12 Days or Christmas Challenge
The holidays are rapidly approaching and it may be tempting to curl up in front of the TV and watch your favourite Christmas film or enjoy a festive drink with friends and family, but this year why not set yourself a new challenge? Instead of spending the season indoors, wrap up warm and treat yourself (and a few lucky* family & friends) to the wildlife spectacles of the season!
Here are 12 fantastic animals to add to your winter wishlist:
1. Red squirrel- everyone’s favourite! Why not try to snap a photo of these little guys at Abernethy in Cairngorms National Park or our Ken Dee Marshes in Dumfries and Galloway.
Red squirrel by Peter Cairns
2. Knot- They may not be particularly distinctive on their own, but when these winter visitors band together in large flocks, they are spectacular! Try Udale Bay or Nigg Bay for the best opportunity to see these birds in big numbers.
Knot by Chris Gomersall
3. Waxwing- These little birds are often referred to as “supermarket birds” because of their preference for the berry-laden trees and shrubs found in large car parks. Waxwings arrive from Scandinavia in late autumn and will stay through the winter. Look out for them while you do your last minute shopping!
Waxwings by Andy Hay
4. White-tailed eagle- These awe-inspiring birds have been reintroduced to Scotland over the years and are becoming a more familiar sight in our skies. Lucky visitors to Loch Leven and Loch of Strathbeg have spotted them when the temperatures begin to drop. If you are lucky enough to see a White-tailed eagle, take note of its wing-tag colour and unique number and report to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your sightings help us monitor their movements.
White-tailed eagle by Chris Gomersall
5. Red kite- These stunning birds of prey are particularly active in winter as they take advantage of the feeding tables at Tollie Red Kite Centre, Argaty Red Kites and Galloway Kite Trail. Visit the websites for feeding times and events schedules.
Red kite by Chris Gomersall
6. Geese- whether they have pink feet, white fronts or are of the barnacle variety, seeing 10,000+ lift off en masse is a noisy and unforgettable experience. Try Loch Leven, Lochwinnoch, Mersehead, Loch Gruinart, or Loch of Strathbeg.
Barnacle geese at Mersehead by Kaleel Zibe
7. Whooper swan- As graceful in the air as on the water, these large swans arrive with the geese in the autumn and will stay right through the winter. The sound of their wings flapping when taking off is truly impressive. Look out for them at Loch Leven, Insh Marshes, Mersehead, Lochwinnoch, Loch of Strathbeg.
Whooper swan by Ben Hall
8. Nuthatch- These lovely little birds have slowly made their way north to Scotland in recent years. Their spread north is thought to be linked to an increase in suitable woodland and also an increase in the use of nest boxes and bird tables. Try our Kenn-Dee Marshes reserve in Dumfries and Galloway for a chance to spot nuthatch.
Nuthatch by Ray Kennedy
9. Fieldfare- Like the waxwing the arrival of these little birds traditionally signals the beginning of winter. Fieldfares are highly social birds, spending the winter in flocks of a dozen to several hundred strong! They are often spotted feasting on windfall apples and late season berries.
Fieldfare by Kaleel Zibe
10. Starlings- A large flock of starlings is called a murmuration and is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles (in our humble opinion). Gretna in the Borders is a famous site and lucky visitors to Loch of Strathbeg reserve have also spotted the phenomenon. Here is an incredible video of a murmuration in Ireland to give you a taste of the experience.
Starling murmuration by David Kjaer
11. Rooks- Usually associated with Halloween rather than Christmas, rooks are fantastic and misunderstood birds. Their appearance may bring to mind a crow but closer inspection reveals fascinating behaviour and history.
Rooks by David Tipling (RSPB-images)
12. Set yourself a garden birdwatch challenge- Our Big Garden Birdwatch is coming up in January. Why not brush up on your ID skills in preparation? Treat your garden birds to a special Christmas lunch and see how many species you can identify. If you get a few snaps, post them on our Facebook page!
Robin by Andy Hay
So, don’t let frosty air, snow and, let’s face it, FREEZING cold rain put you off. Winter is a great opportunity to see some of our incredible wildlife. We’d love to hear what’s on your wildlife wishlist!
*Disclaimer- they may not consider themselves lucky if the weather does not cooperate!
Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn returns with a festive blog about a seasonal sighting at his local supermarket
I’ve had a bit of a cold the last couple of weeks so have had no sense of taste - though some of you who saw my Desert Island Discs choices in a previous blog might say I haven’t had any taste for a long time! Anyway, at the weekend, I reckoned that a homemade curry was just the thing to blast its way through my tastebuds so it was off to the local supermarket to get the ingredients for my favourite Achari Murgh.
The chicken, spices and naan bread were all in the trolley when I became aware of a noise in the background. Thankfully, it wasn’t Paul McCartney telling us yet again what a wonderful Christmas time he was having but a Robin singing. I looked up and there he was belting his song out from a beam away up near the roof, puffing his chest out like another Robin on Saturday – Windsor doing his salsa in the Strictly Come Dancing semi-final.
Actually, although I’m calling the songster ‘he’, it could just as easily have been a ‘she’ – unusually, both male and female Robins hold territory and sing in the winter. But what a great place it had found – dry and warm with great acoustics and, since it wasn’t a 24-hour establishment, plenty of food, peace and quiet after the doors shut. And it had found a great place from our point of view too – when I mentioned it to the lady at the checkout she said that quite a few folk had noticed it and said how much it had cheered up their day. We hear so much about nature in retreat that sometimes it’s easy to forget just how resilient and resourceful it can be – that Robin was doing just fine, thank you.
I’ve been thinking about conservation successes and what they mean to us a lot recently – in fact, ever since I heard a superb talk by Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University. His point was that conservationists have been perhaps too quick to concentrate on the problems that the world faces without offering any solutions - and problems without hope equals despair or denial.
To help counter this feeling of hopelessness, he’s just written a book, Wild Hope, that highlights some brilliant conservation success stories from around the world and how we can learn from them to deal with our own issues closer to home. If you are stuck for last-minute Christmas presents or just want to treat yourself then I can thoroughly recommend it!
Anyway, it’s kind of traditional at this time of year to look back and to look forwards. No space for now to look at that wide view but, as for blogging, 2012 saw me taking my first steps into it which I’ve really enjoyed - this will be my last one of the year but I’ll be back in the New Year! In the meantime, have a great break over the festives and here’s to a happy and successful 2013.
Jackie Brown, our Volunteering Development Officer, on volunteering opportunities for 2013.
Resolving to volunteer
I often wonder about what fun and interesting New Year’s resolutions people come up with to challenge themselves for the next 12 months after a decadent festive period. I know I certainly feel like giving something back after being spoiled over Christmas, that and I usually make some attempt to promise myself that I will eat better and exercise after all the culinary indulgences!
Well if you’re the same why not combine the two and volunteer with an organisation like the RSPB that offers plenty of opportunities to work all those muscles that were given some time off. Of course it doesn’t have to be physically taxing you could give those little grey cells a new challenge too. From helping to plant trees on reserves to volunteering as a pin badge box minder, there is a real range of opportunity.
2012 has been pretty epic in the UK volunteering world with the London Olympics getting over 70,000 people to become Games Makers. I hope that we will see some sort of legacy from the Games, changing people’s perceptions of volunteering and what it can offer. We may not be able to get you close to Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis but we can make sure that you make a difference for our natural world.
Check out our website to see the range of volunteering roles available http://www.rspb.org.uk/volunteering/