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Caithness News Bulletins July 2003

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Dounreay Visitor Centre Dounreay News Caithness Visitor Centres, Museums Etc

Tour  guides at the Dounreay Visitor Centre know all about the fast breeder reactor programme that turned the site into a household name. But  they  learned  quickly  about a very different type of breeder when an Oystercatcher  decided  to  nest  in  a  flower-tub  at the entrance to the centre.

The nest has been a real talking point for almost 3000 people who've walked past  the flower-tub to go through the doors of the visitor centre since it opened in the Spring.

With  the  goodwill  of visitors and vigilance of the tour guides, the nest was left undisturbed, letting two healthy chicks hatch.

Tina  Wrighton,  who  manages  the  visitor centre, said: "It's been a real surprise  for  our  visitors  when they realised they were walking past the nesting site of such a beautiful bird.

"The  staff really took the bird and her chicks under their wing. We've had one  of  our  busiest  starts  to a season for many years, with some pretty large  groups  such  as  school-children visiting the centre, and the staff went out their way to make sure the nest stayed undisturbed."

Norrie  Russell,  who  manages  the  RSPB  reserve  at  nearby Forsinard in Sutherland,  said:  "Oystercatchers  seem  to delight in selecting odd nest sites  such  as  flat-roofed  buildings.   The  hollowed-out  tops of fence strainer posts are a big favourite in Caithness, but a flower tub in such a public place is certainly the strangest one I have come across.

"Anything  that  looks  vaguely  like  a pebbly beach, which their eggs are perfectly  designed  to  mimic, is normally attractive to them.  Of all the waders  they  are the bold and brash brigade, with their bright plumage and orange  beak  and  they  have  expanded their range enormously in the UK by colonising  inland  farmland  and riversides in the last 50 years.  Mussels and  other coastal foods are in rather short supply in such areas and these intelligent  birds,  which  can  live  for  well over 30 years in age, have adapted to new sources of invertebrates in the grasslands".