Autumn Sunshine and Spiders, A Near Miss and a Work in Progress

A nice autumnal day can beat a great summers day.
One of the nicest ways to view the reserve at this time of year is to head out early-ish in the morning to see the woodland carpeted in dew crystallised spiderwebs and hopefully take in some tranquil views – such as this from Thursday when Loch Kinord was limpid calm and an intensely blue sky today at Parkin’s Moss.

If you are lucky you may see noisy flocks of pink footed geese flying overhead. Large numbers of pink-footed geese arrive in the UK from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland.  Thousands spend the winter on the eastern coast of Scotland. These birds start to arrive from early to mid September, with numbers increasing up to mid October.

During the autumn and early winter mornings, pink-footed geese move from these roost sites to stubble fields, where they will feed, returning late afternoon. The birds’ ”yak” calls can carry for several miles on still days.

As Autumn drifts in the amount of spider silk around the country reaches a peak as most common species are fully grown and ready to mate.
A perfectly still loch kinord
Parkin’s Moss
Noisy Flocks of geese fly to their feeding grounds early morning and return late afternoon

Parkin’s Moss is the stage of mating Common Hawker dragonflies just now. Built like small helicopters and measuring up to 7.5 cm you can hear these dragonflies rustle on the wing. Watch for them hunting woodland rides at dusk too. I watched riveted as a common hawker chased down a red admiral butterfly.

As the hawkers join in tandem to mate they have a combined length of 15 cm. This creates a really imposing shadow on the waters surface.

The near miss referred to in the title was not actually a miss but an event – a small wildfire that burned for several days- and could have had even more serious consequences. I call it a near miss because we nearly missed it as it occurred in a strangely isolated and inaccessible corner on Loch Kinord. Spotted by an eagle eyed colleague on Tuesday but we think originating from a campfire on Sunday it took 2 days to bring under proper control, causing an area of damage approximately 10m x 20m at a depth of 5 inches. An abandoned camp fire is to blame.

The black bucket hanging on the tree was instrumental in getting this fire under control.
A good example of irresponsible access and a lesson that unattended fires can spread. Now extinguished but it took up a significant amount of staff time, has caused damage, and was at risk of spreading further.

Fire is a risk at any time of the year and as a woodland reserve predominately we have a massive fuel load at its disposal with potentially devastating consequences.

As we head into a weekend set fair weather wise I know that we shall be teeming with visitors here to walk, cycle, kayak, fish, wild-camp, picnic, barbecue and sunbathe. Can we please ask all visitors to be fire sensitive and if you must, raise it above vegetation, never leave it unattended, extinguish it fully and dismantle it to leave no trace.

On that note we are now fully in the swing of our car-park resurfacing and half of the car park is currently unavailable to vehicles. The lower section of the Burn O’ Vat trail is closed in preparation of a future toilet refurbishment but the Burn O Vat itself is still completely accessible from the upper path. Please bear with us and be considerate to other motorists. If you find us full there are a few alternative places to park and still access our trails.

The Burn O’ Vat path closure will be in place until late October

There are 3 lay-bys within a mile of the visitor centre which can accommodate up to 4 vehicles each on the B9119. Alternatively we have another smaller car park at New Kinord which can be accessed via the A97 – look out for the small brown sign with New kinord written on it at the end of the access tack -and this is a really nice way to walk the Loch Kinord and little Ord trails. There is also a public car park within Dinnet village beside the Loch Kinord hotel with a connecting path that leads into the reserve.

Posted in Muir of Dinnet NNR

Trees, Thrushes and The Start of the Works! – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a busy old week and I’m quite relieved it’s almost over. It started early doors on Monday, with the tree surgeons arriving to take down a big Douglas fir that had been damaged in the last high winds. The tree was on the lean, towards the path, and had developed a big split of the back. Now, split trees can fall unpredictably, they can twist and land almost anywhere…and this one could have landed on the office if it did. So the tree surgeons very efficiently dismantled it top to bottom. And, when I saw the state of the stump, I was extra-relieved to see it down.

Dangerous tree by visitor centre

Dangerous tree half-felled

Split tree

Tree stump

Other work has started here this week, too. Earlier in the year, we were grateful to secure  Rural Tourism Infrastructure Funding to upgrade the car park and toilets. The 45-year old septic tank is badly needing replaced…and will be with a new sewage treatment system and reedbed. Meanwhile, in the car park, the old plastic geoblock will be replaced with concrete block and the chronic drainage problem (hopefully) sorted. This all means that access to the site will be a restricted over the next 8 weeks, with only half the normal amount of parking and part of the Burn o Vat trail being closed. We hope you will bear with us while this happens.

Old geoblock being lifted

While removing the old geoblock, one of the contractors stumbled across this old golf ball. We think it’s a ‘gutty’, an early golf ball made from hard-setting gutta-percha sap. They were most widely used between the 1860s and 1900, so it’s likely to be at least 150 years old. We’ve never had a golf course here, so it’s a puzzle as to what it’s doing here. Given they cost a shilling (over £5 in today’s money), I can’t imagine someone was all that pleased to lose it!

Old golf ball discovered during works.

Old golf ball with construction works in the background.

Away from the works, the reptiles have been making the most of the late sun. There have been a few adders out and about, including a couple of babies and this female, who was basking right on top of the wall. I think this is the highest I’ve ever seen an adder off the ground.

Adder, high up on dyke

Adder at top of dyke

There have been plenty of lizards around too, including some bronze-coloured baby ones. Unfortunately, these have all eluded the camera (they’re small, fast and wary…you need to be at that size) but there were a couple of cracking big ones at the back of the visitor centre.

Common lizard

Common lizard

In between the sun, we’ve had some cold nights and the first frost last weekend. This is really making the trees quite suddenly ‘turn’, with more yellowing happening by the day. It’ll be a while yet until green isn’t the dominant colour of the wood but it’s coming – the aspens are noticeably going yellow now.

Aspen trees, starting to turn yellow

There have been quite a few showers too, and that has made for some lovely rainbows. The reserve is right at the end of the rainbow with this one!

The reserve at the end of the rainbow

Elsewhere, what we’ve been noticing is how quiet it has gone. This week was the first  we’ve not noticed the constant background of swallows vit-vit-vit-ing or the gentle farting ‘prrrp’ calls of the house martins. Oh, they’re still around and some won’t go for another month but the constant background of their call has fallen silent and it’s a noise we’ve got so used to hearing, you don’t even notice it until it stops. But their calls have been replaced by those of birds feeding on the rowans. The local thrushes -song thrush, mistle thrush and blackbird- have formed flocks and are rapidly stripping the trees. They’re not the only ones –  on Monday alone, I saw the three species of thrush, plus carrion crow, jackdaw, bullfinch, reed bunting, great tit and starling all scoffing rowan berries.

The rowans are being eaten by the birds

Male blackbird scoffing rowan berries

We’ve also been seeing jays out and about too. These colourful crows are very shy and you tend to hear them rather than see them, but they’re always more obvious in autumn as they gather acorns. The big oaks by Wisdomhowe or on the east shore of Kinord are good places to spot them. Keep a look out for a bird with a pink body and white rump….and a horrible scrawking voice!

Jay (love the eyebrows).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

September Sun & Showers – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, that’s us officially into autumn, now that September has arrived. And it’s felt like it too –  the frost light didn’t go off in the car all the way to work on Monday. The trees are looking a bit tired and we’re seeing the first yellowing of the leaves…just  a little bit, but this will become more obvious as the month wears on.

Some of the birch trees are just starting to go yellow

Also more obvious are the geese. On the coast, the pink-footed geese are back in small numbers from Iceland and we had a flock high overhead today (Friday). But most of the geese gathering on the reserve are greylags, from local breeding stock. They breed quite widely through much of northern Scotland nowadays and usually up to about 400 spend the winter in the local area, roosting on Loch Kinord or Davan.

Greylag geese

Greylag geese

You can see other signs that the summer in waning too. The heather is starting to ‘go over’, with brown patches appearing amongst the purple.

The heather is going over

And several of the mornings have been cool and misty…you know, the sort of damp autumn morning that soaks everything in dew but burns off into a pleasant day by 10am.

Low cloud over Kinord

The damp mornings are a great time for frogs, toads …and slugs! Drying out is uncomfortable or even fatal for these creatures so they make the most of the moist start to the day. You often see toads, out on the paths, crawling along or even just sitting there, gulping and blinking at nothing, in an apparently Zen-like contemplation of the world. Then, as you walk past, they wake up and make an ungainly, belly-flop dive for cover, sometime pre-emptively peeing as they go. It’s rarely a good idea to pick up a toad (I’ll make exception for moving them out of the way of danger, like cars) as the first thing they will do is pee on you in self defence.

Toad

We’ve seen some HUGE slugs too. The great black slugs are also out in force, munching on fungi and oozing across the paths on their quest for something (probably disgusting, they eat detritus) to wrap their radulas around. This is one of the biggest black slugs I’ve seen –  my boots are a size 6 for comparison.

A very great black slug

There are certainly plenty of fungi for them to eat. Everyone knows the red-and-white ‘fairy mushroom’ fly agaric, but one of the commonest fungi seen here is the Jersey cow bolete. These fawn-brown mushrooms can be seen all along the path edges and get their name just because they’re the same colour as Jersey cows.

Fly agaric

Jersey cow bolete

But not all of the signs of summer have disappeared yet. There are still quite a few wild flowers out on the reserve, including some late-flowering bog asphodel and St John’s wort.

Bog asphodel, in flower and in seed

St John’s wort

And the bluebells look amazing with the dew on them first thing.

Bluebell

And we’ll leave you with a minor mystery this week. Who has dug up this bee’s nest? We’re not sure – no footprints, hair or feather were visible, but something has fairly ripped up the ground looking for bee grubs to eat. I suspect badger…but we’ll let you know if we catch anything on camera traps!

Who’s been digging up the side of the path?

dug-out bee nest

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Snakes and Sunshine – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a fairly warm and sunny week. make the best of it, though, that’s all supposed to change over the weekend, with cool north-westerlies and rain forecast. I wonder if any geese will arrive with the north wind from Iceland? I wouldn’t be surprised if they did – although whether you can pick them out for the ‘native’ breeding greylags is a different matter. Listen out for a higher pitched ‘wink-wink’ rather than the unmelodic honk of the greylag!

Greylag goose

Though it’s been lovely, there’s a definite change in the air. The trees are looking worn and the bracken – so prolific and verdant over the summer – is now starting to yellow towards autumn.

Yellow bracken

And the swallows and house martins are gathering in on the lines, chattering and fidgeting as they discuss the best way to Africa.

House martins gathering on the lines.

Autumn is the time of year when adders give birth and we usually see the first youngsters –  if we manage to spot any, they’re pretty hard to see – in the first fortnight of September. But they’ve been early giving birth this year, with four babies noted on the 23rd of August – the earliest date we’ve ever seen baby adders here.

Baby adder curled up.

Because they’re such perfect miniatures of the adult, it’s hard to work out how tiny they are. To give you an idea, the one above, curled up, would have covered the about the same area as a golf ball. In the photo below, you can see a bit of dried-up rabbit poo just below the adder…which helps give a bit of scale.

Baby adder

There were also another couple hanging about the wall nearby. I think one might have been pregnant; she almost waddled across the path and the fluid grace that adders move with was completely missing. You definitely got the impression she was hauling her tummy along with an effort.

Large – and we think pregnant – female adder

Adder in drystane dyke

Andder, in the dyke, watching us closely.

Another unexpected find, close to the reserve, was this chocolate tip moth in Mary’s trap in Dinnet village. This exceedingly rare moth is usually seen in May or June, when the new aspen leaves are emerging. It’s an aspen specialist and, as there aren’t really many large stands of aspen in Scotland (fewer than 30), has quite a restricted range. In fact, Dinnet is currently the only known Scottish site for this moth! I’m sure there are others out there but we’ll bask in the glory of that until some are found elsewhere! Thanks to Mary for these cracking photos!

Chocolate tip moth

Chocolate tip moth

The reserve is looking good just now, with the heather still in full bloom. The pollinators are loving it and the moor is all a-buzz with  bees.

Ling heather

Heather, right by the paths

Heather in the woodland

They also love the late summer-flowering devil’s bit scabious. Nearly every head of this will have one or to insects competing for nectar.

Hoverfly on devil’s bit scabious

Knapweed is another good late-summer nectar source. You can see the long proboscis of this peacock butterfly  probing the flower for nectar.

Peacock butterfly feeding

Other plants have stopped flowering a while ago and are forming seeds. The gingery-coloured bog asphodel seed heads are pretty obvious out on the bog.

Bog asphodel seed heads

And we’re noting acorns forming on the oaks as well.

Acorns

But one of the most obvious signs of the coming autumn is the proliferation of fungi on the reserve. They’re everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, from dinner-plate sized boletes to the tiny candle-stuff fungus, which looks like a snuffed candle wick.

Huge cep!

Candle stuff fungus. Well, you can see why!

Some resemble other things entirely. Due to it’s resemblance to…well, a male sexual organ… the stinkhorn was eaten as an aphrodisiac. It was supposed to increase sexual prowess…but that’s a complete phallusy (its scientific name is Phallus impudicus).

Stinkhorn fungus

Finally, as we’re just coming into Foraging Fortnight –  a simple recipe for a wild food that’s in abundance at the moment, rowan and apple jelly. Here are some simple tips to forage safely https://www.foragingfortnight.co.uk/foraging-guidelines/  but just remember… safety first. Don’t put it in your mouth unless you know what it is. And don’t over-pick – it’s not fair on the plant or fungi. Enjoy.

1kg rowan berries

1kg apples (include cores). Sour apples, like crab or bramleys,  are best but early windfalls will do fine.

Cover and boil hard until all fruit is really squashy.

Drain through a muslin bag (or a (clean) pillowcase, pair of tights…whatever). Don’t squeeze the bag or your jelly will be cloudy.

For every 100ml of liquid, add 100g of sugar (eg 500ml = 500g sugar). It’s a cheat, but you’ll get it to set a lot easier if you use preserving sugar with added pectin. Boil until a test sample cooled on a saucer sets firmly. Pour into warm, sterilized jars (over a sink, ideally- always messy!), allow to cool, lids on…then enjoy!

Red rowan berries

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Betwixt and Between the Seasons

As we head into late summer the reserve is taking on the colours that are so iconically Scottish. The air has an invigorating edge to it, our Rowan trees are groaning with vivid red berries, weird and wonderful fungi are carpeting the woodland, our birch trees are mellowing into yellow and our bear berry heath has erupted into dainty and powerful purples. This is a great time to head out to a good vantage point and take some atmospheric panoramic photo’s.

Fifty shades of green?
The colour of our woodlands are changing. I spent a really pleasant half hour mentally mapping where our broadleaf trees transition to conifer dominated woodland higher upslope.
Nectar from heather flowers makes excellent honey, and traditionally beekeepers bring their hives onto heaths in late-summer when the heather comes into bloom.

More than just mushrooms, fungi recycle plant litter, help plants grow and are a crucial source of food for animals. Fungi come in all shapes, sizes and colours (and smells). Here are just a few out in the reserve at the moment. I am sure a few readers will recognise the edible delicacy the yellow Chantarelle.

Lots of animals find fungi irresistible, so you’ll probably come across quite a few that have been nibbled. Badgers, deer, rabbits, mice, squirrels, and a variety of insects, slugs and snails all like to eat fungi.

With nature’s larder so abundant for many insects, birds and mammals, now is the time to stock up in preparation for the great annual inevitability: winter. 

I gave this little bank vole a boost with my camera trap bait of peanut butter and jam.

This little bank vole had at least 11 hours of energy rich feasting before this pine marten swooped in and scoffed the lot!

However, summer is not over yet and with returning warm weather our butterflies are experiencing a new lease of life – literally.

Several of our butterflies such as the Peacock, Small Copper and Speckled Wood are experiencing a 2nd or even 3rd generation and are looking brilliantly vibrant on the wing just now.

Not forgetting our summer butterflies such as this – easily one of my favourites – Dark Green Fritillary.

On a final note I would like to to extend a really warm welcome to the Cairngorms National park Volunteer Rangers who will be a great addition and help on the reserve from now on. If you haven’t heard of them this small army of Volunteer Rangers help care for the largest National Park in the UK, and inspire others with their love of this special place. If volunteering whets your appetite, please check out volunteering opportunities open to all within the Cairngorms National Park at https://cairngorms.co.uk/caring-future/volunteers/opportunities/

Just some of the many committed and friendly National Park volunteer rangers
Posted in Muir of Dinnet NNR, Uncategorized

Early Autumn August – Muir of Dinnet NNR

This week has marked a bit of a change in the weather. It’s felt…well, autumn-y. The heat and humidity has finally broken and the temperature has dropped. And, all of a sudden, there’s a sense of urgency in how the birds are feeding – gotta stock up before winter! We’ve even been seeing squirrels back on the feeders after a summer’s absence.

Red squirrel on feeder

It won’t be long now until the mixed bird flocks in the woods shed their willow warblers. These are already on the move and local birds could easily have been replaced by those from further north. Colleagues on the coast are reporting a steady passage of these, mostly young birds. It’s easier to navigate south on the coast – if it’s the east coast, just keep the sea on your left and you’ll work through the UK to mainland Europe.

Willow warbler

Mind you, summer’s not done with us yet. There are still loads of dragonflies on Parkin’s Moss and scotch argus butterflies are everywhere.

Male common hawker

And the occasional small copper provides a bright burst of colour in the grass. These are glorious little butterflies and I have never yet taken a picture of one that does it justice – the colour is such a vivid orange.

small copper butterfly

Kirstin has been out with the trail cameras again. I think the prize shot was this pine marten mid-bound. The cameras are a great way to spot elusive wildlife (I’ve yet to see a marten in real life on the reserve) but we see the scat all the time. And, with a bit of care, you can catch them on camera …just…

 

Airborne pine marten

We continue to knock back the bracken but I’m hoping this week’s cut will be the last of it we need to do. Kirstin had done a great job strimming the hut circles, keeping them visible to visitors.

Hut circles before strimming

…and after strimming.

The grassy glade created by the regular strimming back of the bracken is good for butterflies, too. Ringlets and Scotch argus really like these grassy spots.

Ringlet butterfly

The ringlet is a common brown butterfly found across the reserve

Scotch argus

This has also been one of the best years we’ve ever seen for devil’s bit scabious on the reserve. This pretty purple flower seems to be everywhere this summer and is really popular with pollinating insects.

Incoming! Hoverfly heading for devil’s bit scabious flower.

One rare insect to keep a look out for is the small scabious mining bee. We don’t think you get them here but, as the name suggests, they are reliant upon devil’s bit scabious flowers and, as we have a lot of that…well, they could have been overlooked. There is more information here https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/scotland/posts/small-scabious-mining-bee-an-angel-to-a-devil  If you see anything that looks like the small scabious mining bee, please, try and get a picture and let us know!

Devi’s bit scabious

Another unusual insect spotted (quite literally) on the reserve this week was this false ladybird beetle. Unlike predatory ladybirds, this beetle feeds on fungi and lives under the bark of dead trees. It most likely mimics a ladybird because ladybirds are absolutely disgusting to eat (to birds – don’t give this a go with supper) and the redder the ladybird, the worse it will taste. The most intensely red ladybirds have the highest levels of toxins in them!

False ladybird beetle

And finally – a heads-up for the end of the month. If you missed our bat walk in early August, we’re running another one  (weather dependent because bats don’t like flying in the rain) on the 31st August, starting at 8.30pm. It’s free of charge but please book by calling 013398 81667. Hope to see you there!

Pipistrelle bat

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sunny Showers – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been yet another hot and humid week. We’ve had quite a bit of rain, in short, sharp thunderbursts, the kind of rain that feels like a physical assault as it hammers down. Then, like Incy  Wincy Spider, the sun comes up and dries up all the rain…and makes it deeply, unpleasantly humid. I know a lot of folk love the summer but I’m fed up of it now…can we have a frost, please?!

…and then the heavens opened. Stottin’ rain!

It’s the humidity that is the crippling factor when you’re trying to work. Hot, ‘dry’ heat isn’t so bad but the upwards of 85% humidity we’ve had has really made the physical stuff a struggle this year…it just feels airless and sweat doesn’t dry to cool you down. Still, at least the bracken shouldn’t grow any more and we’ve strimmed a fair bit down to either keep paths or the hut circles clear…or to create habitat for pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies. Though their flight season is long over, this is the time of year we thin out bracken on a couple of south-facing banks for them. Thinning the bracken allows more wild flowers like their food plant violet to grow…but we don’t want to eradicate it, as it is necessary for cover and resting places for the fritillaries.

All strimmed. Phew. A hot and unpleasantly cleg-ridden job.

Pearl-bordered fritillary on bugle

In spite of the weather, we’ve had the chance to run the moth trap a couple of times. The snout moth’s impressive snout isn’t a nose when seen from the side, rather an impressive pair of antennae. Antler moths have a pale ‘antler’ on their wing, while the burnished brass’s name needs no explanation.

Snout moth

Antler moth

Burnished brass moth

While we ‘dipped’ anything really impressive in the trap, a local resident in Dinnet village was lucky enough to catch a bedstraw hawkmoth. These are big moths, a good couple of inches along the body and wider across the wings, and are a rare visitor to the UK. They are migrants and have been pushed north by the warm southerly winds that have brought all the painted lady butterflies into the country. There have been several seen in the north-east so keep your eyes peeled, especially if you have honeysuckle or buddleia bushes.

But, although painted ladies have been everywhere this year, they don’t take the prize for the commonest butterfly on the reserve. At this time of year, that goes to the scotch argus. These smart, dark-coloured butterflies are everywhere and especially like feeding on the devil’s bit scabious flowers.

Devil’s-Bit scabious and Scotch argus

Scotch argus

The story with devil’s bit scabious’s name is that the plant was so good at relieving itching caused by scabies, that the devil got angry with it and came up through the earth and bit its roots off to try and kill it. Right enough, the plant does have very short roots and, while they are unlikely to have been shortened by satanic influence, it’s a good story nonetheless. We also explored other plant stories and uses, edible and medicinal on our wild food walk, with a while spent extolling the virtues of the humble nettle. Yes, they sting but they also make excellent soup, beer and pesto!

Extolling the virtues of the humble nettle.

Wild foraging is a real pleasure as the autumn comes in. But you always have to be a bit careful and the golden rule is don’t put it in your mouth unless you know it is 100% safe. One sneaky thing that can make people unwell is the ergot. This fungus grows on the seed heads of cereals, including grasses and can make people unwell if it gets baked into bread as it is toxic and hallucinogenic. However, like a number of toxic plants, chemicals extracted it from it can be used medically, in this case to treat severe migraine (don’t try this at home, kids).

Ergot. The fungus looks like a seed or claw on the side of the seed head.

It’s funny how you can walk past things a dozen times and never notice them until they’re pointed out. A meeting and walk with colleagues from RSPB and Forestry & Land Scotland up the hill resulted in Louise pointing out some human history just on the edge of the NNR. Off the NNR, on Forestry & Land Scotland land, there are lots of granite quarries – it’s where the stone came from that built Ballater. But not all of the granite was quarried straight from the hill. Sometimes the stone workers would cut blocks and granite lintels straight off large boulders and you can still see the drill marks where this boulder was cut. Further over the hill, at Cambus o May, there are still some lintels lying, cut but never used. So, it’s worth looking closely at even boulders -you never know what you might spot!

Drill marks on the granite

Lintel cut from boulder

Lintels cut from boulder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Confessions of a camera trap addict

A fortnight ago on my way home at about 6 pm at night I encountered a pine marten ambling across the road on the outskirts of Dinnet village. This sparked in me a dogged determination to get proof of them on the reserve!.

I have been obsessed with spying on wildlife since I held the post of Species Protection Officer for Osprey at Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire. I was privileged to watch via remote cameras some of the touchingly intimate behaviors of the birds as they paired up, mated, laid, incubated and hatched their young. As a trained observer I recorded every fish delivery, egg shuffle and change over across the night and into dawn.

Since, I have become a massive advocate of non invasive technologies such as trail cameras that can assist with establishing base lines in terms of species population size and range. I honed my camera skills with the wildcat project in the priority area of the Angus glens across 3 winter surveys with over 70 cameras strategically deployed for 60 consecutive days by a committed army of volunteers on a schedule of fortnightly rebaits. I was lucky enough to handle the data from all cameras and built up a real appreciation not just of the cats but also the amazing biodiversity of the county including otter, badger and pine marten.

I am attempting to achieve this at the Reserve with the help of 2 Bushnell trail cameras. I am currently targeting the European pine marten Martes Martes . The first step to effective camera trapping is to research your species – their habitat preferences, food requirements and basic habits.

Pine marten are a cat-sized member of the weasel family. Dark brown fur covers its long body except for a large, creamy white patch at the throat.

This canny pine marten is very clued up to the organic peanut butter and raspberry jam I have liberally smeared onto this fallen tree and returned on successive nights to investigate if the magic food had reappeared. Baiting camera traps is a great way to get passing wildlife to stop for a few minutes so you can get images. The bait has to be appropriate to the species and never in excessive amounts.

Pine marten prefer native woodlands but can also live in conifer plantations and on rocky hillsides. They make breeding nests among rocks, in hollow trees, or in bird or squirrel nests. Pine martens also have a few ‘dens’ (temporary resting places) in their territory. Each animal requires from 86 to 166 hectares of woodland within its territory.

Once found across Britain, the pine marten was prone to persecution until relatively recently. Though it has recovered a little from a dramatic decline, the species is still rare. Scotland’s population is estimated at 3,700 adult pine martens. The species was given full legal protection in 1988.

They are omnivorous and feed on small rodents, birds, eggs, insects and fruit, and can even be enticed to visit bird tables and peanut feeders. During the wildcat project the pine marten were very partial to the quail we were using as bait but here I have opted to bait with peanut butter and raspberry jam.

Pine marten are active at dawn and dusk and throughout the night.

They are also elusive and nocturnal – making them the perfect species to camera trap! I knew they were around from field signs. Pine marten scat is really distinctive and is used as a way of marking territory.

Pine marten scat

So I set off with my cameras and laptop with high hopes. I set my cameras to a hybrid setting of taking pictures and video and made sure the date and time stamps were accurate.

And I got very lucky with this fallen tree. It acts as a natural bridge across a burn in the forest meaning that wildlife really has no option but to cross here. I positioned my cameras at either end of the fallen tree low to the ground and spent an hour tweaking their positions and checking and rechecking. And then the wait for several days – which is the excruciating part of camera trapping followed by the exhiliration/ dread when you go and retrieve your SD cards.

And so to the results. We now know that pine marten are in the area and are using the bridge on a daily basis. They do not seem to know that they are supposed to be nocturnal and I have seen them mid afternoon, at 9 o’ clock in the morning as well as dusk, dawn and night-time proper. They do not seem to follow any consistent pattern. We also strongly suspect that we have a family group with at least 2 kits -seen here taking an evening stroll. And we also know that when a pine marten walks through the woods everything alarms!

And brilliantly we now know that we have badgers – my next target – and this tree is the favourite fishing perch of a grey heron.

Going for an evening stroll. These 2 kits were born in spring and will achieve independence from their mother come the Autumn.
Posted in Uncategorized

Boiling Heat and Biting Beasties – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Phew. It has been really hot this week, with the temperature peaking at 30  degrees on Tuesday. Now, I’m  a northern species and that’s getting a bit too hot for me, especially combined with the high humidity we’ve been getting. It’s made it extremely unpleasant to work in, especially as the main priority is strimming down the bracken to keep the paths clear! We’re getting through it- slowly -but need breaks to get in out of the heat. And the flies! The buzzing ones are annoying, wanting to drink your sweat, but at least they don’t bite. Unlike the clegs…

Cleg

Clegs, or horseflies, can give you one of the most unpleasant insect bites in this part of the world. Like mosquitos, it’s the females that bite (as the saying goes, more deadly than the male…) to get a protein  from a blood meal to form  their eggs. They fly silently -so you don’t hear them coming – and land on you as softly as a kiss. But you soon know they’re there, as their bite consists of cutting into you with six (yes, six) slicing plates on their mouthparts and then sponging up your blood. It’s a bite that’s both painful and itchy and often goes a bit yukky for a few days….afraid I can’t recommend much for it other than keeping covered up and trying to avoid getting bitten in the first place.

A horsefly or cleg

At least damselflies don’t bite…well, not humans, anyway. We found this rare northern damselfly perched by the edge of some pools volunteer groups created last year…proving that this bit of habitat management has really worked.

Northern damselfly

Northern damselfly

There are lots of emerald damselflies around, too. It’s not hard to see how they get their name, glowing iridescent green in the sun. You can find out more about these fantastic creatures this weekend with Daniele Muir for the British Dragonfly Society at our Dragonfly Dipping event – and it’s all free to attend, too

https://www.facebook.com/events/465020464318591/

Emerald damselfly

Rachel has been out with her camera…and who can blame her, in this gorgeous weather? She’s taken some lovely shots of the water lily bays around Loch Kinord.

Water lilies

Water lily bays

She was also lucky enough to come across this young hedgehog on her rambles. Now, we don’t often see hedgehogs on the reserve but we do know we’ve got them as we regularly see their poo…and, sadly, the odd ‘hog laminated on the road. So she was really lucky to catch a glimpse of this youngster. Their spines start off white but darken to brown as they grow.

Young hedgehog

We’ve also seen several bats this week – although we wish we hadn’t. A few  had got into the visitor centre and had to be gently evicted before they died of dehydration…but we did  have a few casualties under the roost, too. We’re not sure why they died but the heavy overnight rain we’ve had could be a contributing factor –  bats use up to 20% more energy feeding on rainy nights and the really heavy thundershowers could even have knocked them down with weight of water.

Pipistrelle bat

Although it’s been one of the hottest, most ‘summery’ weeks imaginable , signs of autumn are creeping in. This is the first week we’ve been aware of what are often called ‘mixed tit flocks’, which are safety-in-numbers, multi-species groups of birds moving through the woodland. These mixed flocks form at the end of summer and often won’t break up until next year’s breeding season. They are often dominated by tit species -great, coal, blue and long-tailed – but are regularly accompanied by other birds like willow warbles, chaffinches, goldcrests and treecreepers.

Young long-tailed tit

Young blue tit

A less welcome sight were those visitors who don’t respect the reserve and make a mess. Most wild campers do so in such a way that they leave no trace (many take pride in leaving no trace) , but sadly not these individuals. Many thanks to PC Mike Flaherty, whose quiet chat about responsible access resulted in them clearing up everything after themselves.

Irresponsible campsite

If you’re looking for something to do during the school holidays next week, why not come along to our Moth Morning on Tuesday? As with all our event, it’s free of charge and there are plenty of places left!

Poplar hawkmoth

If you enjoy reading our blog and wonder where you might find more like it…well, our colleagues at Forvie have set up their own blog to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the reserve. Ok, it’s not as pretty as Dinnet (!) but they do beat us for spectacular seabirds. Check them out at  https://forvienationalnaturereserve.home.blog/

Forvie sand dunes

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Here be Dragons – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Here be dragons. And damsels. Dragonflies and damselflies, that is. Right now, the height of summer is their time of year. If ever an insect was solar powered, it’d be dragonflies. They need warm sunny days to fly as they are such active hunters and will often go to ground during even a fairly short cloudy period. We’ve been seeing even more dragons and damsels this week as the common hawkers and black darters emerge.

newly emerged black darter

Dragonflies and damselflies spend the first part of their life underwater, living anything up to 4 years as a ferocious, science-fiction monster-like larvae. They can grow over an inch in length and eat anything up to the size of small fish. Then, for one glorious summer, they will emerge as a bejeweled aerial hunter, decimator of flies, mosquitoes, midgies and, occasionally, each other. They crawl up vegetation then the adult dragonfly emerges from the larval ‘shell’, which is then called an exuvium.

Common hawker exuvium

Black darter emerging from exuvium

Their huge eyes help them spot – and catch – prey in mid air. They have a roughly 90% success rate when hunting -which is pretty impressive, when you realise a lion’s success rate is below 20%.

You can see the huge eyes on this female common hawker

Once they’re on the wing, the other thing -apart from eat – they want to do is mate. The male will clasp the female with a special set of claspers on his back end and they will often even egg-lay (ovipostit) while still clasped together.

Common hawkers

However, in damselflies, as in humans, some individuals do get a bit too over- enthusiastic. This emerald damselfly male has grabbed a female large red damselfly. Sorry, dear, it’s not going to work…it’s not you, it’s me, I’m just the wrong species…

Oops! this emerald damselfly male has gotten over-enthusiastic and grabbed a large red female by mistake!

Parkin’s Moss, where all these pictures were taken, looks good just now. The Sphagnum mosses are all different colours and the sundews are in flower.

Sundew flower

Bog asphodel provides a striking splash of yellow colour on the bog.

Away from the dragons, we’ve been really busy during the school holidays. Our Fun Day, last Friday, was the busiest yet. I hope fun was had by all (except possibly the staff who had to lie in a dark room afterwards) … we had loads of activities and lots of people!

Fun day

Biodiversity stand at Fun Day

Making bird boxes at Fun Day

Our next event in this Saturday (21st) from 11-2pm …it’s the Big Butterfly Count. Come along and join in – all free and booking not required. Why not come and see us?

Red admiral

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,