Highland Wildlife Blog – A Refuge for Wildlife

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment


By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

Many years ago I visited the now closed Crandon Park Zoo in Miami, Florida. I was taken around on a tour by one of the senior animal staff and at one point we arrived at what was a most amazing display of aquatic birds. This enclosure was designed to represent a very naturalistic coastal lagoon and there were around one hundred birds of different sizes and colours, feeding and milling about. I commented to my guide that this was a very impressive display and that the birds were in excellent condition. He responded by telling me that the dozen or so scarlet coloured flamingos were the only birds that were supposed to be there and that the rest of the ibis, herons, pelicans and gulls were all wild birds that had move in of their own accord.

Zoos are often seen as very attractive environments for wild species, due to the presence of undisturbed bits of habitat, ready availability of food, reduced inter-species competition and often a greater level of protection from predators. Towards the end of every winter, a range of wild bird species start to arrive at the Highland Wildlife Park and prepare for the breeding season.

The first to arrive are the bright red billed oystercatchers and the plume-headed lapwings. About a week ago there was a flock of about 40 lapwings grouped together on one of the grassy hillsides in the main drive-through reserve, displaying and preparing to pair-off for breeding. The oyster catchers only seem to congregate in larger numbers towards the end of the day, and usually by the polar bears’ pond; not the safest place in the world, but the lack of feathered bodies seems to indicate that they have sussed the speed of a big white bear.

Oystercatcher nesting in the car park by Jan Morse

Oystercatcher nesting in the car park by Jan Morse

Next to arrive are the little colony of about 20-30 black-headed gulls that nest in the pond next to the musk ox, followed by the flocks of greylag and barnacle geese. To confirm the beneficial conditions the Park provides for the birds, I have seen the number of barnacle geese expand from two pairs to about 35 individual birds since 2008. Occurring in much smaller numbers and a bit trickier to spot are the redshanks and for the first time in a few years, we had a pair of curlew in the Park in 2013.

Being situated across from Insh Marshes National Nature Reserve, one of Europe’s most important wetland sites, means that we provide an adjacent, extra safe zone for a range of bird species. We are probably especially important for the ground nesting species when unseasonably large amounts of rain results in excessive flooding on the Marshes. Our main drive-through area allows you to do your bird-watching from the comfort of your own car, plus there is the additional, unique opportunity of watching oystercatchers poking around for invertebrates at the heels of European bison.

“First published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald”.

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