The wind thrushes have arrived! The reserve is practically sinking under the weight of redwings this week…I must have see upwards of 2000 on Wednesday alone. The easterly winds have brought them in from Scandinavian in huge numbers, with big “falls” being reported all along the east coast. It’s really exciting time to be out in the field, when birds seem to be raining out of the sky, making landfall, any landfall, as rain and darkness push them ashore. But they’re not hanging around the coast for long and are piling inland to the berry trees in huge numbers.
I reckon, on Wednesday, I saw eight flocks of upwards of 200 redwing on the reserve, plus another dozen or so flocks ranging between ten and fifty birds. But what surprised me was how quiet they were being- often, when the thrushes are in, all you can hear is the white noise of bird voices chuckling, creaking, rattling and squabbling. But, bar the odd “tsleeeeep” -and the rush of wings – they’ve been pretty silent. Too hungry to squabble maybe, or maybe it’s because the fieldfares aren’t in yet. These are our other the winter thrushes, larger, greyer, noisier and just generally bolshier than the redwings. If they don’t arrive very soon, all the rowan berries will be gone- virtually every tree on the reserve has been stripped this week.
We’re still seeing a steady trickle of other migrants. Most days there have been small groups of whooper swans on Loch Davan.
We’ve been getting more mute swans than whoopers on the lochs this week, with nearly 30 mutes uneasily sharing Loch Davan. Mute swans are very territorial – or just grumpy -and often chase each other around the loch. At this time of year, you don’t tend to see any proper fights, it’s all just posturing….a bit like two drunk guys who face off but never throw a punch. It’s all “this is my patch of water, push off or I’ll have you”. “Oh, will, you now? Well, you gotta catch me first. And your mother was a cormorant”. “Yeah? Well I can break a man’s arm with my wing, so I can knock your silly head right off. I’m going to, I am, yes, I am, here I come”…..and so on. It’s hardly surprising that we keep seeing swans flying between the lochs- I think they head over to Kinord for a rest from all the belligerence.
It’s not just swans on the loch. Sitting quietly can reward you with some lovely sights – like these two mallards, who dabbled quite happily past me, almost at my feet, and never clocked I was there.
Or the sight of an unusual bird. This grebe surfaced by the loch shore and I glanced at it, assuming it’d be a little grebe. On the lochs, anything that small, which dives, is going to be a little grebe 99% of the time. But this was the one percent time, and closer inspection revealed a bright red eye and pale tip to the beak, making it a Slavonian grebe!
Or the sudden swirl and clop of water that alerts you that there might be something nearby. Something that dives. What is it? Duck? No, otter! He started off well out on the loch but surfaced pretty close by, chewing on something. When you see those formidable teeth, you can understand how one of Gavin Maxwell’s assistants lost a finger to an otter.
And the geese are still on the move, with lots passing over the reserve- or even coming in to briefly land and rest on the lochs.
The trees are probably wearing their best autumn dress this week. I reckon this is about as good as it’ll get this year in terms of autumn colours – all of the trees are yellow now and will rapidly lose their leaves hereafter (especially with yet more gales forecast). It’s just a shame we’ve had so little sun to bring the colours to life…but they glow even on a dull, grey day.
With all the glorious autumn colours around just now, we don’t think much about the pine trees. We all know that the deciduous trees shed their leaves in autumn, but the pines just go on, dark, evergreen, brooding quietly in the background. But pine trees do shed needles in the autumn too- walk on any path through the pinewood and you’ll be walking over a thick carpet of fallen needles. It’s just they don’t shed them all at once like the birches or rowans. But, if you do go for a walk this weekend, you’ll find them far less satisfying to scuff through than leaves…and much pricklier if they stick in your socks!