June, 2013

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.
  • New life

    Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back with a new blog...

    New Life

    Meet Brin, our new puppy – just 15 weeks old and with a whole lifetime of walks and sniffs and adventures in front of him.

    On the very day that Brin was born, a pair of eagles were putting the finishing touches to their eyrie in the Cairngorm Mountains, making it ready for their two eggs.  And though we’ve just had the coldest spring for over 50 years, the eagles kept those eggs warm and in May they hatched into two tiny white balls of down the weight of an apple.  But young eagles grow fast - this week, I went to the nest to fit satellite tags to the chicks and the female was already over four and a half kilos of muscle and power and quite a handful.  Her brother was slimline by comparison but still armed with the tools of the trade – a beak and talons that you make sure are kept well away from any bit of you that they might want to grab hold of.

    This is a great territory and regularly produces twins which is a rarity in Scotland these days but it’s also great because the folk that own and manage the land really love their eagles and look after them.  Sadly, this is not universally true and there are still plenty of other places where eagles aren’t tolerated and the long list of dead birds and vacant territories is testament to that.

    Satellite tracking really helps in dealing with those crimes acting as both a deterrent and in finding any birds that are downed.  This is the third year that we’ve tagged chicks at this site - one of the chicks from the first time was found poisoned in Aberdeenshire.  And in 2012, we filmed the tagging here with the One Show and I’m really pleased to say that those two chicks are still alive and well - their satellite tags show us that they’ve already been over half of Scotland.

    This is typical behaviour of young eagles as they range about getting to know the lie of the land before it’s time to set up territories of their own in maybe four or five year’s time.  Within the month, this year’s eaglets will fly from the nest and then at some stage before next spring they will leave their home and head off.  Hopefully, for a long and fruitful life – just like Brin.           

  • In the heat of the morning

     Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman, tells us about a recent trip to Corrimony nature reserve...

    In the heat of the morning

    One of my most recent and so far most rewarding reserve visits has been to RSPB Corrimony. In particular I was working in the stunning, but at times tricky to navigate gorge the river Enrick runs through. The gorge is located in the east of the reserve and is  surrounded by a large area of beautiful Caledonian pine forest.  At one point, the gorge channels the fast flowing river over the frothing Corrimony falls. This creates a magical scene that I felt very privileged to be working in. I spent the first afternoon at the site scoping out the gorge, looking for areas that were easily accessible and safe to work in. The weather was fantastically hot, so the water level was relatively low and this meant I could accesses large areas of the gorge with relatively ease. This left me confident I could spend the next day navigating the gorge looking at the abundant bryophyte flora without risking life and limb.

    Corrimony Falls

    The next morning was again an absolute scorcher. Clear blue skies again as far as the eye could see and shimmering heat haze on the ground. As I walked past the ancient Corrimony Cairn, an impressive sight confronted me. Now I’m no Ornithologist and my knowledge of birds is basic at best, however the unbelievable size of the bird hanging in the clear blue sky before me left me with little doubt that I was face to face with a Golden Eagle. The gigantic creature circled a while before gracefully sliding off to go about its business. This certainly has to be one of the most memorable moments of my time at Corrimony.

    Corrimony Cairn

    Walking through the Caledonian pine forest situated around the gorge I found the ground flora was dominated by Vaccinium myrtillus and wonderfully textured carpets of Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus and Hylocomium splendens. These three species together create a unique picture of greens and yellows under the purple shaded light of the pines. In the gorge itself there is a dazzlingly array of mosses and liverworts. I certainly have enough specimens to keep me very busy for the next few weeks. Some of the highlights I have identified so far include the tiny Bryum pallens and Bartamia pomiformis. I found Bryum pallens tucked away on a sandy stream edge glittering like handful of rubies in the hot sun. The striking Bartamia pomiformis was immediately apparent to me as it has a range of distinctive reproductive structures called sporophytes. These sporophytes resemble miniature green apples hanging from long stalks (seta) above the main body of the plant.

    Bartamia pomiformis

     I still have plenty of specimens to identify from Corrimony including a range of weird and wonderful thallose liverworts and some rather atypical sphagnums. The sheer number of species I’m learning about and identifying for the first time demonstrate the time I spent at Corrimony was a great success. This is a reserve I am keen to visit again in the future.

    Bryum pallens

    Hylocomium splendens

    Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus


  • In the path of an Atlantic depression

    An update from our Seabird Tracking and Research (STAR) team on Fair Isle.

    In the path of an Atlantic depression

    Fair Isle is arguably the most remote inhabited island in the UK, sandwiched between slices of the Orkney Islands and mainland Shetland in the North Atlantic. Measuring about 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, its breathtaking cliffs and fading afternoon light can reduce the hardiest of observers to outbursts of clapping and nodding in synchronised appreciation. Fair Isle is also recognised for it’s traditional knitwear, unremitting shipwrecks and being closely followed by the words ‘gale force 8 increasing to severe gale force 9 later’, on Radio 4’s daily shipping forecast.

    View from South Haven looking toward Sheep Rock by Jen Seven.

    We are Senior Research Assistant Rob Hughes and Intern Tegan Newman, and we have been deployed to this wind-blown rock in the North Sea for the ‘summer’ as part of the RSPB’s Seabird Tracking and Research (STAR) project.  The aim of the project is to study five species of seabirds: Northern fulmar, European shag, Black-legged kittiwake, razorbill and Common guillemot, in order to get an idea of their foraging behaviour and to identify important feeding areas.

    A view to the north by Richard Cope.

    This work is a new RSPB funded project called STAR (Seabird Tracking and Research) which was set up to build on the groundbreaking work undertaken in the Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment Project (FAME) in 2010, 2011 and 2012. If all goes according to plan, our work should see us do the following:

    1)    Safely climb down into seabird colonies and attach small GPS devices to adult birds. These record the location of feeding birds at sea every 100 seconds over the duration of a four-day battery life. We also attach lightweight time/depth recorders to the shags, guillemots and razorbills, which enable us to see how deep the birds are diving in order to get their food.

    2)    When the birds return from their sojourns at sea we can climb back into the colonies and retrieve the tracking devices before plugging them into a trusty computer and instantly seeing where they have been.

    Sadly, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. After severe weather conditions over the winter the birds have arrived on Fair Isle in very poor breeding condition and the season is off to a very slow start. Numbers of adult razorbills at our main field site, Easter Lother, are down by about 40% on 2012. Incubating birds are spending a lot of time away from their eggs (leaving them open to predation from gulls and skuas), or abandoning them altogether - sacrificing a failed breeding attempt for their own survival.

    West cliffs by Richard Cope.

    Retrieving the GPS tags is proving to be difficult too; from the 7 devices that we have successfully recovered so far, the birds appear to be going on much longer feeding trips than previous years (when they spent about 2 days away from the colony). This year however, one Razorbill spent 4 full days away from the colony, travelling over 300km towards Montrose whilst it’s partner was left incubating the egg. The distance travelled by this individual is probably a world record for a Razorbill and much further than many people anticipated them foraging.

    ….But we remain optimistic! Yesterday (June 10th), we deployed another 7 GPS tags onto 6 razorbills and one guillemot and are hopeful of getting them back in the next couple of days. Our first kittiwake eggs were laid on June 9th and we will start tracking the adults soon. We will also be tracking fulmars at the end of June/early July when they (hopefully!) have chicks too.

    South lighthouse by Richard Cope.

    Aside from the seabird work, Fair Isle is a fantastic place to be based in terms of migrating birds. Tegan has become an official trainee under the BTO bird-ringing scheme and has been taking advantage of the rounds of the heligoland traps each morning. Rob found a stonking male bluethroat feeding in a ditch in the North of the island amongst many other species and is also maintaining a reputation for being able to spot ospreys from 1000 paces (all of which Tegan has missed).

    Fair Isle bird observatory by Jen Seven.

    Tegan refuses to bow to the demands of society by compiling a twitch ‘list’, but thanks to a superb team of staff here at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, has managed to see many new birds including Temmink’s stint, Collared flycatcher, Blyth’s reed warbler and River warbler. Rob is more content with adding Great-spotted woodpecker to his Fair Isle list. We’ve also both had the great privilege of observing a pod of 15 killer whales circumnavigate the island for around four hours on a beautifully calm evening last week.

     Thanks for reading!

     Tegan and Rob

    Read more blogs from the STAR team: