What’s been top in 2016: our highlights over the year

As the end of 2016 approaches and 2017 beckons we’re taking a moment to look back on some of the nature highlights from this year.

It's cold outside ...

Snowy conditions for many over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend in January didn’t put you off taking part; over 36,000 people in Scotland spending an hour counting 626,335 feathered visitors to their gardens! House sparrows remained top of the results in Scotland, with chaffinches and starlings rounding off the top three. However, it was the increase in long-tailed tits numbers that really caught our attention with over a third of those taking part recording seeing these sweet, wee birds. 

We also asked you about the non-bird species found in your garden and whilst only three percent of people across the UK saw a red squirrel in their garden on a monthly basis here in Scotland, the species stronghold, 22 percent of people taking part did.

Into spring ...

As the days got longer and temperatures rose we began to welcome back migrant birds who spend the warmer months in Scotland such as swifts and cuckoos, and the seabird cities along our coastlines and islands once again became alive with the cacophony of noise made by puffins, razorbills, guillemots, gannets and shags.

Birds began nesting again with one opting for somewhere rather unusual - a female mallard set up home on one of the busy bridges over the River Clyde in Glasgow!

Summer lovin' ...

Summer brought some great excitement at our Loch of Strathbeg reserve. In June a pair of little gulls, the world’s smallest species of gull, were found to be nesting here, the very first record of this in Scotland and only the sixth in Britain. However, there were more records to come with the eggs hatching  and two tiny chicks emerging, the first ever to definitely hatch in Britain. And then with the two chicks taking to the skies their parents became Britain’s first ever successfully breeding little gulls!

Autumn farewell ...

As summer drew to a close it was time to bid farewell to EJ and Odin, the famous pair of ospreys that have been nesting at Loch Garten every summer for many years, as they left on their annual migration once again. Following last year’s drama of the male interloper and the loss of the eggs we were all waiting to see what 2016 would bring. The web-cam treated us to some great shots of EJ in snowy April keeping her eggs toasty warm and her efforts were rewarded when the first chick hatched on 14th May and the second on 19th May.  Rowan and Willow, two male chicks, thrived this summer under the watchful eye and feeding of their parents, and over a nine day period from 12th August all four ospreys left individually for their epic migration journey south.

During 2016 we were treated to regular updates by our intern Charlie McMurray (see here, here and here) on the work taking place at our Mersehead reserve to monitor the population of very rare natterjack toads.  We’ve embarked on a mission to identify each and every toad at the reserve using their wart patterns which will help us more accurately know how many toads there are. The pattern of these big warts and yellow stripes on each toad is completely unique and remains the same throughout its lifetime - have a look for yourself:

Days draw in ...

With winter rapidly creeping in it’s the time of year once again when winter migrants such as bramblings, waxwings, whooper swans and redwings return to Scotland and skeins of geese fill the skies. We’ve already had this fantastic photo taken by warden Michal Sur of some of the 30,000 barnacle geese that arrived at our Loch Gruinart reserve in October.

So that’s just a few of our nature highlights from the past year - what’s been yours? With another month of 2016 to go there’s certainly still time to get out exploring and enjoying the wonderful sights and sounds of Scottish nature this year.