Birds of the Rob Roy trail
Its amazing whats around you if you really look for it. A short walk along the Rob Roy trail leading out from Callander and Kilmahog will for most people bring sightings of birds and animals that they may never have seen before.
Starting off at Kilmahog and moving along the trail towards Strathyre, youll see robins, wrens, blackbirds and all manner of tits and finches, all of which are common garden visitors. However, heading off the track a little and following the river upstream through the woods alongside will bring sightings of completely different birds and animals.
One of the lesser known and rarely spotted, the treecreeper is actually one of the more common woodland birds. Small, not much bigger than a blue tit, it has a long curved beak, brown upper parts with pale streaks and a whitish underbelly. This bird is never still for long and this can be incredibly frustrating when trying to watch through binoculars.
Its not all bad news though. As with most birds and animals, their habits can help as much as or more than an actual physical description when trying to identify the species.
Treecreepers are insect eaters and will move rapidly from tree to tree in search of a good meal. The giveaway for identification with these birds is the jerky, spiralling movements up the trunk of whichever tree theyve landed on. Bizarrely they never move down the trunk, and this action, coupled with the description, makes them unmistakable once seen.
Moving towards the river itself, you may well hear, or even see, greater spotted woodpeckers; although again it takes a good eye for movement to spot them as they really are quite shy. The trick to spotting birds in woodland is not to concentrate on any particular tree or bush but to scan the area in general for any sign of movement (this also works if you want to spot deer in woodland, but crouch low every minute or so and again look for movement rather than shapes).
Soft, cheeping calls may go unnoticed amongst the clamour of alarm calls sent out by robins, blue and great tits as you approach, but they are made by one of my favourite and, to my mind at least, one of our more striking native birds, the bullfinch.
The male is far more colourful than the female (unlike people!). Its an easy one to identify. Sparrow-sized, yet bulkier, the male has a jet black head and beak which contrasts vividly with his deep rose pink cheeks and underparts. The upper body is slate grey and black with white wing bars in flight. The female is similar but far more muted in colour.
They gather in small family groups (although they can be seen in greater numbers during the winter months) and feed on tree buds, tree flowers, soft fruits and seeds. These birds were persecuted in the past because of a fondness for the buds of fruit trees even though in truth this would make up a small percentage of their natural diet.
The river itself should bring sightings of some interesting birds. It runs pretty rapidly through Strathyre and Kilmahog, and in the faster-moving sections you wont see birds such as moorhens and coots which are more common on still water. Saying that, I have seen the odd insane mallard braving the flow, but in general the birdlife differs.
If you walk for any length of time along the Teith I can almost guarantee that youll see dippers at some point: smaller than a blackbird with a plump, dark brown and chestnut body and white chest.
Against the dark, fast-flowing water that the bird prefers its initially quite hard to spot but it does have a loud, shrill alarm call which, given the fact that itll originate from midstream, should give you a clue as to its whereabouts.
Your first sight of a dipper will probably be of it standing on an available rock in the middle of the river. They have a characteristic bobbing action and will fly off low and rapidly once theyve seen you. Keep looking though, as they are usually in pairs even outside of the breeding season. Although an unlikely-looking water bird (no webbed feet for a start!) they are superbly adapted to river life, feeding on small invertebrates and freshwater shrimps and will dive or walk along the riverbed to depths of up to half a metre in search of food.
There are other birds to be seen such as grey wagtails (commonly mistaken for yellow wagtails), the ravens on the slopes of Ben Ledi, and of course the various birds of prey that are in the area but thats another story altogether!
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