The idyllic Loch Ruthven and its Slavonian grebes

Loch Ruthven  - a beautiful and tranquil reserve near Loch Ness

Loch Ruthven – a beautiful and tranquil reserve

Last week I spent some time at an idyllic nature reserve – Loch Ruthven, situated near the northern end of Loch Ness. It’s home to one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds, the Slavonian grebe, but other notable birds can drop in at almost any time, as I found even while I was watching.

Osprey at Loch Ruthven

Osprey at Loch Ruthven

On the Tuesday morning I arrived just after dawn. After a while, an osprey (which had been seen the previous day) started patrolling the lake, before perching in one of the trees on the opposite side. However, I did not see it try to fish.

Black-throated diver at Loch Ruthven

Black-throated diver at Loch Ruthven

Nevertheless, this was not the day’s most exciting discovery! As I was scanning the lake with my scope, I spotted a bird that was swimming through, serenely and majestically, and could hardly believe my good fortune – it was unmistakably a black-throated diver!

Although it is also one of Britain’s rarer breeding birds, its significance for me was more personal. When I was a kid, Dad had been desperate to see this species, and had instigated a futile chase to try and see one – only for Mum to spot one on a loch just off the main road! (Story here) I’d planned to go looking for it later in the week, so for this one to drift in at Loch Ruthven was most exciting!

Slavonian grebe pair

Slavonian grebe pair

Nevertheless it’s the Slavonian grebes that are the main attraction on the lake – and with their chestnut and black coloration and bright yellow ear tufts, it’s not hard to see why. Like most grebes they are very watchable, with plenty of antics that are intriguing and entertaining.

A pair had taken up residence close to the hide, but their nest platform had been destroyed by waves on the loch – so earlier in the week they were fairly distant.

On the Saturday, I suspected things might become more eventful when I heard the male calling for its mate – a plaintive mewing sound. I was puzzled, as I thought they had already paired up, but there was at least one other grebe in the area, which may have complicated things.

Little grebe at Loch Ruthven

Little grebe at Loch Ruthven

Then the grebe became territorial, heading towards one of the sedge beds, where he proceeded to eject three little grebes from the area. (Yes, three – clearly their world wasn’t straightforward either!). Thus triumphant, he swam towards the middle of the lake – whereupon the little grebe pair snuck in behind to reclaim the area they’d been ejected from!

The male Slav grebe re-united with its mate, and to celebrate they went through their extraordinary and beautiful courtship display: it felt a privilege to be able to watch them in action.

The Slav grebes during one of their courtship displays

The Slav grebes during one of their courtship displays

Nevertheless I was puzzled as to what they were going to do for a territory; and thought this was a mystery I was unlikely to see resolved as I planned to leave late morning. I was about to pack up when I noticed the pair steaming across the lake, heading straight for the sedge beds. They soon busied themselves gathering nesting material – in a different area to the one where the male had been fighting the little grebes.

Gathering nesting material

Gathering nesting material

They gave up shortly afterwards though – presumably to return to the task later.

With the tranquil beauty of the lake and its environment, and the birds which either live there or pass through, Loch Ruthven has become my favourite nature reserve – narrowly squeezing past Greatham Creek!

Slavonian Grebe at Loch Ruthven

Slavonian Grebe at Loch Ruthven

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