Muir of Dinnet NNR- Hot, Wet and Sticky

What a beautiful weekend we had. Sunny, warm and everything you’d want a summer’s day to be. The warm weather has brought the water lilies out early this year and they are already in full bloom. Often, it’s into July before they’re in full swing.

White water lily

Water lilies on Loch Kinord

Water lilies

The only blot on the horizon was the behavior of some visitors over the weekend. Unfortunately, the fine weather brings out the numpties as well as all the nice people, and we spent much of the weekend clearing up after them. To say we find this rather annoying is a bit like saying Atlantis had a minor problem with rising damp….grrr.

Why????

According to the national news, it was the  “hottest midsummer day for 40 years”. Not here it wasn’t…was anyone else making sarcastic comments to the telly at that point? I didn’t even catch all that report – it was drowned out by the rain on the roof…

Wet midsummer

It has been very humid here this week. The amphibians are loving it, as are the damselflies and dragonflies. In a sunny day, right by the loch, you can hardly take a step without kicking up several electric-blue damselflies. If you stop and watch them, you may see them settle. And lots of them are mating just now. This pair have formed a heart shape in their mating clinch.

Making a heart shape- mating common blue damselflies

The replies like basking, too.  The great thing about common lizards is, if they stay still and you zoom right in, they look like Godzilla in the picture- even if they are only 4 inches long.

Basking lizard in close up!

The humid nights are good for moths, too. You can sometimes find them “roosting” during the day, like this small emerald.

Small emerald moth

As all hay fever sufferers will know, the grass is just about at its height. It’s so deep you can hardly spot a deer in it. We only spotted this roebuck when he lifted his head. You can see his antlers are still growing and that he’s in “velvet” -the soft skin that covers growing antlers and supplies them with blood. Once the antlers are grown, the velvet will die off  and be thrashed off on small trees. Then his antlers will be ready for battle!

Roe buck in velvet

In fact, there were actually two deer. You can jut make out the second one in the background. But it never lifted its head and remained inconspicuous.

Can you spot roe deer no. 2?

Also inconspicuous are the new baby grebes ( not sure of the right term ….grebelings? Grebelets? Grebenets?) . We were beginning to wonder if the grebes had bred this year, before spotting a slightly odd-looking one on Loch Davan. After peering at it for ages, and convincing myself that no, it was just a bit ruffled from preening, a picture eventually revealed that the grebe was carrying at least one tiny chick on its back. You can just see the head sticking up in the picture.

Great crested grebe with a youngster on its back

While the grebe chicks are new, the lapwings are fledged. Here is one of this year’s chicks, fledged and capable of flight.

If you do visit the reserve this week, you’ll probably look at some of the plants and think of “Beauty and the Beast”. The beauties are the dog roses. These are in full flower and look lovely, whether in the commoner pink form or as the pure white “Jacobite” rose. Although we think often of them as just a pretty roadside shrub, they can be very long-lived and there is a record of one over 1000 years old in Germany.

Dog rose, pink form

Dog rose, white form

And the Beast? Well, walk round the loch and you’ll see a few spooky-looking trees. These are almost completely bare and covered in webs. The culprit is the bird cherry ermine moth, which lays its eggs on bird cherry trees. The caterpillars then spin lots of silk – the webs -to hide in and eat all the leaves. Although it looks alarming, it doesn’t usually kill the tree.

The bird cherry ermine moth caterpillars can completely strip a tree

Bird cherry tree, looking “webby”

Bird cherry ermine caterpillars

Some wildlife even benefits! The tree was full of siskins, tits and these bullfinches- all having a feed off the caterpillars which weren’t hiding in the webs!

Female bullfinch, having a feed off the ceterpillars

And, to finish- we saw the first signs of autumn this week. Now, don’t yell at me- when you work outdoors, you see the year turn earlier than you’d think and you get pretty sensitive to the nuances of change. It works the other way too- in November, you’ll see spring signs…and, in June, autumn ones. On Tuesday, even before midsummer, we heard, then saw several curlew heading south. These will be failed breeders, perhaps even from the Arctic Circle, heading south to spend the winter on some nice, muddy southern estuary. Now, how long will it be til you hear someone say “aye, the nights are fair drawing in…..”?

Curlew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Moths and Much Strimming!

The busy season is in full swing now. We’ll be full-on now until around mid- September, when it goes back to being merely busy, as opposed to totally mental! Everything is growing and we have lots of visitors – it’s summer and  it’s nice to be outdoors. We also have a lot of school groups at this time of year, in the run up to the end of term. We spent a couple of days with the Cairngorms Junior Rangers from Aboyne Academy this week, studying bushcraft, biodiversity and the art of getting wet! There were some spectacular finds in the moth trap.

Small elephant hawkmoth

Poplar hawk moth

Nettle tap moth

While releasing the moths, we also found a micro- moth, which gave us a little-and-large picture and  illustrates how diverse moths can be. The big moth is the poplar hawk moth from the trap – but the wee black dot on the buttercup just to the right is the cocksfoot moth. It’s tiny – only a few mm long – and its larvae feed on cock’s foot grass.

Two moths- poplar hawk moth and cocksfoot moth.

We also had a go at the art of fire carrying – which worked pretty well in some dry hoof fungus. Slightly less popular was the bit where we dissected owl pellets to find out what they’d been eating …but it’s surprising how addictive hunting for shrew remains in owl pellets can be.

Chagga and hoof fungi- one was used for fire lighting, the other for carrying fire.

Dissecting owl pellets

And we got wet too- what’s the point of a waterfall with a wee cave at the back if you can’t go into it? You wouldn’t think you could fit anyone in there, but I think seven of the Junior Rangers were in there when the second pic was taken.

Away into the cave at the back of the waterfall

How many?

It’s also the time of year when everything is growing like the blazes. Yes, it all looks very pretty and green, but it’s slightly daunting when you know you’ve got to keep it cut! In the past week, we’ve cut the whole south and east shores of Loch Kinord…and that’s over a mile of path to be cut, on both sides of the path, so it’s always double what you think it should be! And that’s not including the lawn at the visitor centre or round the car park…

Strimmed path

What with all the strimming and working with groups, we haven’t had much chance to look for wildlife. But that’s where remote cameras are great – they do it for you. It’s amazing the variety of wildlife you can pick up on one. Here’s a selection from last week, all on one big rock in the woods which Willlow pointed the camera at.

Rabbit

Deer 1

Mistle thrush

Woodcock

Deer 2

Blackbird

Deer 3. Hello there!

Mind you, sometimes the wildlife comes to you. These house martins were investigating the centre, with what looked like a view to maybe nesting. Before houses, they would have nested on cliffs and you can see how well they cling on with their feathery feet and use their tails for balance.

You can see how well they cling to rock faces- or buildings!

Does it fit? House martin trying old swallow nest for size

And sometimes you don’t want the wildlife to come to you. Well, not in the office, anyway. I left the back door open while I was strimming out front – it’s hot, it’s nice to let some air in – and came back to find a huge toad in the middle of the floor. Now, I never advocate picking up a toad – 1) it’s not fair to frighten them, 2), the oils on your skin can irritate them and 3) their first line of defense is to pee on you. Copiously. So, the toad spots me and hops off to hide under the recycling bin, peeing as it goes,  leaving a damp trail across the floor with every hop. And we added “mopping up toad pee” to the list of “Jobs For Today” after evicting the toad to under the woodshed. I suppose today’s top tip has to be – don’t pick up toads because they wazz all over you!

Toad pee on office floor

 

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Muir of Dinnet – A Soggy Start

Flaming June? Aye, right. I’m driving to work and suddenly there’s a warning light on the dash. Agh! The car’s broken! Oh, hang on, no. It’s just the frost light come on. In June. It’s been a helluva cold, soggy start to the month, with more rain on Tuesday than we had in the whole of May!

Rain on pine needles

Raindrops and ripples

This has made the wildlife pretty hard to spot. A lot of birds will have been tucked away, trying to keep youngsters dry. A wet start to June can be especially bad for things like game birds, as small, fluffy chicks get wet and chilled. The birds which got started early are more likely to breed successfully this year- fledged young, like this speckly robin, are a lot more weatherproof than really small ones.

Newly-fledged baby robin

The ducks don’t seem to mind the rain, even with youngsters. We surprised this mother teal when we were going our to set a camera trap by the bog. Given they are the smallest duck, she was a feisty one- she splashed and  “mock attacked” us to distract us so her brood could get away. Never underestimate a mother- and never threaten her babies!

Who’s just dived?

Mama teal and babies

And the amphibians actually like the rain. It keeps them nice and moist so they don’t dry out.

Toad in the hole

Although the wildlife can be harder to seen in the rain, sometimes it can work to your advantage. The rain masked our approach to this roe deer. We just stood quietly by the bushes and watched it for ages before it finally clocked we weren’t just a funny-looking tree!

Back view

She hasn’t spotted me yet – the ears aren’t on full alert.

What are you?!

Don’t like the look of you!

As well as being a wet week, it’s also been National Volunteer Week. Now, anyone who works on nature reserves anywhere in the world (and in a lot of other professions too)  will tell you that the place would fall apart without volunteers.  We genuinely couldn’t run or maintain the reserve to the standards we do without volunteers. And we’re sooooo grateful to the folk who give their time to help. So here’s a word from Duncan, one of our volunteers- who, very modestly, doesn’t mention that he’s removed over a ton of wire off the reserve.

When I offered to help Catriona at the centre, the outcome was not what I had anticipated. I was a person with good physical fitness but had little knowledge of nature. I had grown to love the Muir of Dinnet nature reserve and regularly visited it.

 I had anticipated my jobs would be occasional litter collection with some path cleaning and restoration. Shortly after joining, she asked me to map out collapsed fences. For a few days, Catriona led me to corners of the reserve I would not have found on my own. I was given a pair of wire clippers and gloves and for the next few months, I took down broken fences and coiled the wire as a means of protecting low flying birds.  Birds like owls, which hunt in the dark often fly into fences. They can kill deer too, if they get tangled.

 In additional to enjoying the physical element of removing fences, I have surprised myself that I am noticing wildlife and fauna whilst I am working. The birds come and keep me company, and despite my colour blindness, I can now recognise Pipits, Willow Warblers and Redstarts. The Whooper swans swim within a few feet of me and vipers bask in the warming sun. These are all things that would have passed me by as a Hill runner and climber”.

And here are a few pics of volunteers helping out at Dinnet.

Old fencing wire, rolled up and ready to go

Duncan’s wire pile, getting loaded up for removal.

Volunteer relocating frogspawn which was drying out

Volunteers clearing debris from path after flood.

The unglamorous side of reserve work!

Volunteer with the pond life tank at our Fun Day

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – May Away!

Have just written the date down and, blimey, it’s June already. Where is the year going? It’s been as dry a year as I can remember, with only 21mm of rain locally. We’ve had lots of lovely days, with hot sunshine and blue skies.

A spectacular sky over Loch Kinord

Last weekend was really fine. Unfortunately, a small part of me dreads fine weather as it can attract some, shall we say, less responsible visitors. We all know the sort – they can’t be bothered taking their rubbish away, they light stupidly large fires, break trees for said fire and their toilet habits leave a lot to be desired. All of Monday was spent clearing up after them, including a lot of what is euphemistically referred to as “human waste”. We realise that people have to “go” outdoors – but what’s so difficult about picking a discreet spot and burying it? It is frustrating when we have may 400- 500 lovely visitors over the weekend- but it takes all day to clear up after no more than a dozen not-so-lovely ones.

Irresponsible fire pit

Tissues- and other things- left by the path

With the hot weather, it’s been feeling more like summer than spring. The flowers coming out now are late-spring ones, like pignut and stitchwort. If you see white flowers round the lochs just now, it could well be them.

Pignut (the small, frothy-looking one) and stitchwort

Pignut and stitchwort

Or chickweed wintergreen. it’s the white, starry flower that is everywhere in the woods right now.

Chickweed wintergreen

Chickweed wintergreen

But the white stuff you see down on Parkin’s Moss isn’t a flower. It’s bog cotton, the seed heads of cotton grass. There is quite a nice display of it visible from the boardwalk  on the Moss.

Parkin’s Moss is covered in bog cotton

Bog cotton

Lots of the birds have youngsters right now. These mallard ducklings are quite well grown and will be fledged soon.

Mallard ducklings, well grown

Half fluffy, half feathered

The baby greylags are getting big too. We have seen a few “creches” of them out on the loch.

Greylag creche

Whereas these long-tailed its are not long out of the nest. I’ve never found a completed long-tailed tit nest, but they are masterpieces of avian architecture. They can contain over 6000 pieces of material, including a lining of around 2000 feathers.  If you add up all the trips needs to build the nest, it’s estimated that the tits fly about 700 miles, that’s Land’s End to Aberdeen, just gathering nesting material. It will have provided a secure home for these youngsters until very recently.

Long tailed tit, newly fledged

Young long-tiled tit

You can see their bright red eyelids, which look even redder with the excitement of being fed. But, (useless fact for the day) when a long-tailed tit is stressed, their eyelids turn yellow as blood is diverted elsewhere in the body.

Cute!

Grub’s up!

The lapwing chicks are getting big too, but it wasn’t those which caught our eye in the fields this week. There is still a large, sandy-coloured rabbit going about….still having avoided being eaten in spite of being more obvious then all the other bunnies.

Sandy coloured rabbit

This blue damselfly was perched beside Loch Kinord while we were clearing up on Monday. I didn’t think much about it at the time (was too busy muttering darkly about people leaving yukky stuff by paths!) but when I looked at on the computer, I’m wondering if it might be a northern blue damselfly. These are much rare than the common blues – but you do find them here. I’d be grateful if anyone could confirm one way or the other- common or northern?

blue damselfly

And there are lots of bite-sized bunnies around too. It’s a time of plenty for things that eat rabbits!

Baby bunnies

Finally, if you fancy a trip somewhere that isn’t Dinnet this weekend, I can thoroughly recommend St Cyrus NNR. We were down there on Wednesday and the wildflowers are lovely-and will only get better for the next couple of months.

Northern marsh orchid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

What a week it’s been. Sunny and warm, and a lot of the birds are feeding youngsters just now. We started the week by spotting these young lapwing in the fields. Like all wader chicks, they are active from hatching, and have quite a turn of speed on those long legs.

Lapwing chick

lapwing chick and adult

We also saw this female song thrush with a huge worm, doubtless being taken back to the nest for her brood.

Song thrush with worm

We had a lot of rain overnight on Monday. Boy, did it rain, and the trees were needing it too. Tuesday morning was perfect, with a pale blue sky and the world looking washed clean. Then, of course, I switched on the news and it wasn’t perfect any more.  It seemed a lot of people wanted to go for a walk that day, to get some fresh air…people seem to need something calm and beautiful to clean their minds of the madness that sometimes infects our world.

The smell of the hot pinewood is wonderful

The song thrush isn’t the only one with youngsters. The goldeneye have ducklings as of this week, and they are awfully cute. Yes, I admit, as a naturalist, cute shouldn’t matter…but they are, aren’t they?

Goldeneye with ducklings

They nearly got dive-bombed from above. The ospreys have been fishing and we were lucky enough to see this one hunting. He’s not interested in the goldeneye, but in any fish below them! He missed twice before grabbing a good-sized pike and heading off.

Hovering.

Osprey, diving feet down

Splashdown!

Up…

….up….

…and away

Catch of the day

We have also spent a bit of time setting up a trail camera to try and capture some of our more elusive wildlife. We’ve had some success over the years, with camera “captures” ranging from capercaillie and red squirrel, to woodpigeon and great Dane (it had escaped from it’s owner).  We’re after small mammals this time and are trying, ambitiously, to capture water shrew. We know they’re here- we’ve found dead ones- but have never seen a live one. Watch this space to find out how we get on…

Setting up a trail camera

While walking back from setting up the camera, our luck was on the lottery-winning scale. A woodcock got up from under our feet- and seemed to be carrying something! It didn’t fly very far before it landed, still in view, and shuffled and flapped around, before taking off again. Now, I’ve never seen a woodcock act like that- every time, ever, I’ve startled one into the air, they take off and weave away through the trees.  But there is an old story, that woodcock carry their chicks away between their legs when startled…and I think we were lucky enough to see it! I’m glad there were two of us there, or it might have been put down as having too much sun!

Woodcock behaving strangely- we think it was carrying chicks

Needless to say, the camera wasn’t out in time, but we did catch the bird flapping, then found another bird sat still in the grass. They have the most wonderful camouflage – you can be yards away and just not see them. Their habits are still poorly- known…they are cryptic, nocturnal and secretive ….but isn’t it wonderful to have such a “mystery” bird around?

Woodcock

Woodcock in close -up

And finally- we’ve decided to take in the whiteboard pens. Just for the weekend….just in case!

We’re taking the “What About” board pens in til after the cup final tomorrow….

 

 

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Dry Days, Green Trees

What a wonderful week it’s been. Warm, sunny and dry. And it’s warmed up enough to bring the insects out in force (sorry – that means the midges are just starting too). By far the most spectacular of these this week was a Kentish glory moth we saw at the Burn o Vat.

Male Kentish glory moth

We were surprised to see him here. Most of the birches around Burn o Vat are too mature for Kentish glories – they need younger tree leaves for their caterpillars to feed on. The adults don’t eat at all, and only live for a week to ten days, so it’s likely this male was on the hunt for females, trying to detect their pheromones with his wonderful feathery antennae.

Check out the antennae on you!

We have seen a few of these moths this year, thanks to the testing of some new pheromone traps on the reserve. These mimic the scent of females and allow us to check  if Kentish glory are present on the reserve. We check these regularly so we can release any males that have come for a closer look.

Pheromone moth trap

Another insect we saw this week probably attracts the label “fascinating” rather than beautiful. Burying beetles do what it says on the tin- they bury the corpses of small, dead animals for their young to feed upon. This on has hit paydirt, with a dead mole to lay eggs into.

Sexton or burying beetle

We had a couple of days with the Cairngorms National Park Junior Rangers this week. Here, on Day 1 they were learning about bushcraft skills, fire lighting and, more importantly, fire prevention.

 

Using chagga fungus for firelighting

Chagga and hoof fungi- one was used for fire lighting, the other for carrying fire.

While Day 2 focused on biodiversity and biological recording. While the moth trap didn’t yield many moths (it was too cold and clear overnight) the earthworm and soil survey was more successful. Whenever we do this, we always turn up mostly immature worms and only very few mature ones…not sure why, but if anyone knows, please get in touch!

Junior rangers doing soil survey

pH testing soil

All of the birches are fully in leaf now, but some other trees are just “bursting”. The bullfinches have been taking advantage of this, eating the budding whitebeam. They are after the energy-rich flower buds tucked inside the bud.

Bullfinch eating whitebeam buds

Male bullfinch

The song thrushes, which have been “worming” on the lawn for the past month, have youngsters. This well-grown “baby” was following it’s parent around, begging for food.

Song thrush with “baby” behind

Some other song thrushes are just getting started. We found this one, sitting tight on some beautiful blue eggs.

Song thrush on nest

The nest with blue eggs

The lapwing have chicks too. We were trying, fairly unsuccessfully to count them. They are still pretty small- just little balls of fluff on stilts- but have a surprisingly good turn of speed. They move around, disappear behind tussocks and reappear elsewhere, so you’re never quite sure how many you have! There are at least nine- but I suspect these are a few more hiding in the long grass.

Lapwing parents with a chick in the foreground

Lapwing chick

Finally, if you head out this weekend- it’s still very, very dry out there. It’s getting to the point a cigarette butt can set fire to the countryside- and there have been a couple of wild fires out west and up by Inverness. Please, let’s not have one here- don’t light fires and make sure your cigarette butt is properly out.

High Fire risk- just don’t!

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Sunny Springtime

It’s been  a lovely week on  the reserve. Blue skies, sun, frosty mornings and green trees – what more could you want? Green is definitely the most dominant colour in the woods now.

Spring green

The reserve is green now and there is hardly any snow left on Morven

Spring green at Parkin’s Moss

It’s not just the trees that are coming out. Down on Parkin’s moss, a couple of the insectivorous plants have appeared. The small, red sundew is quite familiar but bladderwort is less well-known. It’s an aquatic insect eater, sucking small swimming things into the “bladders” on its leaves and then digesting them.

Sundew

Bladderwort

In the morning, the woods ring with birdsong. Bird listening is even better than bird watching for knowing what’s about! This tree pipit was giving it lalldy from the top of a pine.

Tr’ipit singing his heart out

Tree pipit

And the willow warblers are one of the birds you’re most likely to hear here.

Willow warbler warbling

Other birds try to impress in other ways. This osprey had caught a huge great fish, and was flying slowly round and round with it. “Look at me”, he’s saying, “look what a good fisher and provider I’d be, if I was your mate”. Right enough, that’s an impressive catch.

Osprey with big fish

We also heard our first cuckoo this week, on Wednesday.

Cuckoo near Old Kinord

While other birds are still nest-building. Someone’s been stuffing the swallow box full of moss….but who?

Tchisik! Ah, it’s the pied wagtails. We’ve had these nest here as often as not, either above the door or in one of the never-used-by-swallows swallow boxes.

Ah. That’s who’s nesting!

Pied wagtail on Burn o Vat roof

But some birds have already found mates and have bred. We saw these graylag babies on Wednesday, the same day we heard the newly-returned cuckoo. The geese must have sat tight through all the snow and cold we had in the last fortnight.

Greylag with goslings

Cute!

And this song thrush has a family to raise too. He, or she, has an absolute gobful of worms. If they see a smaller worm, they’ll drop the big one, pick up the smaller one and eat it, then pick up the big worm again, confident they’ll spot it on the ground. A bit of a shame for the worm, only getting temporary freedom before being fed to the baby thrushes!

Song thrush with worm

The early bird catches a who beakful of worms!

And finally- if you visit us or anywhere in the countryside this weekend- please, please don’t light fires. The countryside is awfully dry- we’ve only had a couple of inches of rain in the last month and everything is dust-dry. So please- take sandwiches fro your lunch, not sausages for the BBQ, and help us keep the countryside safe.

High fire risk at the start of the week….rain by the end.

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR -The Cruellest Month

“April is the cruelest month” wrote TS Eliot, “drawing lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain”. Boy, did he know what he was talking about! The winter tyres are still on the car and the frost light has been on almost every journey this week. A sudden, heavy dump of snow on Monday and Tuesday turned the hills white, with snow even at the Burn o Vat.

Snowy Morven

April snow

Dinging snow in April!

The cold weather on the hills has resulted in some localized movement of birds. We had several flocks of up to 40 meadow pipits feeding in the Old Kinord fields, pushed there by snow on the high ground.

Meadow pipit

And, in spite of the cold, most of the birds are still singing. This willow warbler was giving it his all from the top of a birch tree.

Willow warbler warbling

The redstarts were singing too. Unlike a lot of other birds, they often don’t sing from an obvious perch at the top of a tree, making them hard to spot. You can hear them- a distinctive jangly song- but where is he?

Singing from in the middle of a tree

Fortunately, he did pop out into the open for a few minutes. He really is a cracking-looking bird.

Male redstart

Male redstart

At least six of the lapwing are sat tight on eggs right now. They disappear into the long grass very easily but their mates, pottering around feeding, are a lot easier to spot.

Lapwing in Old Kinord fields

They are a bird of many names – lapwing, peewit, peesie, green plover, flapwing, flopwing or flapjack are all names for the lapwing. Which one do you like? I prefer “peewit” after their call….but green plover suits them too.

Flapwinged lapwing

Most of the trees are well into leaf just now. I love seeing all the different greens at this time of year. The birch are a vibrant, glossy green, while the willows have a grey-green sheen. The aspens (when they finally come out), will have a bronze tint, while the young rowan leaves (tasting of bitter almonds) are a pale silvery-green. But it seems strange, seeing the new green in front of the snow-covered hills.

Spring greens with a snowy backdrop

Willow trees

The aspen are still leafless

We had a cracking view of an osprey on Wednesday, circling over Loch Kinord. Didn’t see him catch a fish though!

Osprey overhead

Osprey circling over the loch

Last week, before it turned wintery, one of our ranger colleagues Helen was out on the heath looking for Kentish Glory moths. I’m delighted to say they found some of these elusive moths. They are a rare species and, in spite of the fact the males are large and day-flying, are very hard to spot. They need young birch for their caterpillars – they can’t manage to eat older birch, there are too many protective chemicals in the leaves.

Kentish glory moth on young birch

Kentish glory on lure

The spring flowers at New Kinord are at their best, with primrose, wood anemone and violet all in full flower. You can even still find the odd celandine if you look carefully. Mind you, the anemones have been rather sulking about the weather this week….nodding their heads mournfully rather than fully opening up.

Spring flowers- violet, wood anemone, primrose

Closed wood anemones

We also found signs of new life appearing in the snow this week. We’ve found bits of blackbird eggshell and this- which I suspect may be mistle thrush eggshell, as it’s slightly bigger than a blackbird’s. But, if you know different, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

Who’s eggshell?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Frosts and Fine Days

It’s been one of those weeks where you can practically feel spring advancing. Yes, it started cold- very cold- and we had minus 4 and frosty on Monday. The grass was white and the newly-emerged nettles were covered in frost.

Frost nettle

You’d also have thought freezing to death would be off the agenda by mid- April. but, no. The frosts evidently caught out the slugs and we found several frozen to death on the paths around the reserve.

Frozen slug

Fortunately, there still seem to be plenty of insects around for the birds. (I know, I’ll not be saying that in a month’s time once the midges are out). Admittedly, it’s not a very good picture, but you get the idea just how many sand martins were zooming around flycatching at Loch Davan. There must have been well over 100- and one swallow.

It’s also lucky that frost hasn’t destroyed the cherry blossom. A late frost can do that, it can “burn” the delicate petals on any flower. But the cherry seems to have survived unscathed.

Gean blossom

Gean blossom

We’ve seen yet more comings and goings on the reserve this week. There has been an almost constant passage of pink-footed geese overhead, high up skiens of geese all heading north.

Heading north

Some of the other winter visitors haven’t departed quite yet. We were slightly surprised to spot a small flock of fieldfare on Monday. These winter thrushes are probably just passing through on their way north. They will soon “hop” the North Sea and head for their breeding grounds in Scandinavia. There they will nest in large, noisy colonies, which they will defend vigorously by pooing in any invaders. Seriously, that’s what they do -repeated pooing on by fieldfares destroys the waterproofing in a predatory bird’s feathers and can lead to it freezing to death!

Fieldfare

That’s not a mistle thrush….

Freezing may have been on the agenda early in the week but now, Thursday afternoon, it’s 18 degrees. the wam weather is fairly bringing on the trees- I’d say the dominant colour of the reserve has just shifted from brown to green in the past day or so. The birches are all at least starting to open now.

Going green

Some of the less obvious flowers on the reserve are coming out too. If you look closely at the blueberry and bearberry, you’ll  see their flowers. They’re not obvious like the wood anemones, but are pretty in their own, quiet way.

Bearberry flower

Down on the lochs, things are still fairly quiet. We haven’t seen any goslings yet -any day now, surely- but we did find some broken goose eggshell. Either there has been a hatching and the parents are  keeping them out of the way, or something has eaten the eggs.

Broken goose egg shell

Some of the other ducks are still thinking about mating. These 4 mallard drakes were following the every move of the duck.

Four male mallards chasing one female. The goldeneye in the background is displaying to a female goldeneye just out of shot.

mallards

Other birds are singing to attract mates. The jangling song of this male redstart gave away his presence. He’s a new arrival, just back from Africa this week, and is probably our best-looking spring migrant.

Male redstart

By complete contrast are the meadow pipits. These are the archetypal “little brown job” and are the cannon fodder of the bird world- everything eats meadow pipits. But they’re good at what they do- in spite of the fact everything eats them, they’re one of the commonest birds on the open ground. So, if you’re out this weekend, and see one, spare it a kindly thought- they’re quite pretty in a subtle sort of way, even if they lack the glamour of a redstart!

A meadow pipit…up a tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Spring Flowers and April Showers

We’re right in the heart of spring just now. All the fields are full of lambs, no longer gamboling unsteadily on new legs, and the daffodils are just starting to go over. Here on the reserve, the wild flowers are just coming up for being at their best, with new ones opening every day. The woodland by New Kinord is carpeted with wood anemones and celandines.

Wood anemones

Wood anemones at New Kinord

Celandine

The violets are coming out, too. We first spotted these when litter picking….but it turned out to be a purple flower, not the well-known purple wrapping of a popular chocolate bar!

Violet

And, in sunny, sheltered spots, the primroses have burst into flower. In some countries, it was believed that the first young woman to find the first primrose of the year would marry that year. It’s up to you whether you want to give this method a try….

Primrose

The migrant birds continue to trickle in. And they have been trickling in- often, we have lots of willow warblers in full voice by now but there still aren’t many singing on the reserve. It’s likely that the cool and often blustery north-west wind this week has held up the migrants- birds don’t like flying into a strong headwind. It’s bad enough walking into a headwind, let alone trying to fly between continents when you’re the size of warbler or tree pipit! But we have had a couple of new arrivals this week, with swallow on the Monday (10th) and tree pipit on the Wednesday (12th).

Swallow

The first tree pipit of the season.

I always find this an exciting time of year, as every day can bring something new. It can be migrants leaving for the summer, like these whooper swans bound for Iceland, or an arrival from the south, or new plants bursting into life.

Incoming! Whooper swans on final approach….

The trees are just starting to flush green. The hawthorns are always the  first to put on leaf, then it’s a race between the birches and the other trees. The birches are just starting to come into leaf now.

New birch leaves, being blasted in NW wind!

And the hazels have burst, too. No signs of life from the oaks , ash or aspen just yet, though – they’re always later.

New hazel leaves

Another sign of spring is the “disappearance” of the adders after skin shedding and mating. They’ve spent the last two months basking and not doing a lot – but now they have shed their skins and mated, they are on the move and much, much harder to spot. We were lucky to find a couple for a photojournalist from the Guardian early in the week…but they did pose beautifully for some pictures https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/apr/12/scotlands-adders-emerge-from-hibernation-in-pictures

Watching you, watching me.

The graylag geese have become a fair bit quieter lately, probably as some are now sitting tight on eggs. The geese not on nest duty are often seen feeding in nearby fields, grazing the new grass.

Greylag goose feeding in fields

The wagtails are back in force, too. Grey wagtails have appeared back around the lochs and look like they’re prospecting for nest sites….although it’s more usual to see them by running water in places like the Vat gorge.

Grey wagtail

And the pied wagtails have been feeding in the car park most mornings.  As  their name suggests, they “wag” their tails constantly …but by bobbing up and down, not from side-to-side. Their old nicknames include “washtail” or “nanny dishwasher”, probably because of their association with water. I remember an old lady telling me her father used to say she “had a tongue like a dishwasher’s ass”…and didn’t find out until many years later that it meant it was always wagging!

Pied wagtail, foraging in the car park

Speaking of grazing, some creatures eat things that are utterly disgusting to us. One morning, after a brief April shower, all the slugs came out in the damp. Now, slugs get a bad press – they decimate your daffodils, hammer your hostas and ingest your irises. But not all of them – the big black ones aren’t plant-munchers, they eat dead organic material. And this includes poo. But if they, and other creatures, didn’t eat up all the stuff we think of as yukky, we’d be knee deep in it. So, if you’re gardening this weekend, at least leave off squashing the black slugs!

Slug eating pine marten poo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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