There’s plenty of wonderful wildlife to enjoy in Scotland and each month of the year can offer you something different. This blog is all about the sights you could see across the country in January.
What to see in Scotland this month
Throwing your head back and suddenly kicking out your feet while whistling loudly is certainly one way to get the attention of the opposite sex.
I probably wouldn’t recommend you try it on your average Saturday night out, but it works well for one of Scotland’s more showy species - the goldeneye.
Goldeneye male displaying, Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
This striking and pretty unique behaviour is part of the courtship display for the male goldeneye and is best seen in Scotland in winter (usually January and February). The male duck will throw its head right back while letting out a loud rasping whistle and kicking out its feet to churn up surface spray – all in the hope of impressing and attracting a mate.
A good place to spot this species is on our Abernethy nature reserve and they’ve also been seen at RSPB Scotland Mersehead.
But it’s not just courting ducks that are out in force in the chillier months - January is an excellent time of year to see gannets in Scotland, as they start returning to the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. Gannets are Britain’s largest seabird and numbers here peak at over 150,000 making it the single largest gannet colony in the world.
Gannet adult with chick at Bass Rock, Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Not only is the sheer number of these birds impressive, but did you know that when diving for food gannets can hit the water at more than 60 mph?! They have specially developed neck muscles and a spongy bone plate at the base of the bill to reduce the impact, as well as special membranes to guard their eyes.
Red squirrel, Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Red squirrels are also a good species to try and spot in January – these mammals don’t actually hibernate they just become less active in winter. Next time you’re out on a woodland walk cast your eyes skyward and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of red squirrels in their ‘mating chase’ with several males scurrying after a female.
Estimates suggest there are roughly 121,000 of these charismatic little fellows in Scotland, many of them in Aberdeenshire and Tayside.
So all in all January is a great time of year for spotting some of Scotland’s most special wildlife and if you fancy braving the recent weather it’s definitely worth seeking out!
And don’t forget we have our Big Garden Birdwatch coming up on the weekend of 24 and 25 January which is an excellent way to spend a spare hour counting the birds, mammals and reptiles that visit your garden. Sign up here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/
Kat Jones, RSPB Scotland’s Public Affairs Manager in South and West Scotland, looks at the importance of feeders for birds during the colder months.
Helping our birds through the winter
The weather may be chilly and the evenings dark, but, for me, this is the time of year when I look forward to seeing the bright and colourful birds that come to my feeder. Chaffinches and blue tits are just gorgeous when you see them close up and, since an experience I had last week, I have resolved to get down to the RSPB Shop for Nature and get myself a feeder to stick to my window so I can get a really good view.
Last week I was walking up a road close to my home in Glasgow when I heard a tinkling sound like tiny bells, looked up and saw a lime-tree full of goldfinches and siskins. They were flying back and forth from two feeders filled with seed that were attached to the window of a top floor tenement flat.
There were so many I kept loosing count but I reached at least 30. As I stood in wonder looking at the birds, someone emerged from the main door of the tenement and it happened to be an old work colleague (and ornithologist - surprise surprise). I never get goldfinches and siskins in my garden and so asked him the secret to the twinkling and tinkling flocks of finches. His tip was: “I always keep my feeders topped up, and one of the feeders is for nyjer seed.”
Now if there is one thing that needs a New Year resolution from me, it is to keep my feeders topped up. Birds need to know where food is to be found in winter. It’s a tough time of year for birds and food sources are scarce. The longer birds need to stay out foraging, the more energy they use up and the more at risk they are from predation.
A researcher at the University of Glasgow who I have been working with recently, Ross MacLeod, explained to me that, when the nights are long, birds need more energy to survive the long night. He is looking into how birds decide how much fat to store: the fatter the bird, the more likely they are to be able to survive the night and the slower they are to get away from predators. If birds know they have ready access to food they can risk staying a little slimmer and stay agile.
So I had better get my New Year Resolution sorted out soon, it’s nearly the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on 24-25 January when people all over Scotland and the rest of the UK will be spending an hour recording the wildlife in their gardens and I want to be ready!
Sign up for the Big Garden Birdwatch and discover what food and feeders different birds prefer here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/
Allan Whyte, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, gives us an update on Marine Protected Areas in Scotland.
Saving Scotland's Seas
Visitors watching seabirds at Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve, Scotland.
The designation of Marine Protected Areas last summer sought to address the over exploitation and lack of protection of Scotland’s marine wildlife by safeguarding the most important and most threatened species and habitats we have. For these MPAs to become more than just lines on maps or paper parks, as some have called them, they need to be properly managed.
It is management which gives MPAs their value and allows them to contribute to the conservation of the weird, wonderful and incredibly important things in our sea. In practice management means prohibiting activities within MPAs that will harm the species or habitats for which an MPA has been designated.
Marine wildlife needs our help, and it is completely right that conservation should use science to guide and inform. It is only with the use of science that the integrity of the MPA process can be upheld and allow Scotland to reach its potential as a world leader in marine conservation. After all, Scotland, despite its small size, is one of the most important places in the world for marine wildlife - we have 80% of the world’s great skua population, around one third of the EU’s seabirds, we are home to basking sharks, common skate, whales, dolphins, cold water corals and a whole host of other amazing wildlife.
As pressures on the marine environment grow, so too does our knowledge of species and habitats, and what is required to ensure that the measures of protection we employ today provide a lasting legacy of a healthy marine environment to the next generation.
Despite this, management of protected areas proposed by the Scottish Government sometimes fails to follow scientific advice, or adequately protect species and habitats within MPAs. In the next week and a half, a consultation on how MPAs should be managed will come to a close. As there are various examples of how the proposed management does not go far enough to protect species within an MPA, RSPB Scotland will be responding to this consultation asking that management be improved to ensure that, at the very least, the species and habitats which have been afforded protection through MPAs are adequately protected in these areas.
Scotland’s marine life needs adequate management within MPAs and measures that ensure the environment is used sustainably across the rest of our sea area. Like the species and habitats it aims to protect, conservation is a living thing. Protecting important areas and introducing management that will protect species and habitats is not a conclusion of any kind, it is part of a cycle of measures needed to maintain and, in some cases, enhance our natural environment. We will continue to work hard to make sure this happens.
Scotland has a fantastic opportunity to do something great by properly protecting its marine environment; we mustn’t allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers.
Scottish Environment LINK has organised a campaign to draw attention to these issues. More details can be found here: www.savescottishseas.org