Woodpeckers’ welcome drum roll

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Among the many harbingers of spring, such as the first snowdrops and the drumming of the great spotted woodpecker, the one I most look forward to (and one of the most punctual) is the arrival on my patch of the first oystercatchers.

They usually arrive in mid-February and despite the unusually severe winter, they turned up bang on time, on the 12th.

A couple of days later I noticed a big group of 22 birds resting on the fish ladder in the middle of Murray’s Cauld, on the Ettrick, near Selkirk, which is a favourite gathering place every year, before they disperse to their breeding territories. Yes, things are on the move at last.

In my garden, as well as the usual suspects, the siskins have been feeding on the peanuts in good numbers and for some weeks now I have had a solitary male reed bunting coming regularly.

He seems to enjoy the fat-balls and any bits that have fallen to the ground. He is still in his winter plumage, with his head a mottled brown instead of the more striking black coloration that will follow. He is quite hard to spot among the house sparrows but the distinct white collar gives him away. It is worth keeping a close eye on your regular sparrows in case you too have a reed bunting which has crept in amongst the brown hordes.

With both December and January wiped off the monthly wildfowl count calendar because of frozen lochs, it was great this month to get out once again to survey the birds on my allotted local lochs and ponds.

On all three, mute swan pairs had already taken up territories for breeding, though nest building was a bit away yet.

On Lindean reservoir, as well as the resident pair, there was a big group of 15 whoopers of mixed ages, but soon these winter visitors will be thinking about heading back northwards in time for their breeding season.

Winter visiting ducks encountered during the count included goldeneye, which were already engaged in courtship displays, and a few wigeon, unusual in that they whistle instead of quacking.

Teal, tufted duck and mallard completed the duck tally, while a pair of juvenile cormorants were logged drying their wings at one loch, before they nervously took flight at my arrival.

Coot numbers were way below what they used to be and it remains a mystery why this once common water bird seems to be struggling.