Gus back with us for a few days volunteering. Always good to have him about to catch up on the gossip.

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The cold weather froze up the strops we use to pull timber about to the amusement of our author.

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This interesting duck was spotted in an ice hole near Findatie. It looks superficially like a pochard but it’s appearance suggests there are some Ferruginous Duck genes present when you look at the headshape and bill structure. On a couple of occasions pure examples of this subtle duck from southern and eastern Europe has visited Loch Leven, but in the last 4 years we’ve just seen hybrids.

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Gus and I were watching the rats in the Kirkgate cemetery. I’m not keen on rats and watched them from afar. They appeared to be feeding in the yew pips dropped by the birds.

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This ring was handed to me by Kinross Estate staff. It’s a ring from a Mute Swan that had died on the Scart.

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This bird had been born in Beecraigs Country Park in West Lothian and was ringed as a cygnet in November 2016. It was at Linlithgow Loch from 15th April to 13th May 2017 before moving on again. Its next sighting was when it was found at Loch Leven. My ambition is to find a Mute Swan from England at Loch Leven. According to wildfowl experts,  distant cross border recoveries are few and far between and can be fogged by birds that are rescued by swan rehabilitation centres.

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While hedgelaying this week both Gus and I independently spotted this fungus growing on a stick from the hedge. Gus beat me to the ID. It’s Coral Spot fungus. It’s common in the UK and effects wood that is dead or dying.

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Anyone visiting the loch please remember ice is very dangerous. The guy on the left tried to walk out to the castle. He got over 10 metres out before turning back quickly. Even after a prolonged ice events the ice is very dangerous with the water level changing.

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Waxwings and Eagles

We’re now firmly into winter now at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. Next week looks like being the coldest for a long while. Maybe even temperetures as low as -6 some days. Normally we’d expect the loch would freeze over. The only areas that are kept ice-free are where the water runs in.

When the loch does freeze we lose a lot of our wildfowl and if we get snow the geese have no where feed .

There’s still plenty of things to see at Loch Leven. In recent years the re-introduced Sea Eagles have been turning up now and then.

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The eagles come to the loch to scavenge for food. In the autumn trout that have spawned can die and some years many trout can be found along the loch shore. Eagles take advantage of this food source. They also like to take advantage of the sick or wounded wildfowl on the site. I’ve also seen them trying to catch Mute Swans.

When we have eagles here we are always keen to get folk onto them. The best places to see them are from the Kirkgate looking towards Reed Bower or on St Serfs. When the loch is frozen the eagles are happy to sit on the ice and are very obvious. 0af40dee-7b63-41eb-9e8b-c862867acbe6

Look out for signs they are about. If an eagle is roosting on Reed Bower, the cormorants wont be. When an eagle flies over the loch the other birds don’t like it, Crows and Ravens will chase them and the wildfowl will take flight.

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Typical view at Loch Leven.

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Sometimes we’re lucky to get close views on the loch. Keep an eye on the blog or head over to the RSPB centre for updates.

Another species, quite a different bird entirely, that pops in during the winter is the Waxwing. Some years we get lots, other years we don’t get any. Hopefully this year we’ll get some as there have been sightings across the country, but not as many as we had last year!

Last year gave us some good ideas about where they turn up. This tends to be where they can find their food: berries. They love Rowan trees, but so do the winter thrushes that have already arrived, so a lot of those are gone now. However, there are still plenty of ornamental Rowans about Kinross. One of these with pink berries was particularly productive last year.

So anywhere you know that there are berry-bearing trees, keep an eye out. Even if you don’t get Waxwings you might get Redwing or Fieldfare.

They also quite like tall trees so keep an eye out at the tops of tall trees, like the Poplars that are by the office car park in Kinross. They sit in these tall trees to digest the berries after they’ve gorged themselves. Some of the berries can be fermented which would be very bad for us but the Waxwings have very strong livers that are able to cope with them.

Whilst there haven’t been any reports locally of Waxwings, there have been some in Perthshire and Aberdeenshire. If any are reported locally then you can be sure that we’ll put the news out on here!

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A quick update on a busy week

Once again it’s been a very busy week at LOCH LEVEN NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE. It’s also been very cold.

Hope everybody had a fantastic St Andrews Day!

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The brisk north-westerly wind has stopped the Loch Leven freezing over. Parts of the trail that had been wet are iced up so be careful out there. Ice has been forming piles along the edge of the loch. We had to smash through the ice to get the boat out.

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There’s still green leaves on the Oak and Hawthorne trees even though winter is definitely here. In winter 2014/15 there were still green leave on the oak trees at Levenmouth in late December.

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Our big boat is now away for winter storage down at Queensferry. Alan and I took it back over the old bridge this afternoon. This job is always a challenge.

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We welcomed the SNH biodiversity team to Loch Leven on Thursday. We looked at education and wildlife counting around the loch.

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Wednesday saw us having another hedgelaying workshop at Loch Leven. Our volunteers were joined by RSPB staff. (More about this in a bonus blog which Neil will write)

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On Monday Neil and I were out checking the dangerous trees on the reserve. One of the trees we found round at Grahamstone had an interesting red substance on it. I took some pictures assuming it was a fungus but after consulting a few folk it transpires it’s actually a Slime mold. I belive this species to be Arcyria ferruginea but I’d probably need to analyse it under a microscope to be sure. We normally see the more common ‘Dog Vommit’ slime mould here in the early Autumn,

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The week before I found this interesting looking fungus around the reserve. It’s called Common Eyelash Fungus (Scutellinia scutellata).

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This lovely Grey Wagtail was feeding in front of the Burleigh hide. A splash of yellow brightens up these winter days.

They’ll be a bonus blog next week to give folk a few pointers on finding White-tailed Eagles at Loch Leven and Waxwings locally.

Wrap up warm folks!

 

 

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