Dipper Endrick Water – photo by Hugh Tooby

Birdwatching in Winter around Killearn

I am a nature lover and walks are one of the greatest joys of winter. The light is fantastic and ever-changing, frost and snow can give the landscape a magical feel. Bare trees and wintry weather can reveal a lot about the nature in the world around you that you won’t see in the summer months.

This January I moved onto the Carbeth Estate in Killearn and like everyone else, going outdoors to exercise is one of the few activities lockdown restrictions have allowed me to do. So, I have been out and about on the estate, enjoying the splendid views across the Campsie Fells and the Trossachs, watching the birds, exploring Endrick Water and discovering so much about this beautiful area.

In the first two blogs I am going to share with you some of the wildlife and nature you can see in Killearn and surrounding area. In the third blog I will share a walk around the Carbeth Estate and let you know where you are most likely to see the wildlife on the list.

The first blog is unashamedly about birds. Birds have captured my imagination now for about 50 years so that’s what I look out for on any walk.  Winter is the best time to see many of our native birds (and some winter visitors), so for the novice birdwatcher now is a great time to identify birds. If you have been doing the Garden Bird Watch you will be familiar with many of the birds on the list, but some of them are unlikely to visit your garden.

There are plenty of other things to look out for during the winter too and the second blog in the series will look at mammals and plants you can see around Killearn.

In true Winter Watch style this is a local challenge for you to do as a family. Please share your photos and sightings with us on social media using #carbethhomefarmwinter. Photographs of the birds are by my friend Hugh Tooby, who is an experienced citizen scientist. Most of the others photos are by me and credit is given where appropriate.


Bullfinch – photo by Hugh Tooby

1. Bullfinch

This is a very handsome bird which you are most likely to see around gardens and in shrubby areas. A flash of white from it’s tail feather as it flies away is the tell-tale sign, so if you see that just standstill and see if you can spot it the male’s deep pink breast and smart black head. They stay in pairs and in the same area, so if you see them one day you are likely to see them again in the future.

2. Buzzard

Buzzards are very noticeable in the area. They are a large, brown, bird of prey with rounded wings. You will probably hear them first with their mewing cry and you might see them either flying over or sitting on telegraph poles. When I was young I always associated buzzards with holidays – as we drove north from Yorkshire we knew we had reached Scotland when we started seeing buzzards from the car window. In those days buzzards were very rare in England, but they have been a real success story and are now common throughout the UK.

Buzzard – photo by Hugh Tooby
Chaffinch – photo by Hugh Tooby

3. Chaffinch

Chaffinches are another bird I associate with our Scottish holidays because they used to flock around us when we had picnics. I particularly remember breakfast at Callander surrounded by these cheeky finches. They were once the most common bird in the UK, sadly they are in decline, so it is good to see and hear them around this walk. Male chaffinches have a pale pink breast which makes them stand out from the sparrows. To help you remember, their call is a high pitched “pink pink”. You are likely to see them along the hedgerows and around the buildings where they feed on seeds and grain

4. Dipper

Dipper, one of my very favourite birds, mainly because it lives in such beautiful places. As you walk along the riverbank look out for this bird standing on the stones and bobbing up and down. It looks a bit like a blackbird, but with a white bib. It might be small, but it is very plucky as it feeds by diving under the cold water and finding insects under the stones at the bottom of the river.

Dipper Endrick Water – photo by Hugh Tooby
Dipper Endrick Water – photo by Hugh Tooby
Great Tit Loch Lomond
Great Tit, Loch Lomond – photo by Hugh Tooby

5. Great tit

Great tit is another handsome bird you are likely to see around gardens, particularly on bird feeders. It is the largest of the UK tit family and has can be identified by it’s size, black head and yellow cheeks. As you walk along at this time of year listen out for their call – a loud “teecher, teacher” and then stand still and look up.

6. Jackdaw

You are likely to see all the British members of the crow family (corvids) as you walk around the estate, but I have chosen the jackdaw as one of the two to look out for. It is a very cheeky chappy and struts around shouting “Jack” loudly! One of the smaller crows it has a greyish neck, a black head and bright eyes. It nests in holes and will be on the look out for a suitable hole at this time of the year.

Jackdaws – photo by Hugh Tooby
Eurasian jay
Eurasian Jay – photo by Tomasz Proszek

7. Eurasian Jay

The Jay is the other member of the crow family to look out for. Not quite as common as the rest of the family, but more attractive in colour with its pinky plumage. Jays are found in the woods, so can be quite hard to see, but they can be very noisy which tells you they are around. Their food includes acorns, which they store over-winter by burying them in the ground.

8. Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tits are small pinkish birds with long tails. In winter you will often see them in small flocks in hedgerows and gardens. You can often get quite close to them, so if you have a pair of binoculars you can really see how pretty they are.

Long tailed tit
Long tailed tit by Hugh Tooby
Robin, Loch Lomond
Robin, Loch Lomond – photo by Hugh Tooby

9. Robin

Robins need no introduction as, if you haven’t seen them in your garden, you will have seen them on Christmas cards. They seem to enjoy human company and appear to follow you along the path as you go, looking for disturbed ground where they might find a tasty morsel to eat.

10. Tree creeper

Tree creeper – unlike the robin this bird can be quite hard to see, although it is not particularly rare. If you stop and look at some of the larger tree trunks you may see what looks like a little brown mouse creeping up the tree – this is the tree creeper. It probes for invertebrates to eat in the loose bark of the tree and then flies to the base of the next tree and starts creeping up the tree again.

Treecreeper, Glentress
Treecreeper, Glentress – photo by Hugh Tooby

Samantha Lyth

Samantha Lyth is a keen naturalist and lover of the outdoors. Among her running friends she is well known for her nature trail runs, which involves a lot of stopping to look at birds, insects and flowers. Along with her husband Peter they run Red Kite Services, a business that provides administrative and marketing support for small businesses. They have recently moved to Killearn and are thoroughly enjoying exploring the area.

Hugh Tooby

Hugh Tooby

Hugh Tooby is a retired GP whose medical career took him from rural practice in the Isle of Skye to Kosovo (serving in the British Army as a Medical Officer), via inner city practice in Bradford and Manchester. Since hanging up his stethoscope in 2013 he has developed a new role as a citizen scientist wildlife surveyor looking at a diverse range of organisms including birds, barnacles and butterflies. To support this work he has been using lockdown to develop a new interest in wildlife photography.

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