Saws and Spades

Well as you’d expect the autumn colours are still starring in this week’s blog. The stunning Rowan reds and Aspen yellows are bringing us a lot of joy on site.

I’m getting inspired for the upcoming Autumn Woodland Arts events with the colours. The 16th is now fully booked but there are still spaces left for Tuesday the 23rd of October if you hurry! From 2 till 4pm we’ll be heading out into the woods, collecting and identifying tree leaves and creating a big piece of art. Book now to avoid disappointment by phoning 01339 881667 or email Karen.mcdonald@nature.scot

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Tree leaves

The picture above of tree leaf examples of the species found at Dinnet Oakwood is courtesy of a fellow naturalist; thanks for letting me use this! Such a simple but stunning example of art that can be created using autumn leaves.

We were very lucky with the weather this past weekend when the Aberdeen University Conservation Society joined us on Saturday to help clear a large area of dry Heath of tree saplings. 18 folk turned up to help with a job that seems very daunting with just two people but turned into a very successful and enjoyable job with the work split between so many of us. This work is necessary to stop our Heath, important for the Bearberry plant, from turning into woodland. We were pulling and cutting, primarily Scots Pine saplings, some were very hard to spot.

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Thanks Conservation Society for the pictures!

It was a long, tiring day in the gorgeous sunshine.

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We needed a lie down!

This habitat may seem like it’s quite empty and like not much could thrive…

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However our dry heath is dominated by heather and bearberry (bearberry is usually found above 250m but is below 200m at Muir of Dinnet) and rich in plant species such as intermediate wintergreen, petty whin and stone bramble. Muir of Dinnet supports the 4th largest area of bearberry in Scotland.

Bearberry flower

Bearberry flower

Through the work day I spooked a Woodcock and a Brown Hare that had been hunkered down for the day in the Heather (sorry to both). On Monday evening when I was visiting the Heath I also spotted 3 magnificent Red Deer! I can only imaging they were admiring our handiwork in the many strewn tree saplings. Although it is unusual to spot these deer so low down we get them just up the hill behind the visitor centre so it’s not a huge distance for them to travel for the heather and young trees to chew on. Now that their source of Oak, Birch and Rowan leaves are falling away for the winter they will rely much more on alternative food sources. I am gutted I didn’t have the camera with me as they must have been less than 100m away and hung about for a bit. But here’s a slightly blurry video and picture caught by our camera traps just to prove they are here.

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Red Deer

I was speaking to one of our local residents and regular visitors about the Red Deer and he said he once had an encounter driving along the Tarland road when he had to stop and wait for 17 Red deer to calmly cross the road! What a sight! Do be careful driving to and from places at the normal commuting times now; as it’s darker at these times the deer species are much more likely to be active and potential hazards on the road.

It’s been getting colder and quieter on the reserve this past month so we’ve been moving on to the end of year tasks. One of these includes turfing over the fire pits we’d like to become grass again and maintaining the fire pits we want to stay for safe campfires. It’s a very satisfying job to see how much cleaner the place looks afterwards. It’s also lovely to be digging and having the Robins follow you about for the inevitable worms.

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Neat little fire pit

You can see how much bigger the fire pit above was before! Not so safe.

Finally here is an absolutely stunning wasp…don’t scroll down if you don’t want to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I struggle to understand why people hate these little fellows. I mean look at that fuzzy face! It’s certainly worth being wary of these creatures but as long as you give them space in the summer months and be careful when carrying sweet things coming into autumn they pose no threat. I mean this time of year they’ve been kicked out from home, lost their structured life and food is all they have left…I think the students might relate….

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Storms and Singing Swans – Muir of Dinnet NNR

I love the autumn. I love the sense of change that’s in the air; the comings and goings of the birds, the changing colours of the trees, the wild fruit, the first nip of frost. And I think the reserve looks at its best at this time of year. The autumn colours are at their height right now and will be at their best for no more than the next fortnight, tops- assuming the wind doesn’t strip the trees more quickly than that.

The road to the visitor centre

Autumn colours

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Gold trees, blue sky

Golden birch

The rowans and the geans have produces a real blaze of red leaves this autumn. Maybe it’s because of the hot, dry summer – I remember , in 2003, when we had a dry summer, the autumn colours were spectacular that year too.

Rowan

If you want the science bit, the reds and yellows in the leaves are caused by pigments in the leaves being revealed at the tree loses its chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green stuff in leaves that make them green, and converts sunlight into energy for the tree. It’s packed full of nitrogen- which is food for the tree – so the trees re-absorb the nitrogen as the chlorophyll breaks down. This reveals other pigments in the leaves, with anthocyanins giving them their red colour and carotenoids their yellows.

Red rowan

The trees will turn even more quickly now ; we had our first hard frost on Friday. From now on, it’s likely that clear nights will result in all the grass being grey with frost in the morning and an extra layer of clothing being required for working outside!

Frosty birch leaf

We’ve had our first winter visitors back on the reserve, too. There is still the odd swallow around – I saw one on Thursday – but they will depart within days and the Thursday bird could well be the last one of the year. Already they are being replaced by other birds, fleeing south (just like the swallows) for the winter. The first pink-footed geese passed overhead in mid- September but this week has marked to return of birds that may well hang around for much of the winter. We first became aware of them when we were clearing up some fallen trees.

Snapped birch

The past 10 days have been hard upon the trees. The autumn gales have come quite early this year and have hit while the trees are still in leaf. The leafy crown of the tree acts like a sail, catching the wind, and the trees have been buffeted about so much that a number have snapped off. We’ve been pretty lucky – most have had the courtesy not to land on the paths – but, inevitably, there were a few to clear up.

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All cleared up

As we were clearing one away from the Little Ord route, we heard a sound drifting through the trees. Karen and I looked at one another.  Was it? Yes! It was! It was the first “whoop, whoop” of the winter, signaling the whooper swans were back from Iceland.

Whooper swans

After disposing of the tree, we heading down to Loch Davan and, sure enough, there were seven whoopers there. They were being threatened by the resident mute swans but were largely ignoring them. I often think of this as “look, mate, we’ve just flown across the North Atlantic. We’re having a rest and feed here, whether you like it or not, Now, jog on!”

The resident mute swans aren’t happy about the whoopers dropping in

Of the seven swans, four were this year’s youngsters. That must have been quite a first migration for them! They looked pretty sleepy – their heads start to droop and they really just look like they’re nodding off. Then, it’s head-under-the-wing time and -finally -nap time. Most whoopers make the journey from Iceland without a break and, after around 20 hours non-stop flying, I reckon they deserve their nap!

Nodding off…

Swan yawn!

Nap time for the kids

Sleepy juvenile whooper

Phew. Migration achieved. Time for a nap!

We also had our first redwings back on Thursday. Well, I say “redwings” but it was just one bird, which is quite unusual as you normally see them in flocks. Maybe this one took advantage of the northerly wind to hop the North Sea before all the rest….but they will arrive soon. So, if you visit us this weekend, keep an ear out for their “tseep” call and see if you can’t spot this handsome visitor from the north.

Redwing

 

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The Reserve Assistant

As you might have seen from our last blog, or Facebook page, we recently hosted a group of Europarc delegates (from European nature reserves/ parks/ other organisations) who were in Scotland for this year’s Europarc conference. I was present as a representative of young people working in Scotland’s National Nature Reserves and for Scottish Natural Heritage. After talking so much about how I got to where I am now I thought it might be a nice, rambling blog. So here goes…

 

I left School, as many people do, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I knew Biology was my favourite subject so off I went to study zoology at Aberdeen University. After being cooped up in lectures for four years (nah, really interesting and enjoyable lectures) I wanted to get out and do something practical and in the great outdoors with my degree. I had my first opportunity to gain experience volunteering for the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) as a residential volunteer living on site for 6 months. I was based at Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire and worked mainly at this site but also at the other nearby NTS properties. I got some great experience doing path maintenance, tree checks (checking for unsafe trees by paths) and placing waymarkers. Waymarkers? They are the usually wooden posts along paths that mark the route. These are much bigger than they appear and are actually half buried in the ground. I became a very accomplished waymark hole digger…

 

Waymarker Hole

After this I did another 6 months of residential volunteering for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) at the North England Saltholme nature reserve. This site is a weird and wonderful nature refuge, surrounded by big industry.

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They have Shetland sheep on site for conservation grazing purposes (maintaining meadows). So I got to cuddle (and wrestle) a few sheep as we kept them healthy with nail trims, shearing and worming treatments.

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I completed a lot of team practical jobs in this role; a large amount of the work centered on vegetation management. Then there was the species monitoring jobs; butterfly surveys, water vole surveys and bird counts. There were also opportunities to be creative with making signs.

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After this I started seasonal contract work; this current post at Muir of Dinnet is the 3rd seasonal job I’ve had in the area conservation and outdoor education.  Leading guided walks, events for families, talking to people about responsible use of the site (under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code) and practical path maintenance have been my main duties. As anyone who has ever been to Muir of Dinnet will know; this is a beautiful and interesting place to visit (and work). We have so many different habitats to explore, that provide living space for varied wildlife!

Scots Pine, Aspen and Silver Birch trees make up the majority of the woodland at Muir of Dinnet. These provide homes for Scottish Crossbill and Red Squirrel.

 

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Loch Kinord

Bogs and Lochs on the site are important for Otter, Dragonfly and Damsleflies and bird species.

 

The heaths on the site are important for Kentish Glory moths and Capercaillies

 

The pictures above are all pictures I have taken since starting my role here. The varied work and amazing natural spaces are why I love my job. But I do tend to get blank stares when I give my job title or try to explain what I do. It is such varied work that it can be hard to get your head around. Our regular readers will have a good idea of what myself and Cat do but others…not so much. I get quite jealous of the American Park Rangers who are so well known and respected. Much of the Scottish ranger/ warden/ reserve workers job concerns litter, preventing wildfires, maintaining natural sites and promoting peoples use and enjoyment of our natural places. I see this as essential work; important for the physical and mental health of everyone, protecting our natural resources and protecting our iconic species that make us happy just by their presence. But even though our work connects us to so many people our jobs are still not well known.

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So please support your local rangers (wherever you are in the world); participate in events, pick up litter if you can or report it, and use sites responsibly. 

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Path Maintenance

 

 

 

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North and South – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Hello folks. Just back after a week’s holiday and straight into preparing for the Europarcs visit. Europarcs is, as the name suggests, and organisation of people working in protected areas – like NNRS or National Parks…across Europe. This year, the Cairngorms National Park was hosting a get-together and the delegates visited Muir of Dinnet and Glen tanar on Thursday. It was really interesting to chat over the issues surrounding nature conservation with people in other countries and find that we’re not alone.

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Euorparcs delegates

One of the things that is said in Europarcs is that “nature knows no boundaries”. Now, my holiday last week was in Iceland. I promise, I’m not just writing this into the blog just  to brag about having been in Iceland (though it was pretty fantastic) but rather to mention how….familiar some of the wildlife was. It’s so very easy to think of “our” wildlife on “our” nature reserves, but visiting sometimes going elsewhere brings home to just how international wildlife is. It doesn’t recognise NNR boundaries…or even international ones….all wildlife looks for is somewhere good to live, breed and feed. And the birch forests in Iceland are the breeding grounds of thousands of redwings.

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We’re used to seeing redwings here, any time from late September onwards. For us, they are winter birds, fleeing the cold….and most of the ones we see here are from Scandinavia rather than Iceland (the Iclandic birds tend to winter west of here). Here, they are “wind thrushes”, blown in on the storms of autumn…but, in Iceland, they are “Skógarþröstur”, forest thrushes. Though I was aware they bred in birch forest, I couldn’t picture it in my head. In Iceland, your birch forest is no more than head high, the trees stunted by the cold. The Icelanders say “what do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up….”. They still have the same autumn colours as our trees…but you don’t get a crick in your neck looking at them.

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Birch forest in Iceland

These trees harbour thousands of redwings. You see them everywhere, including this year’s young bird. It won’t be long until this fledged youngster needs to make the jump across the North Atlantic.

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Juvenile redwing

A lot of these birds travel by night, at least in part using the stars to navigate. Mind you, they might be travelling under different skies than the ones we’re used to seeing!

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Another bird that makes the jump to Scotland is the pink-footed goose… the Heiðagæs” (heath goose). These birds were gathering in the fertile south-west of Iceland, ready to make the long hop across the sea. Some are back already but I bet a lot will arrive in the next few days on the northerly winds.

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Pink-foot goose

Loads of whooper swans (alft or svanur)  were also gathering in the south-west. The fertile farmland here provides them with good feeding and fattening up before their migration. It’s also one of the places with the shortest crossing to Scotland.

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It was a real pleasure and privilege to see some of this wildlife in a setting other then I’m used to. However wonderful and precious our NNRs are, they can’t look after wildlife all by themselves, and it does no harm to be reminded that we’re all linked in the huge, invisible, wondrous web of life on this mad, beautiful planet of ours!

Whooper family in flight

Whooper swan family in flight

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Migrating geese

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In Your Back garden – Guest Blog -Muir of Dinnet NNR

This week, we have a guest blog from Chair of the NE Biodiversity Partnership, Ewen Cameron, about wildlife in your back garden and what you can do to help it. Thanks Ewen.

After another wonderful Summer of wildlife at Dinnet we are already beginning to anticipate the coming Winter.   For several days now, geese that have bred and raised their young in the far north of Europe have started arriving at Dinnet and elsewhere here in the north-east of Scotland.

1 migrating geese

These geese will spend a lot of time roosting on the lochs and feeding in the fields around the reserve, but it is worth reminding you that there are things we can all do to welcome winter wildlife visitors to your garden, your farm, your schools grounds – no matter how small the space you have available.   I was driving through the village of Tarland recently and saw this concrete “raised bed” on what had been the forecourt of a former petrol station.   Now it has been sown with wildflowers – what a simple and clever idea.

2 wildflower bed in Tarland

When helping wildlife, most people will immediately think of bird feeders and, if you didn’t give them a good clean at the end of last Winter, now is a good time to make sure they are washed in hot soapy water to reduce the risk of birds picking up germs from old poo on the feeders.   You can get all sorts of bird feeders and for this type, all the space you need is the outside of a window to stick it on to

3 Blue tit in window bird feeder

Of course it’s not just about buying bird food in Winter.   The way you approach gardening generally will make a big difference to wildlife throughout the year.   I always try to use things like forest bark instead of gravel or paving stones where I can.  As you can see here I do have a paving stone path, but at the side and around the raised beds, I’ve put down bark and you can see that the birds, probably blackbirds have been searching through it for some bugs and beasties to eat.   It would be grand if they would put the bark back when they have finished, but I so enjoy watching them enthusiastically “wheeching” it around, I really don’t mind the few minutes it takes me to sweep it off the path.

4 forest bark next path

I’ve also noticed in the last few days that the robins are back in the garden serenading me as I dead-head the buddliea to make sure the bumblebees and butterflies get the benefit of every last nectar laden flower.

5 bumblebee on buddliea

I am lucky enough to have room to squeeze one gean (or wild cherry) tree into my garden.   It was smothered in flowers in the Spring, which the bumblebees loved, and the birds have eaten most of the geans and now I can see the little piles of stones that wood mice have been chewing into to get at the soft, nutritious seed.   These little round holes in the stones are typical of they way wood mice tackle the problem.   And that’s what I call a good wildlife tree – providing food and shelter almost all year round.

6 cherry stones tackled by woodmice

In a corner of my garden, I have a pile of wood, twigs and leaves which I add to every year.   Sometimes I use the well rotted leaves as compost for potting up bulbs, but the pile  is also home to some of the wood mice and probably a hedgehog too.   All taking advantage of the protection the pile provides from the neighbourhood cats.   And the hedgehogs will be foraging around the garden at night eating some slugs.

7 log pile

I don’t want to give the impression that my garden is totally devoted to wildlife.   My wife and I grow strawberries and peas, courgettes, beans and all sorts of herbs   It’s just we enjoy seeing birds and bumblebees, frogs, butterflies and even a wood mouse or two.   Sharing some of our produce with them is a very small price to pay for the pleasure of their company.

8 Crab apple tree

Having been brought up on a farm, I am continuously surprised that even economically important wildlife such as bumblebees and other pollinators are continuing to decline; all for the sake of a little habitat that would give them shelter and food.   If every garden, park, farm and school playground made just a little bit of space for these important links in the food production chain, farmers and growers could stop spending millions of pounds a year importing colonies of bumblebees from mainland Europe.   If we don’t improve the way in which we all manage the countryside, future generations will look back at us and think we were totally bonkers.

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Bee on Thyme

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Aspens and Froads

It’s been a quiet week in terms of wildlife but there’s been plenty to do! One of the main jobs this week has been tubing Aspen trees to expand our Aspen woodland on the reserve (one of the biggest in Scotland). Aspen trees are an uncommon habitat which is important for rare species such as the Aspen Hoverfly and the Aspen Bristle Moss.  So why do we need to cover them with tubes?

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Aspens with tree tubes

It’s to protect them against the rabbits and deer. Hopefully some will survive to the point they’re too big to be munched but these saplings are very vulnerable for the next few years.

Aspens are very interesting trees. Their scientific name is Populus tremula and their other common name is ‘quaking Aspen’ as the leaves will flutter at the lightest wind. This is because their rounded leaves are held by a flat stalk which catches the wind easily and twists. Hard to imagine but I gently twisted one of the leaves for a picture to give you a better idea.

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Flat Aspen leaf stalk

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Aspen leaf

Aspens can seed through catkins but the ones on the reserve have much more commonly been observed reproducing through suckers (this is usually the case with Northern bound Aspens). These are really just branches growing straight up from the ground at the base on near to a tree; think clone trees.

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Aspen base; a clone!

You can see in the base of this sucker that it’s more of a branch than a sapling,

Another job in the past week has been knocking back the last of the Himalayan Balsam and Monkey Flowers growing on Logieburn (the main burn which feeds into Loch Davan and from Loch Davan goes on to join the River Dee). These are invasive species that will take over river banks if left alone. With short root systems  this can lead to more erosion of riverbanks and a greater chance of flooding.

We have been pulling them up and laying them out of reach of the ground to dry out.

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Monkey Flower drying out

Bird counts on the Lochs have started seeing Greylag Geese numbers into the hundreds! Still no sign of any Whooper Swans or Pink footed Geese yet but thousands of Pink footed have been spotted by the coast.

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Not many at first glance but try counting them all!

Then of course writing this blog has been on the to-do-list. I’ve been looking at the statistics for our little blog and I’m extremely impressed by the number of readers we’ve had worldwide!

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Map of views to this blog over time!

I wonder if anyone knows anyone in Greenland, or any of the other un-viewed countries in the world? It would be amazing to get the whole map coloured in!

One of the star species here through the summer has been the frogs and toads. Even this week, visitors (and myself) have had fantastic close encounters. But they can be confused easily if you don’t look closely. Is it a frog, a toad….a froad…?

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Our visitor centre comments and sightings book

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Common Toad

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Toad so small!! (My pinky)

This little one is a Common Toad, you can tell from the warty skin and raised bumps behind the eyes (called parotoid glands; producing a toxin which makes them distasteful to predators).  Compare it to the Common Frog with smooth skin and patches behind the eyes.

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Common Frog

The Holly berries have also been appearing; the Mistle Thrush is known for energetically guarding the berries of holly in winter, to prevent other birds from eating them. These ones have still got a bit longer to go until they reach all their gorgeous red glory.

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Holly Berries

These are one of the few berries available to wildlife in the winter, so are an important food source to many birds (if they can get past the Mistle Thrushes) as well as small mammals. But still poisonous to us! The smooth leaves found at the tops of the holly trees are a winter snack for deer. Interestingly you can tell how much wildlife is nibbling on Holly trees by how many spiky to smooth leaves there are. Leaves become prickly in response to browsing. That’s why most of the smooth ones are higher up in the tree.

The Oak trees on the East shore of Loch Kinord are now getting heavy with Acorns! Did you know Acorns aren’t produced until a tree is at least 40 years old! Most acorns don’t get the chance to become trees as they’re far too tasty. But Red Squirrels and Jays help them by caching huge numbers of them (burying them as a food source for winter) and then forgetting where half were left…

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Acorns!

There have been a number of Common Hawkers flying past the visitor centre lately. I haven’t managed to get any pictures of the bright blue males but there was a very patient female who let me get a picture.

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Female Common Hawker Dragonfly

If you are interested in seeing what’s out and about on the reserve more regularly and finding out about the events being held here; like and follow our Facebook page! You can search for us as @muirofdinnetnnr

Facebook

 

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September Sun – Muir of Dinnet NNR

I really don’t think I can convince myself it’s summer anymore. The geese are on the move and there’s a distinct bite to the air in the mornings now. If you do want to pretend, you can tell yourself that the geese are just local or Scottish breeders gathering on the lochs – and, to be fair, you’d probably be right – but the forecast northerly winds this weekend may well bring the migratory geese in from Iceland.

The geese are on the move

The mornings definitely feel like autumn. There’s a cool crispness that makes your breath puff out in a white cloud and makes you want a jacket for the first time in months. But it’s not a good idea if it looks like a fine day, you’ll be sweltering by 10 o clock! The cool mornings mean a heavy dew fall and all the spiders’ webs are grey with water first thing.

Dew-covered spider’s web

But the days themselves have – mostly- been warm, sunny and clear. The slight coolness at this time of year means the air is clearer and all the colours seem really vivid. The hot dry summer has meant some of the trees are turning early and this rowan was positively glowing in the morning sun.

A very autumn-y looking rowan

The fungi are enjoying the warm but damp conditions. They are everywhere just now but the occasional rain shower can really change how they look. These three pictures show fly agarics looking quite different – and, yet again, shows that you have to be really careful with fungi ID.

Fly agaric mushroom

Fly agaric minus spots

A very washed out fly agaric

You can usually identify milkcaps quite easily and they are really common in the woods here. They often show concentric rings on top of the mushroom but the real trick is to break a small piece off. If it oozes a white liquid that looks like milk, then it’s a milkcap. They’re, for the most part, not edible …if you touched that “milk” to your tongue, it would be hot, acrid and bitter, and you’d start spitting in a most undignified fashion.

Milkcap

Unless you’re a slug, of course. This one has come a cross a real bounty –  a tipped-over mushroom. This has allowed the slug to  browse on the spore-rich gills of the mushroom.

Great black slug eating a mushroom

The dragonflies have had a good year, in terms of the weather, as it’s been warm enough to fly most days. But I wonder if the heat will have dried up a  lot of their breeding pools? Areas like the big ditch on Parkin’s Moss, which always hold water have been much in demand. The big common hawker males hold territories along the ditch and constantly patrol up and down to see off rival males. The edges of these territories often seem to overlap, and it’s okay if your neighbor is at the far end of his patrol when you’re in “his” patch. But when both dragons meet, there’s a rustle of wings as they each try and down each other into the ditch. It’s fascinating to watch but I didn’t have much luck photographing it – I tried for 15 minutes and wound up with a lot of pictures of an empty ditch, blurred dragonflies and a bootful of water from not watching my feet.

Common hawker. Just.

The males hold these territories as the females will come here to egg-lay, and then the male has a chance to mate. This female must have mated already as she was carefully depositing eggs in the edge of the ditch.

Common hawker egg-laying

Some males, if they can, will hang onto a female until she lays eggs. It makes sense from their perspective – if they let her go, she might find another mate and it might not be your offspring she produces! It’s why dogs or adders can stay locked together after mating, too.

Female egg laying with male clasping her

These black darter dragonflies were mating as well. Dragonflies often mate in this “wheel”  position and I was recently asked “So, how does that work, ‘cos he’s got hold of her head?” Well, the male transfers a packet of his sperm from his back end to half way along his body. This leaves his tail claspers free to grab the female, usually behind the head. She then curls her body under his to pick up the sperm. Simple, huh?

Black daters mating

Dragonflies are voracious predators of insects but they’re not the only thing that eats midgies out on the bog. Right now, Parkin’s Moss is covered in lots of sundews. They, too, seem to be having a good year and are hopefully catching lots and lots of biting things.

The bog has lots of sundew this year

Sundew

You can’t escape, even in the water! Dragonfly larvae are, if anything, even more voracious than the adults and can even take small fish. And the plants are out to get you, too. This is bladderwort, an aquatic insectivorous plant. Those little “bladders” on the plant are triggered by small things swimming past and suck in water and whatever passing invertebrate is there. Then it’s just a matter of digestion….

bladderwort

If you do come and see us this weekend, look out for the geese and all the wild fruits that are on the go. The rosehips look stunning in the autumn sun. Now, I’m sure none of you were wee so-and-sos who took the hairy seeds out of rosehips and used it as itching powder down the back of your friend’s necks?  Or are there a few reminiscent smiles out there…?

Rosehip

 

 

 

 

 

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Pollinator Buzz

Hurray, another themed monthly blog (I know; they’re a little bit scripted but excellent practice for me as a new blogger)! This blogs theme is pollinators. So what are pollinators? They’re animals that pollinate; they take the pollen from one plant and transport it to another of the same species so the plant can produce seeds/ baby plants…plantlets……

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Pollen, nectar and stamens (male part of flower that collects pollen) in the centre of the flower

The range of pollinator species might surprise you. Yes, there are bees, butterflies, and moths but did you know some beetles are pollinators? What about wasps? Flies too, they can pollinate! What about bats? OK, well not the bats we get in Britain but over 500 plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers globally. They include species of mango, banana, cocoa, guava and agave (used to make tequila). These plants are usually pale in colour (compared to the brightly coloured flowers bees are usually attracted to) and some of the pollinating bat species have evolved to be able to reach the plant nectar. For example, the tube-lipped nectar bat’s tongue is more than one and a half times the length of its body!

tube lipped

Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat

Back to Muir of Dinnet; we have definitely had a boost this year in the number of Hoverflies on the reserve. Mainly we’ve been seeing the Marmalade Hoverfly. These are a common native species but some year’s huge numbers can migrate over here from mainland Europe!

marmalade hov

Marmalade Hoverfly

In terms of the bumblebee pollinators we have frequent sightings of Buff tailed bumblebees and common carder bees on the site.

carder bee on bugle

A common carder bee feeding on bugle

Bumblebees are defined as large, hairy social bees which fly with a loud hum and live in small colonies underground. Not to be confused with the Honeybee.

Honey bee

Honey bee

There are hundreds of honeybees at Dinnet at the moment feeding on the heather. It’s lovely to see them buzzing over the purple flowers. Some of the heathland on the reserve we have to thank beekeepers in the 1970’s for. There was an accident involving a beekeeper, a smoke lamp and the fire brigade…

The Scotch Argus butterfly and the Peacock butterflies are still visible all over the reserve.

The wasps can also be seen. The wasps are starting to get very annoying this time of year. If you have anything sweet near you look out! It’s because the queen has stopped releasing the pheromone that makes them work in order to kick them out of the hive for the winter (only the queens survive the winter by hibernating). Usually the worker wasps collect caterpillars and other nibbles for the larvae, then the larvae produce a sweet saliva for the workers to eat (their digestive tract struggles with anything more than liquid sugar – picture that narrow wasp waist). But now they have no life purpose and are hungry… I always feel a bit sorry for them this time of year knowing that they are just going to starve or freeze to death in the near future. But then they start circling your head when you’re trying to eat and you feel less sorry all of a sudden!

Wasp

Wasp

The above example species we get at Muir of Dinnet are all insects (6 legs, usually 2 pairs of wings and bodies divided into 3 parts). I found out recently that the word “insect” comes from the Latin word insectum meaning “cut into” because insects appear to be cut into 3 sections. Such a blindingly obvious fact as I heard it but still interesting and great to know.

About 87% of flowering plants are pollinated by animals; the other 13% of flowering plants are mostly pollinated by wind. This and other facts like:

  • Without bees, hoverflies and other insects visiting flowers, there would be no strawberries, apples, avocados, chocolate, cherries, olives, blueberries, carrots, grapes, pumpkins, pears, cotton, plums or peanuts.
  • It is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination.
  • One out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends on pollination taking place!

This makes you realise how important our little pollinators are. Currently half of our 27 bumblebee species are in decline. Two-thirds of our moths and 71% of our butterflies are in long term decline. BUT there are long term plans in motion to help. The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland was created by Scottish Natural Heritage in collaboration with the Scottish Government to:

  1. Make Scotland more pollinator-friendly, halting and reversing the decline in native pollinator populations.
  2. To improve our understanding of pollinators and their pollination service.
  3. To manage the commercial use of pollinators to benefit native pollinators.
  4. To raise awareness and encourage action across sectors.
  5. To monitor and evaluate whether pollinators are thriving.

Meanwhile there are some things you can do to help. You can grow your garden with pollinators in mind by planting pollinator enticing plants and by putting in shelter sites (think bug boxes). Click on the link for a PDF of the SNH gardening for pollinators leaflet for more tips and suggested plants https://www.nature.scot/sites/default/files/2018-06/SNH%20Gardening%20for%20Pollinators.pdf

You could also try recording the pollinators you see. You can send records to biological records centres such as NESBReC (North East Scotland Biological Records Centre) which covers Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City, Moray and the Cairngorms National Park. The following link will take you to the NESBReC recording page; http://www.nesbrec.org.uk/recording-services/

Or if you’re feeling committed you could set up a UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme FIT (Flower-Insect Timed) count. Not as scary as it sounds. It’s a simple 10 minute watch over a 1m square noting down pollinator species which you try to do a number of times through the summer months. The counts are done between April and September (so there’s still time!) and can be done anywhere with suitable flower species such as a garden, park or nature reserve. Follow this link for more information; https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/pollinator-monitoring

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Mushroom Magic – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Late August can be a quiet time of year for wildlife. In fact, late summer is one of the hardest times of year to blog, as it can seem like there’s very little going on. All the birds have finished breeding and are keeping their heads down as they moult, the autumn fruits aren’t quite ripe yet and the winter migrants haven’t arrived back from the north. But the thing that’s in most evidence just now is the fungi. With the weather finally producing some regular rain, mushrooms are popping up all over the reserve. They are fascinating things. neither plant nor animal, they are classed in a kingdom all of their own. And, though marshmallow soft, can drive their way through tarmac that even trees struggle with.

An unidentified mushroom, forcing its way through tarmac.

The ones everyone asks about are the red-and-white “fairy mushroom”. Fly agarics do just look like something out of a child’s picture book – red with white spots. But did you know that the spots can wash off in the rain? And that the red mushroom can bleach to a pale orange? This sort of thing is one of the reasons why identifying fungi needs care. There are a lot of kinds that look very similar- or don’t look like you imagine they would. And you really wouldn’t want to eat fly agaric by mistake -it gets its name from its use as a fly killer. The mushroom was crumbled into saucers of milk which the flies drank… then keeled over dead.

Fly agaric mushroom

Spotless! This fly agaric has lost its white spots, probably in the rain.

This mushroom looks a bit like a fly agaric. In fact, it looks like someone’s taken a fly agaric and removed all the red. It’s a close relative though, and is called the blusher. When it’s a bit older, it will develop an orange tint and any bruised area will bruise brownish-orange. It was only a small reddish bruise on the back of the cap that suggested this was indeed a blusher and not a panther cap…another spotty mushroom, and also toxic.

The Blusher

Another couple of similar-looking mushrooms are the chanterelle and false chanterelle. When they’re together, it’s possible to see the differences but apart, it’s not so easy. At least false chanterelle aren’t killers, though they can give you an upset stomach.

Chanterelle and false chanterelle side by side

Chanterelle

Probably one of the most prized mushrooms is the cep, or porcini mushroom. These are truly delicious, both fresh and dried. But the wildlife shares this opinion and you often find them nibbled by squirrels (the Dutch name “eekhoorntjesbrood ” means “squirrel’s bread”) or even deer. Although they can grow to a huge size (my hand span is 18cm, little finger to thumb), one this size wouldn’t be much good to eat. By the time they’re that big, they’re almost certainly riddled with  fungus gnat maggots…which puts most people off.

A rather tastier-looking cep

Huge cep!

Looking a bit like a cep, but with a more velvety cap and reddish stem is the dotted stem bolete. I wouldn’t advise trying to eat these; if you break off a piece of the cap, the yellow flesh instantly turns blue-black in reaction to air.

The dotted stem bolete ( Neoboletus luridiformis)

And this one is definitely no good to eat. It’s a cortinarius or webcap. You can often tell these by the cobweb-like attachment between the cap and the stem (which is called the ‘cortina’ hence, the scientific name). But this cortina is only usually present in young mushrooms, disappearing completely in older ones…which takes us back to the point about fungi being difficult to identify. If you are keen to learn, a good ID guide helps, but you’re best joining a local fungi group or going on guided walks.

Cortinarius mushroom, showing “cortina”

Away from the fungi, we had another visit from Simon and Obama from Pony Axe S. Although it was a bit bumpy and excitingly steep in places, we managed to get all four folk to the loch and some of them even saw some wildlife, in the shape of spotted flycatchers.  osprey and scotch argus butterflies.

Obama the pony, grass cutting for us.

Pony Axe S at Meikle Kinord

Enjoying the view over the loch.

As well as the arguses, there seem to have been plenty of small copper butterflies going around this week. These are one of my favourites- they are a truly glowing orange colour and photographs never do them justice.

Small copper butterfly

In the woods, the birds have formed mixed flocks that will persist over the winter. But they’ll lose some off their members by then…another month from now, there won’t be the soft “hooweet” that tells you there’s a willow warbler in the flock. They’ll be off to Africa for the winter.

Willow warbler

If you do come to the reserve this weekend, you’ll probably both hear and see buzzards. The young birds are quite funny…I always think of them as having voices that haven’t quite broken yet. So, instead of soaring magnificently with the evocative “keeeyoow” of a large raptor, they flap furiously after the adults, wheezing furiously. Listen out for them…it’s more of a “kee -squark” noise!

Buzzard

 

 

 

 

 

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Butterflies and Beasties – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been yet another cracking week on the reserve. Yes, we’ve had some rain….enough to make the grass grow, certainly… but plenty of sunshine too. There have been loads of butterflies around and, after the scotch arguses, the peacocks have been the one you’re most likely to see.

Peacock

Peacock butterfly

I was also delighted to see my first painted lady of the year on the reserve. These butterflies migrate, over several generations, from north Africa, following summer through Europe and arriving here in (usually) mid -to -late summer. There are still plenty of wildflowers here but they will probably have “gone over” or been scorched off with the heat further south.

Painted lady

Painted lady

The peacocks and the painted ladies look gorgeous, almost freshly minted. But the scotch arguses are well through their season now and are starting to look a bit sorry for themselves. This one was missing several chunks from its wings and is really looking rather worn.

scotch argus

Most of the scotch argus butterflies are looking worn by now.

Although we have had some rain, the ground is still really dry. This ditch is completely dry, for the first time ever. It’s often above waist deep in the winter and we’ve never seen it with no water in it.

P1110081

When we have had rain, all the frogs, toads and slugs have come out. Unfortunately, a lot of toads have been run over but their revenge is nigh … the road surface is really breaking up under the squashed corpses. Which will let in water, which will freeze and expand, which will break up the road even further … and hello, potholes!

sqashed toad

Squashed toad remains, lifting the road surface.

After the rain, there are slugs everywhere. Now, they’re not most people’s favourite animal -in fact, I doubt they’d make the top 100 – but the big black ones are quite useful. They’re not the ones that munch your garden, they’re detritivores – they eat detritus, dead plant material, even poo. So they’re useful in helping recycling in the natural world.

black slug

Life in slow-mo. A great black slug.

The slugs are easy to spot but other invertebrates are easy to miss. We hosted a Scottish Countryside Rangers training day on Tuesday, with the wonderful Dr Mark Young, looking at whatever beasties we could find. Spot of the day were these two froghoppers….would you have seen them on their branch?

froghoppers

Spot the froghoppers?

We also found various spiders and caterpillars and the galls left by the pine resin gall moth. I’ve been seeing these lumps on pine trees for years and never known what they are- until now.

Insect training day

SCRA insect training day

wolf spider with eggs

Crab spider

Crab Spider

oak egger caterpillar

Oak eggar moth caterpillar

pine resin gall moth

While we were insect hunting, we couldn’t help but find craneflies. Also known as daddy longlegs, they are everywhere in late summer, and the chances are you’ll have had some in the house, blundering gormlessly into lights and windows. But, if you look closely at one, you’ll see something interesting going on with their wings. They only have one pair of “proper” wings as the front but have these strange-looking lollipop-shaped structures where you’d expect another pair of wings behind them. These are called halteres and oscillate while the insect is flying, helping it to balance in flight.

cranefly

Cranefly, with halteres visible

One of the main reasons we see so many butterflies and other insects at this time of year is the abundance of food for them. A lot of these insects will be pollinators and will feed of nectar from flowers. As the heather is out just now, there is a lot of nectar on offer.

heather

Bonny purple heather

There are plenty of other flowers. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about bluebells …but they don’t have to be blue. We found some almost-white ones near Meikle Kinord this week.

white bluebell

White bluebell

Another easily overlooked flower is out just now, too. This is sneezewort, a close relative of yarrow. It’s quite toxic to grazing animals but has been used medicinally for millennia. It was often dried and powdered, then inhaled like snuff … usually resulting in a sneezing fit. Hence the name!

sneezewort

Sneezewort

The lochs are pretty quiet just now. All the ducks are in “eclipse” – they’ve moulted their breeding finery and are keeping their heads down. The most obvious residents of the lochs were the large family of mute swans pottering around feeding on the weed. They’ve done well to get seven cygnets to this size…as far as we know, they only lost one from the whole brood.

swan & cygnets

Three of the cygnets with male swan behind

swans

These swans have done well raising 7 cygnets this far

Another parent we spotted this week was the mum roe deer with her fawn. It’s unusual to see them with the youngsters -they’re so wary of predators they usually leg it as soon as you see them. But this female can’t have seen us and it was lovey to watch her interact with the youngster. She even cleaned its ears, resulting in much ear-flapping and head shaking. Muuuummmm! Gerroff!!!

roe deer

Mum and youngster

roe

Clean out your ears!

We’ll finish this week’s blog with a small plant that should be one of everyone’s favourites. Let me introduce you to the sundew …small, red, quite pretty in close up. But nothing special, right? Wrong! This wee plant is carnivorous and, if you look closely, you’ll see that this one has caught a cranefly. And, even closer to, all those black dots or smears on the leaves are probably the remains of midgies. Any plant that munches midgies or mozzies will definitely count as one of my favourites!

sundew

This sundew has captured a cranefly

Sundew

Sundew in close up

 

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