Unreserved peepshow at the reserve – Corbie

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Well, March came in lamb-like with record high temperatures, but after a couple of days it was back to winter, with the hills blanketed in snow by Sunday.

Just after lunchtime, it faired up so I prepared to brave the elements with a brisk walk. Before setting off, a glance into the field behind my house was rewarded by the sight of a pair of grey wagtails feeding amongst the turnips. Unremarkable to most, perhaps, but they brought my bird total for the year so far to the 50 species mark.

I decided to have a walk round Haremoss nature reserve near Ashkirk, to “blow the cobwebs away” and soon discovered that it was quite pleasant in the shelter of the dense spruce trees. There was not much birdlife about – a pair of dunnocks doing a bit of courting, singing robins at either end of the lochan trying to outdo one another, but definite signs that spring was just around the corner.

I ended up in the bird hide for a bit of a breather and noticed that the resident pair of mute swans were feeding close by. At the same location at the beginning of April last year, I was fortunate to witness their full courtship ritual, culminating in the act of mating. I was just recalling that memorable day, when something amazing happened.

I noticed that the birds’ feeding movements were becoming more and more rhythmic as they drifted clear of the water weeds into more open water. Next came synchronised head dipping and bubble blowing. It was happening again, right in front of my eyes, but this time almost a month earlier. I just had time to raise my camera and capture the whole thing again. The head dipping lasted only minutes, then the cob climbed onto the pen and she disappeared below the water under his weight. To allow her to breathe he grabbed her by the scruff of the neck with his beak and held her head clear of the water, while penetration took place. Seconds later, they both faced one another and began treading water until they rose upwards in unison. This was followed by some ritualised preening and, minutes after it all kicked off, they drifted apart and went about their business as if nothing had happened.

To see such things is a privilege and you won’t see them sitting in the house. Organisations such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust have reserves throughout the Borders, some like Haremoss with bird hides, which are there for you to go and see our wonderful wildlife in relative comfort.

Things are about to get interesting as spring approaches so why not take advantage of these facilities and pay them a visit?