Ospreys and Crossbills at Loch Fleet
I’m lucky enough to live just 5 miles from the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. The reserve is in East Sutherland and just south of the coastal village of Golspie, and is comprised of a tidal sea loch, mud flats, sand dunes and heath, plus a large area of scots pine woodland. The picture above doesn’t quite do the place justice, but you’ll get a sense of the landscape anyway.
Of course and like most of us when we have something great on our doorstep, we take it a bit for granted and certainly I don’t spend anything like enough time at Loch Fleet. I often have a quick stop in one of the road laybys that flank the reserve and scan the mud flats and shallow waters with my binoculars to see what waders and ducks are about, but I’m mildly ashamed to say that I hadn’t spent an afternoon walking at the place for a year or more. So with that guilt in mind and also persuading myself that I really could do with getting out of my office for three hours, I was soon parked up at Balblair woods and heading for the newly-erected hide which looks out over the loch.
After 20 minutes or so in the hide and with just shelduck and curlew of any note to record, I was just about to resume my walk when an osprey with a good size fish in its talons flew straight past the hide. Excitement levels rose immediately of course, and with the osprey heading in the rough direction that I knew the nesting site was I was back outside and scanning the skyline. And there it was, now rather higher and performing a spectacular display flight as it repeatedly circled and then dived whilst still holding the fish. This meant it was the male bird and the female must have been close-by and, no doubt, being suitably impressed (or not) by the male’s aerial exploits. He was also continually calling, though I always think that osprey’s call is a bit of let-down relative to its otherwise highly impressive appearance: a sort of slightly soft whistle which is almost reminiscent of a bullfinch – albeit the osprey’s is a whole lot louder of course.
I watched the osprey for around 15 minutes, before it dropped from the sky and perhaps to give the fish to the female. That’s hopefully what happened anyway, and if the pair do successfully breed again this year (they’ve had mixed success over the years) then I’ll report that later in the summer on this blog.
But if all this wasn’t enough to make my trip to Loch Fleet worthwhile, later on in the afternoon and on the way back to the car, I suddenly noticed a red bird and green bird side-by-side on the track in from of me. I knew in an instant what they were, but with binoculars now focused on them it was confirmed: a pair of crossbills and made all the more special because they were both drinking from a puddle – something I’d never seen before. Whether they were Scottish or European crossbill I’m not sure – and it is pretty difficult to tell if you only have ten seconds or so to look at them – but in any event is was a lovely sight and made my outing all the more worthwhile.


Our monthly columnist from the Scottish Highlands
A long-time associate of Vine House Farm is Roger Hughes, who now lives in the north of Scotland and the beautiful county of Sutherland. Roger helps us with a range of business services, but he’s also a keen bird watcher, is very knowledgeable about feeding birds, is a general nature lover, and also partly earns his living from writing. He lives with his wife, Julie, and they have a small croft with a wide mix of habitats from wooded riverbank to meadow and moorland – all good for wildlife of course. So with all this in mind, Roger now writes a monthly column for the Vine House Farm website which we very much hope you’ll follow and enjoy.