This spring we officially opened our brand new pond dipping area at RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond. We’re delighted with the final result, but here’s how it all came together over the winter:
RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond has loads of pools and streams and little areas of water, which is one of the reasons why it’s so good for wildlife. One of my favourites is called the Damselfly Pond, which is along the Airey Woodland Trail. It’s the perfect place to sit and listen to the interesting sounds coming from the nearby Aber Bog, including the continuous reeling call of the grasshopper warbler and the scratchy song of the sedge warbler. Around the pond the scrub always seems busy with birds flitting in and out of the bushes, and there’s quite often a blackcap and willow warbler singing down there too. If you take a wander ‘off-road’ you will quite often come across frogs and toads and in June, common/heath spotted orchids start to appear all over this grassy area, so it’s a brilliant spot.
For a long time, we’ve been investigating the possibility of putting in a pond dipping area here, allowing people to get even closer to all the creatures hidden away under the water. In 2017, we were awarded funding from the ScottishPower Foundation, and were finally able to put our plans into action!
This winter, we began the work with WWT Consulting to design and then build a platform and shelter. We wanted the shelter to be somewhere to sit and enjoy the views over the meadow, which comes alive with butterflies and other insects in spring and summer.
The work on the pond began in March and the contractors battled with the elements during the ‘beast from the east’ for the work to be completed in good time.
Photo by David Palmar (photoscot.co.uk)
As part of the work, some of the vegetation from the pond was cleared out. The best action for wildlife is to thin out some of the plants, but to leave two thirds of it as it is. This should encourage a wide variety of water creatures to the pond.
Photos by David Palmar (photoscot.co.uk)
The final design features pond wildlife ID charts, a wooden carved damselfly, a carved lifecycle of a frog and a rain garden. The rain garden is designed to allow water to run off the roof, down a chain and out onto a water garden where the soil and plants clean and filter the rain water before it goes back into the pond.
The completed structure sits at the edge of the pond with a platform leading over the water. You only need to sit there for a couple of minutes before you encounter some of the water wildlife including the delicate damselflies that the pond is named after.
For the official opening of the pond dipping area, ScottishPower Foundation and the Animal Protectors from Gartocharn Primary joined us to try out the new activity and help us to cut the ribbon! We found whirligig beetles, pond skaters, caddisfly larva and lots of tadpoles (they were the favourites).
(Photo by Lorna Beattie)
You can come along to pond dip with us at weekends and every day during the school holidays (£2 for RSPB members, £3 for non-members).
Allison Leonard tells us about one of the more fun bur slightly unusual aspects of her job as RSPB Forth Reserves Warden, counting puffin burrows on Fidra!
Fidra is a small seabird island off the East Lothian coast, known for it's links to Robert Louis Stevenson as much as the fantastic seabird colonies found there, it is one of five reserves managed by the Forth Reserves Team.
So, it was a sunny Monday morning when Hannah and I found ourselves, along with volunteers from the RSPB and the Scottish Seabird Centre, whizzing along the Forth in the Seabird Centre’s RIB. Our destination? Fidra. Our purpose? To count the number of apparently occupied puffin burrows.
On the face of it, a very simple task and not one that requires a team of experienced volunteers but in actual fact it’s a bit more complicated than just counting holes in the ground.
Firstly, unlike on other islands in the Forth, the puffins don’t nest all over the island. They can only nest where the soil is deep enough to allow for their burrows (a puffin burrow needs to be completely dark so is a minimum of 1m long)
Secondly, not all burrows are created equal. Some bits of the island are better than others and within the good bits, some burrows are better than others and don’t get me started on the burrows that share an entrance!
Finally, not all burrows are occupied. With puffin numbers in decline across the world and our population in the Forth still recovering from the tree mallow infestation, the islands in the Forth are not at capacity.
Also, did I mention that the burrows are usually on steep ground with the odd fulmar nesting in the area and ready to spit a noxious concoction of fishy oils at you or eider ducks just ready to blast off their nests if you get too close? So, really it’s not at all straight forward at all. And you have to be careful where you step to avoid collapsing the burrows which can be very delicate.
Thankfully we have a group of volunteers who are not only willing but very able to carry out the counts.
So, if not all burrows are occupied, how can you get an accurate count? Well, we do actually count all of the burrows but then have to come up with the percentage of burrows which are occupied. To do that, small test plots are set out across the island and within each test plot each burrow is examined very carefully for signs of occupation. It might be that there are obvious footprints leading in and out of the burrow or it could be as subtle as the vegetation looks a little bruised and trampled. Hopefully there are some signs that let you know if a puffin is at home but if all else fails you stick your hand in the burrow to see if anything bites! Once you know how many burrows in the test plots are occupied you can use that to extrapolate across the whole island. Simple really!
So after all that, how many puffins do we have on Fidra? This year’s count gave us 1000 apparently occupied burrows, only slightly down on the figure from two years ago which was 1050 occupied burrows, meaning that our population is pretty stable.
This is great news for us and very satisfying news for all of our volunteers who put in so many hours during the winter months to help clear the invasive tree mallow, which grows so vigorously on the Forth Islands that if we didn’t do anything about it then all of the puffin burrows would be blocked and there would be no breeding puffins on Fidra and that is something none of us want to see.
Once we have done the burrow count, we pretty much leave the puffins alone to raise their chicks in peace. However, you will be able to see the adults as they collect fish for themselves and for their chicks and the best way to do that is from the water and we have just the solution for that…..
On Thursday 31st May at 6pm or Saturday 16th June at 9am, you can join RSPB staff aboard the Maid of the Forth, sailing from Hawes Pier in South Queensferry (right beneath the iconic Forth Bridge!) for a chance to experience the magic of the seabird colonies of the Firth of the Forth and learn more about it's fascinating history. It's a chance to see puffins, gannets, terns, guillemots, razorbills and other amazing marine wildlife and (hopefully) commentary from RSPB experts(!) will bring this beautiful marine environment to life (Prices are £16/adult, £15/concession (seniors, students and RSPB members), £7/child) or you can Hop aboard the ‘Seafari Explorer’ catamaran for a two hour trip around the fascinating Forth Islands. Sailing from North Berwick harbour we will first head west towards Fidra, said to the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s treasure island and now an RSPB nature reserve before turning to head back towards Craigleith and on towards the Bass rock, the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets and ‘one of the wildlife wonders of the world’. We will see gannets fishing, seals basking and puffins galore as we see, hear and smell the wildlife spectacle that helps make the Forth such a special place, it’s sure to be an entertaining and educational trip (Prices are £20/adult, £18/concession and members and £12/child. Spaces are limited to 50)
Tickets for trips can be purchased via the Maid of the Forth website at www.maidoftheforth.co.uk/rspb-birdwatching-tour or call 0131 331 5000. You can also get more information on the RSPB website at http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/events-dates-and-inspiration/events/
Our new residential volunteer Diego tells us why he decided to come to spend 6 months volunteering with us at Loch Lomond and what his favourite few moments have been so far.
Hi! I’m Diego Fraile, one of the new long term volunteers for RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond. Before anything, I would like to point out this is the very first post I’ve done, as until a few months ago I’d never considered having anything really interesting to talk about. But now I feel with this experience I started just three weeks ago, I do.
When I considered a future career on a nature reserve, RSPB was the first organisation recommended to me. After getting information about the great job this organisation is doing all round the UK and abroad, I decided to have a try at one of its reserves in order to know first-hand what working for nature means, increase my wildlife knowledge and have fun with it all.My decision to apply for Loch Lomond was a bit more complicated. RSPB is everywhere, with lots of very interesting spots in terms of diversity of wildlife and habitats. I only knew I wanted to get into a completely different environment than I was used to (I come from Salamanca, Spain) and Loch Lomond with its wetlands, woodlands, meadows and water, was the winner.
Typical view of a “Dehesa”, traditional landscape surrounding my home town (Salamanca, Spain). For a more accurate view, try to imagine it with bulls all around! (Photo by J. Romero)
View of the loch from Net Bay, one of the RSPB Loch Lomond viewpoints.
So for my first few weeks, I have been involved in different tasks to improve my knowledge of the history of the reserve, its different habitats and their species, how to move around it (and how not to get lost!) and of course, meeting and learning from all the people that make this happen, both staff and volunteers.
Loch Lomond is one of the newest RSPB nature reserves (6 years), with some of its facilities only a few months old. But not everything is new here. There is a lot of heritage here both natural and cultural so I have a lot to learn. Luckily we are supported by a group of volunteers with a lot of experience, some of them had been volunteering in the area years and all of them show a great knowledge of the region, a huge interest in wildlife and nature conservation and passion like no other.
I started just three weeks ago and I already have quite a few moments I will remember forever and below are a couple of them:
One of my first days off, I felt like going for a long walk. I had heard from some volunteers about a popular hill near the reserve called Duncryne, but locally known as The Dumpling because of its shape. Without asking how to get there, I headed directly to the front side of the hill. After cutting across the countryside for a while, surrounded at every moment by cattle and mud I reached the bottom of the hill. It was not until this point I realised how steep it was. Without a path in sight, I tried to see the top from below. Suddenly the sun reappeared and lit the scene, some birds started to sing and I took one of my favourite pictures so far.
Ten minutes later I reached the top. The hill is not particularly high, but the views of the loch you get there are astonishing. And I got the best view of the whole RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond, where I will be for the next few months!
After a while at the top I decided to go back. Just a glimpse of my way up was enough to realise it was not going to be my way down. Then a local couple appeared to point me at a comfortable path going all the way down the back of the hill. With mud to my ankles and on my face they read the situation and laughed. After a nice chat I headed down the hill, with the song of some chaffinch and a willow warbler as a farewell.
Last weekend it was time to put some of what I had learned into action and share it with visitors on our Nature Fun Day, an event with a series of outdoor activities aimed at families with children. The idea is to get the young ones outside so they can experience nature, enjoy it and then, appreciate it. At the event they searched for earthworms, scanned the horizon looking for birds of prey at the viewpoint, identified aquatic wildlife at the pond dipping area, and the same for wildlife in the meadow.
I spent most of the time at the latter, meeting and greeting families, helping them with the bug hunting and making sure they could identify what they'd found and then carefully releasing them. The children loved finding spiders or a butterflies, but the frog was the overall favourite find of the day for many.
One family have stayed in my mind since last week. The children were afraid of the flying insects so after several attempts, I managed to find a frog and that sparked their interest. Now in a much more positive mood, they spotted a butterfly flying around. I encouraged them to try and catch it and they did, this time not just the girl but her brother also decided to join in, and with some effort they succeeded to get a beautiful green-veined white (Pieris napi). Along with the butterfly, some spiders also had fallen into the net. I noticed then they had lost part of their fear of the insects as they were getting much closer to them, even the boy who was keeping as far away as possible from any insect at the beginning, was now helping me to identify the spiders.
A child releasing a caterpillar
The event was about to finish when I found the boy again. He told me that between all the activities, he expected mine to be the worst, but it turned out to be his favourite. It was simply amazing and I'm looking forward to my next few months here to have more experiences like this one.