October, 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.
  • Speed of life

    Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman, is back with a new blog...

    Speed of life

    I spent a rushed week recently surveying and shadowing three experienced Bryologists in the area surrounding Kinlochewe. This is a magnificent part of the world with steep slopes like Slioch and Beinn Eighe, beautiful areas of unspoilt Caledonian pine forest, and wide expanses of moorland all of which centre on the beautiful Loch Maree.


    Loch Maree

    This landscape is one of the richest areas in the world for bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). The reason for the high levels of diversity are due mainly to the climate, although other factors such as low levels of pollution and a diverse range of habitats also play a role. The climate is strongly oceanic which means cool summers, mild winters and high levels of rain fall throughout the yea- perfect conditions for bryophytes which rely heavily on atmospheric humidity and precipitation for water.

    Caledonian pine wood.

    My time at Kinlochewe was mainly spent assisting Julie Smith with surveying a number of wooded ravines in the area. Julie is a TCV apprentice specialising in bryology, who has been interested in bryophytes for several years and has already accumulated a considerable understanding of the subject. These ravines potentially have very diverse populations, including some fantastically rare species. We were also lucky enough to be joined on two of the survey days by Oliver Moore and Gordon Rothero. Oliver has several years experience of studying bryophytes and is an authority on the area having recently completed a PhD investigating deer impacts on the local bryophyte flora. Gordon Rothero is a serious candidate for the most experienced and knowledgeable bryologist active in the country today.

    David navigating a ravine.

    Needless to say getting out in the field for a few days with these stalwarts of the bryological world was a fantastic learning opportunity. I was introduced to a range of fascinating species including a range of tiny liverworts barely visible to the eye like Colura calyptrifolia the rare, but distinctive Plagiochila carringtonii and the dense mat forming Lepidozia cupressina. It was also good to see a ground flora diverse enough to include large amounts of species I’m used to thinking of as rare or unusual. A good example of this is the spiky liverwort Herbertus aduncus which higher up the slopes becomes co-dominant with common species like Racomitrium lanuginosum.

    Herbertus aduncus and Racomitrium lanuginosum.

    I’m hoping to be able to meet up again with Julie and Oliver before the end of the year and help out with additional ravine surveys. The week at Kinlochewe, although short, gave me valuable practical survey experience and I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn from some of the countries greatest bryologists. All in all it was time well spent.

    Lepidozia cupressina

    TCV apprentice, Julie Smith.

    Plagiochila carringtonii.

    All photos by David Freeman.

  • Caring for a stowaway bird

    Kara Brydson, Head of Marine Policy at RSPB Scotland, with some advice for fishermen who find a winged stowaway on board.

     Caring for a stowaway bird

    We were recently contacted by someone looking for advice on how to care for a lost bird that was found perched on a fishing boat and thought we’d share the advice a bit wider in case it is of use.

    Migrating birds can sometimes be blown off-course, suffer from severe weather, or collide with lit structures at sea. Boats may not be a bird’s first choice of perch- but they can be a good refuge when they become disoriented by fog or are simply exhausted. After a short period to rest and refuel, these migrants may well recover sufficiently to fly on.

    Meadow pipits are among the variety of stowaway birds found on fishing vessels. (photo by Tom Marshall).

    If a bird is in such poor condition that it can be captured by hand, then the best that can be done is to put the wee creature in a box somewhere dark and quiet, and release it when close to shore. Make sure you provide water (in a coffee jar lid or whatever is available).

    Birds build up large fat reserves before migration – and some small birds can even double their body weight. Feeding birds on board is difficult as many are insectivores and a stressed bird may not be inclined to feed it all.  However, you can try to feed the bird anything nutritious you would give to garden birds like seeds, raisins or crumbs.

    More at home in a garden than on the high seas, chaffinch are among the range of species found on fishing boats. (photo Ray Kennedy)

    Helping inform science

    We very much appreciate photographs of migrant ‘stowaways’ that crews send on to RSPB – and they provide useful information for us and other bird scientists. Ringed birds have a lightweight metal ring fitted on one leg. A unique number on each ring shows where the bird comes from, which can help us unravel the mystery of migration patterns. Each ring has a return address to show where to send information, or you can contact the British Trust for Ornithology http://www.bto.org

    Unringed birds are worth reporting too, with a note of the time, date, location and weather conditions when the bird landed. This helps to build a picture of which species are most prone to having to seek refuge on boats, and the conditions under which it happens. This can also uncover ‘rarities’, ‘scarcities’ or ‘vagrants’  - birds which astound scientists by being many, many miles away from where they’re expected to be.

    I hope these pointers may be of use to fishing vessels and thanks to those showing an interest in these wee birds.

  • Senses working overtime

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

    Senses working overtime

    It turns out that our puppy is scared of owls.

    This wasn’t a problem during their silent summer months but the local tawnies have become really noisy on these cold, clear autumn nights and when we take Brin out for his last turn their kewicks make him prick up his ears and head off rapidly in the opposite direction.

    But, other than the owls, what else is around us at night? How can we tell what is moving about when it’s too dark for us to see and we don’t have the sense of smell of a dog? I’ve always wanted to know so, taking my lead from Springwatch and Autumnwatch, I recently got myself a trail camera that can take pics at night. It wasn’t going to be a mystery for much longer!

    First night – bingo! At 1020 pm a fox goes by – no wonder Brin had a good sniff there the next morning!  

    After some more nights of fox photos (not to mention most of the local cats!), I decided to branch out a bit further and took the camera to a bit of rough ground with some gorse a couple of miles from Inverness. A wee trail through the grass looked promising as an animal run so I set up the camera looking along it, left it overnight and returned the next day.

    I didn’t know what I was going to find when I checked out the SD card - this time it was a badger!

    I guess I always knew that there were foxes and badgers about but for the first time I can now find out where they’re nosing around and when they’re active. In some ways it’s a whole new world but really it’s just a different take on the places near our homes that we think we know so well.

    But this is just the start – I’ve loads more ideas of where to put the camera and will share what I get with you but, in the meantime, here’s a pic of a badger and an owl taken during the day courtesy of our local Brownies!