Return of the summer visitors

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As April turns to May, more and more of our wild summer visitors are appearing back in the countryside. That wonderfully dramatic looking bird of prey, the osprey, has appeared all of a sudden, popping up at various locations all over Scotland, not least of all here in the north east.

I stopped in at Lochter fishery near Oldmeldrum last week to see their pair. When I arrived the female was sitting on the nest on her own, but within a few minutes the male circled in, landed on the edge of the nest and then mated with his partner. It may have been a brief encounter, but these matings will bond the pair as well as producing the fertile eggs. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched them, that those people already in the cafe, watching the birds on the screens specially installed for that purpose, will have had a bit of an eyeful.There was no messing about with him - no sooner had he mated than he was off again - but I forgave him slightly when he returned a few minutes later to spend some time sitting proudly atop the nest with his wife. It is only when you look at these birds with their wings fully spread out, in relation to the huge diameter of the nest, that you realize just what big birds they are. I think they are fantastically handsome, with their ruffian hairdos - a bit spiky, but attractive none the less, striking pied plumage, their bright lemon eyes and legs and that amazing, curved, lethally sharp beak.

Looking at the nest more carefully, I noticed that underneath the ospreys, taking full advantage of the large twiggy nest, some cheeky sparrows were nesting. I watched several pairs flitting in and out. Apart from the height that it was up, the osprey nest really must be a des res for the sparrows. Not only do they have their own bodyguards in the form of the osprey pair, but they have their own CCTV cameras - clever things!

It was great to see lots of swallows flying around outside above the car park, fields and fishing ponds - they seem to be pouring in to Scotland in droves now. I have also seen a number of sand martins. These little birds look a bit different from the swallows and house martins, being more subtle in colour - grey-brown above, rather than blue-black - with a brown band across the white front of their neck, a bit like a vicar’s collar in reverse. I watched a little group starting to excavate nesting holes in a compacted bank of sandy soil. Showers of dirt were flying everywhere as they tunneled away. Occasionally another would fly in and squeeze alongside the digging one - maybe they were the partners on quality control. They waste no time in getting going, as they know how short a breeding season they have to lay their eggs, hatch and fledge the youngsters before they need to set off on their long journey south again.

The resident birds are away ahead of the summer visitors and one of the pairs of blackbirds in my garden has fledged three young. They are at their most vulnerable stage - fluttery, noisy and naive. I have already had to rescue one that the cat had cornered, returning it to the hedge beside its siblings, while the cat glowered at me from the porch window. They really look young, still having remnants of fluff among their feathers and having the two little downy tufts on either side of their head, that look like hairy ears.

I watched another one of our attractive native birds, the song thrush, gathering huge beakfuls of worms in a nearby field and carrying them into a nest sitting neatly in a fork of a tree. Judging by the excited sounds emanating from the nest when the adult appeared, it will not be long before that little family are out and about too.

It is not just in the countryside that new arrivals are pouring in; the numbers of birds on the sea cliffs and along the shorelines are swelling as birds that have spent the winter out at sea are coming back to land to breed. The gannet numbers are rising at Troup head and they have now been joined by their smaller neighbours in the form of kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots.

If you do not want to walk out to the cliffs or indeed are unable, MacDuff aquarium have screens showing live views of the colony. The way the weather has been the last few weeks, that may be a drier, warmer, less smelly option. I have never seen them, much preferring the full, live, all senses experience of sight, sound, smell and also for all the other interesting things that you can see out along the cliff tops, such as wildflowers and insects, but am led to believe that the screens are very good.

There have also been a couple of interesting and unusual drop-in visitors along north east coast. Two sea eagles have been seen frequenting the east of the Moray coast and have made several appearances at Loch of Strathbeg. If you have not seen these birds before, then you are in for a huge shock as they are enormous. They totally dwarf all the other birds in the area. Three cranes were also spotted around the same area - another large bird well worth seeing if you have never seen one before.

All this talk of the coast makes me want to visit again. There is just so much to see at this time of year, that I never know where to go when I set out for a day’s adventure - and that is what it is, an adventure, as I never know when I am going to see something rare, or a common species doing something unusual. I think I feel a day out along the eastern Moray coast coming on.

If I set out early enough I could visit both Troup head and Strathbeg - that is if I don’t get distracted by something interesting along the way, but that is all part of the fun!