If you’ve ever been to the isle of Arran by ferry, just as you leave Ardrossan harbour, you may have noticed a small island with an unusual tower and an unusual name. Horse Island is an important site for breeding gulls, and every year RSPB Lochwinnoch staff and volunteers carry out an annual survey of the breeding birds . Horse Island, from the Arran ferry (Joe Crossland). Birds are also ringed on the island by the Clyde Ringing Group , enabling individual birds to be tracked over the course of their life (You can read more about ringing on the RSPB Minsmere blog ). Anyone who spots a ringed bird can report the sighting and contribute valuable data, helping to build up a picture of not only the life of the individual bird but also the behaviour and movements of populations. A lesser black-backed gull ringed locally recently turned up in Amsterdam, over 700 miles away! Iain Livingstone from the Clyde Ringing Group recently got in touch to let us know that “23M”, a lesser black-backed gull ringed on Horse Island in 2016, had turned up in the centre of Amsterdam. This is the third such sighting for the Netherlands, but the first record of one of the Horse Island gulls sampling the hustle and bustle of Dutch metropolitan life! Data screenshot and photo (with ring '23M') of lesser black-backed gull courtesy of Lou Spoor. In the UK, we have a large resident population of lesser black-backed gulls, and we also see influxes from Scandinavia in the winter. This particular bird however will have been ringed as a chick, which just goes to show how far and wide our ‘resident’ birds roam! And just like buses, once we’d had one sighting, a whole raft of others turned up in our inbox! “4Z9” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island on 29 June 2014 and was subsequently was seen in Safi in Morocco (30.03.16), Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow (17.06.16), Praia de Mira, Portugal (01.08.16), and Espinho, Portugal (25.08.18). “8W2” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (25 June 2016) and was this summer seen in Portugal in Torreira (13.08.18) and Espinho (25.08.18). “8N3” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (25 June 2016) and has been seen numerous times in Portugal over the last two years. “26K” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (26 June 2017) and has been seen in Muxia, Spain (27.08.17) and Leira, Portugal (09.09.18). “8Y1” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (26 June 2016) and was seen on the west coast of France at Les Sables d’Olonne, this September (04.09.18). Finally, a great black-backed gull , “9H6”, ringed as a chick on Horse Island (26.06.17) has been seen in County Dublin at Skerries Harbour (13.04.18) and Skerries South Beach (08.09.18), illustrating that it’s not just their cousins that turn up in far-flung places. Further sightings of these birds and others ringed on Horse Island will provide insights into the lives of these gulls – providing valuable data on the areas they visit, when they visit, and how long for, and ultimately how long they live – all information that is invaluable in our work to support these populations. Great black-backed gull with ring (pic courtesy of Jan Rod).
September is a time of contrasts. It can sometimes feel like the summer has been extended, continuing as it often does into the middle of September, but give it a few weeks and by the end of the month summer can feel like a distant memory. A mass sprouting of fungi, and a costume change in the trees resulting in a blaze of autumn colour are the final moments of glory before the shorter and colder days of winter arrive. In this period of change there is often a crossover of birds on the reserve; many of our summer visitors are still around, waiting for the impetus of a temperature drop to push off to warmer climes, while some of our winter visitors are heading south to stay ahead of the colder northern winters. And so it proved this year, with the ospreys sticking around until 10 th September, pink-footed geese being seen for three consecutive days from the 24 th , and the first of the whooper swans arriving on the 27 th . The osprey is a summer visitor to Lochwinnoch. The whooper swan is a winter visitor to Lochwinnoch (pic: Joe Crossland). We also had some great wildfowl counts, with 174 tufted duck , 145 coot , 100 mallard , 67 wigeon , 41 teal , 35 mute swan , 21 Canada geese , 20 great-crested grebe , 15 snipe , 11 little grebe. A male tufted duck (pic: Joe Crossland). These counts will surely increase over the coming months, but it’s great to see good numbers already. Sightings of goldeneye , gadwall , pintail, pochard, goosander and three water rail in one day were also added to the September count, and we look forward to having more regular sightings of these beautiful birds over the winter. A male goldeneye (pic: Joe Crossland). September was also a good month for raptors, with marsh harrier , hen harrier , sparrowhawk , buzzard , and barn owl all out and about on the reserve, and all being seen on the same day when we carried out our hen harrier roost survey. Barn owl. Finally, we had an unusual visitor 20 September – a sandwich tern . It’s a coastal bird that we don’t often see on the reserve, and they sometimes use lochs down the coast as stopping off points on their winter migration to Africa, so it could be that’s what this one was up to. Sandwich tern. We’ll continue to post updates on the latest news – here’s to a busy few months of winter sightings!
Did you know you can see two ruined castles from the RSPB Lochwinnoch reserve? Those familiar with the landscape surrounding Lochwinnoch will know the ruined Barr Castle , that sits in a field to the west of the village, but there’s another less known castle, and it’s hidden away from sight on the reserve. The Peel Tower, as it’s known, is a fortified tower house, built as a defensive structure by the local Semple family to protect their land and property from raiders in the 16th century. Located in a relatively inaccessible part of the reserve, it’s a little-known scheduled monument – and has been designated as having national importance by Historic Environment Scotland . The fact that it’s largely defensive, rather than built for living in, makes it a relatively rare structure in Scotland. Peel Tower ruins (pic: Joe Crossland) Now, as part of the Garnock Connections programme, work will soon get underway to consolidate the ruin and carry out remedial work, making make it safe for members of the public to visit this previously hidden gem. Paths will be opened up and interpretation boards will be installed to provide information on the history of the tower and its significance for the local area. Garnock Connections aim to involve the local community in the work, as part of their remit to upskill the local population and provide a legacy of training and education. Early training ideas include archaeological research and exhibition organisation, and the team would be happy to hear from anyone who would like to get involved in the project . Built during a time when feuding families would raid each other’s land, advances in artillery meant Peel Tower was only in operation for a short time, being overrun by firepower in one attack and subsequently falling into ruin. Musket-firing holes (rather than arrow slits) provide a clue to its age – similar features can be seen at the more intact Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire. External and internal views of the musket slits provide clues as to the Peel Tower’s age and use (pics: Joe Crossland). Despite its significance, the ruined tower is not generally well known, and in the summer of 2016 the site provided a great opportunity for our Young Volunteers group to get a close-up look at a fascinating piece of history on a work day spent clearing invasive Himalayan balsam from the surrounding area. Himalayan balsam can be identified by the red edging to its serrated leaves, and the translucent stem which is red/pink at the base and greener further up. Once in flower, the shape of its pink blooms give the plant its other common names of policeman’s helmet and gnome’s hatstand (pic: Joe Crossland). It will be fantastic to open up this area to the public as it will not only provide a close-up view of the tower, but also unique views of the reserve and the wildlife that frequents the area. Our Young Volunteers, for instance, discovered a large number of newts sheltering together in a cool spot under a log. These beautiful creatures were palmate newts, one of three native species found in the UK (the others being smooth and great crested). After inspecting this excellent find, the volunteers carefully covered the newts over again and set up an exclusion zone to ensure the newts remained undisturbed while they worked close by. Palmate newts discovered close to the Peel Tower (pics: Joe Crossland). The site remains closed to the public, but we will provide updates on progress and look forward to opening up the site in due course to reveal the secrets of this long-hidden chapter in Lochwinnoch’s history. Garnock Connections is a Landscape Partnership Scheme led by RSPB in partnership with North Ayrshire Council , Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Scottish Wildlife Trust , and advised by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). Garnock Connections is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund . To keep up to date with all the latest news and events, check out the Garnock Connections Facebook page .
Highlights: 3 fieldfare 14 great crested grebe 7 whooper swans 1 pochard 1 goldeneye 10 snipe 4 shoveler 1 kingfisher Full sightings board: