Birds of Rannoch
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Eagles are fairly common in the area, nesting on both rocky outcrops and in pine trees. They prey on hares, ptarmigan, grouse and will take carrion. There is a well known pine tree nest site which has been occupied for many decades and in the same vicinity there are other nests which were used in the past.
I have seen an eagle from my garden at West Tempar, circling over Schiehallion. Perhaps this makes the Golden Eagle a garden bird?
This fast flying falcon nests on Craig Varr amongst other places. It is a spectacular hunter, diving on its prey from a great height and striking it with its talons. This is called stooping and can result in the decapitation of the prey. They are vigorous in defending their nest area and I have seen one mobbing a buzzard very effectively in Glen Errochty. The stoop can reach a speed of 200 miles an hour. Pigeons are common prey and so racing pigeon owners are not always keen on peregrines. Peregrines suffered a good deal from the use of persistent pesticides such as DTP, deildrin and aldrin. Their egg shells became thin and cracked. Happily this threat seems to be over.
The hen harrier nest on moorland is not much liked by those who manage the land for grouse shooting as they do take grouse. They also hunt over lower marshy land such as on the shores of Dunalastair Water. They male is grey with a white rump and can easily be mistaken for a gull. The larger female is brown with a white rump. They have quite a reputation for ferocity in defending their nest areas. In any case, like all birds of prey they are protected by law. The hunting technique consists of drifting low over the land and then pouncing on the unsuspecting prey.
The commonest British falcon, the kestrel is easily recognised by its habit of hovering before pouncing on its prey. In the Rannoch area they frequently nest in pine trees and are a common sight.
The sparrow hawk seems less common than the kestrel, although it may just be that is is less often seen. It hunts low over the ground and surprises its prey by suddenly appearing over hedges and other objects. Its wings are rounded, the typical shape for providing manoeuvrability in woodland habitats. The female is considerably larger than the male which allows them to hunt different types of prey and therefore benefit from a larger food supply.
The smallest British falcon. The merlin is only about the size of a thrush and one of its favourite preys is meadow pipits.
The osprey became extinct in Britain but has recolonised from Scandinavia. This process has undoubtedly been helped by the RSPB who guarded the early nests at Loch Garten and Loch of the Lowes. At Loch Garten vandals attempted to cut through the tree with a chain saw. In the world context Ospreys are not an endangered species as they are Pandemic in distribution. In the USA and other places they even nest in colonies. They are fond of pylons in the states and a Rannoch one has used the same kind of nest-site. Their fishing technique is spectacular, diving feet first with swept-back wings to grab their fish prey beneath the surface of the water. Then with considerable effort they struggle into the air, shaking off the water and supporting the burden of the fish. The fish is held longitudinally so that there is less drag when they are flying. They are now reasonably common in Scotland and are a great addition to the fauna. In winter they migrate through Mediterranean regions to Africa where they have further problems. Dead ones have been found with arrows in them. Along with other birds of prey they choose to cross the sea where it is narrowest because they like to use thermals to assist flight and reduce energy expenditure. In consequence they cross in the Mediteranean at Gibraltar and the Dardanelles.
Tawny owls are common and can often be seen sitting on fence posts or telegraph poles at twilight. They can be very vocal producing a range of hoots or screeches. Occasionally people find apparently abandoned chicks. These are best left alone as the parents are probably going to return.
Short-eared owls fly in the daylight more often than other owls in the Rannoch area and can be mistaken for buzzards. They have quite long wings for an owl. They hunt over the moorland where they nest. They are summer visitors from places like Scandinavia where they are well known predators of the lemming and their numbers fluctuate with lemming years.
Red grouse have indirectly exerted a great influence over the Scottish landscape. Large tracts of land have been managed to provide a favourable habitat for them. The patch work of the moorlands is a result of heather burning, the purpose of which is to encourage fresh growth of heather shoots which the grouse like to eat. In the past game keepers suppressed birds of prey which were seen as a threat to the grouse. Much research has been done on the relationship between predators and grouse and further information can obtained from the RSPB, Aberdeen University and the Game Conservancy. Much research and habitat management is undertaken by workers at Crubenmore near Dalwhinnie.
Red grouse numbers have increased in the last few years following a considerable decline. They are found on the major estates of the area eg. Dunalastair, Innerhadden, West Tempar etc.
The Black grouse is also known as the Black Cock, the female being called a Grey hen. It is a larger bird than the red grouse and lives in those places where woodland and moorland meet. The Black grouse has suffered a decline in recent years and the reasons for this are being studied at present. There is a well known Lek for Black grouse at Moulin a Vardie on the Dunalastair estate. Smaller numbers are found on Camusericht and West Tempar.
The Ptarmigan is a bird of the high tops. It is found at approximately 2000 feet and higher. In winter it turns white for camouflage. In summer it is greyish or brownish with some white. The call is a distinctive churring produced either while walking or in flight. They tend to be fairly tame, perhaps because of the lack of human contact and it is possible to approach quite closely before they take to the air. I have encountered up to twenty on the slopes of Schiehallion.
The Capercaillie is a very large bird which lives in the original caledonian woodland. There are only small areas of this type of woodland (eg the Black Wood and Rothiemurchus Forest) and so the available habitat is fairly restricted. The species had gone extinct in Scotland and was reintroduced but is in danger of dying out again. The males are turkey sized and can get quite aggressive in the breeding season. They have been known to put tourists to flight at Carie. They are game birds and have been shot (perhaps over shot). The flesh is not immediately pleasant to eat as the feed on pine shoots and it can apparently only be rendered palatable by marinating in orange juice. Like the Black Cock, with which they can interbreed, Capercaillie use a Lek for breeding. The males defend a territory and the females choose which to mate with. The male has a very unusual call which sounds like a bottle of wine being uncorked and then pouring.
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Black Headed Gull
Black Throated Diver
Carrion Crow - See Hooded Crow
Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
The Dipper is a small rotund bird which is most often seen on rocks at the edge of Loch Rannoch. Like many small water birds it constantly dips up and down on its legs. It may be that this action helps it to see enter in the watery environment. The Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper do the same. The Dipper is dark brown in colour with a very conspicuous white front. It feeds on small invertebrates which it catches under water. The really amazing thing is that it flies under water with its wings half open. The wings are short to allow them to be used as flippers and as a result the Dippers has to have a fast, direct flight. There is no soaring for the Dipper!
It has a high pitched call and song and this characteristic is something that it has in common with other birds living near water such as the Kingfisher. The flowing water produces a lot of white noise which masks many sounds however high pitched sounds fair better than most.
Dippers have nasal flaps that prevent water from flowing into their nostrils and they have unusually high levels of haemoglobin in their blood which let's them stay under water longer. They have longish legs and very strong claws for gripping onto sloppy rocks.
Dippers are found all around Loch Rannoch and up the burns that flow into it. They are present in Rannoch throughout the year but may be joined by migrants in the winter. A lot of their food consists of aquatic insects larvae such as stonefly larvae, dragonfly larvae, mayfly larvae, caddis fly larvae and freshwater shrimps. Many of these are found underneath the rocks in shallow water at the edge of the loch or in the burns and are eaten underwater. Dippers nest in crevices in rocks and often use the stonework under stone bridges. Their nest is a neat dome shape which is lined with moss for comfort.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) and Carrion Crows (Corvus corone)
The reason for considering these two species together is because that they are closely related and are able to hybridise. In general, within Britain, the Hooded Crow is found in the north and the Carrion Crow is found in the south. There is a geographical band between the north and the south which includes Rannoch where the two species interbreed. Most of the crows that you see in Rannoch are probably hybrids. Like other crows these two species are intelligent and despite persecution by man they continue to thrive. They are omnivores and are happy to eat carrion such as road kill.
The carrion crow is black but with the possibility of interference colours - reds, greens and blues. Hooded crows have grey over the back and upper wings.
Unlike rooks crows do not nest in colonies but they can be found in large flocks outside of the breeding season. The nest is an untidy bundle of sticks high in a tree.
If you see what looks like a crow at Rannoch you can be reasonably confident that it is a crow and not a Rook. Rooks are very numerous around Aberfeldy but do not seem to favour the habitat at Rannoch. The crows harsh call is different from the Rooks but it needs experience to distinguish between the two species. The Rook has a white bald patch at the base of the beak which is easy to see if you are reasonably close.
Crows are not very popular with farmers as they may attack injured or ill sheep.
The success of crows is down in large part to their intelligence. Crows living at the coast crows drop shellfish onto rocks to crack them open. In Japan crows drop nuts onto pedestrian crossings so that they will be cracked open by cars running over them and yet because the traffic stops for pedestrians the crows have time to feed before the cars start moving.
Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Jays are members of the crow family which includes Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies and Coughs). Like all members of the Corvidae they are intelligent birds. They have a mixed diet of insects, nuts, acorns and will also eat the nestlings of other birds. A pair of spotted flycatchers nested on my shed in a rather exposed place. Unfortunately this did not go unnoticed by the local jays which attacked the nest and ate the nestlings just before they were due to fledge. Jays are common in Rannoch where they inhabit woodland, whether deciduous or coniferous. They are famed for eating acorns which they will stash in the autumn so that they can eat them through the winter. Inevitably they forget where some of them are and so probably are helpful in spreading oaks.
Jays nests are often in the forks of branches where they make a nest of sticks.
Often the first way that you become aware of jays is on hearing their harsh alarm calls - a kind of screech. You may see their white rumps as they fly away through the trees but you are unlikely to see the other more colourful parts of the Jay's plumage. Like many woodland birds jays have relatively short broad wings which allow manoeuvrability through the branches. Jays often travel in small flocks of about six individuals. Jays are not found in the north of Scotland and so Rannoch must be towards the northern edge of the UK range.
Jays are rare visitors to my bird table where they prove to be nervous and will fly off if they detect movement. They are preyed upon by goshawks although perhaps not often as goshawks are rare. A female sparrow hawk can also take a jay.
Long Tailed Tit
Red Breasted Meganser
Short Eared Owl