RSPB Scotland project officer for the Western Isles, Victoria Anderson, has this new blog about wildlife watching on Lewis.
Wildlife watching on Lewis
Any visit to the Western isles must include a trip to our hidden gem of a reserve at Loch na Muilne near Arnol on the Isle of Lewis. In recent days after a long wet and windy winter the reserve has sprung into life.
Loch na Muilne
Wildlife watching on Lewis is hard in the middle of winter. It seems most birds disappear and the Uists appear to be the better place to see flocks of wintering wildfowl and farmland birds. So the arrival of spring is most welcome and it has been a great pleasure rediscovering Loch na Muilne and the wildlife it supports.
To be fair there is one exciting winter highlight often to be found at the reserve and that is a regular winter flock of Greenland white fronted geese. This year our flock peaked at 32. It also been great popping into the reserve over the last few weeks to find birds stopping over for a refuel while on migration to the far north. A week or so ago 23 Whooper swans were seen and just last week one lonely black tailed godwit was recorded and most days there are a few goldeneye.
I have also been visiting the reserve to record what is breeding there. At the entrance to the reserve are some old stone croft buildings and I have been greeted regularly by a singing blackbird in full voice and somewhat bizarrely a fulmar seems to be very fond of this spot also.
Fulmar, Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The Loch is surrounded by marshy fen and it is alive with breeding lapwing and redshank. Ducks have started to arrive back and there are several pairs of teal and mallard. A Little grebe in breeding plumage has been spotted too. But the most exciting highlight so far has been a pair of red-throated divers.
The Loch and marsh are surrounded by coastal Heathland which supports meadow pipits and skylarks. Northern Wheatears are starting to arrive back, although I have not noted one at the reserve yet.
In a few weeks the real stars of the reserve arrive back. Scotland supports a small population of red necked phalaropes. Shetland is the stronghold for this dainty wader but the Western Isles also has a few birds including at Loch na Muilne. Phalaropes are one of a handful of birds worldwide where the sexes have changed roles. In the phalarope world, the females are the more colourful of the pair. The males are drabber and are solely responsible for incubating eggs and rearing chicks and the females play no further part in the breeding process after egg laying.
Red necked phalarope
By the time the phalaropes are back the reserve is also ablaze with a colourful carpet of flowers to enjoy including yellow rattle, orchids and louseworts. It is also a good place to get up close and personal with sundew plants. These tiny plants are covered with red sticky hairs to catch insects which are then “devoured” very slowly.
This spring, RSPB Scotland staff will be on hand at the reserve, every Friday morning from 5th June to 10th July to help visitors spot the phalaropes and help you get the best out of your visit. Visitors are also welcome to take a short wander to the sea cliffs to look for black guillemots, shags and fulmars. Hope too see soon!