It’s been a nice week weather-wise with cold, crisp mornings that have warmed up throughout the day giving us some very Spring-like conditions. The wildlife around the loch has certainly felt the beginning of the changing of the season, and we’ve been acting on this and making sure we have everything done that needs done before the breeding season starts and the flowers really start to bloom.
This morning we were out ringing on the reserve, hoping for a Kingfisher but unfortunately we didn’t catch any (he/she narrowly avoided the net before we had it set up)! We settled for some Reed Buntings, Long-tailed Tits, a Blackbird and some Robins.
Just off the pier, in the nice early morning light the drake ducks were looking their best as the sun highlighted the glossy colouration of their feathers. Mallards are the easiest to see but there’s been a couple of Goldeneye and some Tufted Ducks, as well as two pairs of Great Crested Grebes that appear to be displaying almost every minute.
There’s actually been a bit of an exodus of wildfowl from the loch, Jeremy tells me this usually happens after the water levels rise a lot, which they have. The snow and subsequent run-off from the hills around Loch Leven have filled the loch up and raised the water level by at least a foot.
This means that the Levenmouth Hide is definitely worth visiting! If I’m honest, the only wildfowl I’d seen from that hide in all the time I’ve been here is one Moorhen. I’ve seen a few Snipe in amongst the tall, reedy grass as well. But now, phwoar… Completely different!
There’s proper water in there now, making it great for the four species of duck (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail) that were feeding away at the edges. Take a wander down there and you might spot a Kingfisher on the River Leven on the way to the hide. Hopefully the usual pair of Mute Swans will return soon as well.
Speaking of ducks (it’s all about wildfowl today!), whilst we were out with the volunteers on Wednesday we discovered a deceased drake Goosander on the beach at Burleigh. This gave me the perfect opportunity to look at the amazing adaptations that this species (and Red-breasted Merganser and Smew) have made to their beak in order for them to catch fish.
No wonder this group of ducks are known as sawbills (aka. mergansers)! The “teeth” are actually just a modified structure of the beak itself. There haven’t been toothed birds about since dinosaurs were here, but this is pretty close. Notice how the teeth tend to face backwards to help pull the fish to the back of the beak where it can then be swallowed. There are even pointed structures on the roof of its mouth.
Another adaptation of the beak is the hooked tip. This helps the Goosander grab hold of the fish in the first place. Of course, the whole bird is a marvel of natural engineering that allows it to feed on fish, but that beak is quite something.
Wednesday, volunteer day. It was a productive day with three groups out doing various tasks in the morning: Dave and Liz checked all of our kit/machinery, cleaned the cars, tidied up the workshop, and drank tea; Neil, Jane, Jackie and Richard put up a lot of new bird boxes around Burleigh, and drank tea; and Susan and I went around the reserve changing the seasonal signs from autumn to spring, and drank tea.
In the afternoon, Richard and Jackie stayed ad I joined them to finish making the rest of the nest boxes, leaving us with 26 more to put up; these ones will probably be put up around Levenmouth.
Whilst all of this was happening Jeremy was out with the Softrak again, this time at Classlochie, cutting back some thick grasses to allow more wildflowers to take hold in the spring and summer. This will benefit a plethora of species, from bumblebees to Swallows.
Flowers such as Ragged Robin and Bird’s-foot Trefoil will do well here.
Speaking of flowers, we have got a few that are in bloom despite the freezing temperatures. It’s just the usual spring flowers at the moment, such as Colt’s-foot which puts out its flowers before the leaves. Willow catkins are also appearing on some of the willows around Factory Bay, these being one of the most important early sources of nectar for any bumblebees that decide to brave the changeable weather.
I’ve seen at least one report of a bumblebee out in Clackmannanshire at a similar latitude to us so do keep your eyes peeled!
Also pictured above is the minute Common Whitlowgrass. It’s not a grass really, it is a flower but the flower (when open) is no more than 3-6mm across! It grows on bare ground and if you look carefully in the less used areas of the car park by Kinross then you might spot some.
That’ll do for this blog post. I hope that where ever you are, there are signs of spring. If there aren’t then come to Loch Leven NNR and have a walk about, it’s great here (although I may be slightly biased)…