Another belated post this one as a month has disappeared in a flash.
A trip to Edinburgh allowed us a day at Loch Leven NNR, including the RSPB site there.
The morning walking around the RSPB reserve was hampered by poor light and slightly drizzly weather, so while there was plenty to be seen out across the waters, taking any kind of decent photo was pretty much impossible. As I’ll now prove…
There were several buzzards around the site, but they were barely active. At one stage a very tasty looking rabbit strolled past the post a buzzard was occupying, but there wasn’t even a flinch of the wing.
There were plenty of birds across the loch, but mainly at a distance or in light that made them hard to really see. But pochard, wigeon, little grebe, garganey, tufted duck and others were present.
Flocks of lapwing were whirling about with the usual accompanying cacophany of weirdly electronic whees and whistles.
At this time of year, Loch Leven has several species of wintering wildfowl, including thousands of Pink-Footed Geese. But on this day the geese were staying on distant fields.
Closer to our vantage point in the RSPB hides there were a few moorhen and the odd stalking Grey Heron.
Scanning the loch.
All apparent bulk is padding for warmth. Really.
So we headed back to the centre, had a bite to eat and a warming cup of tea, and headed East along the heritage trail towards the River Leven. Typically, walking out of the centre we were fortunate enough to see a red squirrel scampering along the fence, but cameras had all been put away.
The walk along the trail was a little more productive as the weather brightened and rewarded scanning the loch a little more.
There were several groups of duck, including pochard and goldeneye.
Loch Leven, swans as white blobs on the water
There were rumours of Scaup and Slavonian Grebe too, but I saw neither. What we did see, probably newly arrived from Iceland, was a speciality for this time of year; Whooper Swans.
Adult and juvenile Whooper Swans with background Pochard and Tufted Duck
Loch Leven, October 2015
Several hundred of these elegant birds arrive from Iceland and Scandinavia on Loch Leven every autumn as part of their winter migration, and these birds had probably arrived within the past 24 hours.
There are three species of swan we see in the UK: Whooper, Mute, and Bewick’s. I’m exempting Black Swans as they don’t occur here naturally.
It’s easy to distinguish Mute as their bills are nothing like that of the others, as you can see here:
Loch Leven, Oct 2015
The shape of the bill, and in the adult the colour, is completely different. I think Whoopers have a much more elegant head.
Bewick’s look much more similar to Whoopers, and are distinguished by the yellow patch on the bill, descending to a point in Whooper’s, shorter and rounded on Bewick’s. No Bewick’s here for comparison though.
More young Whoopers on Loch Leven
Walking along the River Leven there were several more species to be spotted, including Great-Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, and Dipper.
Dipper and Grey wagtail
I’ve undoubtedly said before that Dippers are one of my favourite birds. They look slightly comical, slightly tubby with a vaguely dapper, be-suited appearance. But that belies one of the toughest little birds, nesting and living in fast-flowing streams, braving currents that would knock a grown person off their feet to catch underwater invertebrates. They’ve also got a beautiful little song, and a call that can carry over the same rushing waters.
On the subject of bird calls, I confidently announced “I can hear a Curlew”. Well, yes. More than one in fact.
At a quick count, I reckon there were at least seventy of them in the field.
Curlew have been a bird in trouble across the last couple of decades, but in the last two two years it’s felt anecdotally that things are really improving, and the RSPB State of the UK Birds seems to support this. A post will follow on SUKB by the way.
It wasn’t just birds though, and in addition to the Red Squirrel mentioned earlier these Roe Deer were also spotted in the reed beds. That’s plural by the way as there are two deer in the second picture. Can you spot the second one?
As a final note from this trip, we head for a Grey Heron in a tree. Now, this isn’t unusual. Herons roost in trees. They nest in trees. They are happy in trees. But generally, during the day, they leave the tree and feed by the water. Then there was this one.
From speaking to a couple of other birders, and from timing our own walk, this heron was in the tree, middle of the day, for well over two hours. Same spot. Why?
As far as I could tell, he was eating the berries around him. A vegan heron?
Forget fish, I’m going vegan. Nuts and berries all the way.
I’m sure this was just a bit of opportunism that was paying off for a good protein hit. For sure the blackbirds and thrushes that would normally eat these berries weren’t getting close.
But there was something in this Heron’s eye… something unhinged…
Crazy eyes? Me?
Anyway, there we have it. Swans. A very rare picture of myself. A mad heron. What more do you want? Fungi you say? Okay, well, it is autumn, season of mists and mellow fungi fruitfulness.