Black-headeds back at Bemersyde


Bemersyde Moss near St Boswells used to be a favourite haunt of mine for bird watching, especially when the black-headed gulls nested there. At one time it was the biggest nesting colony in Scotland with more than 14,000 pairs breeding. It provided one of Nature’s spectacles, with the air above the lochan filled with a blizzard of gulls and the cacophony of noise from their raucous calls was almost deafening.

Mysteriously, several years ago, they disappeared, with not one remaining. Experts from far and wide were called in to explain their absence but to this day it remains a puzzle.

Aquatic vegetation was allowed to grow near the hide, limiting the view of open water, and as interest waned I went less and less until a couple of weeks ago.

I went one morning at 7am, with flask, filled rolls, telescope, binoculars and camera, not expecting great things but forever hopeful. The first thing I noticed was that the vegetation around the hide had been removed and the second thing was that the gulls were back! Not thousands like before but several hundred – it’s a start!

Bemersyde’s other and more dubious claim to fame is that it was the first breeding site in Scotland for the ruddy duck. This American interloper has now been virtually exterminated nationally by conservationists because of its propensity to breed with Spain’s endangered white-headed duck.

With all my equipment set up I sat back and enjoyed a fine couple of hours of comfortable birding. Most of the activity is usually a good way off so optical aids are essential, at the very least binoculars. Most of the gulls were nesting at the west end with swarms of sand martins weaving in amongst them, hawking for flies. Grazing in the field opposite were half a dozen pink-footed geese, accompanied by lapwings, and a solitary shelduck (top of page). On the water were coot, tufted duck, mallard, Canada geese and mute swan while a lone redshank rested on a rotting post from the old jetties.

Among the willows round the moss, I could hear the unmistakable scratchy song of my first sedge warbler of the year.

During my visit I clocked up more than species from the hide, but the undoubted highlight was the gulls’ return. Let’s hope they stay.