A haven for birds in Firth of Forth

Shag on its nest.
Shag on its nest.

At the December meeting of the SWT in Duns, Robert Coleman who is a senior reserves manager for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, talked about the reserves he manages in central Scotland.

This included islands in the Firth of Forth, mudflats and lochs near Grangemouth and Cumbernauld, part of Loch Lomond and Inversnaid in the Trossachs - a wide variety of contrasting habitats.

First Robert took us to two islands in the Firth of Forth. Inchmickery is a small rocky island which was heavily fortified during the war and from a distance the old military buildings give the island the appearance of a frigate at anchor.

The concrete remains of the buildings make ideal nesting sites for shags, which in the breeding season look black from a distance but on close inspection are in fact a beautiful dark, shiny, bottle green colour. Shags’ nests are built from seaweed and plant remains and they often contain discarded rope and other rubbish found floating on the sea.

Nesting starts in March and can extend right through until early summer. Up to four large white eggs are laid and the newly hatched black chicks must be amongst the most ugly offspring of any creature!

Eider ducks, fulmars and a small number of puffins nest on the island.

Visitors can sail to Inchmickery on RSPB Puffin Cruises from South Queensferry at the appropriate time of year.

Fidra is their other island reserve, this time in the outer Forth close to North Berwick, and is probably best viewed from Yellowcraig.

Fidra is the result of volcanic activity around about 335 million years ago.

It consists of a hill at one end with a lighthouse, a rocky stack at the other end and a low lying isthmus joins the two.

Puffins are one of the special birds found on Fidra with about 1,500 pairs. Recently they were under threat as the grassy areas favoured for nesting were being colonised by the introduced shrubby tree mallow, which was turning large areas into unsuitable shrubberies.

A programme of removing the tree mallow is underway and soon it is hoped that puffin numbers will increase in the open, newly restored grassland.

Puffins nest underground in burrows which gives them protection from the marauding gulls which would delight in eating their single egg if unprotected.

About 500 pairs of guillemots and 100 pairs of razorbills along with 150 shags nest on the rocky outcrops.

To be continued!

The January meeting of the SWT in Duns Parish Church Hall is tonight, Thursday, January 8, at 7.30pm, when Graham Bell’s subject will be ‘Watch that Waterfowl’, which will include the identification of “local swans,geese and ducks”. Visitors are most welcome.