‘Daily exercise’ in a swamp

Loch Lomond NNR is an absolute haven for wildlife and in places can feel very wild and remote. The reserve is a biodiversity hotspot, reflected in the number of habitats and species which are protected, making it the perfect place to cultivate an interest in wildlife photography. One of our long-standing volunteers, David, did just that and shares with us some of the photos he’s taken on his daily walks during lockdown and from over the years.

Still separated from our beloved reserves, the NNR team are so grateful that our locally-living volunteers can share their wildlife pics with us. It almost feels like we are there (almost..) and reminds us that, amongst the chaos, worry and uncertainty, nature continues on.

Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve (NNR) covers an area of 430 hectares, and it comprises the “swamp and some islands” bit of this blog. Many parts of the NNR are very popular with visitors (prior to the lockdown, of course), for example Shore Wood and the beautiful island of Inchcailloch. However, other parts are less well-known, and I am very fortunate to live a short walk from those quieter areas.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, I have spent a lot of time on the NNR as part of my permitted ‘daily exercise’. Maintaining social distancing hasn’t been a problem because I have yet to meet anyone else there. Instead of two metres, at times I’m sure I’ve been 1,000 metres from the nearest human. The reason these parts of the NNR are so rarely-visited is perhaps explained by that ominous word ‘swamp’. That’s a slight exaggeration of course, but the NNR is part of the flat and low-lying floodplain of the river Endrick as it nears Loch Lomond, so water is a dominant feature. Walking in wellies is the norm.

April is a time of transition. The winter residents that haven’t already left are getting ready to depart for their breeding grounds further north, for example pink-footed and Greenland white-fronted geese, whooper swans, and ducks such as goldeneye, widgeon and teal. Many of the birds we see in early April will in fact just be passing through, having spent the winter in places further south.

Pink-footed geese
Pink-footed geese
Whooper swan touching down

At the same time as these over-wintering birds are getting ready to leave, we welcome the arrival of the first of our summer breeding birds. This brief period of overlap, when the departing and the arriving migrants are here at the same time, only lasts a week or two and is very special.

Of all the arriving birds, the one that puts the biggest spring in my step is the osprey. These birds spend the winter in west Africa, Spain or Portugal, and return to Scotland to breed.

My emotional connection to Loch Lomond’s ospreys had a rather unusual beginning. It dates back to 3rd October 1993, when I was involved in a road traffic accident after someone pulled out of a side road near Gartocharn without looking. At that time, I had only been living near Loch Lomond for three years. I got into a conversation with one of the people who stopped to help, and he noticed I was wearing a fleece. In those days, that was a sure sign of an outdoor lifestyle because fleeces hadn’t yet become mainstream! He asked if I had seen the ospreys on the National Nature Reserve. Amazingly, that was the first time I had ever heard about either Loch Lomond NNR or its ospreys. The following spring, I visited Shore Wood for the very first time…and immediately saw an osprey perched on a tree on the other side of the bay. An unforgettable experience, with its origins in a mangled car.

Fast forward 26 years, and my first osprey sighting of 2020 was on 4 April when I saw one flying over the woods with a fish grasped in its talons. Ospreys love the rich fishing grounds of the river Endrick and Loch Lomond. As well as watching them fly overhead, another good place to look for them are the large tree branches that get stuck in the shallow sandbanks near the mouth of the river.

Osprey overhead
Osprey on tree branch

Although ospreys are my favourite bird on the NNR, let’s not forget the smaller birds. There is a copse of woodland on the NNR that I call ‘Flycatcher Wood’ because it’s a good place to see spotted flycatchers in the summer. They perch on branches at the woodland edge, then dart out to catch a flying insect and return to the branch to eat it. At time of writing, the flycatchers haven’t arrived back yet, but I managed to photograph this one in 2018:

Spotted flycatcher

It’s not all about the birds, of course. I’ve had many good sightings of otters on the river Endrick over the last 25 years (but, unfortunately, no great pics since I started photography two-and-a-half years ago).

“Abstract with Otter”

Beavers have moved in too, although all I’ve seen are the distinctive marks left on trees by their large teeth. The NNR is home to three species of deer – roe, fallow and red. The fallow deer have gorgeous light brown spotty coats that make them stand out, even on a dull day.

Fallow deer
Fallow deer, backlit against the sun (2018)

Although the wildlife of Loch Lomond NNR is the big draw for me, the scenery isn’t too bad either!

Crom Mhin


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1 Response to ‘Daily exercise’ in a swamp

  1. Phil Graves says:

    Thanks David – some excellent photos. Enjoy the peace whilst you can – it’s been progressively busier the last week or so here at Mugdock Country Park. We cycled to Rowardennan and back to Mugdock last week – so quiet on the roads north of Drymen. A wonderful experience! Despite all the signs, there was still a family camping at the Rowardennan car park!

    Liked by 1 person

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