Strimming for Terns and a Cuddly Killer – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It has been another wind-battered week, with Dennis following in Ceira’s footsteps and lashing the reserve. Fortunately, not too much damage…I think any trees that were going to blow over or break have already done so, with all the wind we’ve had.

Clearing fallen tree

In between all the screaming westerlies, we usually get a day or two’s grace, where the weather settles and there’s actually no wind! This, combined with a layer of melting ice on the lochs, made for some amazing reflections.

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

You could almost turn this picture upside down and not notice!

You could turn this upside down no problem!

There have been some beautiful sunrises, too, with the early-morning sun blushing the snow pink on Morven.

Morven sunrise

Morven, pink in the sunrise

The ducks have been showing off on the fine days. They are definitely thinking breeding thoughts and some will be on eggs in about a month’s time.  You don’t notice them displaying on a windy day – but I don’t suppose there’s much point showing off if you disappear behind a wave every 30 seconds.

Male goldeneye, head down display

Wigeon displaying

We’ve also had a bit of an away day, this week, helping to strim the Forvie ternery in preparation for the birds arriving back to breed. When the ternery – and gullery – is in full swing, there can be as many as 10 000 birds crammed into a small fenced area. Now, that’s a lot of bird poo, which enriches the soil. Which, in turn, allows things like nettles and rose-bay willowherb to grow. This isn’t a problem while the birds are there -it’s good cover for chicks to hide in – but, over the winter, these plants die back and leave woody stems behind. Come the next spring, these woody stems act like bird spikes and make it hard for the birds to land. So, off we go with the strimmers and clear out the best ternery on the east coast.

Summer starts here….clearing the ternery for its avian visitors later in the year

Although it’s nice to get a trip to another reserve for a change, highlight of the week was definitely provided by Dinnet. We’d just done a bird count and were heading away from Loch Kinord when a spotted a bird, sitting right at the top of a tree. I was driving, so didn’t have binoculars, so said to my colleague, mostly jokingly, to ‘just check out that bird and see it’s not a shrike, will you?’ So, he raises his binoculars and….it only was one!

Is it? Isn’t it? It is!!!!

Great grey shrike

Great grey shrikes, like the one we’d spotted, often have traditional wintering grounds and Muir of Dinnet is one. But we don’t see them here every year, more like once every 5 years or so and it’s always a real thrill (and results in an occasional excited expletive) when we do. They are smart, quite cute-looking birds, but are efficient predators. There aren’t insects around for them over the winter months so all their prey is larger creatures, voles, early reptiles and other birds. They will happily take on prey almost as large as themselves and usually kill by severing the spinal cord at the back of the neck. While this mistle thrush is probably big enough to be safe, it recognised a predator and was not happy about the shrike’s presence at all. But the local finches will need to watch out!

The shrike and the thrush weren’t all that keen on one another….

And so will the goldcrests. Shrikes often come to the UK in the autumn, with ‘falls’ of goldcrests from the continent, following a food supply. Shrikes earn their other name of ‘butcher bird’ by stashing food for later in a ‘larder’….which usually consists of various prey items impaled on twigs or thorns. This goldcrest was a victim of a shrike was saw in Orkney and, though I’ve probably seen a dozen different shrikes in my life, I’d never found a larder until then.  Even if you don’t see the shrike, it’s worth checking any thorny bushes for a larder – they are a fascinating, if gruesome insight into the diet of these enigmatic birds.

Goldcrest spiked for later consumption







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