Birds on the River Annan
The River Annan is an important source of food (river invertebrates & fish) and shelter for many birds. Some of which can be relatively easy to spot due to their close association with the river. Look out for the blue flash of a kingfisher or a heron patiently stalking its prey.
Click on a species name below to find out more about it.
Dippers can be seen anywhere on the river but are more numerous in the upper catchment and upland streams. Dippers feed on invertebrates in the river and have a particular liking for caddis larvae which they catch in a unique way by walking along the river bed. The dipper is often seen perched on rocks habitually bobbing (or dipping) up and down and this is where its name comes from.
The heron is a large unmistakeable wading bird and is seen all year round on the River, often waiting motionless to catch its prey. Occasionally herons will stalk their prey through the shallows. Although fish make up a largest prey item, the heron has a varied diet and will eat mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and small/juvenile birds which it usually spears with its sharp bill.
During the breeding season herons will make nests in the tree tops of the largest trees, often returning to the same nest site each year.
Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
River Annan Photos?
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Probably the most distinguishable and common of all UK duck species, the mallard is often seem in the lowland areas of the catchment. A dabbling duck, the mallard feeds on invertebrates, plants and seeds close to the water surface. The male or drake is usually strikingly different to the female. However, when the drake moults into its eclipse plumage (at the beginning and end of the summer) it can look similar to the female. This gives the drake a bit more camouflage until its flight feathers have been replaced.
Cormorants are large water birds that are often found in the lochs and reservoirs within the catchment. Cormorants are perfectly adapted to catch fish, of which they eat a wide variety. Despite being such accomplished fishers their plumage is not water proof and they can often be seen with wings stretched out to dry. The cormorants found on the River Annan are part of a larger European population of this species and the UK in an internationally important wintering ground.
Goosander (Mergus merganser)
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
The Goosander can be found on the River Annan all year round but particularly during the breeding season. They are members of the sawbill family and have long serrated bills which they use to probe under stones and hold on to their prey. Goosanders are opportunists and their diet reflects the range of prey that is available. The impact of goosanders on salmon and sea trout numbers is not easy to assess and the effectiveness of control measures (under licence) is still open for debate.
Goosanders were not common in the UK until the late 19th century when they began to expand their range into Scotland. Since this time they have established themselves all over the UK. It is not clear what caused this rapid expansion.
Oystercatchers can be found on the River Annan during the spring breeding season. They are a ground nesting bird and usually make their nests on gravel bars. The eggs look similar to pebbles and rocks and are well hidden. Oystercatchers will often migrate to the cost during the winter months where they are joined by birds from Scandinavia. Despite the name, oystercatchers do not eat oysters and prefer cockles and mussels while on the coast. Birds that breed along the river will generally eat earthworms which also make a nice soft meal to feed their chicks
Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Probably the most iconic of all the birds seen on the river, the kingfisher is unmistakable in its bright blue and orange plumage. The kingfisher is not as common on the Annan as it is further south (particularly central and southern England) but is still regularly seen as a flash of blue or perched on a branch fishing in the slower moving parts of the river. Freshwater fish make up most of the kingfishers diet although they have been known to take invertebrates and very occasionally crustaceans. During the winter months kingfishers will often move to estuaries or the coast so the best time to see them is during the spring and summer months. Nesting begins in late March/April when the nesting tunnel is excavated by both sexes, usually over a slower moving part of the river.
Ospreys are occasionally seen in spring or autumn fishing on the River Annan on passage to their nesting site (spring) or wintering grounds in west Africa(autumn). Scotland is a stronghold for the osprey in the UK and there are a number of nest sites in Dumfries & Galloway. Ospreys are expert fishers and have a number of adoptions that allow them to pluck live fish from the water. This includes eyesight adapted for detecting objects under the water, oily plumage and large feet with a reversible toe enabling them to carry fish while in flight. During their migration to and from their wintering grounds in Senegal, west Africa they are capable of flying up to 430km in one day.
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Sandmartin (Riparia riparia)
Moorhens (or water hen as they are sometimes known) are occasionally seen on the River Annan. Their disappearance is often linked with the presence of the American mink which actively hunt water fowl such as moorhens. Moorhens have a varied diet and can feed in the water or on land. They largely feed on aquatic plants, seeds, grasses, insects, snails, worms and occasionally small fish. Unusually for water fowl they don’t have webbed feet. The female usually builds the nest while the male gathers twigs and material and it is often the females who are seen fighting amongst themselves for breeding partners rather than the males.
Sand martins usually begin to arrive on the River Annan in early to mid March. They make their nests by burrowing into the sandy river banks which is where they get their name. These burrows can be up to 1 metre long. Sand martins are sociable birds and usually breed in colonies. During the breeding season they generally feed on the wing over the river on large numbers hatching invertebrates. Like house martins, swallows and swifts, sand martins make the long journey from Africa to spend the summer in Europe. Draughts in their African wintering grounds have caused the population to crash twice over the last 50 years and they are currently on the UK’s amber list.
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
The common sandpiper is a spring/summer visitor to the River Annan where it breeds along fast flowing parts of the river. The adult birds head back to their winter feeding grounds in July and August and are shortly followed by their offspring in September.
The common sandpiper can be confused with other sandpiper species although these are not generally found within the Annan catchment. It can be recognisable by its bobbing action and its distinctive flight with stiff, bowed wings. Common sandpipers are gregarious birds feeding on invertebrates and crustaceans, foraging for them along the river bank by sight.