During the summer months, we have a regular survey of ducklings on the loch. This is known as a ‘brood count’. Every week to two weeks, we are out on the loch at dawn in the electric boat and we count and age duck broods around the whole perimeter of the loch and the islands. The count usually takes 4.5 hours and it is a fantastic way to assess productivity and survival of the breeding duck assemblage on the loch.
We have struggled to get out as much this year as its been such a windy spring! We need the conditions to be flat calm and dry, this is because broods normally hide in the shoreline vegetation, and if there is a chop on the loch they can be very hard to spot. The broods are aged 1 week through to 6 weeks and how many ducks in a brood are also noted. All of the broods that we spot in the survey are noted down on a map and the map then gets digitised and all of the data is recorded on a spreadsheet.
Recording the species. size, location and age of these duck broods gives us so much valuable information. We know the productivity (how well a certain species has been breeding), the age (how well they are surviving on the loch) and the location (where these ducks are favouring on the loch).
We can tailor our management to the above information, for example; we know that duck broods prefer areas of over-hanging willows for shelter and feeding – so in the winter one of our management regimes is to lay willow trees into the loch for the duck broods. These willows will prevent predation and provide food and shelter for these ducklings. The willows also aren’t totally felled, laying them means that they are still alive and will continue to grow.
Mallard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Mute Swan are the main species we record while doing the brood count. We also get other species like Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Great-crested Grebe, Barnacle Goose and occasional rarities like Pochard and Shoveler. Our brood count data goes right back to the late 1970s! Having this long term data is so crucial, as we can see trends on species productivity, predation, success etc over 50 years.
These brood counts go hand-in-hand with our duck nest survey counts and pairs counts. Pairs counts are done earlier in spring, with the same methodology as the brood count but we just count pairs and individual ducks to get an idea of the breeding numbers. All this data that we collect on the wildfowl of Loch Leven NNR is so important – and the longevity of all this data makes it even more special. Long may we count these iconic Loch Leven ducklings!