Saturday, 29 December 2007


It seems we may have developed a problem with illegal poaching on the reserve, besides that of the illegal fishing, which is already well documented both on this blog and elsewhere.

When on the reserve on Christmas Eve, there was a visit from the local Police. It appears that they had been called out by someone (Not myself) who had reported poaching on the reserve. I had been on the reserve for an hour at that point, and had neither heard or seen any sign of problems at that time, so it was deemed as a false alarm, i believe. Unfortunately, it seems there may have been some truth in the matter.

Janie called me this morning, advising that she had seen someone on the reserve with two black labrador dogs. From the noise and commands being issued to the dogs, she suspects that these were gun dogs. She said the man had something in his hand, but due to the shade, she couldn't clearly identify it. She does think it may have been a dead pheasant.
I went on the reserve myself this afternoon, and there was no sign of any activity on the reserve. There was, however clearly some shooting going on nearby and voices could be heard commanding dogs, so i have little doubt that Janie was correct and that people were poaching on the reserve.
I suspect the main targets would be the relatively large Pheasant population on the reserve, although Woodcock and Snipe are also known for shooting. With both of these species in decline in the UK, it is definitely a cause for concern that these species could be targetted.
I will be contacting Fife Constabulary regarding this, although there is little that can be done unless the culprits are caught in the act.

I would ask that if anyone is visiting the reserve they are vigilant of anyone behaving suspiciously. If you do see someone or something, whether it is shooting or fishing, please contact Fife Police on 0845 600 5702. Please DO NOT approach these people and leave the matter in the hands of the Police, who are trained to deal with these situations.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Lots been happening

Ok, i know it has been a while since i updated this blog, and first of all, i must apologise. Things have been rather hectic of late and i simply haven't had the time! I promise it'll be back to weekly updates from now on, though!

We're almost at the end of December, and I haven't posted at all this month, even though there's been so much going on!
First and most important of all, we've had the some of the cadets from the local Air Cadet Squadron on site doing some work. We initially had them on site on the 2nd of December, just for a little tour of the reserve. Surprisingly enough, none of the cadets had ever actually visited a nature reserve before. I have to admit, i was more than a little shocked by this. I remember as a child getting dragged to these places whether i liked it or not. The thought of not having been to a nature reserve by the time i was a teenager is almost incomprehensible to me. From reading various sites and speaking with various people, this seems to be the norm these days, which really is a shame.
For me it was even more important when we were showing them about to let them see not only what work we were going to be asking of them, but why we were asking it of them and to give them a chance to see some of the wildlife on the reserve.
We were quite well rewarded that day, too, with Roe Deer putting in an appearance, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Mute Swans and Heron on the loch and several of the smaller common bords about. The cadets seemed to have a genuine enthusiasm for the reserve, which i will definitely be trying to cultivate.
With the cold weather we've been having recently, there have been a few days where the loch has been pretty much frozen over. Only a few patches remained where the ducks and swans could access the water. As a result of the cold weather, we did have a large flock of gulls arrive. There were approximately 150 gulls on the loch, predominantly black-headed gulls, but with a few common gulls mixed in.

We had the cadets on the reserve again on the 16th December, this time to help with the work on the reserve. There were two tasks that we had in mind for them. To pick up the litter on the reserve, primarily at the pool which has been used by illegal fishermen and to help with the coppicing of the trees which have encroached upon the Snipe Bog.
Upon entering the Snipe Bog, we flushed three Snipe out, which is great news. At least we know the area is still in use for wintering birds.
The cadets were on site from approximately 10:30am to 2:30pm. We had originally planned to have them on site a bit later than this, but it was getting rather cold rather quickly!
Still, they managed to get a fair amount of work done and i was really impressed with them! They really should be proud of their achievements, too!
The picture below shows just some of the area the cadets managed to clear.

Here's some of the cadets working on clearing the scrub

Here's the other cadets on their way to the fishing loch for litter picking, accompanied by Janie in the foreground

And here they all are at the end of the day, looking surprisingly cheerful considering how much work they had just done!

The cadets will be back on the reserve helping out three more times before the end of February, so hopefully we'll have a fair amount of the scrub cleared away.
We're also getting a visit by a group from BirdForum on Saturday the 9th February, where I have agreed to give them a bit of a guided tour. That one will be interesting, since I've been out with some of them before, earlier this year on a visit to the Isle of May. There's some there who definitely have more bird knowledge than I do, so I'm going to have to try real hard not to embarrass myself!

Friday, 30 November 2007

New Additions

There have been several new additions to the reserve, of various sorts, both good and bad over the past week or two.
The first one I'll mention is that my friend Janie is now the Reserve Warden for the site. Basically, she will be assisting me with the work i carry out on the reserve. She's very enthusiastic and approachable, so if you see her on site, feel free to stop her and ask any questions you may have (She's easy to spot - she's the one wearing the SWT fleece with the 'Ranger Service' badge on it!)
In addition, she'll have access to this blog so that she can update it at any time. I think we'll try and stick to the normal routine of updating the blog once a week, roughly. Obviously, if either of us spot anything of particular interest, we'll update the blog as soon as we can!
We have another new bird addition for the reserve in the shape of a cormorant, which was seen on monday flying away from the loch (But not since). That's another one added to the list, which just keeps growing and growing! I suspect next year's list will be even larger, since we'll be starting in January, rather than May and we'll be on site more than we were at the beginning of this year, particularly during the migration seasons.

The most interesting new addition for visitors to the reserve is two new seed feeders, mounted on a pole. The feeders are 26" long and a bright blue plastic, so they should be easy enough for most people to spot! A (bad) photo of them is shown below - apologies for the quality of the shot, but it was chucking it down with rain today, so the camera wasn't playing very nice in the low light conditions.

The feeders were only put up yesterday, but already they've proven a bit of a success. There is a pretty constant stream of Coal Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits darting back and forth to them right now. Although the birds are not lingering long on the feeders, they're definitely making use of them. It's a positive hive of activity there now as a result, with birds coming and going all the time.

The other new additions to the reserve are the negative ones, sadly. The past week or two have seen a large increase in litter being dumped at the car park and dog mess along the paths. I will definitely be mentioning this at the next advisory group meeting, with the hope that we can get a bin installed at the Car Park so that people at least have somewhere to put their rubbish. Why they can't just take it home with them and put it in the bin, i don't know!

And finally, this Sunday morning, i will be giving some of the local Air Cadets a tour of the reserve with a view to them helping out with the litter and some of the coppicing and scrub removal work over the winter. If you see a group of teenagers on site, but off the path on Sunday morning, don't panic. They'll be with me! :-)

Saturday, 17 November 2007

More Bird Ringing

Today was another interesting day at Cullaloe, with Mark coming back on site to do some ringing. Yet again, i had my camera with me and this time i decided to see what it was like in video mode!
For some reason, though Blogger really isn't liking my videos, so i don't seem to be able to upload it.

In total he ringed three Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Making a total of 4 woodpeckers ringed in two trips - three males and one female, all juveniles) more Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits.
Annoyingly, we had several groups of Long-Tailed Tit, Siskin and Goldcrest come nearby, but none of them managed to get caught in the net. I would have love to have gotten some photos of a Goldcrest or two!
I was also there to do some work on tree felling at the area which was originally known as the Snipe Bog. This area, we were led to believe originally had Snipe breeding in it. Since discussing this with Mark today, it may be that it is purely wintering birds that have been seen there. He certainly has no recollection of them breeding on the reserve. When going through the area to start work on the coppicing of the trees, i managed to flush two Snipe from the undergrowth, so they are definitely still about!
I didn't manage to get quite as much coppicing done on site as i would have liked, but i still managed to clear a fair amount of the scrub. I plan on returning to the reserve tomorrow to do some more then.
On Monday I'll be giving a talk to the local Air Cadet Squadron and hopefully i will be enlisting their aid with the clearing of the scrub. There is several little projects I would like to get them involved in, if they are willing, but we'll have to see how it goes. We may be hindered a bit by Health and Safety legislation on this one.
The loch has been relatively quiet recently, though we've still got Teal,Wigeon, Mallard, Mute Swan, Moorhen and Coots on it, and normally a Grey Heron or two. Today we did have a Sparrowhawk flying round the edges of the loch, too. (another bird which I would have loved to have seen in the net!)

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Redwings arrive at Cullaloe

I've been wondering for the past few weeks where the Redwings and other thrushes had got to, since the berry bushes at Cullaloe have been laden, but nothing has been taking them. I'm happy to say that yesterday i saw my first Redwings on site! There was a small flock of about 10 birds. They stuck predominantly to the far side of the loch, past the spillway, but i don't think it will be long till they're seen at the hawthorn bushes along the path.
Yesterday was one of the magical days that you occasionally get when visiting the reserve. It seems that since the wind has died down, absolutely everything was out and about. There were Siskins down at the car park, along with a few Pheasants standing on the wall which marks the reserve boundary, there was a flock of approximately 20 Long-tailed Tits at the edge of the large pine trees and mixed in with them was a single Treecreeper. That's only the fourth time i've seen one this year, making it equal to the number of times I've seen the Kingfisher!
I'd commented previously that the feeders had barely been getting any use over the past few weeks. That changed yesterday! There was a large influx of Blue Tits and Great Tits on the reserve, chattering away, and for the first time in well over a month I was seeing five or six birds at the feeders at one time. Recently it has just been one or two. There were also quite a few Chaffinches joining them at the feeders, which is always good to see.
The loch itself had much of the same species as it normally does at this time of year. There were plenty of Mallard, Teal and Wigeon along with the resident Mute Swans. There was also a lone Grey Heron, which was great to see when it caught a fish that must have been at least six inches long! I also heard Curlews at the far side of the loch, but sadly never saw them. They must have been hiding in about the reeds. It's good to know that they are still visiting, though.
The sheer scale of birds on the reserve yesterday was amazing. We even had a flock of about fifty Rooks alight on the tops of the pine trees. Hopefully with the wind now died down for a bit, we'll keep these large numbers of birds on site.

In response to a previous question regarding Weasels on site. I still have not seen any on the reserve itself, but on the way home yesterday, one ran across the road in front of me. It was only about 500 metres past the reserve entrance, so it is a safe wager that the reserve itself is part of their territory.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

New birds to the reserve

We've had a couple of new bird species to the reserve for the year. In the past week or so, I've seen Jay flying across the reserve and when going to fill up the feeders, I've flushed a Snipe out from the undergrowth!
There used to be an area on the reserve called the Snipe Bog, which used to have breeding Snipe in it, but unfortunately it has become heavily overgrown with willow scrub in the past few years. We are planning on clearing a lot of the scrub away to try and bring the place back to it's former glory. I'd love to be able to say that Snipe were nesting on the reserve again!
I've spoken with the local Air Cadet Squadron about the possibility of helping out on the reserve with litter picking, clearing of the spillway and potentially even with the coppicing work. They seem quite enthusiastic about the idea, and it will be great to have them on board to help out in the winter months. Hopefully by the time spring comes around again, the reserve will be a changed place, but in a good way. Hopefully we'll be able to get back some of the old habitat without impacting too much on the new habitat.
We've also had a large influx of Siskin on the reserve over the last few days, particularly at the trees by the car park. It seems that there's been quite a large irruption of them in the UK this year, so don't be surprised if you see them at your bird feeders this winter! They really are gorgeous little birds and it's great to see so many of them on the reserve.
We're still sitting waiting on the berry eating birds to arrive to feed off the laden plants, but there has been no sign yet. With the strong westerly winds right now, i doubt much will be coming over from the continent. There have been reports of early waxwings up north, near Inverness in the past few days. Hopefully this year will be a good year for them, too!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Increases and Decreases

It's been a couple of weeks since I've updated the blog. The main reason for this is because I've spent most of last week on the isle of Skye on holiday.
On my return from holiday, it seems that a fairly decent number of Black-headed Gulls have taken up residence on the loch with the ducks. We're seeing approximately sixty gulls making use of the loch at one time right now. This is in addition to the large duck population, so the loch really is getting quite busy.
With regard to waders, there still isn't as many as I would have expected. There's been a few Curlew seen at the edge of the loch and several Lapwing, but nothing besides that. There's still time yet, though!
Elsewhere on the reserve, things have gotten a lot quieter. We've gone from having to fill the peanut feeders every four or five days to now only filling them once every two or three weeks. A big difference! (And it's good for my wallet, too!). That's not to say that there are no birds about. They're still there and we're still getting regular visits to the feeders from the Great Spotted Woodpeckers. There's also been an increase in sightings of Long-tailed Tits. Small groups of these are seen most days right now.
Robins are in full voice just now while they establish their territories, with at least five or six territories claimed. The Wrens are very active on the reserve just now, too. Some of the best views I've had of these tiny birds have been within the past couple of weeks.
Surprisingly, a lot of the berry trees and bushes are still quite heavily laden. I would have expected winter thrushes to have arrived by now, such as Fieldfare or Redwing to make use of these, but to date there have been no sign. Hopefully there will be some in the near future, though!
We're going to be using the winter months to get some work done on the reserve to try and do some clearing out, set up some new things before spring, etc. Hopefully by the time spring comes round and the summer migrants begin to return, the reserve will be a better place, both for the migrants and for visitors.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Lots to see

There's still a whole lot to see on the loch right now, with average bird numbers in the region of 200 to 250. On Friday i managed to count over 100 Teal in a single visit, we've had over 70
Wigeon and over 60 Mallard on site, too. That's not including an average of 15-20 of both Coot and Moorhen each day!
On a couple of days in the past week we've had flocks of Lapwing on site, too. The largest flock I saw was approximately 60 birds, though only about 20 of them landed at the edge of the loch.
We're still waiting on serious waders arriving. No sign of them yet! Annoyingly, I've seen both Curlew and Oystercatchers in the nearby fields, yet still they haven't found their way to Cullaloe.

It isn't just the loch that's full of life, though. One of the filter beds has been getting cleared out by the SWT conservation team. Now that the dust has settled a bit, you can clearly see a whole lot of activity in the water, from small sticklebacks and minnows to large aquatic beetles and pond skaters. It just goes to show the diversity of species that the nature reserve supports. It also shows that the water quality must be relatively high for all these species to thrive.
There was a point during the week when i was watching a Heron on the loch and it caught a fish at least 6 inches long. It was rather amusing watching it struggle to swallow it, I have to say! Good to see, though, and another good sign of thriving water life.

The butterflies appear to have finished up for the year now, with none being seen in the past week, despite lovely weather for them. I guess it's just getting a little cold for them now. The dragonflies are still about in force, though. Several pairs have been seen to be laying both at the filter beds and at the edge of the loch itself.

There's also plenty of smaller birds about just now, too. The goldfinches have developed a small flock of 10-15 birds, which is really quite nice to see when they fly past or onto a nearby tree. The bullficnhes are still about and are seen daily, there's tits everywhere, including a regular flock of long-tailed tits right now and of course, the woodpeckers are still seen regularly at the feeders!

It really is a great time to be visiting Cullaloe right now! Well worth the visit.

Just to note, this afternoon I'm going to be on site picking up a lot of the litter which had been dropped by the illegal fishermen. I'm also planning on taking a walk around the edge of the loch to see if i can find and photograph the Mudwort. It may result in a large loss of birdlife on the loch as a result, so today may not be the best day to be visiting to see the birds!

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Large Influx of Birds

Since we began lowering the water level on the reserve, the bird numbers on or around the loch have more than doubled. Just today we had 60 teal, more than 30 wigeon, more than 40 mallard, 20 coot, 20 moorhen, the swans, a heron and several crows on or around the loch all at the same time! That's a huge difference from just a few days ago. In some cases the numbers have actually trebled!
Attached are some photos of the loch each day as the water level is lowered. I'd strongly recommend clicking on the images to see the full sized pictures, otherwise the difference may not be too noticeable. The water level in itself has dropped by more than two feet and it was still going this afternoon!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

I am a little surprised that even though we've had a huge influx of birds to the site, i've so far not seen any waders. I would have at least expected to see a curlew or two, since they had been flying over the loch the previous few days. Oh well, there's still time yet! I've no idea how long the water level will be lowered for (still got to discuss that with the boss) but i suspect it will be for at least a month. If you're in the area at all during that time, it should be well worth a visit!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The lowering of the Loch

On sunday, me and my friend Janie had agreed to carry out some work on the reserve. We had agreed to prune back the willow tree next to the screen to allow a better view of the feeders and we also set out to work on removing some of the willow trees which were blocking the view of the loch from the screen.
When we got there, there was someone else there. It seems he's a relatively regular visitor to the site and has had some interesting sights on the reserve. It appears that earlier on in the year there was a Garganey on the loch. This is a great find and a great sighting for the reserve!
The work was carried out by myself and Janie in just over two hours on Sunday afternoon, and i have to say that the difference it makes is truly amazing. Regular visitors to the reserve should be pleased with the results!
Whilst carrying out the work on the willow, we noticed a Common Hawker Dragonfly flying over the loch. This is the first time we've seen one of these on the site, and at over four inches long, they really are stunning!
On Tuesday i started the process of lowering the water level on the loch. This is done annually to allow for the Mudwort plant to seed and establish itself. It also has the additional benefit of exposing mud which may be of interest to passage waders.
The whole process of draining the water should take approximately three days, and i hope to update this blog with photos from each day so that readers can see the difference in water levels each time. Already the spillway has run dry!
Whilst in the process of releasing the gate to lower the water in the loch, I saw approximately 100 pink-footed geese flying overhead. A sure sign that autumn is here! Another tick to the list of sightings from the reserve, too.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Exciting Developments

It's all been happening on the reserve over the past week or so. So many interesting developments to tell you all about. I had my first advisory group meeting as the convenor of the reserve on Tuesday 11th September. I have to admit, it was very interesting. It felt good to be a part of the reserve, a part of the team that decides on future plans. The water level is to be lowered n the next couple of weeks, when i get the key from Ross, the previous convenor. That should be interesting as we should see some wader interest in the sight. We're already getting Curlews flying over on a daily basis looking for places to land, so it's a safe wager that we'll have plenty of wader activity once the water level is lowered!
The most interesting thing that happened at the meeting had absolutely nothing to do with the meeting itself. Not long after starting the meeting a bird flew across the reserve. My initial thought was that it was a heron. It only took me a few seconds to realise that it was way too big to be a heron. Out came the binoculars, and lo and behold, it was a White-Tailed Eagle! 15 of these had been released in Fife in August as part of a re-introduction scheme between the RSPB and SNH and this was the first sighting of one for everyone in the group. It landed in the field opposite the reserve, sat there for a few minutes then flew off to perch on a fence post at the far end of the field.
After submitting a report of the sighting to the RSPB, including the wing tag detail (In this case, the bird was tagged 'H') i've received word that this bird is a young male, released on the 10th August this year. I was also asked if i could put up some submission forms on site in case the bird should return or anyone make a sighting, so i've added a few of them which can be taken at the willow screen.
I also found out that the male bird in our resident pair of Mute Swans was ringed. After some work between a few of us during the meeting, we got the ring information. Allan, from Fife Council called someone in the know and it appears that the bird was ringed as a cygnet just outside Edinburgh and has since been seen at several locations nearby. It really is good to know where the birds on the reserve are coming from.

On the subject of ringing, it was agreed that Mark, who was at the advisory group meeting would do some bird ringing on the reserve. I got an email from him advising that he would be on site on Friday morning to ring the birds. I took a walk down, when i eventually got up (I'm not really an early morning kinda guy) and he was there with the mist net, collecting and ringing birds. In total throughout the morning he ringed the following:

  • 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • 2 Robins
  • 1 Long-tailed Tit
  • 5 Coal Tits
  • 15 Blue tits
  • 35 Great Tits
That's a total of 59 birds ringed! Quite impressive for a morning's work. I was particularly happy that he got the woodpecker. The woodpeckers on the reserve feel like their my babies, since the introduction of the peanut feeders to the site.
I've included a couple of photos below to show some of the ringed birds.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Long-tailed Tit

With several plans to be implemented for the reserve in the near future, i'm sure i'll be kept busy and there will be plenty of updates on the site. As we're coming into the winter months, more work can be done on the site than would be possible during the breeding season, and everyone is taking advantage of this.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Missed Opportunity

I went down to the reserve this afternoon to see what was about. It is a truly lovely day today, so i had high hopes of good butterfly opportunities. When i arrived, there was another car parked in the car park, so i knew someone else was about. On the way along to the screen i bumped into a man who had been on the reserve for a couple of hours with his DSLR camera. He showed me some photos of something rather spectacular for the reserve. This morning there had been an Osprey fishing on the reserve! This truly is a great find for him, though a missed opportunity for me. The Osprey was successful in catching a small fish, too. A great sighting for the reserve, and one i'm happy to add to the list! The osprey was pretty much certain to be on passage to their wintering grounds and just decided to stop in for a snack. It's good to know they visit all the same!
I did spot a couple of curlews circling the loch looking for a place to land, but not finding anything and flying off. Once the water level is lowered, they should be a pretty regular occurance on the reserve.
New species this past week has been the addition of some passage wigeon, which stopped off on the loch for a couple of days before heading on. We're obviously getting the start of the autumn migrants through now, so we should be adding to the list a fair amount over the next few weeks. At least that's the theory!

Friday, 31 August 2007

Dragonflies and Butterflies

I've been back from my little holiday for a few days and i've found that Cullaloe is positively alive with Dragonflies and Butterflies right now. There's several of (what i think is) the Common Darter dragonfly (now confirmed) about right now, which is shown below.

There's also lots of butterflies on the reserve. In particular Peacock and Small Copper can be seen in relatively large numbers. In addition I had my first sighting of a Painted Lady butterfly today. A first for me on the reserve, and a truly stunning butterfly! (shown below)

With a lot of the meadow that butterflies use having been recently cut down (this is done to allow a proper growth next year) the butterflies are more concentrated in smaller areas, which makes seeing them incredibly easy.
The birds have reduced a lot in numbers recently, with only adult birds seen on the feeders. Gone are the juvenile Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches, although the juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers are still making an occasional appearance.
There has been an increase in the number of Tufted Ducks seen on the loch over the past week or two. I suspect that now that the breeding season is over with, they're coming back to Cullaloe for autumn and winter. We've had two new species seen on the reserve this past week, and those are the Curlew and the Black-headed Gull. This now takes our total to the 60 mark, since May, which isn't bad going!

In other news related to the reserve, Ross, the convenor for the reserve has had to give up the position due to time constraints. As a result, the position has now been passed onto myself. It seems i am no longer just a regular guy who likes the reserve. I'm actually getting to make an input on the reserve now, which is a really exciting prospect for me. It'll be interesting to see how the reserve works from the other side, to see how things are planned, how changes are made and how the species on the reserve is taken into consideration for these things.
I'm looking forward to taking on this challenge and trying not to step on too many toes! I love the reserve maybe a bit too much and i may end up shouldering my way into everything. I hope not, though!
Ross will still be involved with the reserve when time permits and i hope to see him there when the opportunity presents itself.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Not as quiet as it seems

A casual glance at Cullaloe just now will show very little life and very little action. I'd advise anyone visiting the reserve to look just that little bit closer.
Hidden in amongst the bushes, or just for those patient enough to wait and be still, there is a whole host of life on the reserve just now!
This week i've managed to scare at least two adult pheasants from the bushes, each with juveniles (and scared myself silly in the process!). The Bullfinches are more regularly seen than ever before, even showing themselves directly in front of the screen!
There are still warblers around in the bushes, but you really have to be quiet and still and above all patient to get good looks at these.
The most important sighting this week was the dragonflies. I saw two or three of these just yesterday flying around the path near the weir. This is the first time i've seen them for myself all year! An excellent sighting of some fascinating insects!
Tufted ducks are returning to the reserve, with three or four females now present. There has been a large influx of Mallard on the reserve, too, with over 20 sighted at one time! I don't think it will be long now till the winter visitors will be arriving, and it will be interesting to see what we get.

I'll be on holiday over the next week, so won't be visiting the reserve, so it may be a couple of weeks before i next have an update.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Interesting sightings

It's still quite quiet at Cullaloe on the migrant front, but there has been so many new and exciting things to see that it doesn't matter!
In the past week or so since i last updated, i've seen the return of the Kingfisher not once, but twice! So much so that i now know a couple of places where it perches, making it so much easier to see it in the future, too. I've spoken to the reserve manager about the possibility of adding a couple of artificial perches to potentially encourage them to hang around more., so we'll see what happens with that. Also this past week we've had a flock of 50-60 greylag geese circling the loch and potentially using the field which was formerly home to the flying flock of sheep.
Next to the same field i saw 2 juvenile bullfinches. That one is really good for me, because it's proof that the bullfinches in the area have been successful this year.
Speaking of breeding birds, the coots are at it again! There's a couple of very young chicks out on the loch at the moment and there's another coot sitting on a nest. That lot really don't know when to stop!
On that front, the water level on the reserve won't be lowered while they're still at it, so it's being postponed till September at the earliest. After speaking to the reserve manager, it seems there are quite a few plans in the works for the reserve. I won't go into detail here as i don't know what will happen and when, if any of the projects. These things all require funding, which as always, is in short supply.
Which leads to the shameless plug! If you want to help support the work of the Wildlife Trust, not just at Cullaloe, but throughout Scotland, join up! Become a member and show your support. Membership also gets you free entry to the reserves and visitor centre's of Loch of the Lowes, Montrose Basin and the Falls of Clyde. It doesn't cost much and every penny helps them out. If you want to make a simple donation, you can do that on the same place. Click THIS to go to the donation page for the trust. Look around the site here and have a look and see what work they do.
Ok, shameless plug over for now, i promise!

The reserve has also been alive with grasshoppers recently. They've cut back some of the grass in one of the meadows, which is making the grasshoppers particularly visible. I've actually managed to get a decent photo of one, too! I hope you like it, since getting it to sit still long enough was a bit of a challenge!

All in all, even with the reduction in migrants, the reserve still has an awful lot to show. The feeders are constantly in use, to the extent that my girlfriend and I are discussing adding more in the near future!

Sunday, 29 July 2007

All was Silent

It's gotten very quiet at Cullaloe very quickly. The number of birds seen or heard on the reserve have reduced sharply in the past week or so. There seems to be very few warblers about now, with only the occasional sedge or willow warbler to be seen. Even these are becoming less frequent than previously. Swallow numbers have reduced considerably, too. Previously there had been over 20 seen on any single trip, where as now I'm lucky if i see 5 or 6.
It really is surprising how quickly the migrant species seem to vanish. I was hoping we'd have a few more weeks of them, but it seems not to be. I suppose it is possible the inclement weather has just driven them into hiding for a while, though. We should, however start seeing some more passage birds stopping off at the reserve on their migration routes. In the autumn we've got a fair chance of getting some interesting wader species arriving on passage as the water level will be lowered to assist with the growth of the mudwort plant, too.
It isn't all doom and gloom, though. There's still a large number of tits and finches about, a long with the resident waterfowl. There's still deer to be seen on the reserve, and I've seen my first grey squirrel on the peanut feeders. I have to confess, I'm not overly excited by that latest addition to the population. I'd far rather it wasn't there, but i guess it's the price to pay for supplying free food to all and sundry.
Speaking of free food, my father works for a local supermarket and they had coconuts reduced recently. We've put 4 of them up on the reserve (8 coconut halves) near the seed feeders. I have to admit, i was a little skeptical about whether these would be used or not, since whenever we've tried them at home they've been largely ignored. I was somewhat surprised to find that within the space of a week, almost all of them are half gone. I'm now considering getting some suet mix and filling them up as fat blocks once they're gone. I'll probably wait until Autumn for this, though, since there's still a chance of nice, hot weather this summer and dripping, melting fat doesn't strike me as too appealing!

Monday, 16 July 2007

Unbelievable Day!

Have you ever had one of those 'WOW' days, when absolutely everything just seems to be there at the right time? I've just had one of those days at Cullaloe. I went along with my mother, who was determined she wanted to get some shots of some butterflies (particularly the dark green fritillaries found on the reserve) It was still a bit overcast after heavy rain overnight and this morning, so i was doubtful she'd have much luck
We got there to hear the sound of the little stream sounding like a torrent as it ran through the three pools and out the other side. A rather dull, plain day to start us off with only a couple of sedge warblers, a blackbird flying past, swallows overhead and a lone dunnock near the gorse.
We walked up the steps to the meadow bit at the top so that me mum could try for her butterflies. How wrong i was with those! Up on the initial piece of meadow there was meadow brown, ringlet, 6 spot burnet moth, 1 dark green fritillary and the first common blue butterfly we've seen on the reserve!
On the path to the willow screen we managed to see a male blackcap flitting in and out of one of the willows, whitethroat all over beside the path and in the trees, my first wood warblers on the reserve (No.1 new species for the visit) As we were getting closer to the little conifer plantation, the warblers were darting about all around us, they were everywhere! Even heard us a chiffchaff. As i entered the conifers, i was struck by the sheer volume of tits that could be seen. There was great tit, blue tit and coal tit in large numbers all over the place. Also saw a treecreeper a little more than half way up one of the pine trees (No.2 new species to the reserve seen this visit). We got to the screen to see the usual suspects on the loch. There was coot, moorhen, the swan family, a lone grey heron and a couple of mallards. There were also sand martins and swallows swooping about. My mum disappeared to go see if she could spot more butterflies while i stayed at the hide/screen
The feeders were crowded with blue tit, great tit, chaffinch and a juvenile great spotted woodpecker. I heard a big splash on the loch and saw a male dabchick had just arrived (No.3 new species for the reserve) It's just a shame i didn't see it flying. I've never seen a grebe in flight before!
As i turned back to the feeder, i noticed there was now a male siskin on the feeders (No.4 new species for the reserve) I didn't think they were big fans of peanut feeders, but i'm not complaining at the visit! Might have to consider a nyjer feeder for the finches, though.
I went to join my mum looking around another part of meadow to find yet more great tits on my large seed feeder. It's pretty unusual for me to see anything using this feeder. I normally just fill it up without knowing what is using it. There were also a couple of willow warbler flitting around the trees and singing away.
When i went back to the screen, the juvenile woodpecker had been replaced with an adult male and the siskin had gone (much to my disappointment - very colourful, pretty bird!)
I stayed there for a bit while my mother decided to go back to the original meadow in search of more photos.
When i decided to move along and catch up, again, wood warblers seen around the trees on the way back (How could i not see them for 2 months then see 4 or 5 in a single visit?!), a male reed bunting was sitting at the top of one of the bushes, singing his little heart out and 4 swifts were flying overhead.
Back at the car park, there were another couple of sedge warblers, a pair of goldfinch flew past and a good 4 or 5 linnet could be seen on the hill behind the reserve.
All in all, it was a spectacular visit - and to have 4 new species sightings for the reserve was great. Admittedly, i'd always thought most, if not all of the species would be about, but i hadn't actually seen them.

Some of my mother's photos are shown below

'Common Blue' Butterfly

'Meadow Brown' Butterfly

'Ringlet' Butterfly

I went back to the reserve this evening, to see if i could repeat the success, but it was not to be. I did however get another new bird added to the list (5 in one day!). On the way back, a pair of Bullfinches flew right in front of me!
The real highlight of the evening was when i was writing a text to my girlfriend. As i was motionless, i guess i wasn't as obvious.. and a bank vole ran across the path about 5 foot away from me! Brilliant!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Local group outing

Today was the day of the local SWT group outing to the reserve and i was surprised just how high the attendance was! I've never seen the car park as full as it was today!
I decided to turn up about an hour before the outing just to get a spot of birding in before it started. I'm quite happy i did. I got probably the best view of a male blackcap i've had all season on the reserve. Normally when i've seen them they've been partially concealed and hopping about. This one was showing himself off really well!
The outing itself was very good and very informative, although i did have to leave early to go to work. Bearing in mind the weather was overcast, there was still a fair amount of butterflies to be found. While i was there there was Ringlet, Meadow Brown. six-spot burnet moth, a couple of other moth species which i can't remember and a whole host of toads to be found. There was also plenty of flowers and plants which i hadn't noticed or had overlooked previously (most of which i've completely forgotten the names of, unfortunately!).
I had moved on ahead of the group just before leaving, just to see if there were any woodpeckers on the feeders (which there was - one juvenile) and i bumped into a man clearly carrying a fishing rod. I suggested he might want to take a different route as he was heading straight for the main group, including Alistair the new reserve manager and Ross the convener for the reserve (whom I had been discussing the problem of illegal fishing on the reserve with). The guy seemed to ignore me, but when i went back to the group he was nowhere to be seen and hadn't returned back the way i was. He'd obviously done a runner!
Apparently the rest of the outing after i had left was quite interesting with dragonflies, caddis flies and devil's coachmen being just some of the things that were seen. Hopefully i'll get an update on what was seen and I'll update this post if and when I do.
My parents had apparently gone to the reserve this evening (at least i assume so, since my dad sent me a picture which i've posted below - he has a habit of over-sharpening images, so it's not as nice as i'd like) and had a few insect encounters of their own.
It was a very informative outing and i wish i had been able to stay for the whole thing. A big thank you to the organisers and to those leading the outing. It's certainly given me food for thought and i think i might have to invest in some field guides so i can get a better understading of the insects on the reserve.
Photo of a pair of mating beetles, taken by my father

As an additional note, i was speaking to Biddy, one of the group leaders who had gone to the reserve to do some reconnaissance of the reserve the day before, and she mentioned she had seen a bird which she thinks may have been a Ring Ouzel. She saw a bird of a similar size to a blackbird flying across, but had white on it. It certainly is a possibility. Migrant birds tend to be seen about this time of year on the east coast. If so, it was a pretty great sighting! Very interesting, and you can be sure i'll be keeping an eye out for potential sightings myself! She wasn't sure, though and suggested it may also have been a dipper, which would also be great, since I haven't sighted those on the reserve since i started recording, either!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007


Just a quick note. The photos you see throughout this blog have all been taken by myself on the reserve itself. These are the real deal. I'm not copying them from anyone or taking them at a different location.
The camera i use for this is a Fuji Finepix S9600. It can even manage semi-decent shots of small birds, if you can get close enough. If you aren't close enough, it involves a fair amount of cropping and the pictures can be a bit grainy. Take the example of the whitethroat shown below (which was taken on the reserve)

As you can see, the picture is a little grainy and a lot of the bird's details have sadly been lost. At the same time, take a look at the Dunnock shown below. I was a lot closer to this bird and there is a lot more detail evident as a result.

One day i'd love to have a proper DSLR to take photos, but right now the camera i have does the job. A new scope is higher up my list than a new camera!

Butterflies and Bees

This weekend, the local Scottish Wildlife Trust member's centre is having an outing to Cullaloe with the title 'Butterflies and Bees'. It's on Saturday 14th July at 2pm and anyone is welcome.
There are several butterfly species found on the reserve ranging from the ever-common Meadow Brown to the bright orange Fritillaries. I'm going to be going along on Saturday for the first bit (before i have to go to work) but will definitely be a learning experience for me. It's always nice to see what other people think of the reserve and it's a chance for me to learn more about the butterflies and insects on the reserve from those with a bit more knowledge than myself. You can be sure i'll be giving a full report on the day!
To potentially tempt you, here's a photo of a bee taken at the reserve this afternoon.

I haven't had much chance to visit the reserve in the past week. The weather has been horribly changeable again, so I've been avoiding it to an extent. The feeders are still in regular use, and I've finally seen something on the larger seed feeder! Admittedly, it was a lone female chaffinch. It's good to get an indication of what's there, though. The woodpeckers are nearly a constant addition to the peanut feeders these days and it's looking like we're gonna need to fill them more than once a week!
New additions in the past week have been the Tawny Owl (read the previous entry) and Grey wagtails, which were seen on the weir from the loch.
Notable species this week were the return of the Ruddy Duck today and also today, the Sparrowhawk being chased off and mobbed by a group of swallows. There's always plenty to see on the reserve and it would be impossible to describe it all!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

When darkness falls...

I decided to see what the reserve was like at dusk. I wanted to see how quiet it would be and what creatures would be seen. I arrived at the reserve at about 9:15pm last night and the first interesting thing was the buzzard. It had been resting right next to the road to the car park and swooped off as i arrived. It's not very often that you get a chance to see a buzzard flying six feet in front of you while you're driving!
I hoped this was a good sign of interesting things to come, and it was. The bird noise was significantly reduced on the reserve, which actually made it easier to track down the individual birds making the noise. On the path to the loch, i saw a family of whitethroat. Four birds in total, including at least one which still had some downy feathers. This was great for me, as normally i only ever see one or two individuals of a visit. To see four at once was pretty special for me!
The swallows were all over the place, obviously getting their last feed in before heading to roost. They were ducking and diving everywhere, and more than once i thought one was going to hit me! The skill of these birds is pretty amazing when seen like that.
The loch itself was pretty quiet. the swans were on their little homemade platform, obviously settling down for the night. There was a heron at the edge of the reeds, getting it's last feed in and several coots could be seen. I stayed at the loch itself till just after the sun had gone down, to see if there was a significant difference on the return journey. And there most certainly was!
Hardly a bird could be heard on the return journey. There were a few gulls flying overhead and a thrush or two singing from the willow, but that's about it. The swallows had gone from overhead. Just before we reached the house next to the reserve, I scared off a female roe deer. I must have been no more than four foot away from it when it bolted! And interestingly enough, i'm sure it was in the same area where the whitethroats were on the outward journey. Kinda makes me assume that it wasn't there the first time round.
Just after that the bats started appearing. They were flying all over round the trees, hunting for moths. At the same time, a Tawny owl could be heard hooting from the woods opposite the reserve. What a lovely sound! (added to the bird list) There were at least two different species of bat present (based purely on size - i don't have the luxury of a bat monitor, although it might be an idea for the future). They were flying just over my head all the way back to the car, where another deer was seen.
All in all, it's a very different experience at dusk, but it is just as fascinating, if not more than during the day!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Poor Weather

It's been a pretty awful week this past week. The weather hasn't known what it wanted to do. One minute it's raining, the next it's sunny... i just wish it would make up it's mind!
It's been pretty quiet on the reserve this past week as a result. Very few people about. In fact, i think the only time I've really seen anyone was last night when two random guys asked me if i thought anyone would object to them camping there. I have to admit... i don't get that. Why on earth would someone think it'd be ok to camp on a nature reserve designated as an SSSI for it's rare plants and it's diverse birdlife?!
Anyway, the birds themselves have been pretty busy, with plenty to be seen on the reserve for those willing to look. The sedge warblers appear to have fledged. There was definitely one begging food from a parent when i went down there this morning. The young coot is beginning to look more and more like an adult, so i don't think it'll be long before it goes either. It looks as though a couple of other coots are having second attempts, too. There was at least one nest building this evening and there's definitely another one sitting on a nest. The cygnets seem to be growing larger pretty much every day and i suspect it's only going to be a couple of weeks till they're gone, too.
It's been a relatively good week for warblers as a whole this week. On a single night there has been willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, blackcap and whitethroat sightings. Not bad going for a small reserve!
After mentioning the return of the ruddy duck last week, i haven't seen him at all this week. Typical, really. We have seen a heron again, though. Haven't seen any of those for a week or two, so i guess it all balances out.
The new additions to the bird list this week are greenfinch and linnet. The greenfinch were seen on the path towards the loch and the linnet were on the fence at the car park.
The feeders are still going down at a ludicrous rate... i don't know if i'll be able to keep up with them the way this is going!

That's all for now, though. I'm sure there will be plenty more to come (although don't expect new bird species to appear every week!)

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Interesting Week

Well, it's been an interesting week on the reserve. We've had some heavy rain over the weekend, and as such, the water levels are extremely high right now. The tiny burn that runs through the reserve is currently running more like a river.
The swans are still looking after their three cygnets and there is at least one juvenile coot on the loch. Monday saw the return of the Ruddy duck, which hadn't been seen for a couple of weeks.
The wet weather has brought out plenty of young frogs, just emerging from the loch. On Monday there must have been a thousand of them trying to cross the path! Trying to avoid standing on them as you walk along the path is near impossible.
On the occasional sunny days, we've got more of the common blue damselflies out and several butterfly species.
We've also had two new bird species added this week. There was a male Redstart seen beside the path last Friday and a very special bird on Monday. I had my first Kingfisher sighting over the loch! The bird didn't land (I suspect that's because of the commotion i was making and over excitement i was clearly portraying!) and i was wondering if it would be a good idea to add a few perches for them around the loch, to encourage them to hang around.
The feeders are going down very quickly right now. I assume with the weather being worse than normal, they're choosing to use the feeders more because there isn't so many insects out and about for them.
Hopefully this time next week i'll be supplying another update on what's happening on the reserve and what can be seen. Maybe this time i'll remember my camera, too!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


Well, i returned to Cullaloe today, with a view to getting some photos of the great spotted woodpecker on the feeders. It didn't work out too well, though. The woodpecker was about, and swooped over the feeders several times, but refused to settle on any of them while i was close (i was approximately 15 feet away from the feeders. The smaller birds had no problems with me, though (I've edited my previous post on the feeders with a pic of the birds on it)

The birds that were being particularly photogenic were the swans. They came close enough to the hide/screen for me to get a couple of good pics. (shown below) They actually started out with 5 cygnets, but they're down to three now. They're looking good, though, so here's hoping they all make it.
I also saw a young coot being fed by it's parent. This one is quite big, and pretty close to fledging. I'd seen coot chicks there earlier on in the season, but i thought they'd all died, since i haven't seen them for some time. It's nice to know that they're still about.

Female swan and 3 cygnets

The male swan

Of course, birds aren't the only things to be seen on the reserve. Right now there's plenty of common blue damselflies (shown below) and there's more and more butterflies appearing all the time (Although they're annoyingly good at avoiding the camera!).
There's also roe deer on the reserve, and we've had foxes living here in the past. Mice and voles are all over the place, but spotting them can be a bit of a challenge!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

The feeders

Well, i phoned SWT head office at the end of April, asking for permission to put up a couple of feeders on the reserve. Permission was granted.
We originally started out with a single seed feeder. The food went down, but slowly. We then added a large seed feeder and a small peanut feeder. It turns out that the peanut feeder was going down faster than the seed feeders.
As a result, we moved the seed feeders to a different location and ordered a large batch of peanuts and 2 more peanut feeders.
The seed feeders have started to go down a lot faster in their new locations. We've seen great tits on the small feeder and sparrows on the large feeder (although you'll note that there's no sparrows on the bird list yet... we couldn't identify if it was a tree sparrow or house sparrow at the time, since we couldn't see the head)
The small peanut feeder appeared to be getting regular use from great tits and blue tits.

Once the 2 new large peanut feeders arrived, they were swiftly filled up and placed near the original. Within 10 mins of being put up we had great tit, coal tit and chaffinch at them! 2 days later i had my first sighting of a great spotted woodpecker on one of them! That sighting in itself has made the expense totally worthwhile.

I'll be regularly updating with what i see on each visit, both on the feeders, the loch and the reserve as a whole. You never know. There might be more still to come!

One of the peanut feeders

The Birds

Here is a list of the birds sighted on or from the reserve since 15th May 2007 by myself. It's almost certainly not a complete list of the birds and i'm sure that some have been missed and i haven't seen them.

On or around the loch:
  • Mallard
  • Tufted Duck
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Mute Swan
  • Grey Heron
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Kingfisher
  • Little Grebe (also known as Dabchick)
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Wigeon
  • Osprey
  • Teal
13 species

In the Willow Scrub:
  • Willow Warbler
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Song Thrush
  • Dunnock
  • Chiffchaff
  • Sedge Warbler
  • Whitethroat
  • Collared Dove
  • Grasshopper Warbler
  • Snipe
9 species

Throughout the reserve and on the feeders:
  • Blue Tit
  • Robin
  • Blackbird
  • Chaffinch
  • Woodpigeon
  • Great Tit
  • Wren
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Reed Bunting
  • Pheasant
  • Buzzard
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Swift
  • Skylark
  • Meadow Pipit
  • Swallow
  • Sand Martin
  • House Martin
  • Long-tailed Tit
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Carrion Crow
  • Rook
  • Lapwing
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Coal Tit
  • Lesser black-backed Gull
  • Oystercatcher
  • Herring Gull
  • Magpie
  • Redstart
  • Greenfinch
  • Blackcap
  • Linnet
  • Tawny Owl
  • Grey Wagtail
  • Wood Warbler
  • Treecreeper
  • Siskin
  • Bullfinch
  • Curlew
  • House Sparrow
  • Raven
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • White-Tailed Eagle
  • Lesser Redpoll
  • Pink-footed Goose
  • Redwing
  • Fieldfare
  • Goldcrest
49 species

TOTAL: 71 species

This list will be updated as new birds are seen. I'm confident more will be added as the seasons change and once the water level is dropped (should see wader species appearing)

Last updated 26/09/2007

Cullaloe Local Nature Reserve

Well, I've decided to create a regular blog of the goings on at my local nature reserve. I'm by no means an expert in any field and i certainly am not going to make any claims to be. What i plan to do with this blog is provide information to interested readers on what's happening on the reserve and what can be seen.

First of all, let's discuss the reserve itself. I'll give you a bit of a history on the site. First and foremost, though, here's the link to the official site: Cullaloe LNR. The site is maintained in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Fife Council. Most of the information about the site can be found on that website, but here's a brief summary:
The reserve was originally a reservoir supporting the local town of Burntisland, but became surplus to requirements. In 1986 the lower reservoir was drained of water, leaving a boggy, marshland. This marshland has been left to develop by itself, and over the past 20 years it has become a large willow carr area. Various species thrive on the reserve as a result, and it is well known for breeding sedge warbler and whitethroat. The smaller, upper reservoir still remains and is host to several wildfowl species, with coot, moorhen and mute swans being just some of the birds breeding on the loch. It is also home to the rare mudwort plant and the water level is lowered every 2 years to give the plantlife a chance to flourish. The reserve borders onto the B9157 road and traffic noise can be heard from the reserve (but it never drowns out the bird sound). There is a small conifer plantation (and i mean small, we're talking 10 trees here!) next to the loch and various woodland bird species can be found in this area.