Scottish Nature Notes

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.
  • Five facts you need to know about Big Garden Birdwatch

    Five facts you need to know about Big Garden Birdwatch

    It’s getting closer to one of our favourite times of year: Big Garden Birdwatch! The 2018 survey is nearly upon us and many of you have already registered to take part. If you haven’t already you can do so here. We love hearing from you over the three days of Birdwatch about the feathered visitors you’ve recorded in your gardens. In the run up to the big event here’s some perhaps lesser known facts about Birdwatch for you.

    1.       Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest wildlife survey

    How amazing is that? By spending an hour counting the birds in your garden or outdoor space you’ll be taking part in the biggest survey of its kind in the world! Last year almost half a million people took part across the UK including 35,000 in Scotland. People’s counting hours recorded more than 8 million birds, with over 626,000 of these in Scotland. It’s thanks to everyone who takes part in Big Garden Birdwatch that the survey has claim to such an incredible accolade – thank you!

    2.       It’s the 39th year of Big Garden Birdwatch

    Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979 as something wildlife based for children to do during the winter. It was a collaboration between the junior branch of the RSPB and the BBC’s Blue Peter programme. That first year we were inundated with observations from those who had taken part; RSPB staff had to sort through 34 bin liners of post!

    3.       Birdwatch has got bigger!

    Back in 2014 as part of the survey we began asking you about the other non-bird wildlife that you get in your garden such as squirrels, hedgehogs, toads and frogs. Since then the species we ask about has varied from year to year and this extra information allows us to build up more of a picture of how important gardens are across the country for giving all nature a home. This year though rather than a selected few we’ll be asking you about all of 15 species that have previously been included since 2014 so there lots of opportunity to tell us about the other wildlife you see. 

    And there was a new change last year; we extended Big Garden Birdwatch to include the Monday after the weekend to give people another chance to take part. It was such a success that this year’s survey is also taking place over three days 27, 28 and 29 January – what day will you be doing your counting hour?

    4.       The top five birds hold steady

    The birds that made up Scotland’s top five in 2017 are the same birds that made up the top five back in 2007 and for many years before that. They’ve hopped and swapped around within these rankings a bit but house sparrows, starlings, chaffinches, blackbirds and blue tits appear to have a steady hold over the Birdwatch results here. In fact house sparrows have lead the results every year since 2012. Will they maintain this in 2018 or will one of their other top five companions pip them to it?

    5.       One of the most unusual recordings was on the Isle of Bute

    One of the most exciting things about Birdwatch is the usual sightings it can reveal. A black throated thrush was once seen during the survey on the Isle of Bute. That’s rather a long way from its usual home in Asia! Of course while such recordings are very interesting all the information collected by participants is incredibly useful and vital to painting a picture of how all our feathered garden birds, both the regular drop-ins and the more rare ones, are doing.

    Our website is packed full of Big Garden Birdwatch fun and activities. As well as being able to register online you can find out about bird care, what we use your results for, and discover the answers to many Birdwatch related questions. Take a look here

  • A Pine Example of a Scottish Icon

    This is the final post in a six part blog series about rare insects in the Cairngorms. A new project launched last year to save six endangered invertebrates in the north of Scotland and project officer Gabrielle Flinn has been a closer look at each one of these species. This time, it's the turn of the pine hoverfly. The Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project is a partnership involving RSPB Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Keep an eye out for further blogs on the project and the work being done to help these insects. 

    A Pine Example of a Scottish Icon


    Image by Ellie Rotheray

    Of the six species receiving attention through the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project (RIC), the pine hoverfly (Blera fallax) is the scarcest and represents the decline of Scotland’s most treasured, ancient forests – the Caledonian pinewoods. The pine hoverfly relies on ancient woodland for its large gnarled trees and rot holes that can be found in them. It also relies on a naturally diverse, mosaic woodland that has open areas, where the flies can bask in the sun, and broadleaved trees – like rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) – where the flies can feed as adults. As a species iconic to the Scottish Caledonian pinewoods and an important decomposer and pollinator within the woodland, this species is a perfect champion for the outstanding habitat in which it lives.

    Image by Andy Hay

    Due to the decline of this habitat, many specialist vertebrate and invertebrate species have become endangered. This problem is shared across Europe and the pine hoverfly is considered globally endangered and critically endangered in the UK where it is known to only two sites – both in the Cairngorms National Park.

    Pine hoverflies start life within rotting holes of large old Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees (known to use other tree species outside of the UK). These rot holes are typically formed when a fungal growth creates a cavity within the trunk or stump of a tree. Water fills this hole and bacterial populations thrive in this nutrient-rich environment. The female hoverfly will find such a hole, after mating, and lay her eggs here. The larvae will then spend between one and two seasons filter feeding this bacterial soup and growing until they are ready to pupate. Adults emerge around June time and are known to feed on pollen and nectar from rowan trees and other floral species, such as wild raspberry, helping to pollinate these trees and plants.

    Image by Gabrielle Flinn

    Because of the rarity of this species and the likelihood that it spends most of its time above the height of humans, the adult is incredibly difficult to find. As such, from the date of writing this blog, an adult pine hoverfly hasn’t seen in Scotland for nearly five years.

    We have, however, observed larvae in more recent years (and months) and this is entirely down to conservation efforts for this species. Due to a loss of naturally occurring rot holes – fewer old “granny” pines and naturally fallen trees due to human management – this specific habitat had to be supplemented to save the species. As such, rot holes were created on various sites within the stumps of felled trees. This is done using a chainsaw and once rainwater fills the hole, a perfect pine hoverfly nesting ground is created. The larvae have been found using these rot holes and the population of larvae is closely monitored by volunteers and experts. Through efforts of the RIC project and partners, in 2017 we found over ten times the number of larvae as was found in 2016, giving a glimmer of hope for the future of this species.

    Image by Gabrielle Flinn

    This success is all down to the teams involved in creating the stump holes as well as the incredible efforts of volunteers trying to protect this incredible species. 

    To get involved with the RIC project please contact gabrielleflinn@rspb.org.uk. To find out more about the project and keep up to date with what’s happening follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

    You can catch up on Gabrielle’s previous blogs in the series here:

    Blog 1 – Kentish glory moth

    Blog 2 – shining guest ant

    Blog 3 – northern silver stiletto fly

    Blog 4 – dark bordered beauty moth

    Blog 5 -  small scabious mining bee

  • Five facts you need to know about blue tits

    Blue tits are lively, attractive little birds that live in wooded areas and regularly turn up in gardens, particularly if there are peanuts on offer. The vivid blue cap sets this bird apart from other tits, making it relatively easy to identify. The great tit, as the name suggests, is bigger and coal tits have no blue, green, or yellow on them. Up to 750,000 pairs of blue tits nest in Scotland and they are found all over the country, except for some of the islands. Here are five facts we thought you’d enjoy about this species…

    Blue tits are acrobatic feeders

    Blue tits are extremely light, which gives them an advantage when it comes to feeding. Their minimal weight means they can seek out food at the tips of the thinnest branches, unlike some other birds such as great tits.

    They put all their eggs in one basket

    Each year, blue tits produce just one brood of chicks and they do so to coincide with the greatest abundance of caterpillars. It’s a clever strategy really, making sure there is plenty of food around to feed the chicks, but if the brood fails, there is no second chance.

    Young blue tits look slightly different

    The basic pattern of a fledgling’s plumage will still help you identify the bird as a blue tit, but be aware that juveniles have greener caps than their parents and they have yellow cheeks instead of white.

    They form gangs

    After nesting, family groups of blue tits will band together in large flocks to search for food. Although wide-roaming, the birds will often follow a regular ‘beat’. In summer they feed mainly on insects but as the seasons change to autumn and winter, seeds, nuts and fruits are added to the blue tit’s diet and you’re more likely to see them frequenting your feeder.

    They use disinfectant

    Admittedly, you won’t spot a blue tit spritzing its nest with Dettol, but scientists in Norway have discovered that these birds use medicinal plants to disinfect their living spaces. They use aromatic plants such as lavender, mint, and curry leaves, which kill bacteria, to line their nests, thereby sterilising the area and making it safer to raise chicks in.