Words and images from 26/11/2015
Our last full day in Edinburgh and it was time to get my geek on. Where better to combine my love of history, engineering and railways than at the Forth rail bridge, one of the most iconic structures ever to be conceived and built. Opened in 1890 and designated as a UNESCO world heritage site just a couple of months ago it proved every bit as good as I’d hoped. And if you ever wondered where the phrase “like painting the Forth Bridge” came from, now you know. The lighting was pretty much perfect for the duration of our stay and somehow I managed to exceed even my own expectations of just how many photos it’s possible to take of a stationary object. Thank yourselves lucky that I’m just sharing a few of my favourites here.
With a new road crossing currently under construction in the background the views above will have changed again by the end of next year. Interestingly whilst researching this post I discovered that the current road bridge has a number of structural issues which have necessitated the building of what will ultimately become its successor. In 2005 it was found that the main suspension cables have lost 8-10% of their strength leading to estimates of the bridges full closure by 2020. Clearly this would have a disastrous effect on local transport links so just under £8 million is being spent on extending that lifespan. For some reason I couldn’t help these statistics playing on my mind as we drove across, heading for the RSPB’s reserve at Loch Leven. Note: Since writing this last week the Forth road bridge has now been closed to all traffic until at least January following the discovery of several large cracks in the steel work. I promise this was not as a result of our visit.
Upon first sight Loch Leven is exactly as you’d expect. Large, wet and, as we are in Scotland after all, rapidly disappearing beneath a shroud of thick cloud and threatening showers which thankfully managed to skirt us each time they passed through. In truth I didn’t know what to expect from this previously unknown corner of Fife but soon felt quite at home. As at Titchwell the hides are perfectly suited to while away a few hours with regular comings and goings out on the water to keep interest levels high. Needless to say waterfowl were the dominant species with Shoveller, Goldeneye, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Teal and Gadwall all present. There were also excellent numbers of Goosanders with at least five males and eight females split between the first and last hides. This is the largest single gathering I think I’ve ever seen in the UK and gave excellent close views as they fished almost continuously right in front of us. Sadly lighting conditions were terrible and this is about as good as I managed to get.
Of course what we really wanted to see were Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese and I’m happy to report success on both counts. The latter numbered at least six and always remained distant whereas the Whoopers were some fifty strong and thankfully a bit closer. It was heartening to see youngsters amongst the adult birds with one incoming family allowing a particularly pleasing photo opportunity. Oh for some of that earlier sun.
Away from the water there were Kestrels, Buzzards and most impressively a Peregrine Falcon which had a good go at seeing off a pair of Ravens. My personal favourite though was this Red Squirrel munching its way through peanuts at the visitor centres feeding station! I had no idea that there was even a chance of seeing one so to get such close views was just brilliant. It had no concern whatsoever at our presence and even posed long enough for a photo at ridiculous shutter speeds. You’ve got to love those ears.
It was going to be pretty hard to top that and, in the end, nothing did. Three Red Grouse though at the top of Birch Wood was another unexpected sighting and the views themselves weren’t half bad either.
With that there was just time to buy our Christmas cards from the shop before the rain that had been threatening all afternoon finally arrived. Another excellent reserve to add to our repertoire in what has been the most well used year for my RSPB membership card thus far. Long may it continue.