Friday, 27 December 2013

2013 Review - Highs & Lows

The beginning of 2013 started on a positive note, with the newly formed River Nairn Swans and Waterfowl Trust getting under way, coincidentally this was also the Year of Natural Scotland.

The Trust has now 100 members with more due to join, this was the target for the end of 2013. The previous Cygnet brood all left the river early January, finally giving Popeye and Penny their well earned rest. 

The 7 ducklings rescued on Halloween, were also released back into the river in January. All went well until they made their home the harbour, 2 of the drakes were killed there, most likely by an Otter, and the others fled back up river.

 One more drake was killed by a dog, another missing, leaving 3 surviving ducks who now have mates. The weather initially looked like it was going to be a cold spring like the previous 2 years, but then turned to benign summer weather which lasted for virtually 6 months! 

These conditions were ideal for all the wildlife with food supplies available for newly hatched ducklings in the form of flies, insects etc. The very first ducklings were in fact hatched somewhere in the town off marine road in early April, and were trapped in a Cumming street garden. 

Myself and Helen Wright were able to catch the mother and 15 ducklings, then transported to my Aviary for the first few weeks of their life. They were released a couple of weeks later, but even so half were taken by predators within a couple of weeks ! 

Popeye and Penny started their annual courting and nest building in March, and the nesting weather was the best she had ever experienced since the building of the island in 2007. The benefits arrived in the form of 9 hatched cygnets in mid May, equalling her highest ever brood

Ducklings were being hatched steadily throughout the summer months, and we ended up with 42 survivors and about 78 fatalities on the lower reaches. 

In keeping with the Trusts aims of educating the public and encouraging youngsters to respect and appreciate the Natural world, we held a wildlife photo competition for 8 to 15 year olds. 

The response was not as good as hoped, but never the less some very good shots were sent in. Euan MacPhail won first prize, followed by Matthew Fell, Auldearn, and Summer Carroll Nairn. 

Various injured birds were rescued throughout the year, one was a feral pigeon I called Para, due to the paraplegic injuries it sustained. 

Having found it laying in the road stretched out and bleeding from it's beak, I really didn't give much for it's chances of surviving the night. The will to live is strong even for a bird, and it pulled through with an element of spinal disability affecting it's right side. I kept it indoors for some weeks, giving it as much therapy as I could to get it walking and flying again.

 During this time I was also given 2 wood pigeon Squabs that had been blown out of their nest in a gale. I was worried about how to care for them, since I had never reared such young birds before.

 After consulting our Avian adviser Sue Hulbert who has 26 years experience of caring for wildlife, she gave me all the advice I needed  to have a go. I called them Woody and Alan, although I had no idea what sex they were. Overcoming my trepidation I managed to tube feed them without killing them, and as my confidence grew I was able to switch to feeding them a liquidised paste by hand, made from wild bird seeds, porridge oats, and chick starter feed.

 It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life as they grew and looked on me as their parent.

 Once able to fly, I moved them into the aviary with Para, and all three got on fine until I decided that Para was able to rejoin the flock of feral pigeons.

Off Para flew, returning after a couple of days back on top of the aviary looking for food. This became the norm for months when she would sometimes go for a few days and then turn up for food. 

Meanwhile Woody and Alan were showing signs of wanting to explore the world and  I decided to set them free. I watched them go and one of them headed over towards the community centre and Viewfield. I was devastated the following day, finding Alan dead beside the tennis courts, probably killed by a Sparrow hawk.

 Later that evening I spotted Woody across the road on top of a roof, I held out my hands, whistled and he came gliding down to my outstretched hand. I was so fearful I put him into the Aviary once more. It took another couple of weeks to pluck up the courage to let him free again.

 He returned daily for a couple of months and I thought he would finally be safe.

Sadly after heading off one Friday evening I never saw him again. Then in October, Para also disappeared, so all 3 of the beautiful pigeons were eventually killed, a real downer for me. Mid summer and another call about Penny and one of the Cygnets caught up in fishing line in the harbour.

 By the time I got to them they had all gone to the swans island, I managed to cut the line from the cygnet but was immediately attacked by both Popeye and Penny. This gave me the chance to catch Penny who had the float, line and hook wrapped round her legs. I had no choice but to put her on her back to get at the line, and during this time Popeye was using his wings with all the force he could muster to hit me from behind. Several of the blows got me in the ribs, and the pain made me wince and cry out.

 He then moved around to hit me on the arms and head, after striking blow after blow I finally cut all the line free from Penny and let her go. Aching all over, I headed home only to be collared by a lady telling me that she had just seen a duck with no bill  near Merryton bridge.

 After a brief search, sure enough I spotted the horrific sight of a mother duck with 3 ducklings and her bill had been bitten off ! I knew she had 4 ducklings the day before, and it seemed obvious she had probably tried to save her ducklings from an Otter attack and lost her bill in the process. Her situation was dire and I had to try and catch her and her brood before all of them perished. I managed to catch her brood over two days, but she could still fly and escape capture. It was pitiful to watch her unable to eat or drink, yet she followed me each day slowly starving to death. 

Eventually she got so weak I was able to catch her, and immediately gave her pain relief and antibiotics, while reuniting her with her ducklings. She only survived for a few more days before her inevitable death. I reared her ducklings for 9 weeks before releasing them back to the river where they are today.

 The usual young seagulls ended up as road casualties and even a pair that had been put in a box and left on some waste ground, all ended up with me, then some to the Scottish SPCA.
Those that could be saved were, and others had to be put to sleep. Some 30 rescues over the course of the year, and maybe two thirds of those surviving - at least for a while.

 The last Rescue was a young cygnet I called Solo, it had an injured foot and was unable to fly away, after 4 weeks care it was finally given to the Scottish SPCA for relocation with other young cygnets. Our Avian Adviser Sue Hulbert paid us a visit from Swindon where she runs her own Swan and wildlife sanctuary. Sue inspected our birds and their habitat and environment for 3 days, and was most impressed.

 She is an invaluable member of the trust with 26 years wealth of knowledge on the care of waterbirds. 

This year also saw a slanderous online hate and abuse campaign against me, by a local know-all who should perhaps be known as the Smear-don, inciting hate and violence against me on his facebook page ! After informing the police, this was quickly removed from the internet, but not before I printed the slanderous pages as evidence, this guy should watch his bad mouthing and steer clear of me unless he wants to end up in court, my goodwill has it's limits !  There was also an attempt by others to blame the fact that a couple of river rats near the Merryton bridge was due to me feeding the wildlife. Ignoring the fact that 100 metres of bushy habitat had been removed, and sewerage drains renewed and left open for a week. I feed the birds grain in the water and have done for years,

but dozens of other people are continually throwing  all sorts over the bridge every day. Even Highland council had a go at me, egged on by other slanderous mischief makers, that people should stop feeding the birds and allow the river back to it's good old natural state - discarded traffic cones, bikes, scooters, prams, beds,  3 piece suites, Buckfast bottles and assorted litter, ah yes, the year of natural Scotland indeed ! Highland council then sent their rat catcher to poison the family of river rats, and in all probability poisoned a Moorhen which I found dead close by.

Fortunately the local population can see through these born and bred disingenuous mischief makers, and the Trust keeps growing - along with the waterbirds, in spite of the slanderous few. Although the highland council and local river community council have not contributed one penny to the welfare of the river wildlife, the Trust were the happy recipients of a £200 donation from the Nairn Ceilidh Group which was very gratefully received and much appreciated. The usual summer growth of Alien plants like giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam were removed and sprayed, along with litter on a regular basis close to the Swans island. Regular visitors to Nairn are impressed with the growing wildlife on the lower river and some have joined the Trust, praising the fact that it's a welcome attraction which is sometimes all that is on offer all the year round. 

Sadly two months ago one of our cygnets was killed after hitting telephone wires while flying over Dunbar avenue, Broadhill. The trust asked BT Openreach to fit bird diverters or deflectors to avoid further tragedies. They have since fitted some cable ties which are inadequate, so we are still asking for proper deflectors on these lethal wires.
2013 has been a highly successful year for the river wildlife, 

and the trust will continue to look after their interests. Even some dog owners have seen the wisdom of keeping their dogs under close control near the wildlife, and are now more amenable.  We now have a new Chairman, Martin Shand, with a new Secretary Carla Payne, along with myself as Treasurer, we will do our best to keep the trust on the up, and look forward to the Spring. A Happy new year to all !

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Swans Watch Turkey Trot

The annual Nairn Boxing day Turkey Trot, took place on the best day of the week, sunshine, blue skies and no wind !

The Swans in their Island moat, were bemused at the long line of runners snaking along both sides of the river.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Day At The Island

With gales and heavy rain the river is running high, but now starting to ease before the next Storm on Friday !

There was no Sign of the Swans today in the river or the harbour, then out of the blue the flew in from the seaward side, buffeted by strong winds they landed safely at the rivers edge.

After their Christmas Feed close to the island Popeye and Penny continued to give them the odd peck, but still not serious about chasing them for good. 

Some of the young ones climbed onto the island, perhaps taking stock for the future ?

Sunday, 22 December 2013


I would like to wish all my viewers, especially the River Nairn Swans and Waterfowl Trust members, who have so kindly contributed to the welfare of our River waterfowl. I am sure if our Swans and Ducks could talk, they would say Thank You !

I hope you all have a warm and pleasant festive season !

Saturday, 21 December 2013

900 Blog Posts

Mid - Winter solstice today, and also marks my 900 blog posts to date since 2005. The river is running high and the forecast is for 
more rain and snow in the hills during this festive season. 

The Swans will not chase their cygnets away during this stormy unsettled weather, so likely to be here for a wee while yet. 

The salmon will be spawning, and a big seal is already on the hunt for fish as witnessed today. The swans and ducks were sticking close to the Island out of harms way.

Meanwhile the pigeons have a mid- winter meal !