• Gulls by Laurie Campbell

    News and Stories

    Headquarters

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    [title] => Hen Harrier Day - 7 August 2016
    [alias] => 20hen-harrier-day-7-august-2016
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The SOC is a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and many of our members have made significant contributions to the long term recording of birds of prey in Scotland. Over many years, our journal Scottish Birdshas regularly featured articles that have illustrated the extent of raptor persecution in our country, and our members’ fieldwork for local and national atlases has further demonstrated the extent of the problems our birds of prey face.

Raptors remain very scarce in areas of seemingly ideal habitat in upland areas in the east and south of Scotland, with the Hen Harrier a rare species in these parts. In fact, the last national survey showed a 20% decline in the population of this species in Scotland.

The SOC is therefore proud to be a supporter of Hen Harrier Day on 7th August, and urges our members, supporters, friends and followers to take part as well. Click here to find out about events happening near you.

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The SOC is a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and many of our members have made significant contributions to the long term recording of birds of prey in Scotland. Over many years, our journal Scottish Birdshas regularly featured articles that have illustrated the extent of raptor persecution in our country, and our members’ fieldwork for local and national atlases has further demonstrated the extent of the problems our birds of prey face.

Raptors remain very scarce in areas of seemingly ideal habitat in upland areas in the east and south of Scotland, with the Hen Harrier a rare species in these parts. In fact, the last national survey showed a 20% decline in the population of this species in Scotland.

The SOC is therefore proud to be a supporter of Hen Harrier Day on 7th August, and urges our members, supporters, friends and followers to take part as well. Click here to find out about events happening near you.

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    [title] => The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Fife
    [alias] => 18the-breeding-and-wintering-birds-of-fife
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Norman Elkins, Jim Reid and Allan W. Brown

Published by the Fife Ornithological Atlas Group and the SOC.

Published Aug 2016

This large format, hardback book brings up to date an earlier publication published in 2003, the Fife Bird Atlas (and for which a CD is still available if anyone should want one – please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The current breeding and wintering status of birds in Fife is illustrated by 400 fine-scale maps. In addition to maps of breeding status, the abundance of species in both seasons and distribution in winter are mapped for the first time. Copiously illustrated with 240 photographs, mostly by John Anderson, Fife’s celebrated bird photographer, the volume runs to approximately 380 pages. Following an introductory section presenting methodology, habitat and population details, 213 species accounts, written by expert local ornithologists, describe the current status of birds in Fife.  Covering the years 2007-2013, the maps are based on fieldwork undertaken for the acclaimed national Bird Atlas 2007-11. They show new information that highlights the changes in distribution and abundance of birds in the region since the 1990s, an essential conservation tool and a valuable resource for birdwatchers. Generously supported by the SOC and various local organisations, the price is £25 (RRP £35).

To purchase a copy or copies of the book, please complete an order form (click here to download the form). Books will be available to collect at bird club meetings and limited addresses within Fife. Postage and packing costs will be kept to a minimum. Delivery to addresses in Fife will also be possible for a small charge.

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Norman Elkins, Jim Reid and Allan W. Brown

Published by the Fife Ornithological Atlas Group and the SOC.

Published Aug 2016

This large format, hardback book brings up to date an earlier publication published in 2003, the Fife Bird Atlas (and for which a CD is still available if anyone should want one – please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The current breeding and wintering status of birds in Fife is illustrated by 400 fine-scale maps. In addition to maps of breeding status, the abundance of species in both seasons and distribution in winter are mapped for the first time. Copiously illustrated with 240 photographs, mostly by John Anderson, Fife’s celebrated bird photographer, the volume runs to approximately 380 pages. Following an introductory section presenting methodology, habitat and population details, 213 species accounts, written by expert local ornithologists, describe the current status of birds in Fife.  Covering the years 2007-2013, the maps are based on fieldwork undertaken for the acclaimed national Bird Atlas 2007-11. They show new information that highlights the changes in distribution and abundance of birds in the region since the 1990s, an essential conservation tool and a valuable resource for birdwatchers. Generously supported by the SOC and various local organisations, the price is £25 (RRP £35).

To purchase a copy or copies of the book, please complete an order form (click here to download the form). Books will be available to collect at bird club meetings and limited addresses within Fife. Postage and packing costs will be kept to a minimum. Delivery to addresses in Fife will also be possible for a small charge.

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JUST LAUNCHED: SOC HIGHLAND BRANCH WEBSITE
11 April 2016

We’re pleased to announce details of the SOC Highland Branch website which went live on Friday evening!
The website address is http://www.highlandbirds.scot/
The Latest Sightings page shows what has been seen recently in the area and will be regularly updated. The Gallery has pictures of past rarities. Take a look now and enjoy!

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JUST LAUNCHED: SOC HIGHLAND BRANCH WEBSITE
11 April 2016

We’re pleased to announce details of the SOC Highland Branch website which went live on Friday evening!
The website address is http://www.highlandbirds.scot/
The Latest Sightings page shows what has been seen recently in the area and will be regularly updated. The Gallery has pictures of past rarities. Take a look now and enjoy!

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    [id] => 1697
    [title] => Young Birders Training Week
    [alias] => 15young-birders-training-week
    [introtext] => 

* Apologies – the 2017 course application deadline has now passed *

Saturday 1st – Saturday 7th July 2017

Applications are invited from individuals aged 16 – 25 to participate in a week-long
sponsored training course run by the SOC and the Isle of May Bird Observatory, on the Isle of May.

Now in its fourth year, this joint venture between SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory will provide an opportunity for six more individuals to gain experience in various activities to help them progress with future involvement in wildlife recording and conservation. Open to individuals aged 16–25 years, the Young Birders’ Training Course is the only course of its kind in the UK.

The Isle of May Bird Observatory is gearing up for the fourth YBTC and getting to meet another group of participants keen to learn more about bird recording, species monitoring and observatory life. With a full programme of activities in place, and the breeding seabirds already back on the island, we can look forward to an interesting and fun week on the May

Stuart Rivers, IoMBO

This is a great opportunity for young birders to learn from enthusiastic experts.  For the SOC funding the course means that, for the future, the good work of recording and conservation of Scotland’s birds will continue

James Main, SOC President

It presents a unique opportunity for budding ornithologists’, both in its setting and teaching options. Course participants will get a thorough introduction to daily recording of birds and other taxa, species monitoring (including assistance with ongoing seabird studies), hands-on  experience of bird ringing, and activities such as visible migration watches and co-ordinated seawatching counts. Outwith the scope of most university curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording, surveying and conservation. The successful applicants will gain invaluable first-hand practical experience of a wide range of bird survey skills and techniques and participants will be able to draw on the talents and knowledge of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors.

The week-long stay on the island will also allow participants to find out more about the Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) and to experience the many aspects of island and bird observatory life. At the end of the course, participants will be provided with a certificate to present to potential employers outlining their achievements on the Young Birders’ Training Course.

How to apply

In the first instance applicants are required to submit a completed application form:

Young Birders Training Course Application Form (Word)

Young Birders Training Course Application Form (PDF)

Before completing the application form, please read through the following guidance and make sure you can satisfy all of the minimum criteria to be awarded a place on the course:

  • You must be aged between 16 and 25 years of age on the day of trip departure (written permission will be required from a parent or guardian if under 18 years of age, see below)
  • Applicants must be resident in GB and Ireland
  • You must be available for the full duration of the course (Saturday 1st- Saturday 7th July 2017)
  • You must be able to make your own way to and from Anstruther
  • You must be able to make  a personal contribution of £25 (for food & drink supplies) if successful in your application

 

Please post or hand in a copy of your completed application form by the application deadline of Monday 1 May 2017 at 5pm to: Jane Cleaver (Confidential), The SOC, Waterston House, Aberlady, EH32 0PY, or send it via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Receipt of your application will be acknowledged via email within 3 working days. If you have not been contacted within this time frame, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Who to contact should you have any questions about this project:

Jane Cleaver on 01875 871 330 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

More information about the project

 About the Isle of May

The Isle of May lies 5 miles off the Fife coast in East Scotland. It is a National Nature Reserve and is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/nnr/The_Story_of_the_Isle_of_May_National_Nature_Reserve.pdfSituated at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, the May is ideally placed to draw in migrating birds as well as providing a breeding site for many thousands of seabirds. It is internationally important for its populations of Puffins.

Contributing organisations

This opportunity is a joint collaboration between the SOC and the Isle of May Bird Observatory, and will be led by representatives from each organisation. Additional support and resources will be provided from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) staff on the island.  The project is being funded by the SOC.

Participants should be aware that neither the SOC, The Isle of May Bird Observatory, nor individual leaders of  this project, can accept any responsibility for any injury suffered by individuals taking part in the training course, nor any loss or damage to personal property. Successful applicants will be given a thorough health & safety briefing on the island as part of their induction process.

Under 18’s on the Isle of May

Individuals aged between 16 and 25 are invited to apply for a place on the course. If you are under 18 and successful in your application, then written permission from a parent or guardian will be required before we can confirm your place on the course.

Travelling to the island

Transport to the island (less than 5 miles) is provided by the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) ‘Osprey’. This sets sail from the middle pier in Anstruther, the same pier as the lifeboat house is on, postcode: KY10 3AB. Due to the nature of the crossing and entry and exit to/from the boat, travelling by RIB is not suitable for anyone with back ailments, those who are pregnant or persons reliant on wheelchairs / walking aids.

Accommodation on the island

Accommodation for the duration of the trip will be provided at the Isle of May Bird Observatory, with dorm-style separate male and female facilities. Pillows and a duvet will be provided, however successful applicants will need to bring their own bed linen, or sleeping bag. The recently upgraded facilities also house a dining kitchen, washroom, lounge, boot room and store room. There is limited access to electricity in the accommodation, however there is the opportunity to charge laptops/mobile phones at the nearby SNH/CEH facilities. There are no shops on the island, however snacks can be purchased from the May Princess when she docks at the island, which happens most days.

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* Apologies – the 2017 course application deadline has now passed *

Saturday 1st – Saturday 7th July 2017

Applications are invited from individuals aged 16 – 25 to participate in a week-long
sponsored training course run by the SOC and the Isle of May Bird Observatory, on the Isle of May.

Now in its fourth year, this joint venture between SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory will provide an opportunity for six more individuals to gain experience in various activities to help them progress with future involvement in wildlife recording and conservation. Open to individuals aged 16–25 years, the Young Birders’ Training Course is the only course of its kind in the UK.

The Isle of May Bird Observatory is gearing up for the fourth YBTC and getting to meet another group of participants keen to learn more about bird recording, species monitoring and observatory life. With a full programme of activities in place, and the breeding seabirds already back on the island, we can look forward to an interesting and fun week on the May

Stuart Rivers, IoMBO

This is a great opportunity for young birders to learn from enthusiastic experts.  For the SOC funding the course means that, for the future, the good work of recording and conservation of Scotland’s birds will continue

James Main, SOC President

It presents a unique opportunity for budding ornithologists’, both in its setting and teaching options. Course participants will get a thorough introduction to daily recording of birds and other taxa, species monitoring (including assistance with ongoing seabird studies), hands-on  experience of bird ringing, and activities such as visible migration watches and co-ordinated seawatching counts. Outwith the scope of most university curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording, surveying and conservation. The successful applicants will gain invaluable first-hand practical experience of a wide range of bird survey skills and techniques and participants will be able to draw on the talents and knowledge of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors.

The week-long stay on the island will also allow participants to find out more about the Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) and to experience the many aspects of island and bird observatory life. At the end of the course, participants will be provided with a certificate to present to potential employers outlining their achievements on the Young Birders’ Training Course.

How to apply

In the first instance applicants are required to submit a completed application form:

Young Birders Training Course Application Form (Word)

Young Birders Training Course Application Form (PDF)

Before completing the application form, please read through the following guidance and make sure you can satisfy all of the minimum criteria to be awarded a place on the course:

  • You must be aged between 16 and 25 years of age on the day of trip departure (written permission will be required from a parent or guardian if under 18 years of age, see below)
  • Applicants must be resident in GB and Ireland
  • You must be available for the full duration of the course (Saturday 1st- Saturday 7th July 2017)
  • You must be able to make your own way to and from Anstruther
  • You must be able to make  a personal contribution of £25 (for food & drink supplies) if successful in your application

 

Please post or hand in a copy of your completed application form by the application deadline of Monday 1 May 2017 at 5pm to: Jane Cleaver (Confidential), The SOC, Waterston House, Aberlady, EH32 0PY, or send it via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Receipt of your application will be acknowledged via email within 3 working days. If you have not been contacted within this time frame, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Who to contact should you have any questions about this project:

Jane Cleaver on 01875 871 330 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

More information about the project

 About the Isle of May

The Isle of May lies 5 miles off the Fife coast in East Scotland. It is a National Nature Reserve and is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/nnr/The_Story_of_the_Isle_of_May_National_Nature_Reserve.pdfSituated at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, the May is ideally placed to draw in migrating birds as well as providing a breeding site for many thousands of seabirds. It is internationally important for its populations of Puffins.

Contributing organisations

This opportunity is a joint collaboration between the SOC and the Isle of May Bird Observatory, and will be led by representatives from each organisation. Additional support and resources will be provided from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) staff on the island.  The project is being funded by the SOC.

Participants should be aware that neither the SOC, The Isle of May Bird Observatory, nor individual leaders of  this project, can accept any responsibility for any injury suffered by individuals taking part in the training course, nor any loss or damage to personal property. Successful applicants will be given a thorough health & safety briefing on the island as part of their induction process.

Under 18’s on the Isle of May

Individuals aged between 16 and 25 are invited to apply for a place on the course. If you are under 18 and successful in your application, then written permission from a parent or guardian will be required before we can confirm your place on the course.

Travelling to the island

Transport to the island (less than 5 miles) is provided by the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) ‘Osprey’. This sets sail from the middle pier in Anstruther, the same pier as the lifeboat house is on, postcode: KY10 3AB. Due to the nature of the crossing and entry and exit to/from the boat, travelling by RIB is not suitable for anyone with back ailments, those who are pregnant or persons reliant on wheelchairs / walking aids.

Accommodation on the island

Accommodation for the duration of the trip will be provided at the Isle of May Bird Observatory, with dorm-style separate male and female facilities. Pillows and a duvet will be provided, however successful applicants will need to bring their own bed linen, or sleeping bag. The recently upgraded facilities also house a dining kitchen, washroom, lounge, boot room and store room. There is limited access to electricity in the accommodation, however there is the opportunity to charge laptops/mobile phones at the nearby SNH/CEH facilities. There are no shops on the island, however snacks can be purchased from the May Princess when she docks at the island, which happens most days.

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    [title] => Birds of Caithness including the Breeding & Wintering Atlas 2007 - 2012
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The ‘Birds of Caithness’ DVD was published in December 2015 by Caithness SOC.  It is the distillation of over 200 years of observations documenting the fascinating birdlife of the county.  The 458 page document is formatted to allow for viewing either as double-page spreads on the web or as high-resolution pdfs.

The project started in 2007, when four years of fieldwork began across the county in co-ordination with the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) national UK and Ireland Atlas.

In 2010, Caithness SOC decided to take up an invitation from the BTO (to all counties) to create a local atlas. The aim was to describe the status of all species which occurred in Caithness during 2007-2012; produce the most comprehensive set of maps possible of both wintering and breeding species; and to illustrate as many species as practicable with photographs taken in the county.

Seven authors wrote over 240 species’ accounts and many of the authors also contributed to the editing, photography, map-making and artwork.

The species accounts are preceded by a detailed study of the history of birdwatching in Caithness, going right back to the 18th century when Thomas Pennant, a Welsh naturalist, toured Scotland in 1769 and 1772.  Habitat and biodiversity, as well as local birdwatching sites and the surveying methodology help provide a wide range of background information.  ‘Birds of Caithness’ is intended to assist both local and visiting birdwatchers, and it is hoped will become an invaluable tool for conservation bodies, schools, planners and policy makers.

The format is perhaps unconventional, but is designed to make the information as accessible as possible for a wide demographic of readers. The species’ accounts are divided into two distinct sections – ‘Regular’ and ‘Scarce & Rare’ – but crucially their status relates to a specific period, namely from the start of the previous Breeding Atlas in 1988 to the end of the recent survey in 2012. This is almost one ‘generation’ and is a timespan within most birdwatchers’ experience.  What is clearly revealed in the texts and maps is the extraordinary change of fortunes for so many species within such a relatively brief snapshot.  In many cases this is a revelation and demonstrates the rapid effects of land usage and human interference on populations. Future trends are stated or hinted at – sometimes offering a promising prognosis but more often suggesting a continuing downward curve in abundance and distribution.

Most of the data have not previously been published and some are significant or even of national importance. However, resources and the serious lack of observers in Caithness have limited the depth of research possible, so it is hoped that this publication will help inspire a greater interest in the county’s birds and contribute to an even better understanding of their lives in the future.

Funding for the project was received from the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund as well as other organisations and individuals to whom Caithness SOC is extremely grateful.

Only 200 DVDs have been produced and already half have been sold or given as complimentary copies.

Birds of Caithness costs £15 + P&P and orders can be placed at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The ‘Birds of Caithness’ DVD was published in December 2015 by Caithness SOC.  It is the distillation of over 200 years of observations documenting the fascinating birdlife of the county.  The 458 page document is formatted to allow for viewing either as double-page spreads on the web or as high-resolution pdfs.

The project started in 2007, when four years of fieldwork began across the county in co-ordination with the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) national UK and Ireland Atlas.

In 2010, Caithness SOC decided to take up an invitation from the BTO (to all counties) to create a local atlas. The aim was to describe the status of all species which occurred in Caithness during 2007-2012; produce the most comprehensive set of maps possible of both wintering and breeding species; and to illustrate as many species as practicable with photographs taken in the county.

Seven authors wrote over 240 species’ accounts and many of the authors also contributed to the editing, photography, map-making and artwork.

The species accounts are preceded by a detailed study of the history of birdwatching in Caithness, going right back to the 18th century when Thomas Pennant, a Welsh naturalist, toured Scotland in 1769 and 1772.  Habitat and biodiversity, as well as local birdwatching sites and the surveying methodology help provide a wide range of background information.  ‘Birds of Caithness’ is intended to assist both local and visiting birdwatchers, and it is hoped will become an invaluable tool for conservation bodies, schools, planners and policy makers.

The format is perhaps unconventional, but is designed to make the information as accessible as possible for a wide demographic of readers. The species’ accounts are divided into two distinct sections – ‘Regular’ and ‘Scarce & Rare’ – but crucially their status relates to a specific period, namely from the start of the previous Breeding Atlas in 1988 to the end of the recent survey in 2012. This is almost one ‘generation’ and is a timespan within most birdwatchers’ experience.  What is clearly revealed in the texts and maps is the extraordinary change of fortunes for so many species within such a relatively brief snapshot.  In many cases this is a revelation and demonstrates the rapid effects of land usage and human interference on populations. Future trends are stated or hinted at – sometimes offering a promising prognosis but more often suggesting a continuing downward curve in abundance and distribution.

Most of the data have not previously been published and some are significant or even of national importance. However, resources and the serious lack of observers in Caithness have limited the depth of research possible, so it is hoped that this publication will help inspire a greater interest in the county’s birds and contribute to an even better understanding of their lives in the future.

Funding for the project was received from the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund as well as other organisations and individuals to whom Caithness SOC is extremely grateful.

Only 200 DVDs have been produced and already half have been sold or given as complimentary copies.

Birds of Caithness costs £15 + P&P and orders can be placed at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Waterston House, SOC headquarters, was officially opened on 1st October 2005 by Magnus Magnusson, best known for his unforgettable role as question master on BBC’s Mastermind programme.

The Club’s previous base for forty years had been at 21 Regent Terrace in central Edinburgh. This was expensive to maintain and was too small for meetings and events so the Trustees decided to find a suitable site for a new, purpose-built HQ that would enable the organisation to better pursue its charitable objectives, including the promotion of an interest in birds and providing a focus for those seeking information about Scotland’s birdlife. Aberlady offered the ideal location, with the nearby local nature reserve providing a major year-round bird watching venue.

The building was designed by Jenny Humphries of Simpson & Brown, and the majority of the materials were donated. The frame was made from Scottish timber from Drumnadrochit, oak and slate came from Aberfoyle, and cement from Dunbar. The splendid frame is held together by oak pegs and is made entirely from Douglas Fir. Superglass, Stirling, donated all the building’s insulation, interestingly made from old car windscreens. While the bulk of capital required for the purchase of the site and the construction came from the sale of 21 Regent Terrace, an appeal to Club members raised over £30,000, which included considerable match funding by the CALA Group. The Club was also grateful for the kindness shown by the Wemyss and March Estates Factor and Lord Wemyss himself, who sold the SOC the plot of land at a favourable price.

The building was named after George Waterston. Edinburgh-born George was the fifth of that name in the direct descent from the George Waterston who in 1752 had founded the venerable firm of printers and stationers. George was expected to join the family firm as a matter of course; indeed, he gave it a whirl for a time, but his heart was elsewhere – birds, and specifically the birds of Fair Isle, halfway between the Orkneys and Shetland. The island became his lifelong passion. George first visited Fair Isle in September 1935, at the age of 24, and returned every summer until the outbreak of war in 1939. By then he had become Honorary Secretary of the SOC, which he had helped to found in 1936. However, nor did the war interfere unduly with his passion; as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he was captured after the fall of Crete in 1941 and it was in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany that he devised a Business Development Scheme for Fair Isle. Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann, published in 2012, is a fascinating account of how George and three other POWs formed a birdwatching society among fellow prisoners and even some camp guards. Much of the research for the book was carried out at Waterston House, with the author drawing on the Club’s extensive archive material including George’s diaries and letters.

Indeed, the Club’s library is the largest and most complete collection of ornithological books and journals in Scotland and is continuously updated with new titles from all over the world. It is open to all as a reference facility, with SOC members enjoying the added benefit of being able to borrow books. A children’s corner provides a selection of fun bird books and activity sheets.

The centre attracts around 10,000 visitors each year and has become a favourite spot for bird lovers, art aficionados, book collectors or those just seeking a tranquil and friendly environment to read, have a coffee or enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Since the building opened, the gallery has hosted over 60 exhibitions including work by many of the country’s leading wildlife artists and photographers.

In addition to the year-round programme of art shows, the venue runs a number of other events including a spring and autumn Optics Demo day, where visitors can try out a wide range of binoculars and telescopes; book launches; illustrated talks; and art and photography demos and workshops. Birdwatching for Beginners courses run throughout the year. These popular courses comprise blocks of four guided walks at key bird watching sites in the county.

As well as events and meetings organised by the SOC, the facility also serves as a regular meeting space for local groups such as the Aberlady Craft Group and Aberlady Bay Advisory Group, and has been hired by many other bird, environmental and art groups and organisations over the years.

The building has also had its fair share of celebrity visitors, with TV presenter and naturalist, Chris Packham swinging by in 2011, after giving a public lecture at the Queen’s Hall to mark the SOC’s 75th anniversary, and more recently a visit from David Lindo, aka the Urban Birder.

Well-known Scottish actors, Douglas Henshall and Bill Paterson were on site in 2013 when the building was hired by STV for the shooting of the TV adaptation of Ann Cleeve’s Shetland-based crime story, ‘Blue Lightening’, where Waterston House doubled up as Fair Isle Bird Observatory.

Out of the limelight, Waterston House serves the local community as an information centre and as a supplier of bird watching resources, such as bird food and feeders, field guides and optical equipment, as well as stocking a selection of bird-themed cards and gifts. A large area of the shop is given over to second hand natural history books, including collectable titles.

It’s not just the building’s interior that continues to attract visitors; the garden has become a much-admired feature of the site, particularly in the summer when the wildflower meadows and borders are awash with colour and buzzing with life. Over 100 species of bird have been recorded from the centre, with around 60 seen within the grounds. The timber structure provides excellent nest sites for visiting Swallows each year, which can be seen hunting for insects over the pond. Regular moth surveys led by John Harrison (East Lothian Council Countryside Ranger Service) have revealed staggering results: in the period May-August last year, over 1500 moths were caught and 139 different species identified, including a first for Scotland – a Large Twin-Spot Carpet. The garden is maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers, who were treated to an impromptu visit earlier this year by yet another well kent face – George Anderson from the BBC’s Beechgrove Gardens.

The building’s anniversary coincides with one of the county’s wildlife spectacles – the arrival of thousands of Pink-footed Geese, which make the long journey from their breeding grounds in Iceland to spend the winter in the UK, with Aberlady Bay a long established pit stop. A programme of SOC Goose Watch events runs from 1st October, in collaboration with East Lothian Council Countryside Ranger Service.

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Waterston House, SOC headquarters, was officially opened on 1st October 2005 by Magnus Magnusson, best known for his unforgettable role as question master on BBC’s Mastermind programme.

The Club’s previous base for forty years had been at 21 Regent Terrace in central Edinburgh. This was expensive to maintain and was too small for meetings and events so the Trustees decided to find a suitable site for a new, purpose-built HQ that would enable the organisation to better pursue its charitable objectives, including the promotion of an interest in birds and providing a focus for those seeking information about Scotland’s birdlife. Aberlady offered the ideal location, with the nearby local nature reserve providing a major year-round bird watching venue.

The building was designed by Jenny Humphries of Simpson & Brown, and the majority of the materials were donated. The frame was made from Scottish timber from Drumnadrochit, oak and slate came from Aberfoyle, and cement from Dunbar. The splendid frame is held together by oak pegs and is made entirely from Douglas Fir. Superglass, Stirling, donated all the building’s insulation, interestingly made from old car windscreens. While the bulk of capital required for the purchase of the site and the construction came from the sale of 21 Regent Terrace, an appeal to Club members raised over £30,000, which included considerable match funding by the CALA Group. The Club was also grateful for the kindness shown by the Wemyss and March Estates Factor and Lord Wemyss himself, who sold the SOC the plot of land at a favourable price.

The building was named after George Waterston. Edinburgh-born George was the fifth of that name in the direct descent from the George Waterston who in 1752 had founded the venerable firm of printers and stationers. George was expected to join the family firm as a matter of course; indeed, he gave it a whirl for a time, but his heart was elsewhere – birds, and specifically the birds of Fair Isle, halfway between the Orkneys and Shetland. The island became his lifelong passion. George first visited Fair Isle in September 1935, at the age of 24, and returned every summer until the outbreak of war in 1939. By then he had become Honorary Secretary of the SOC, which he had helped to found in 1936. However, nor did the war interfere unduly with his passion; as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he was captured after the fall of Crete in 1941 and it was in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany that he devised a Business Development Scheme for Fair Isle. Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann, published in 2012, is a fascinating account of how George and three other POWs formed a birdwatching society among fellow prisoners and even some camp guards. Much of the research for the book was carried out at Waterston House, with the author drawing on the Club’s extensive archive material including George’s diaries and letters.

Indeed, the Club’s library is the largest and most complete collection of ornithological books and journals in Scotland and is continuously updated with new titles from all over the world. It is open to all as a reference facility, with SOC members enjoying the added benefit of being able to borrow books. A children’s corner provides a selection of fun bird books and activity sheets.

The centre attracts around 10,000 visitors each year and has become a favourite spot for bird lovers, art aficionados, book collectors or those just seeking a tranquil and friendly environment to read, have a coffee or enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Since the building opened, the gallery has hosted over 60 exhibitions including work by many of the country’s leading wildlife artists and photographers.

In addition to the year-round programme of art shows, the venue runs a number of other events including a spring and autumn Optics Demo day, where visitors can try out a wide range of binoculars and telescopes; book launches; illustrated talks; and art and photography demos and workshops. Birdwatching for Beginners courses run throughout the year. These popular courses comprise blocks of four guided walks at key bird watching sites in the county.

As well as events and meetings organised by the SOC, the facility also serves as a regular meeting space for local groups such as the Aberlady Craft Group and Aberlady Bay Advisory Group, and has been hired by many other bird, environmental and art groups and organisations over the years.

The building has also had its fair share of celebrity visitors, with TV presenter and naturalist, Chris Packham swinging by in 2011, after giving a public lecture at the Queen’s Hall to mark the SOC’s 75th anniversary, and more recently a visit from David Lindo, aka the Urban Birder.

Well-known Scottish actors, Douglas Henshall and Bill Paterson were on site in 2013 when the building was hired by STV for the shooting of the TV adaptation of Ann Cleeve’s Shetland-based crime story, ‘Blue Lightening’, where Waterston House doubled up as Fair Isle Bird Observatory.

Out of the limelight, Waterston House serves the local community as an information centre and as a supplier of bird watching resources, such as bird food and feeders, field guides and optical equipment, as well as stocking a selection of bird-themed cards and gifts. A large area of the shop is given over to second hand natural history books, including collectable titles.

It’s not just the building’s interior that continues to attract visitors; the garden has become a much-admired feature of the site, particularly in the summer when the wildflower meadows and borders are awash with colour and buzzing with life. Over 100 species of bird have been recorded from the centre, with around 60 seen within the grounds. The timber structure provides excellent nest sites for visiting Swallows each year, which can be seen hunting for insects over the pond. Regular moth surveys led by John Harrison (East Lothian Council Countryside Ranger Service) have revealed staggering results: in the period May-August last year, over 1500 moths were caught and 139 different species identified, including a first for Scotland – a Large Twin-Spot Carpet. The garden is maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers, who were treated to an impromptu visit earlier this year by yet another well kent face – George Anderson from the BBC’s Beechgrove Gardens.

The building’s anniversary coincides with one of the county’s wildlife spectacles – the arrival of thousands of Pink-footed Geese, which make the long journey from their breeding grounds in Iceland to spend the winter in the UK, with Aberlady Bay a long established pit stop. A programme of SOC Goose Watch events runs from 1st October, in collaboration with East Lothian Council Countryside Ranger Service.

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    [title] => Hen Harrier Day - 9 August 2015
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The SOC is a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and many of our members have made significant contributions to the long term recording of birds of prey in Scotland. Over many years, our journal Scottish Birdshas regularly featured articles that have illustrated the extent of raptor persecution in our country, and our members’ fieldwork for local and national atlases has further demonstrated the extent of the problems our birds of prey face.

Raptors remain very scarce in areas of seemingly ideal habitat in upland areas in the east and south of Scotland, with the Hen Harrier a rare species in these parts. In fact, the last national survey showed a 20% decline in the population of this species in Scotland.

The SOC is therefore proud to be a supporter of Hen Harrier Day on 9th August, and urges our members, supporters, friends and followers to take part as well.

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The SOC is a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and many of our members have made significant contributions to the long term recording of birds of prey in Scotland. Over many years, our journal Scottish Birdshas regularly featured articles that have illustrated the extent of raptor persecution in our country, and our members’ fieldwork for local and national atlases has further demonstrated the extent of the problems our birds of prey face.

Raptors remain very scarce in areas of seemingly ideal habitat in upland areas in the east and south of Scotland, with the Hen Harrier a rare species in these parts. In fact, the last national survey showed a 20% decline in the population of this species in Scotland.

The SOC is therefore proud to be a supporter of Hen Harrier Day on 9th August, and urges our members, supporters, friends and followers to take part as well.

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    [id] => 3235
    [title] => Satellite Tagging Young Kestrels
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As part of the ongoing work to try and understand why the kestrel has declined so rapidly in Scotland, Gordon Riddle has set up a project to satellite tag six young kestrels with the help of Dave Anderson and Roy Dennis.

Two birds from each of three broods in his main study area on the Ayrshire/Dumfries & Galloway border were tagged in the last week of June just prior to fledging. It is hoped that the information gathered will build on the ringing recovery data collected over the past 40 years from his long term monitoring programme.

One of the six birds, a young male, has been sponsored by the SOC (made possible by a legacy donation from one of our members in combination with support from the Club’s Endowment  Fund) and named ‘George’ after George Waterson, a founding member of the SOC.

All six birds have now fledged and their progress will be reported on Gordon’s website www.riddle-kestrel.com as the data is regularly downloaded. This is probably the first time common kestrels has been satellite tagged in Europe though work has been done in the past on the lesser kestrel’s migration patterns.

Pictured: The tiny 5gram tag (top). Gordon Riddle with ‘George’ after the tag has been fitted.

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As part of the ongoing work to try and understand why the kestrel has declined so rapidly in Scotland, Gordon Riddle has set up a project to satellite tag six young kestrels with the help of Dave Anderson and Roy Dennis.

Two birds from each of three broods in his main study area on the Ayrshire/Dumfries & Galloway border were tagged in the last week of June just prior to fledging. It is hoped that the information gathered will build on the ringing recovery data collected over the past 40 years from his long term monitoring programme.

One of the six birds, a young male, has been sponsored by the SOC (made possible by a legacy donation from one of our members in combination with support from the Club’s Endowment  Fund) and named ‘George’ after George Waterson, a founding member of the SOC.

All six birds have now fledged and their progress will be reported on Gordon’s website www.riddle-kestrel.com as the data is regularly downloaded. This is probably the first time common kestrels has been satellite tagged in Europe though work has been done in the past on the lesser kestrel’s migration patterns.

Pictured: The tiny 5gram tag (top). Gordon Riddle with ‘George’ after the tag has been fitted.

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    [id] => 3236
    [title] => SCOTTISH BIRD NEWS – PROPOSED DIGITISATION
    [alias] => 31scottish-bird-news-proposed-digitisation
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From 1986 to 2009 Scottish Bird News ran for 91 issues and included all manner of articles and Club news from headquarters and the branches. It is an important record of the Club’s activities over that period and we would now like to make that record more widely available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

The BHL whose main partners in the UK are the Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, has become the world’s main free archive of digitised natural history literature, and has established itself as a leading online research library. If you don’t already know it, you should have a look – it offers free access to a vast amount of historical books and journals, including the Scottish Naturalist and the Annals of Scottish Natural History through to 1922, the Proceedings of the Glasgow Natural History Society, rare books by Pennant, Harvie-Brown, MacGillivray and much more. By adding Scottish Bird News to the BHL we hope this will allow more people around the world to find and read our past newsletters.

SOC Council has endorsed this proposal, but authors, photographers and artists originally submitted their articles and other material to Scottish Bird News for print publication, mostly before the idea of digital access came along. It is now impracticable or impossible to trace all the individual contributors or their legal representatives but we believe that most or all would be happy to see their work now reaching new and wider audiences to the overall benefit of Scottish natural history.

If any copyright holder does not wish to have their material included in free digital access, they are asked to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss this with us as soon as possible, preferably before 1 December 2015. Arrangements are in place to have material excluded from web access where necessary.

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From 1986 to 2009 Scottish Bird News ran for 91 issues and included all manner of articles and Club news from headquarters and the branches. It is an important record of the Club’s activities over that period and we would now like to make that record more widely available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

The BHL whose main partners in the UK are the Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, has become the world’s main free archive of digitised natural history literature, and has established itself as a leading online research library. If you don’t already know it, you should have a look – it offers free access to a vast amount of historical books and journals, including the Scottish Naturalist and the Annals of Scottish Natural History through to 1922, the Proceedings of the Glasgow Natural History Society, rare books by Pennant, Harvie-Brown, MacGillivray and much more. By adding Scottish Bird News to the BHL we hope this will allow more people around the world to find and read our past newsletters.

SOC Council has endorsed this proposal, but authors, photographers and artists originally submitted their articles and other material to Scottish Bird News for print publication, mostly before the idea of digital access came along. It is now impracticable or impossible to trace all the individual contributors or their legal representatives but we believe that most or all would be happy to see their work now reaching new and wider audiences to the overall benefit of Scottish natural history.

If any copyright holder does not wish to have their material included in free digital access, they are asked to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss this with us as soon as possible, preferably before 1 December 2015. Arrangements are in place to have material excluded from web access where necessary.

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22 November 2016

Jack Gordon’s Birds of Wigtownshire (1890 – 1935) published at last!

A book about the birds of...


20 July 2016

The SOC is a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and many of our members have made...

19 July 2016
Norman Elkins, Jim Reid and Allan W. Brown

Published by the Fife Ornithological Atlas Group and the...

11 April 2016
JUST LAUNCHED: SOC HIGHLAND BRANCH WEBSITE 11 April 2016

We’re pleased to announce details of the SOC Highland...

15 March 2016
* Apologies – the 2017 course application deadline has now passed * Saturday 1st – Saturday 7th July
13 January 2016

The ‘Birds of Caithness’ DVD was published in December 2015 by Caithness SOC.  It is the distillation...

01 October 2015

Waterston House, SOC headquarters, was officially opened on 1st October 2005 by Magnus Magnusson, best known for...

28 July 2015

The SOC is a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and many of our members have made...

28 July 2015

As part of the ongoing work to try and understand why the kestrel has declined so rapidly in Scotland, Gordon Riddle...

27 July 2015

From 1986 to 2009 Scottish Bird News ran for 91 issues and included all manner of articles and Club news...

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