Wilderness Cottages Self Catering Holiday Cottages in Scotland

Posts Tagged ‘ highland birds ’

Nest Box Week – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Some people may have some romantic ideas about 14th February but to others is signals National Nest Box Week (14th– 21st February).  The fact that this scheme has now been running for 19 years shows just  how popular it has been.  It also indicates how valuable this has been to hole nesting birds, whether small such as for blue tits and robins, or large such as for  barn owls and kestrels.    The first question to ask if what birds do you want to breed  and to start with it is better to choose those birds that are already coming into the  garden such as for feeding.   Once you have chosen you could be ambitious and choose others that you would like to attract into the garden from birds that may feed elsewhere.  Then once you decide which birds  you would like to attract where do you get information about Nest Boxes from?

To get an idea of cost and which Nest Box for which bird you can simply go along to the nearest  large Garden Centre where there is often an almost bewildering display of types.   Another source of information is in many of the books on wildlife  gardening and one that has recently  come out is “Gardening for Wildlife” by Adrian Thomas published by Bloomsbury Natural History 2017.   It divides the Nest Boxes into “Nest boxes with round holes”, “Nest Boxes with an open front” and “Unusual Boxes”.  The latter include tree creeper, house martin and swift.   This very useful book also give measurements   which means  you can make your own Nest Boxes.   Making your own may seem  time consuming  but it gives great satisfaction to make a Nest Box from scratch and then to see it occupied and the young birds reared.

Once you have the Nest Box to hand then the siting is critical.   There is always the temptation to put a new Nest Box near where you encourage birds to feed such as feeders or bird tables.   This is  a mistake as birds trying to nest and others trying to feed see the others as in competition and there  is  disturbance to all the birds involved.  In any  case the siting of the Nest Boxes should be out of your sight as if you can see them so can predators.   So some cover is necessary especially with such open fronted boxes such as those for robins or spotted flycatchers.   Attaching the Nest Box to a fence or tree needs stressing.  Many of the Nest Boxes you can buy just give a piece of metal to attach it to the top of the Nest Box.  If this is the case bear in mind you will need another at the base of the box, which manufacturers seem to forget.  Otherwise in very windy weather the Nest Box may turn being pivoted only at the top.   Also be wary of the rounded nest hole as I prefer this to be 28mm. If it is smaller look elsewhere as it means none of the birds will manage to get in!.   One recent innovation is the use of miniature cameras so that you can see what is happened inside the Nest Box as the image  is relayed to your computer or television.  The photograph shows a blue tit feeding young inside a Nest Box.   The price of these, sometimes even with a Nest Box in the package,  is coming down all the time so look out for bargains.   One interesting point that is often raised is why we need to put up Nest Boxes?  The answer is simply that  natural holes, whether large or small, have been drastically reduced  as old woodland is felled or thinned.  New plantations take very many years before natural holes develop.    Once you have Nest Boxes for birds in the garden then why not get ambitious and look at the possibility of Nest Boxes for animals in the garden from hedgehogs to bats as we shall look at those next week.

Viewing Eider Ducks – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

eider ducksAt this time of the year eider ducks  can be found all along the east coast with good viewing points being at Chanonry Point near Fortrose, Loch Fleet near  Golspie and various points to the east from Inverness.  Many of these viewing points can be from the car in comfort, using the car as  a hide, and this has the added advantage  of leaving the eiders undisturbed.   Eiders are seaducks so you may be lucky to also see other seaducks such as long-tailed ducks and scoters plus the chance of  a rarity such as the king eider.   However, for me the favourite of these ducks is the eider for a wide variety of reasons with the outstanding one being their eiderdown.   Eiderdown is the feather down that the females plucks from  their breasts  to line their nests.  Its function is to insulate the clutch of eggs from the cold and to camouflaged them  while the parent is away.   Intriguingly the usual feather down is white which could make the nest and eggs conspicuous from predators so the final lining of the nest is by special brown feathers down for camouflage.    The majority of eiderdown on the world market comes from Iceland.  It is the only down on the market that comes from a wild bird and is the only  down that comes solely from female birds, whilst domestic down is from male and female alike.  The male eider gives no down and do not sit on nests.

Many of the eider colonies that are “farmed” are traditional and man has taken them over to only a certain degree.  The eider are still wild birds  but man makes the conditions easier for them in protecting  the habitats to make it more attractive and expand.  The eider colonies are also protected from fox, mink, dogs and gulls that might disturb or kill the sitting females or take the eggs.   The first collection of eiderdown is removed soon after incubation has begun; this the duck replaces over the next few days.  The second collection  of eiderdown takes place after the eggs have hatched and the ducklings depart with the female.   The down left behind after this departure is often soiled and mixed with pieces of vegetation, and requires very careful cleaning before it can be used in quilts.     Eiderdown is unrivalled in lightness, insulation properties and elasticity which is why it is so desirable and so expensive.

With such a common birds, about 20,000 pairs breed in Scotland  and the winter population is about 65,000 individuals, there have been many myths and folklore about them.   One of its old names is St. Cuthbert’s duck because it breeds in the Farne islands where St. Cuthbert lived part of his life in a cell, and it figures in legends surrounding the Saint.   It has over ten Scots names such as Coo-doos, Dusky Duck, Crattick and Dunter.   In contrast it seems to have only one Gaelic name “Lach-Lochlainneach” which means “wigeon-like”.    At this time of the year most of the eiders you see will be feeding by diving underwater after a variety of food such as mussels, clams, sea urchins, starfish and crabs. They swallow their prey whole and the  crush them with their gizzard.   They often feed in groups for up to 30 minutes at a time.  After feeding, they rest, preen and then feed again throughout the day.  This means they spend most of their time on the sea but they can often be seen by the fact that  gulls  circle above them waiting for any scraps the eider  leave on the surface.  The photograph shows an adult male flapping its wings and an immature male in front.

Garden Bird Feeding – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Monday, December 26th, 2016

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Today, Ray gives us insight into the birds he sees in his garden, with bird feeders contributing to the variety of birds he sees. If you would like to see more birds in your garden, why not provide them with a feeder? Over the winter months small birds need a great deal of food that is increasingly hard to come by just to survive, so you’ll be giving nature a hand as well as seeing more garden activity.

If you would like to see some highland birdlife first hand, many of our holiday cottages have feeders and all are situated near forests or other habitats that are abundant with wildlife, often just being quiet and waiting is all that’s required. We look forward to seeing you in 2017.

Last week was a good time to be looking at those bird feeders in the garden as various uncommon birds  species have been on the move.  In contrast some common birds have been absent and others have been only occasional visitors to the various feeders.   The bird that has been noted by its absence is the siskin as normally at this  time of the year it is normally one of the commonest, after the chaffinches and titmice.  Yet I have not seen any siskins for a few weeks, not even a single bird.  I can only think that there is still a great deal of natural food around. They particularly like the  seed of spruce and pine trees but will also freely take seed from alders and birch trees.  They will also feed on the seeds of a range of plants such as dandelions, docks, thistles and meadowsweet.   They will freely go for peanuts in garden feeders but will also go for  seed mix and their beaks can tackle the niger feeders.  They seem to be one of the very few birds that will not tackle the suet balls.

In contrast the long-tailed tits seem to be only occasional visitors to the garden these days.  If you are outside you can hear their call notes that are high pitched and sound like ”see,see,see”.  Unfortunately, they are one of several birds that I cannot hear any more, the goldcrest is another,  which happens with age.  As for the feeders, suddenly they are there at my feeders and there is a party of twelve that suddenly descend.   They seem to favour the suet ball feeder more  than  any other but they will also go for the mixed seed.     For the photographer  they are a nightmare as they are so active it is difficult  for the autofocus on the camera to work successfully.   It really is a case of hit or miss as most of the time  only a few of the birds are in focus at any one time.   Seeing them on the suet or mixed seed or even peanuts is a surprise as for the summer months they feed on flies, beetles, spiders and the eggs, caterpillars, pupa and adults of moth and butterflies.  The change to solid food, which means they can visit  garden feeders, is a recent change.

One of the other uncommon visitors to garden feeders is the brambling  as in most years I only get one or two.  However, they are easily overlooked when they are feeding with chaffinches as the male of these two birds are, in the winter months, easy to confuse.   Last week I was looking at the various birds  on the feeders and suddenly there was something different  and it was  a male brambling at the mixed seed.  Apart for the brambling there were three chaffinches at the  same feeder and I had to look twice to make sure my identification was  correct.  Fortunately  the camera  was at hand although the bird was so active it took some time to get the attached photograph.   The orange on the breast and the blackish head may look conspicuous  but it is easy to confuse with a male chaffinch.

The other surprise was at the mixed seed feeder and it was a tree sparrow which is one of my favourite garden birds for some reason.   We normally just get one a year so to see  a pair together was indeed a treat.    For some reason this bird is increasing as a garden visitor and it would be great if a pair took over one of the nestboxes put up for house sparrows.  Watch this space.