Friday, 11 April 2008

Ringing in the Trees

Hey all! :-)

Firstly, a quick apology for the lack of update on what is becoming quite a busy and exciting time for the reserve! Grahame, who is the primary writer of blog updates, has been very busy recently as we are involved with conducting a few surveys and building our species lists as quickly as we can with new items are appearing all the time. On the reserve, homes are being built, mating songs are being sung, and new arrivals are popping in for the day or even being born on site so plenty of jostling for position can be seen at the feeding stations! So, given that there is a fair bit to be said, I thought I’d do the update again this time and share a bit about what has been going on! :-)

Spring has sprung at Cullaloe and every day there is something new to see, hear or smell. It is quite a feast for the senses and, on Sunday, the Dunfermline RSPB Wildlife Explorers came along to see what all the fuss was about for themselves! Just as a bit of background, RSPB Wildlife Explorers is a membership of the RSPB that is open to children aged 4 – 19 years old. Mark, our local bird-ringing expert, very kindly agreed to come along and show the Explorers what ringing is all about, which was brilliant news as this is definitely something that appeals to wildlife devotees of all ages! ;-)

Now you may have noticed that the weather has been rather changeable of late and the drive to the reserve was a little hairy in the blizzard-like conditions! I have to admit, I did wonder whether the snow might put a dent in the day by persuading the Explorers to stay indoors, so it was great to see so many people starting the trek up the hill from the car park (and yes – I’m afraid I was late again – but there was snow… and no grit yet… and… *blush*). Luckily Grahame and Mark had both arrived in plenty of time and the group were well buttoned and booted up against the chill of the morning air :-)

We started by taking a walk along the top of the old dam to the viewing point that overlooks the willow scrub on the one side and the filter beds on the other. Grahame took a moment to explain some of the history of the reserve and its previous life as a water refinery. The weather had dampened the level of bird activity around us and the only accompaniment we had on the first part of our tour was the beautiful sound of a song thrush, singing from the very top of one of the tallest trees on the reserve… or so we thought! As we all made our way back to the path leading to the Loch, we were amazed to see a chain of bird-prints running along the path where only moments before the crisp new snow had only been broken by an occasional human footprint! After a bit of consideration it was suggested that the culprit may have been a Snipe, and sure enough as we walked along towards the Loch, a group of 4 Snipe rose into the air from the willow scrub area. I have to admit I was pleased to see that many together as it suggests that all the hard work we and the local cadets have put into clearing some of the scrub for the benefit of Snipe may just be paying off! :-)

Just on the subject of the Loch, regular visitors may have noticed that the bamboo section of the screen overlooking the Loch has been removed. This is due to damage caused over a period of years which was finally brought to a head by the recent high winds. We are currently seeking funding for timber to erect a permanent replacement for the screen in the hope that this will stand up to the pressures of time, weather and the occasional enterprising visitor! If anyone thinks they may be able to help, please get in touch.

Mark met our group as we entered the trees beside the Loch and gave a bit of background on bird-ringing, the equipment used, the purpose behind ringing, and the qualifications required. Then, once the mist net had been set, we went to take a look at the Loch to let the birds come and settle around the feeders again.

There were a few birds to be seen on and around the Loch, most notably the first sighting of a swallow for this year – thanks to Matthew for spotting it skimming over the Loch! Our resident male swan from last year has returned but this time with a different female as this one features a ring. I was surprised at this as I had thought that swans mated for life, however, I read up on it a bit and, where it is necessary, they are not adverse to taking up with a new partner. They seem to be getting on very well and have already established their nest in a spot close to where last year’s was sited. Also to be seen were coots, tufted ducks and a dabchick (little grebe).

It wasn’t long, though, before our attention was taken by one of the young Explorers who had been keeping an eye on the mist net and spotted that some birds had already become caught up in it. Sure enough, when we all went to take a look, some blue tits and great tits had gotten tangled in the very fine mesh of the net. Mark carefully untangled each bird (a task that required great skill and patience!) and popped them into individual cloth bags ready for ringing. Once he was ready to start, you could feel the anticipation as Mark gently brought the first bird out of its bag, with children and adults alike leaning forward to see as much as possible. It was definitely one of those “I love my job” moments for Grahame and I as everyone’s faces as Mark carefully measured the bird’s wing, noted its age and weighed it in what one visitor described as a “piping bag” were full of amazement and interest :-) We even found that one blue tit had been ringed at Cullaloe by Mark before – 5 and a half years earlier! That amazed even Grahame who didn’t think that blue tits lived that long. He was equally impressed that it was happy to still be living at Cullaloe after all that time! :-)

Although we only captured blue tits and great tits in our net this time around (no woodpeckers much to Grahame’s disappointment!), bird numbers appear to be on the increase on the reserve with more species being recorded all the time. We have well over 40 different birds on the species list now and it should be noted that this is the best source for the latest information on the species on the reserve. Although we try to update the blog on a weekly basis, the species list is updated immediately after any visit during which a new species is recorded, so be sure to take a look.

There are some other new additions to the reserve this week but who are not from the world of birds. Cullaloe is currently host to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s flying flock (in the field beyond the Loch) and some of the ewes have begun to give birth. If you happen to be visiting the reserve and would like to see how our bouncy spring lambs are doing, please feel free to take a look. We would ask that you be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb the sheep too much, and would appreciate it if dogs were not walked beyond the spillway for the moment.

And finally, just to advise, the Edinburgh Natural History Society will be making a visit to the reserve tomorrow (Saturday 12 April 2008) and will likely be on site for the best part of the day. Grahame will be present to act as a guide and to share his knowledge of the reserve where he can.

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