A pair of cranes have bred in the north-east – and are the first to do so in Scotland for more than 400 years.
The RSPB has monitored the birds in Aberdeenshire since they first had a chick in 2012 and have now confirmed they are reproducing in the region.
Amanda Biggins, an assistant conservation officer based in Aberdeen, published a blog documenting her time keeping track of the cranes in the area.
She said: “Breeding was only proven in 2012, when a pair nested and fledged one chick. This was the first confirmed breeding attempt of cranes in Scotland for over 400 years.
“Even better, this pair decided to make the area their permanent summer residence (they migrate somewhere warmer for the winter), and returned this year for their seventh nesting attempt.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in monitoring their colonisation since that first chick fledged, initially as a volunteer and then as part of my role as RSPB Scotland’s assistant conservation officer.”
Amanda has also described the challenges she has faced in keeping track of the birds’ movements – including remaining undetected by them while being close enough to continue to watch their progress.
She said: “You may be thinking ‘how hard can it be to monitor a couple of pairs of noisy four-foot-tall birds?’, but the answer is actually ‘pretty difficult’.
“They are very sensitive to disturbance, particularly at the nest, so we must keep a good distance away, and they usually manage to find a dip in a field to hide in, a straw bale or just stay far off the beaten track to evade detection.
“Even armed with six years of data on habitat preferences throughout the season, and knowledge of their preferred feeding areas, cranes can be really hard to find.
“During the few years when we could almost see the nest of pair one from a distant vantage point, we saw that the off-duty bird would spend a lot of time standing near to the nest, whilst the other bird was incubating the eggs.
“A single bird would only occasionally fly off on a feeding trip and then return to the nest area an hour or so later, perhaps changing over with the incubating bird, which could then go off foraging, never leaving the precious eggs unattended.”
Despite the success of the project, the RSPB is hoping to keep the exact location of the cranes private.
This is due to the bird’s “sensitive nature and hyper-awareness” to any disturbance which may lead to the birds abandoning their nests in the north-east.
Hywel Maggs, senior conservation officer, added: “We have been working with local farmers, landowners and the community to monitor these fantastic birds each year since 2012. Volunteers have helped us follow each breeding attempt as closely as possible.
“We’ve experienced exciting highs, such as the fledging of twins last year, and saddening lows, such as the loss of an adult and chick in 2016 from the same family. Despite their size and flamboyant breeding displays, cranes are secretive birds and are very sensitive to disturbance and we ask that they be given space and peace so they may establish a breeding population in Scotland.”