Scotland’s wintering population of wigeons will be arriving over the next month. RSPB Scotland’s Jess Barrett brings you five facts you need to know about these ducks.
Five facts you need to know about wigeons
1. Male wigeons are very distinctive
Wigeons are smaller than mallards with a round head and small bill. The males have very distinctive plumage with a yellow forehead, pink breast and grey body with a white stripe on their wings. The females are a more mottled reddish or grey-brown colour but similar in shape to the males.
2. 400 pairs breed in Scotland
While most wigeons are winter migrants there are a number of them here all year round. Up to 400 pairs breed in Scotland, mostly in the north. Nesting begins in April or May and around eight or nine eggs are laid in each clutch. Breeding is the only time of year these birds will be solitary; the rest of the year they are found in large flocks.
3. Wigeon chicks fly at 40 days old
Wigeon chicks are able to feed themselves as soon as they hatch but their mother will take care of them while they are small. At 40 days old they are able to fly and become fully independent at this point.
4. Up to 96,000 wigeons winter in Scotland
Numbers of wigeon increase dramatically in Scotland over the winter. Between 76,000 to 96,000 of them will migrate from Iceland and northern Europe to spend the colder months here. Their numbers are at their highest when Europe has severe weather. Wigeons arrive in October so keep an eye out from them around coastal marshland and lowland lochs.
5. They have a musical call
Unlike most ducks whose quacks tend to be rather tuneless male wigeons have a far carrying, two-syllable whistle that sounds a bit like “wee-ooo”. The wigeon name partly imitates this tuneful call. Females have a harsher growl sounding voice.
You can find out more about wigeons and where you can see them here.
Summer is certainly over in Scotland, and autumn winds have replaced the gentle summer breeze. Heather Beaton, Uists Warden, shares the joys of spotting the species arriving with the change in weather.
Migrants arrive on autumn winds
The wind has changed in the Outer Hebrides now. Gone are the soft, warm winds of summer, with the gentle scent of salt and a longing to be outdoors and up in the high hills. In their place are the harsh winds of autumn. Winds that make you zip your jacket right up to the top, bury your hands into the depths of your pocket, and bring a shiver to the spine.
However, just as winds proverbially clear out the cobwebs, these winds bring new life to the islands, blow away the old and herald a new season of birds.
Photo Credit Heather Beaton
The summer migrants have almost all left. There are still occasional reports of wheatear, although these are few and far between. The swallows gathered in high numbers but it must be a week now since the last was seen. The corncrakes are gone, as are the warblers, and the red-necked phalaropes left for the open ocean long ago.
Now, however we have new excitement. There’s nothing like hearing that first skein of pink-footed geese flying in a victorious ‘V’ overhead. I’ve been delighting in the lochs filling up with whooper swans who arrive in family groups, calmly accepting their winter home with mellow satisfaction. The beaches are alive with waders that have bred in the high arctic. Species such as grey plover, turnstone, sanderling are all here for the winter and bring motion and life to the shoreline once more.
Sanderling group feeding. Photo credit Cliff Reddick
Not that the summer was quiet in this way, but the stand and dash feeding motion of the ringed plover has been superseded by the mechanically flowing run of the sanderling, elegant as land-bound murmurations, never once letting the sea touch their toes. The ringed plover are still present, but now the bird watching game is about counting the purple sandpipers. Spot one, and suddenly twenty will come into focus.
Gulls are often overlooked, but in this weather, this is when they come into their own. Their long, thin wings are a perfect adaptation for soaring, for riding the wind and the long length is not a compromise as there’s nothing to avoid when the sky is yours for the taking. Watch gulls in windy weather and you’ll be reminded of the joys of flight that were so attractive when you were wee.
This September has brought high winds to the Outer Hebrides, alongside godwits and geese. The islands have a new noise for the winter. The summer machairs may seem quiet, but the twittering twite will remain, the starlings continue to hum, click and whistle and the corn buntings will never forget how to sing their hearts out and bring joy to us all.
Whooper Swan. Photo Credit Cliff Reddick.
And more migrants are yet to arrive. The first chirping, blessed lapland buntings have arrived in Ness up the top of Lewis, and will make their way down the archipelago before long, with the barking barnacle geese following behind. Redwings are assembling in any of the trees that the islands have to offer. The red and black berries of the rowan and elder will soon disappear as the redwings feast, but these migrants will do an excellent job of spreading the seeds far and wide.
The winter brings many delights to the Outer Hebrides, from the dramatic skies to the stormy sea, but none are less adored or welcomed than the suite of migrants that these autumn winds bring in.
Balranald Shore. Photo Credit Heather Beaton
Find out more about our Balranald reserve in North Uist here. Also in the Outer Hebrides, visit our Loch Na Muilne reserve on the Isle of Lewis.
Those of you following the campaign to Save Coul Links will know that we’re part of a group of conservation organisations fighting to stop proposals for a golf course on this triple protected wildlife site. Coul Links is one of the Scotland’s national treasures and is designated as a SPA, Ramsar site and SSSI. Kate Bellew, our Senior Conservation Planner, explains the latest news on the Coul Links campaign.
Latest developments on the Coul Links campaign
We recently heard the great news that the Scottish Ministers have decided to "call in" the controversial golf course proposals for further examination. Almost 13,000 people took part in our e-action to ask the Scottish Government to step in and save Coul Links. A huge thank you again to everyone one who took action to make this happen.
The case has now been passed to the Planning & Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) of Scottish Government. Two reporters from this office have been appointed by Scottish Ministers to consider the case and make recommendations to them.
Pre-examination meeting invite
Everyone who submitted a response to Highland Council on the planning application should receive a letter emailed to them confirming that an inquiry or hearing session will be held to examine the various different issues raised by consultees. We expect that these inquiry or hearing sessions are likely to be sometime early next year.
RSPB Scotland, together with our conservation partners, will be making representations at the inquiry or hearing sessions. Members of the public do not need to do anything further unless they want to participate in the detailed inquiry sessions. If individuals or groups do want the opportunity to speak or give evidence then they need to write back to Fiona Manson at the DPEA to confirm their intention to take part by the 5 October 2018.
The letter includes an invite to the pre-examination meeting which RSPB Scotland, together with our conservation partners will attend. The meeting will be open to the public and we would encourage anyone who feels strongly about this case to try and go along to watch the proceedings.
We do not yet know when or where the pre-examination meeting will be held but we will keep you posted as soon as details are confirmed, and any further updates on Coul Links.
Stay in touch with our campaign
Look out for content from @RSPBScotland on Twitter, and RSPB Scotland and RSPB Highlands & Islands on Facebook as well as messages from our conservation partners Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Please do like, share, retweet and engage with our campaign #SaveCoulLinks
Note: this blog was updated on 25th September - it had previously incorrectly stated that people who made a representation to Scottish Ministers, including those who took part in our e-action, should receive a letter confirming that an inquiry or hearing session will be held to examine the various different issues raised by consultees. Instead, it is those who submitted a response to Highland Council on the planning application that will receive this letter by email.