It’s the World Wetlands Day today …. and the Year of Coasts and Waters … so we’re going to celebrate our wonderful wetlands here at Dinnet with a series of blogs about the lochs and other wet places on the reserve …and their plants animals and people. Wetlands support a massive amount of biodiversity; in fact, 40% of ALL species breed on, live in or are in some way dependent on wetlands….us included. But this blog isn’t going to focus on people (though another will), but on the bird life of our wetlands at Dinnet. It won’t mention everything, but will pick out some of our more obvious residents – or , at least, ones I have pictures of. After all, who wouldn’t rather look at a duck than a crowded street?
All of the ducks look at their best in late winter/early spring. The moult their feathers in summer and, through autumn and early winter, look dowdy and lack their summer colours. Unlike small birds, they will moult all their wing feathers in one go and can’t fly well, or even at all for a few weeks. It makes sense not to be colourful at this point, because, if you can’t fly, you can’t escape from predators – so it doesn’t do to draw attention to yourself.
But, by the turn of the year, most of the ducks are in all their finery. In terms of ducks that breed here, we usually get mallard, teal, goldeneye, tufted duck, and occasionally wigeon. All of these ducks have showy, spectacular males, while the females are grey and brown for camouflage. I always struggled to decide which one is the handsomest – the tiny teal, with their vermiculated grey and chestnut and green head? Or the wigeon – definitely the best noise -‘wheooo!’- rather than a quack. Or the goldeneye and tufted duck, understated, but dapper in black and white.
Of course, the lochs aren’t just about ducks, though they are the most striking residents. Swans also breed here and it’s a poor summer if we don’t have at least one ‘awww’ moment with some fluffy, new cygnets. Cormorants, pterodactyl-like, fish, then hang themselves out to dry on the trees. Coot patrol the reedbeds, breaking off from feeding to beat one another up on a regular basis, while little grebes whinny and bicker by the loch margins. Geese honk and clatter at…well, everything…as they shepherd broods of goslings to safety. Herons stalk, stately and deadly, in the shallows while water rails, rarely seen, make their presence known with a call that sounds like a pig being slowly killed. A reedbed is a truly wonderful place; a rustling, whispering haven with a maze of hidden waterways. The sights, sounds and the smell of a reedbed are one of the great experiences in the natural world, and one I have a soft spot for – even on holiday, there’s an evens chance I’ll wind up in a reedbed in East Anglia.
As well as the residents, we have lots of birds that use the lochs in passing. Our duck numbers climb in the winter and it’s likely that only 3-4% of those birds we see in the winter will actually stay to breed. Some just pass through and this is where lochs and wetlands are important on both a national and international scale. Yes, our lochs are nice. Yes, they’re good for biodiversity. But they’re no good if they’re not part of an international nature network of wild places that allows creatures from all over the world to thrive. Geese and whooper swans follow invisible sky roads across the North Atlantic every autumn and spring…and they need places to stop off and feed. Our lochs help with this and it’s always a privilege to see these birds on their epic migrations.
We even occasionally get wanderers turning up!
So, why not celebrate World Wetlands day by taking a walk near a wet place? We have a decent path round Loch Kinord here…and you might even see some of the things mentioned in the blog!