The winter birds are well settled in at the Loch now. Last time I counted, the numbers of mallard had swelled to over 300, with around 70 tufted duck. The former are known as dabbling duck, spending their time on the surface of the shallower water, from where they reach down for their food. In the case of these mallard, they spend long periods begging for handouts around the car park, or occasionally wandering into The Ecology Centre offices, where they’re not averse to rooting through people’s bags for tasty morsels! Mallard are pretty omnivorous.
Tufted duck are diving duck, obtaining their food by completely submerging and swimming around. Here’s a male (below left), showing why they’re so-called, and a female (below right).
This is another diving duck (above), a drake goldeneye and that’s a female below. There has been just one of each present so far. Note that, like many birds, the male has the attention-grabbing looks, whilst the female is more demurely, but subtly, dressed! Goldeneyes breed in small numbers of the Highlands, helped by the large next-boxes installed for them, but most of the birds we see here in the winter hail from Scandinavia.
Many readers will know that the male of the pair of mute swans died last year after getting entangled in fishing line. The female did a great job of raising the cygnets single-handed. Now another adult swan has appeared. Swans normally mate for life but will take on a new partner if one dies. I’m not sure at the moment if the new arrival is another male, but here’s hoping for a happy ending.
Large numbers of gulls often come down on to the Loch for a drink and a wash, especially if they have been rummaging around in muddy fields. Here’s a big flock of mixed species loafing about on the ice before Christmas. Scanning through them I spotted an adult Mediterranean gull, which although becoming far more common in southern Britain (climate change?), is still a scarce species up here. What makes it stand out from the similarly sized black-headed gull is its entirely white wings. Unfortunately it’s not visible in the shot above as it had just flown off!
Here’s one of the many moorhen which are quite bold as long as they’re within easy reach of the Lochside. Surprise them up on the slopes and it’s amusing to see them making a mad dash for the water!
At the western end of the Loch is the bird hide. Local photographers keep the feeders well stocked and are rewarded with lots of small birds at close range, like blue and coal tits.
There’s also a regular kingfisher which sometimes fishes in the small stream right in front of the hide. It’s never around when I pop in and I don’t have the patience to sit there for a few hours in the hope that it will appear but I’m able to share this super photo taken by Darren Dawson (thanks Darren!).