August, 2012

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Scottish Nature Notes

Keep up to date with the latest wildlife and nature news in Scotland. Regular blogs from RSPB Scotland's conservation teams across the country. Writing about Scotland's amazing wildlife & natural environment.
  • Is seeing believing?

    Conservation Manager Stuart Benn has been out searching for dotterel.

    Is Seeing Believing?

    A couple of times recently in Scottish Nature Notes, Alison has blogged about her work in the hills on dotterel.  Last year, I helped out with looking at some areas for the national survey and, although the final results have yet to come in, the word on the street is that numbers are a fair bit down.  However, it is known that the number of dotterel that come here each year varies depending on weather conditions and the like, so some hills are being resurveyed just to make sure that 2011 wasn’t totally unusual.

    So, last week I parked at the Drumochter Pass on the boundary between Highland and Perthshire, and took to the hills.  Years ago I’d seen dotterel with chicks up here so I had high hopes that I would bump into some.  The first excitement was seeing a young Golden eagle beating across the hill (within sight and sound of the busiest road in the Highlands!) but it didn’t stop despite there being lots of Mountain hares which scurried off as I passed them (a friend of mine said that ‘a hare running always looked like the wheels were about to come off’ and that is about right though it’s deceptive as they really can shift).  Since an eagle has eyesight twice as good as we do, I’m sure it saw them too but didn’t have enough of an element of surprise to have a go at catching any – why waste energy if the chances of success are so slim?

    Up on the tops there were plenty of peeping Golden plovers, still quite a few dunlin and a group of nine very well camouflaged ptarmigan (two females and some youngsters, I think).

    However, there wasn’t even a sniff of a dotterel.  But does that mean there weren’t any there?  Dotterel are amongst the hardest birds to survey – they’re not as noisy as plovers and they are probably even better camouflaged than ptarmigan so it is very easy to walk right by them and not even know they are there.  So, I can’t be certain that they’d gone but the chances are that they have as this seems to be happening on many hills particularly the lower ones.  This is precisely what you would expect of a hill bird in a warming climate – they get pushed higher until they run out of hill and are lost.  Which is why Alison’s work is so important – we need to find out what is going on and then try to put it right.  


  • Let's hear it for volunteers

    Weekly blog from Conservation Manger, Stuart Benn.

    Let’s hear it for volunteers

    Like everyone else, I’m loving watching the Olympics just now – the tiny margins between success and failure, the ecstasy of the gold, the pain of dreams not quite realised.  But I’ve also begun to notice that huge army of people in the background in their smart matching uniforms bringing out flowers for the medal ceremonies, carrying the athletes’ kit, directing folk – the volunteers or ‘Game Makers’ as they are known.  Bolt, Hoy, Wiggins, Phelps and co may be the stars of the show but it would all grind to a halt very quickly were it not for those volunteers.

    And so it is in just about every walk of life and conservation is no exception – volunteers are vital and the great thing is that the benefit works both ways.  Erin blogged recently about what she got out of volunteering for the RSPB and it is just the sort of thing employers are looking for on cv’s in an increasingly competitive job market.  And, of course, conservation wins as well – so much more is achieved by staff and volunteers working together.  There are dozens of opportunities to volunteer with the RSPB and you can check them out here.

    Volunteering comes in all forms.  Recently we heard about a newly married couple who spent their honeymoon walking from Lands End to John o’Groats raising money for Butterfly Conservation.  As they came through Inverness (with many miles and drops of rain behind them!) we put them up for the night.  Last week they made it – what an effort!

    Sami & Seth at the end of their epic walk.

    I’ve done my fair share of volunteering too – lots of bird surveys but, more recently, moth trapping.  The Highlands are pretty under-recorded so all info is to the good but some areas need more targeting than others.  Last weekend we got the trap out near Inverness and got a bumper haul of moths and a bumper haul of midges too!

    Bumper haul of midges!

    If you haven’t thought about volunteering before then why not give it a go?  If you do volunteer then you’re brilliant – you deserve a medal!

  • Hoverflies at RSPB Loch Leven

    New blog from trainee Ecologist, Gordon Bryden. He's been out and about looking for hoverflies at Loch Leven.

    Hoverflies at RSPB Loch Leven

    Hoverflies are one of the most distinctive fly families, and definitely the most popular. They are mostly big and colourful bee and wasp mimics with a distinctive hovering flight around flowers and sunny spots. Many of the species have larvae which eat huge numbers of greenfly, making them very popular with gardeners too and they are vital cogs in ecosystems. A significant number of the UK’s hoverfly species are rare, making the group really important for conservation as well.

    I took advantage of a brief break in the weather to head out to RSPB Loch Leven in Kinross to look for hoverflies. Loch Leven has an interesting mix of wetlands, woods, flower patches and hills so there are lots of habitats for a wide variety of species. Flowers are usually the best place for finding hoverflies since the adults will gather around them to stock up on nectar and pollen.


    Far and away the most common species on site was Eristalis pertinax, shown above feeding at a flower. As you might guess from the picture, hoverflies are important pollinators since they visit so many flowers. Bizarrely this is one of the species whose larvae are the “rat-tailed maggots” which live in oxygen free sludge filtering out microbes to eat.  I think that’s a much more dramatic change than any butterfly.

    This is one of the aphid eating hoverflies. It’s hard to be sure from just a picture, but I believe this particular species is Platycheirus albimanus. Like Eristalis, the adults are completely vegetarian and feed on nectar and pollen. The larvae are important predators of greenflies and other aphids. Little flies like this probably eat far more aphids than ladybirds do, but get almost none of the credit.

    Although it’s not a hoverfly, I just couldn’t resist taking a (blurry) photo of this Garden Tiger moth. Once a very common species, it’s numbers have dropped massively in recent years to the point that it’s becoming rather rare. It’s good to find one at Loch Leven.

    Just to be thorough I climbed all the way up to the top of the hill in the Loch Leven reserve to check for hoverflies. It was much taller than I thought it was (much to the dismay of the volunteer I had shadowing me), but the view of the wetlands was spectacular. Sadly there weren’t any hoverflies up there but I made sure to snap a photo as a souvenir. In the end I found 13 different species of hoverfly on the site in just one day. No rare species this time, but it does give us a clearer picture of the ecology of the reserve.