09 May, 2013
Last week’s blog was kindly suppled by Lilly Laing, one of the Historic Scotland Rangers working out of Holyrood Park. This week’s guest blogger is Ian Lewis, another HS Ranger. Ian is based at Linlithgow Peel, but can often turn up at other West Lothian sites such as Blackness Castle and Cairnpapple Hill …
Linlithgow Loch is a great place to see waterbirds. The last of the winter counts has just been carried out, and here are the results:
|White domestic geese||5|
|Great crested grebe||24|
We are unlikely to see another kingfisher until late autumn. In the late spring they disperse, looking for breeding territories and suitable nest sites. Unfortunately there are none of these around the loch.
However we have had our first big influx of hirundines (members of the swallow family). On Tuesday 16 April, as in previous years, a host of sand martins descended on the loch, accompanied by a scattering of house martins and swallows. The weather was dreadful, and they had been held up by the cold, but obviously couldn’t wait any longer. Reports of a peak count in the high hundreds were noted that weekend.
Linlithgow Loch appears to be an important refuelling point for these birds on arrival. They often appear in large numbers and feed here for a while before dispersing to their breeding areas. Sand martins nest in sandy banks on the rivers Avon and Almond, as well as several sand quarries in the area.
A number of house martins and swallows nest in Linlithgow, but we won’t see many sand martins again until they are foraging widely to feed their chicks. Their presence here indicates just how many invertebrates live in the loch. There must be an incredible number of hatching midge and fly larvae to feed so many birds.
Sand martins, swallows and house martins are all long-range migrants, travelling all the way up from southern and western Africa every year.
More recently, they have been joined by the first of the warblers. Unusually, our first sightings of chiff chaff, willow warbler and blackcap were all on the same day. The first pleasantly sunny day of spring was 19 April, and suddenly all three were busy searching for small insects in the trees around the loch, and trying out the occasional burst of song.
Last year the chiff chaffs were first to arrive, about two weeks ahead of the willow warblers (the two birds look almost identical, but their songs are very different). Blackcap arrived about a week later.
One or two sedge warblers and – if we’re lucky – a whitethroat would complete the usual set. Their migration north is of course affected by weather conditions, particularly wind speed and direction. They also depend on the availability of insects, which emerge in the first of the real spring weather. As always, they will be welcome at the loch.