Exciting discoveries

Loch Leven: another day, another wee bit of Autumnwatch to catch up on. Berries, snakes, Spoonbills and Bewick’s Swans; where to begin?

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Perhaps at the start: berries. Loch Leven must currently be looking very attractive to berry-eating birds as we have a lot of native trees planted around the reserve, including Rowan. The Rowan berries have already been getting munched by Blackbirds, and now Redwings and Fieldfares are taking their share. The bird we’re all hoping for though, is the Waxwing!

Waxwings are somewhat like thrushes but aren’t in the same family. They are very much berry eating birds and tend to stick to Rowan, although Whitebeam berries will be equally satisfactory for them. One thing that is quite amazing about Waxwings is that their livers are extremely strong, strong enough to be able to handle fermented berries! If we were to try that we’d end up in a spot of bother.

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Redwings are currently enjoying the berries at Loch Leven

Next, those amazing Spoonbills. Unfortunately we don’t have Spoonbills at Loch Leven… yet. They are only just re-establishing themselves in the UK after being made extinct here, so who knows, in a few years we might have a Spoonbill or two dropping into Loch Leven for the winter!

One thing they pointed out on Autumnwatch was the way in which a Spoonbill feeds; by sifting the water through it’s beak by moving it’s head side to side. Another bird that has a similar technique is the Shoveler, a lovely duck that we do have quite a few of on the loch.

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Notice the extraordinary bill! Seen from the hides at Vane Farm

Shovelers have a special adaptation in their beaks that allows them to almost sieve the water through their beaks by taking water in, then forcing it out through special “lamellae” using it’s tongue. These lamellae are basically comb-like bristles that catch any nutritious particles that are in the water.

Below is a closer look at the extraordinary bill, plus a bird’s-eye view, which demonstrates why they are occasionally known as ‘spoonbills’!

I was quite amazed at the flight that Sacha Dench is taking on, I’m following it all here, on Twitter. Bewick’s Swans don’t tend to touch down in Scotland but they are quite difficult to tell apart from Whoopers.

Sacha’s aim is to find out about the journey the Bewick’s Swans are taking, and why their population is declining using a paramotor. Here at Loch Leven, we don’t have a paramotor so we rely on other methods of finding out about our birds’ life stories.

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Whooper Swans in fields near Portmoak Airfield

The above picture was taken 3 years ago by Jeremy. The particularly interesting thing about this picture is that one of the swans has a coloured ring on it’s leg. This isn’t a fashion statement, it’s an easy way of tracking individuals. Jeremy saw the ring, read the code and made a note of the colour and then sent the details away to the person who ringed it.

If you’d like to find out where one of our Whoopers came from, then click here to read Jeremy’s blog post from 3 years ago. I’ll be out this winter looking for colour rings on Whoopers and perhaps the Pinkfeet as well.

The last segment was on the reptiles (mainly snakes) found at RSPB Arne. Again, we don’t have reptiles present on the reserve, although it’s possible Common Lizards just haven’t been found yet. If you want to see snakes on a Scottish National Nature Reserve then I can’t recommend Muir of Dinnet NNR highly enough, on my first visit I saw 6 Adders! Read more about them on the Muir of Dinnet NNR blog.

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Adder at Muir of Dinnet NNR

We do have plenty of amphibians at Loch Leven though! Today we were out grass-cutting in front of the Levenmouth Hide with the volunteers so visitors can now see the ponds, and hopefully there’s more space for birds to land on the pools!

I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take pictures of our usual amphibians, the Common Toad and the Common Frog. Indeed, both showed up on several occasions and sort of sat nicely for the camera. Which is which? Can you tell the difference?

Quick fact: Toads can secrete a toxin from their skin to keep predators at bay!

Whilst photographing these two, I did think to myself, “I wish I could get something a little rarer, perhaps a newt,” but then reminded myself that newts are probably hiding away to hibernate at this time of year and they are difficult to see even at the best time of year to see them!

However, by complete coincidence, this lovely little male Palmate Newt wandered across a piece of white plastic right where I could see it! Brilliant little thing with some very vivid colours.

As with the snakes on Autumnwatch, the amphibians at Loch Leven all predate one another! Toads will eat just about anything that moves and fits in their mouths, as will frogs. This may seem to leave the newts a little worse off, but they will eat frog and toad tadpoles so it all balances out.

To finish off, some pictures of what we’ve done today at Levenmouth. I spoke to a lot of people who said they hadn’t seen anything at the Levenmouth Hide, so hopefully our work will change that! I’ve already seen some Wigeon and Whooper Swans prospectively flying over so fingers crossed…

Later on in the week I might even have some hidden camera footage like the Spoonbill cam that they have on Autumnwatch!

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3 Responses to Exciting discoveries

  1. Hadriana says:

    A really interesting blog, great photos and very informative. Keep up the good work!

  2. Pingback: My year’s highlights | Loch Leven National Nature Reserve

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