Having a whale of a time

Another week at Loch Leven, another blog post. And as ever, the loch has provided me with plenty to write about!

But, first I’ll just slip a little non-Loch Leven sighting in… Jeremy and I made a little trip down to Pettycur in Kinghorn to have a look out into the Firth of Forth to spot this..:

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Believe it or not, that’s a Humpback Whale! It was reported in the Forth a few days ago and was still there yesterday, not sure about today. Spotting it in the huge Firth of Forth takes a bit of luck and some good eyesight, as one of the first signs is the blow, and then the back of the animal rolls out of the water and back under a few times, before it then dives under again.

It may not look very big but this was viewing it from 2-3 miles away. It was a brilliant animal to see! Keep an eye on social media for any updates on whether they are still about. Forvie NNR has had a couple of Humpies off the coast this year, and one of them moved north to the Moray Firth recently along with another one.

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The blow of a Humpback Whale with Edinburgh behind

Anyway, back to Loch Leven where I’d be surprised to see a Humpback Whale or even a Harbour Porpoise. This week we’ve been trialing a new vehicle that we may potentially get for use on the reserve. It’s pretty much a golf cart with a slightly more rigid chassis, and more suspension and bigger tyres. Also, it’s electric which means zero emissions, very fitting with Scotland’s draft climate change plan which came out recently.

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Cushman Hauler PRO X

It was very useful on Wednesday with our volunteers as we had several groups out doing various jobs, meaning we could pick up any extra tools for each group and drop them off on the drive round. One of these jobs was placing some trout sculptures in the ponds round at Mary’s Knowe. Of course, this meant getting in the pond. Fortunately Leo, one of our volunteers, was happy to go in the deeper areas meaning I didn’t have to go in too deep.

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Here’s a pic Susan took from dry land

Neil was out with the chainsaw clearing a few willows along the shoreline in Kirkgate Park and Jeremy took our big boat away to South Queensferry to be serviced. Leo and I also found the buggy very useful for carrying back many of the tree guards from around the reserve that are now redundant given the age and size of many of the trees we’ve planted.

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The big boat last week, being prepared for departure

So, on to the wildlife. My personal highlight of the week has got to be the wee Stoat that I caught sight of swimming across a wee stream that leads into the reedbeds by the path at Carsehall. At first it was very bold and came right out the reeds to see what I was, but as soon as it saw me reaching for my camera it slinked back into the reedbed.

However, using my best “rabbit in distress” impression, I managed to coax it back to investigate but it was more wary this time and didn’t come out of the reeds. This is probably the most reliable spot on the reserve for Stoats as far as  know, but bare in mind I go down there at least weekly, if not 2 or 3 times a week. Even then, it’s just been luck when I’ve chanced upon this critter! Nevertheless, do keep an eye out for it’s long, slender body scamper across the path, and listen out for rustling in the reedbed.

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A quick eye test, spot the Stoat! Stoats have a black tail-tip and are bigger than Weasels

If you can peer through the fog that’s lingering over the loch then you may spot rafts of sawbills out in the middle of the water. This group of ducks includes Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Smew (Goldeneye usually associate with them too). The name ‘sawbill’ comes from the fact that their bills really are as sharp and jagged as a saw! This helps them grab hold of slippery fish that they dive for.

The picture above called ‘500 sawbills’ is of a raft that Jeremy and I were looking at yesterday, and Jeremy managed to pick out 3 drake Smews and 2 redhead Smews. These are winter visitors from further north, countries such as Russia and Denmark, where the water may be frozen and therefore there are richer feeding grounds here at Loch Leven where we haven’t had such low temperatures.

One animal we saw quite a lot of yesterday was Red Fox. First there was one on the spit of land that can be seen by looking north from the Factory hide, and then we stumbled upon a pair in some long grass round towards Classlochie. At this time of year, the male foxes will be looking for vixens, and the vixens will be making all manner of slightly eerie noises including the classic “scream”.

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Red Fox having a casual wander about by the water’s edge

Around the rest of the loch, it’s business as usual. Plenty to be seen, you just need to get out and enjoy it!

To finish off, some shots from the north east shore looking into the low cloud.

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The Alder on the right here is one of my favourite trees on the reserve

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The sun peaking through the clouds

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