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Black throated diver 207012 Peter Cairns (rspb-images.com)24/02/2009

The haunting calls of the black-throated diver are part of the spirit of wild lochs beneath western Scottish mountains or in the heart of the massive bogs of Caithness, Sutherland and Lewis.

What to look for

If you see the shape of a large bird moving on the waters of an otherwise quiet loch in western Scotland, look closely. It could be a gull. But if it’s a black-throated diver, chances are that it will slip beneath the surface every so often, then re-appear in another spot after half a minute or more. In summer, look for the freckling of white feathers on the otherwise dark back.

Interesting facts

Sudden changes in water level can flood black-throated diver nests. Installation of floating ‘islands’ in some big lochs, which rise and fall with alterations in water, is a way that conservation bodies have helped to boost black-throat breeding success.

When and where to see

The black-throated diver is a scarce breeder - so don’t expect a high success rate when scanning large lochs along the west mainland and in the Hebrides. And never attempt to make a close approach to divers (which could disturb them). If possible, use a telescope for viewing. In winter, scan inshore waters and look for a bird with a long, sturdy bill, often tilted up.

For more information see the RSPB's black-throated diver page.