Spring Sneaking Closer – Muir of Dinnet NNR

The melt continues! Almost all of the snow has gone now but the compacted ice is still hanging on in a few shady places. It’s hanging on in the lochs too – that much ice takes a while to melt.

Melting ice

There have been some cracking reflections in the melting ice. When there’s a thin sheet of water on top of the ice, it doesn’t get ruffled by the wind the way water normally does, and the reflections are pin-sharp. Sometimes, it’s hard to know which way up the picture should be!

Birch reflecting in part frozen loch

Reed reflections

Frozen Kinord

Reflections in Kinord

The ice has offered an opportunity of an easy meal for some of the predators but has spelled trouble for the geese. They roost out on the lochs but foxes can creep out onto the ice at night and grab them. The only signs of these night raids is a sorry-looking pair of wings left on the shore.

Goose wings. The rest has been eaten!

The goldeneye are displaying furiously now there is some clear water and their ‘zip-zeeeow’ calls can be heard all round the loch. But it’s not all displaying, there needs to be some time out to have a bit of a preen…and, sometimes, all you need is a really good stretch!

Male goldeneye displaying

Goldeneye stretch

It’s been so mild this week that the snow has gone really quickly. It’s stayed dry too, in spite of some spectacularly blue-black skies. I was just waiting to get soaked on Tuesday but somehow it never came on!

Birch against grey sky

When the snow goes, it can be a bit  depressing. Not just because everything looks a bit soggy and sorry, but because it exposes all the things people hide under it. If you’ve scraped snow over it, well, it can’t be seen and it’s okay now…isn’t it? I had to tie up and abandon the rubbish bag half way round the loch (for later collection) as the smell of dozens of bags of dog poo was making me feel ill, but I think the poo smell was trumped by decomposing rodent. Discarded bottles are a death trap -literally -for small mammals. They climb into the neck of the bottle then can’t get out and this one beer bottle accounted for at least 3 mice. Such a shame.

Bottle and sad remains of mice

The rabbits have been hungry in the cold weather. They can do a lot of damage in hard winters as they resort to browsing on the bark of trees. Aspen and rowans seem to be the most likely victims of the bunnies, with even large trees being ring-barked to around 75cm above the ground.

Rabbit damage

Rabbit ring-barked rowan

We had a bit of surprise on Wednesday, when we nearly ran over a woodcock in the truck! Woodcock are beautifully camouflaged, shy, nocturnal bird and spend all day sitting on the ground, not doing a lot and just being as invisible as possible. They never move until the last minute (in case you hadn’t seen them and movement would give them away) and I’ve had I don’t know how many frights from nearly stepping on them over the years. But this is the first time I’ve ever encountered one while in a vehicle and, unusually, it just scuttled to the side of the track and stood there being as camouflaged as only a woodcock can. You can’t see me. You can’t. oh yes, we can!

Woodcock

We finished the week with a couple of days heather burning. Most heather burning is done to provide shoots for grouse but we burn small patches of the heather to maintain our internationally-important bearberry heath. Tall, leggy heather can shade out other plants, including bearberry, so burning off small areas of dense heather allows bearberry, cowberry, mountain everlasting, St Johns wort, wintergreens and bitter vetch to regenerate. It’s never a stress-free day and I’m always relieved when the fire is finally out!

Muirburn

Heather burning

 

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Snow No More? – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s all going away! After 10 days or so of there being snow, it’s all starting to melt…but there is quite a way to go until it is all gone. The snow was significantly topped up last weekend and there was about 4-5 inches of the white stuff on Monday morning.

No matter which one you choose, it’ll be snowy….

The snow fell onto the already frozen lochs, making a beautifully tempting flat, white surface which you just longed to run across. But a few tentative steps onto the edge tells you why this isn’t a good idea, with a creaking and cracking that reminds you that a) you need to go on a diet and, b) water that cold actually hurts. I suspect the ice at the edge of the lochs would have taken person’s weight but it probably wouldn’t further out.

Kinord last weekend

Kinord just after snow on Saturday

Frozen Kinord

And it turned out I was right! The tracks of cross country skis on Loch Davn showed that yes, the ice was strong enough at the edges….but the skier very sensibly didn’t venture far onto the loch, so even if the ice had gone, they wouldn’t be much more than knee-deep. Not that ice-cold water up to your knees would be much fun….

Frozen Davan

When the lochs freeze up, the water levels actually drop as so much water is tied up in ice. It’s one of the reasons to worry about climate change and global warming – if all that ice at the poles melts, then a lot of coastal areas will be up the creek without a paddle.  And that will pose problems, as a boat will be the only way to get around! You can see how the lochs have dropped, from the first time they froze over a week ago. The ice is stuck in trees where the original level of the loch was.

The lochs have dropped since a lot of water has become tied up as ice

It was still bitterly cold on Monday and Tuesday nights, so the ice around the Vat burn continued to build up. You can see how thick it is in the splash zone of the waterfall. My handspan is about 18cm and there was a greater thickness than that of ice. Even water on the road that was regularly driven through by cars and splashed up onto a fence froze, creating a surprisingly pretty wall of ice on a barbed wire fence.

Thick ice

Ice in the Vat burn

Every bit of vegetation near the water was frozen

Everything in the splash zone has frozen- even this fence that was repeatedly splashed by cars.

All the places in the Vat that normally ooze water, and you don’t really notice, are suddenly dragon-toothed with ice. Or the slow ooze builds up into ripples and frozen rivers of ice, clinging to the rock.

Vat with ice

Icicles in the Vat

An ice waterfall in the Vat

Sometimes the ice builds up to a point where it collapses under its own weight. This huge icicle has torn a lump of sphagum moss out of the cliff.

This icicle has torn a lump of moss out of the cliff

The ice is beautiful in close-up, too. It’s not smooth, like you might imagine, but rippled and wrinkled and reflecting the light.

Ice in close-up

Ice ripples

But, by Thursday, the melt was definitely on! The frost light actually went off in the car (wow!) as it got warmer,  but all that lying snow made for a real temperature difference in the air. There was a bit of freezing fog around first thing before it finally cleared into a decent day.

Freezing fog

Freezing fog, Thursday morning

Friday was foul, weather -wise, so we’ll just skip over it and go straight onto some lovely pictures. For those of you who follow us on Facebook, you’ll know we had a mini- photo competition running this past week. Thanks to all the entrants…they’re all lovely pics and thanks for sharing them. The winners of the calendars, in no particular order are: Alan – Frosty Loch Kinord; Heidi – Frog on a lily pad; Simon -Autumn leaves; Maya – Frozen Kinord, and; Wullie- Snowy boardwalk footsteps. Enjoy the pictures and winners, you can collect your calendar from the visitor centre.

Frosty Kinord -Alan

Frog on a lily pad- Heidi

Autumn leaves – Simon

Frozen Kinord -Maya

Snowy boardwalk footsteps – Wullie

Unfortunately, when snow has been walked on,  frozen, unfrozen, refrozen, been walked on some more, defrosted, then frozen again, it turns into a ice as hard as concrete. Just out of curiosity, I tried to break some in the car park today with a lump hammer and, bar showering myself in fine ice splinters, got nowhere. And, right now, all our paths are covered in a layer of this slippery, solid ice. So, if you’re out on the reserve this weekend, be really careful – the paths are slippy and it is hard, sore stuff to fall onto.

It’s hard to see in the picture, but the path is sheet ice

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Winter Wonderland – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Brrr! It’s been another cold week…though they probably laugh at us in North America, where it’s been frighteningly cold. The snow actually disappeared on Friday and Saturday last week, in a rapid melt, but all came back again overnight on the Sunday. Everything looked so beautiful dusted with snow (except the roads, which were lethal).

Fresh snow overnight on Tuesday

Snowy heather

Snow on birch tree

All the trees and bushes are coated with snow

The snow was topped up again on Tuesday night, as was the lethality of the roads! We haven’t had new snow creatures build this time round, though, as it’s been the dry, light fluffy snow you get when it’s really cold. While you can feel the warmth of the sun, any shady patches are viciously cold and the temperature didn’t seem to rise much above -2 all day.

A sparking frosty morning

Spiky snowy gorse

Snowy trees

Always cold and shady on the lower Vat trail

It has stayed so cold that these individual snowflakes and ice crystals on this birch tree haven’t melted. Usually, the merest touch of sun would be enough to reduce these to water but the cold has kept them as ice ( was even so cold that I didn’t even get wet knees when changing the flat tyre I could really have done without…though the tyre brace was painfully cold to use!)

Ice crystals on birch tree

Rime frost

Rime frost

Both Wednesday and Thursday nights saw temperatures drop below minus 10. This has led to there being some spectacular ice sculptures in the Vat.

Snowy Vat

Icicles in the Vat

Ice scultptures

Colours can look very vivid in the snow. This blonde bunny really seemed to glow against the snow.

Blonde rabbit

The lochs have frozen and snow has fallen onto the ice. They look so tempting to walk onto – flat, clean snow, just waiting for a set of footprints. But please, don’t chance it…the ice is in no way strong enough hold your weight yet. And, even if it does seem to be okay to walk on, it’s still too risky….there are currents in the lochs you can’t see that make for thin patches in the ice.

Frozen Loch Davan and snowy Morven

There were still a couple of patches of open water on the lochs mid-week but these were frozen over by Friday. While there was still open water, all the ducks were congregated around it, but now they’ll have to find somewhere else to go. In prolonged cold conditions like these, wildfowl will move onto estuaries and coasts where there tends to be open water – salt water and flowing rivers don’t freeze so readily. Our colleagues at Forvie have noticed a real upswing in wildfowl numbers this week, with over 900 teal being counted on the Ythan.

Ducks on frozen Kinord

Yet again, I was struck how much the weather varies year on year. This is the spot we often see adders and we’ve seen as early as 8th Feb in mild winters. Not this year, methinks!

No adders yet!

The wildlife has been made bold – or reckless – by cold and hunger. Often, when a predator or other perceived threat appears, birds will alarm call and disperse for ages after the danger has passed. But, at the moment, there is just a brief alarm call then straight back to feeding. This buzzard was largely ignored by the local birds who, in better conditions, would have mobbed it and ‘deeved’ it until it moved on. (For non-Scottish readers – ‘to deev’ or ‘deeved’ means to bedevil, annoy, bug the hell out of).

Buzzard

One less reckless member of our local wildlife played hard-to-get in terms of working out what it was. I thought I’d seen movement – but had I?

Is there something behind that tree?

Yes, there is definitely something….

We can still see you!

Ah, it’s a woodpecker! They are quite shy and often play ‘peek-a-boo’ round tree trunks. Like many creatures, they assume if they can’t see you, you can’t see them…but they keep peeking round the trunk to check if you’re still there.

Ah. That’s what it is- a woodpecker!

I had a rather more unexpected wildlife encounter in the visitor centre on Thursday. The low sun had revealed some cobwebs I hadn’t noticed, so I took a brush to dust them away. While I was doing that, I spotted what I thought was a burdock seed on top of the big map. Oh, a kid’s chucked that up there, I thought, and took the brush to knock it down. To my huge horror, it moved! A dash for the step ladder revealed a pipistrelle bat, which swore furiously at me as I gently relocated it to the roost. They really need to be in torpor at this time of year…they shouldn’t be out and about until it’s warmer, otherwise they’ll use up their energy stores and die.

Climbing back into the roost

And finally…the reveal on the footprints from last week. In order, they were otter, heron, woodcock and badger. This week’s ‘Who’s Toes’ is pretty obvious so well just say it’s rabbit and be done with it. But, slightly unusually, it’s deep within the woodland. The cold will have forced the bunnies into the wood for food as the snow isn’t so deep under the trees. So keep your eyes peeled when you’re out and about- you never know what the cold weather might reveal in ways of wildlife.

Rabbit prints

 

 

 

 

 

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Snow! – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a difference a week makes. Rachel was out and about with her camera at the end of last week and it was bright, clear and sunny.

At the end of last week

Redpoll flock

 

 

Kinord, end of last week.

Then, over the weekend, the snow came, bringing whiteness and freezing fog.

Snowy path

Misty monochrome woods

 

Kinord on Saturday

And, if the change in the weather wasn’t dramatic enough, we had a super blood wolf moon on Monday. The “blood moon” bit comes from the reddish colour seen during the lunar eclipse and all the moons in each month have a name. January’s is the “wolf moon”…not sure why but it might be the cold month when hunger drove wolves down out of the hills to slink around the edges of our consciousness.

Super blood wolf moon

Moon eclipse, with earth’s shadow moving off the moon.

The rising sun revealed that some of our visitors had been having a LOT of fun in the snow over the weekend!

Monday sunrise

Snowmen on the lawn

Snow frog

And the snow also reveals other things, too. You see the prints of creatures you never normally see, but suddenly, in the snow, their presence is writ large. So, let’s play a game of “Who’s Toes?” We’ll reveal the answers in next week’s blog!

Should be easy…away into the water

Clue: large and by water

Bird…but what kind?

Big, broad paw with digging claws

The ducks haven’t quite been frozen off the lochs. There’s still a small patch of water, maybe 20m by 10m,  on Loch Davan, absolutely crammed with ducks. End count was 131 teal, 94 mallard, 15 swans, 12 wigeon and a handful of goldeneye, cormorant and goosander.

Ducks on ice

Unfortunately for these two whooper swans, they picked the rest of the loch to land on! They actually made a surprisingly graceful touchdown, given the ice, but then completely lost their dignity trying to walk to the clear water. I am a firm believer that watching wildfowl land or walk on ice should be available on the NHS as a cure for feeling blue.

Incoming whoopers

Whoopers usually have a flap after landing

Walking on ice isn’t easy…

Oops!

In the snow, you can see just how many birch seeds the redpoll spill as they’re feeding. I’ve spoken before about the “rain” of seeds that fall under a flock…but it’s never been more pronounced than in the snow.

Birch seeds scattered by redpoll

The cold weather has made for some nice icicles in the Vat. Nothing too spectacular, but still an attractive display of natural ice sculpture.

Icicles in the Vat

Icicles at bottom of waterfall

Ice in Vat

Frost crystals

This piece of Sphagnum moss has become completely enclosed in ice. It reminds me of those glass paperweights you used to get, with different kinds of flower in them.

this sphagnum moss has become completely encased in ice

In spite of the cold, some birds are already displaying to one another. Crossbills breed very early in the year and this male was singing off a pine tree just across the road from the visitor centre.

Lovely male crossbill

We’ll leave you this week with an illustration of how desperate wildlife can get for food at tis time of year. I think there are eight tits on the feeder in this photo, but the record is eleven at one go (and watching them is thoroughly distracting me from writing this). If you’re so inclined, feeding the birds in your own garden  can really help them out- as well as providing hours of fairly cheap entertainment!

Tits on feeder

 

 

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The Dark of the Year – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Bored with Brexit? Done with dieting? In fact, are you thoroughly jaded with January? It’s the time of year when a lot of us start to feel fed up with the new year, even though it’s less than 20 days old. After the excitement of Christmas, it’s back to reality and it’s sooooo dark and sooooo cold (minus 9 today). I’m lucky, in that I prefer the autumn and winter to the summer (no biting insects, no incessant daylight, fewer people, less stress) but some folk really struggle in the dark days. But, already, we can see the days lengthening and the first plants are putting on leaves. This honeysuckle is very early and I can’t help but think it’ll get frosted before long.

Honeysuckle leaf

You also notice the hazel catkins starting to lengthen.

Hazel catkins

And the moles are on the move! At this time of year, the males go looking for the females and you see runs of molehills popping up as they chase around in the dark.

It went thataway!

The moles and the rabbits sometimes turn up traces of people who used to live and work here. Something white in a recent rabbit scrape caught my eye and closer investigation revealed the bowl of a clay pipe. These pipes were commonly used and almost disposable, as the stems snapped really easily. And smoking was not the anathema it is now, and almost every working man would have smoked a pipe. So you do occasionally find these…but when you do, it’s a sudden and vivid reminder of those who worked the land before you.

Clay pipe

There are still big flocks of redpoll in the woods. There must have been 200+ in the flock just across the road from the visitor centre. I must admit I was completely entranced by them. The trees were moving with them, and all you could hear was the twittering and bickering and rustling in the trees. Then, a sudden silence and the rush of wings as the whole flock moved a tree to the left or right. They were feeding overhead and a gentle rain of birch seeds was floating down the whole time. By the time they moved off, my jacket was covered in seeds.

redpoll flock

redpoll flock

Birch seeds

I’ve probably spent more time than I should, grilling the flocks for an arctic redpoll. The redpoll we get here are, for the most part, lesser redpoll… and, though I always hope to pick out a larger, paler arctic redpoll, I haven’t managed to ‘string’ one into an arctic yet!

Redpoll. Just the ordinary kind!

Redpoll

The week is getting colder. At the beginning of the week, we had a sprinkle of ‘almost snow’… and you could see the snow showers starting to move in over Morven.

Snow?

Snow coming in over Morven

And melting frost glistened on every bit of vegetation.

Glistening rushes

Then, by the end of the week, everything was white and frozen.

Pink sunrise, Morven

The wildlife will struggle in the cold. While we rarely see woodcock (and, when we do, they are usually erupting from under our feet) but some feathers near the Celtic cross showed they’d been around. They have a soft, sensitive tip to their bill and consequently find it hard to probe into frozen ground.

Woodcock feather

But frozen ground can be quite enjoyable for a walk. Provided it’s not icy, it makes for nice firm paths and no mud! And the frost can be quite beautiful, too. So, why not wrap up warm and take advantage of it on the reserve this weekend…before it rains again!

The frost crystals get bigger as it stays below freezing for another day

 

 

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New Year, New You? – Muir of Dinnet NNR

So, how many times in the last week have you seen this week’s title for the blog? And does it vaguely annoy you, too? I mean, what’s so wrong with the old me? Yes, I over-indulged over the festive break. And do you know what? I enjoyed every minute of it! I’ll admit, there was one point, the morning after a very convivial evening in the pub, I thought to myself “you’re old enough to know better” ….but I’m also old enough to know that those are the evenings that memories are made of and that you’ll still be laughing about in 10 years. So, I don’t have a problem with over-indulgence (except perhaps the morning after) provided it’s a temporary thing. And you don’t need a new you…just perhaps one who eats a wee bit less and exercises a wee bit more….you’ll feel better for it and you’re far more likely to keep that up than a faddy diet. And we can help you there…we’ve got this wonderful nature reserve with lots of nice, not over-strenuous paths to go for a lovely walk and it’s all free of charge (also useful after Christmas). Why not come and see us in 2019?

After all, so far at least, we’ve had a fairly gentle winter. There have been a few very cold nights, so much so that there was still some ice on the loch on Monday. Even the increasing wind hadn’t yet managed to shatter all the ice, but, as the loch got choppier, the ice squeaked, groaned and chattered like a living thing. It can be a little disconcerting to walk beside; it can go through all the frequencies from bass to treble, crack like a gunshot or sound like distant voices.

Kinord partly frozen on Monday

Water lapping over the ice

Ice shattered by the wind

By the end of the Monday, the wind was really strong. Our power was off and the ice was being stacked in the south-east of the loch.

Ice “paving”

Broken ice

By Wednesday, the wind had dropped right off and there was a glorious sunrise.

Sunrise, Loch Kinord

Sunrise

Reeds against sunrise

The wakes made by the ducks reflected the rising sun like molten gold. You couldn’t actually see the ducks themselves for the dazzle, but slow, golden ripples showed you where they were.

Sunrise wigeon

Life must be getting had for the birds. As the winter progresses, they gradually eat up all the  available food. You don’t often see a fieldfare in a field when there are still rowan berries around but, once all the wild fruit is eaten, they regularly forage on the ground.

Fieldfares

Fieldfare…in a field!

The birch catkins are still providing seeds for the redpoll flocks. These are often seen around Loch Kinord and patience and a set of binoculars will soon reveal how the redpoll got its name.  But redpoll are very variable … some are very pale, some are darker, some are large, some small. This bird has a large, obvious patch of red on its forehead, but others have far less obvious red polls. Many of the juveniles don’t have any red on them at all and you can, rarely, even get “yellow polls”, where the red is replaced by a yellow patch.

Redpoll

The bullfinches are also feeding on the birch catkins and you often see them in with the redpoll flocks. The males are a striking salmon-pink colour and often feed by hanging upside-down.

Male bullfinch

Acrobatic bullfinch

If, like me, you’re an early riser, you’re more likely to see roe deer feeding in grassy or marshy areas. They’ll often lie-up during the day and feed overnight or at dusk and dawn and you see them feeding first thing before they disappear for the day. The other nice thing about being up and about early is that you hardly ever see anyone… so why not treat yourself to a few early-morning walks on the reserve?

Roe deer

 

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The Worst Winter? – Muir of Dinnet NNR

“They said there’ll be snow at Christmas, they said there’ll be peace on earth. But instead it just kept on raining…” …yup, with you on that one, mate. We all picture snow at Christmas…or, at least, some nice frosty mornings. But we’re in a maritime climate here in the UK, which means our weather generally isn’t too extreme. We don’t get the really harsh, bitter, continental winters, nor do we swelter in 40+ Centigrade in the summer. And, over  the winter, the longed-for snow is far more likely to be mild weather(well, 2-6 degrees) and rain. But let me take you back to the winter of 2009/10….remember that one?

The Vat

I certainly do, especially when my feet get cold, as I got a toe nipped with frostbite that year! The snow started in early December and persisted, on and off, until February. We were working outside in minus 8 daytime temperatures, in wellies, as the snow was high enough to go over the top of walking boots. At its worst, I think there were about 15 inches of snow on the reserve.

Snow, Burn Vat trail

Snow, Burn o Vat trail

It meant there were a lot of trees down! That quantity of snow starts to get heavy and the trees were gradually bending or breaking under its weight. Some of these sprang back after the snow melted but many broke and had to be cut off the paths, We had about a dozen trees down in the first 400 yards of the Vat trail…but we couldn’t clear them up for ages as they were frozen into the snow.

Many of the trees were bent over with snow

Trees flattened with snw

The lochs froze from November through until March. Kinord was especially hard-frozen and, though I wouldn’t advise it, lots of people were walking or ski-ing over the ice.

Loch Kinord

It was so cold – night-time temperature of minus 18 – that the waterfall in the Vat almost completely froze. I’ve never seen it like this before or since but there was only the tiniest ooze of water still flowing. And the land rover wouldn’t start as the diesel was turning to jelly!

The frozen waterfall in the Vat

ice around the waterfall

Ice in vat

Icicles in Vat

Icicles in the Vat

The birds were made bold by hunger and the tits weren’t even waiting until you had the peanuts in the feeder. They were taking them straight out of the cup in your hand.

Who’s your friend?

We most definitely had a white Christmas that year. So I thought I’d share the pictures from then with you to compensate for the rather nondescript weather this year! See you in the new year, folks!

Snow on birch trees

 

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Sun and Storms – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been an interesting start to the week. Monday dawned as bright and clear a winter’s day as you could ever hope to see, with clear skies and a sparking frost. Venus was burning bright in the eastern sky and it was a pleasure, albeit a chilly one, to watch the sky turn from deep blue to gold.

Venus

First light

When the sun eventually did creep above the horizon, it was dazzlingly bright. Low sun and glittering frost make for an eye-squinching combination…but it was breathtakingly beautiful too. Or maybe that was just the cold taking my breath away…

Dazzlingly bright frosty morning

Sunrise over Old Kinord fields

Sunrise, Kinord

Morven, pink in the rising sun.

Even the moss and the dead bracken had a covering of ice crystals,all gleaming in the morning sun.

Frosty bracken

The rising sun revealed that the lochs were largely frozen. Kinord, though the larger of the two, tends to freeze more readily than Loch Davan. All of the burns that feed into Kinord meander through rush and spahgnum swamp before they reach the loch, so there is not much in the way of water moving to keep the loch ice-free. Davan, on the other hand, has a strong inflow from the Logie Burn and it has to be very cold for several days before it will totally freeze.

Sunrise, Kinord

Frozen Loch Kinord

There were 70-odd ducks on Kinord, mostly mallard and goldeneye, all huddled together in the small patches of open water. It’s not so bad for the mallard, as they don’t dive, but for a diving duck like a goldeneye, ice is downright dangerous. Surface in the wrong place and you drown.

Ducks, on the small unfrozen patch of Kinord

Diving goldeneye.

Then, after the winter idyll that was Monday, came the next rampaging storm on Tuesday. It was pretty rough and we haven’t had one that bad since….ooooh, Saturday? Fortunately, Storm Deirdre on Saturday, didn’t do much damage apart from pinching our “closed” door sign (we may yet find it in a tree somewhere) but the winds seemed worse than that later in the week. I’m not sure yet if Tuesday’s winds and rain will rate a storm name but, if they do, it’ll be Erik.

Getting wet again

When we do have rough weather, the wildlife is notable by it’s absence. Even if there are birds in the woods, you won’t hear them or spot them in the thrashing branches. Ducks on the lochs disappear behind white-capped waves or into the reedbeds for shelter. About the only place you’ll see anything is on the peanut feeder.

Coal tit

We often have a bit of clearing up to do after high winds. The first job is to check the visitor centre hasn’t been blown away (joking aside, the island and coastal reserves can take a real hammering) , then walk all the paths to check for downed trees. It’s a challenge getting round all the routes in daylight in a day at this time of year and it seems traditional that we’re doing this at least twice in the last week before Christmas!

It’s got to go…this snapped tree is too close to the path

Speaking of Christmas, here’s our Christmas card for 2018. And our opening hours, though these may be prone to change if we get really bad snowfall. Not that I’m expecting that- mild and damp looks like the order of the day….again! Still, whatever the weather does, we hope you have a lovely Christmas and we wish you all the best for 2019.

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New Moon – Muir of Dinnet NNR

“Turn your money” my folks say when there’s a crescent moon in the sky “and it’ll double itself”. I’m not sure where this comes from (and it’s never worked for me yet) but there was a lovely thin sliver of a crescent moon on Monday morning. It was a beautiful start to the week, between the moon and stars and Venus bright in the golden dawn.

crescent moon

Crescent moon

It had been a frosty night and Morven was grey with frost.

Morven

frosty Morven

It didn’t take long until the frost had been topped up with some fresh snow. I think it’s all gone again by today -Friday – but now we’re into December the hills are regularly veiled in snow.

P1110873

Snowy Morven

We also had a day away from Dinnet this week, helping out at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg. This is a fantastic reserve and one I have a soft spot for, having done a lot of my early birding there – saw my first ever short-eared owl there, and had my first shot driving a car on the old runway. The reserve is rightly famous for it’s huge pink-footed goose roost and they’ve had lots of whooper swans there this winter too. It was lovely working in the reedbed to a constant background of “swan music”…and, indeed whoopers are “singing swans” some European languages. In fact, the name “swan” itself probably derives from an early Indo-European word meaning “to sing”.

pinkfoot

Pink-foot goose

whoopers

Whooper swans

If you’re planning on popping into the centre, make sure you check out the new display. This was done as part of a John Muir Award (the “share” part of the Discover, Explore, Conserve, Share ethic) by Rachel, who has added some of her own artwork to her cracking photos. it’s a lovely piece of work, so do have a look if you visit us this weekend.

John Muir award display

John Muir award display

John Muir award

Rachel’s John Muir award display

display

John Muir award display – pictures and artwork

John Muir award

Drawing from display

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Winter Gold -Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a much better week this week. The rain has finally stopped and we’ve actually seen the sun a few days in a row! It was such a relief to start seeing bonny winter sunrises again.

sunrise

Sunrise

sunrise

Sunrise

The clear weather has made for some cold nights. It was viciously cold on Tuesday, with the temperature sitting about  minus 6 as the sun came up. Everything was grey with frost and looked beautiful in the sun.

frost

A frosty morning

Every leaf and old bracken frond was coated in frost. Even the picnic table was sporting a fuzz of ice crystals!

frosty leaf

Frost

Frosty fern

Frost on bracken frond

frost

Event the picnic benches are bedecked with frost

It was cold enough for the first ice of the winter to form on the lochs.

Kinord

Ice on the loch

Kinord

Icy Loch Kinord

With the ice, a few whooper swans have reappeared on the lochs. I wonder if they’ve been frozen off smaller patches of water elsewhere? You often see that, when it gets cold…wildfowl congregate on the larger lochs that take longer to freeze. In really bad winters, when everything freezes, they all wind up on the coast where the estuaries and sea stay ice-free.

whooper

Incoming swans

whooper

Super whoopers!

whoopers

On Loch Kinord

The reserve is in its winter dress now. The trees look starkly beautiful, with every branch sharp against the sky. So different from their golden gowns a couple of months back!

aspen

Aspen

aspen

Aspen back in autumn

 

Birches

Winter birches

birch

…and back in autumn.

Now that the vegetation has died back, you can easily see the bottoms of the trees. If you’re walking past  the young aspens, keep a look out for some large-ish holes -up to about 10p size – near the base of the trees. These are made by the large poplar longhorn beetle. These are pretty rare in Scotland (as are large stands of aspen) and you almost never see the adults…but you know they’re there by the holes.

Aspen with longhorn hles

Holes made by large Poplar Longhorn Beetles in aspen

With the trees being bare, it’s easy to spot birds in the trees. There are good flocks of redpoll in the woods, and we’re still seeing plenty of bullfinches and goldfinches around the edges of the Old Kinord fields.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

These could easily be prey to the great grey shrike that was reported last weekend! Unfortunately, we haven’t tracked it down yet (they are highly mobile, have large territories and disappear so easily they appear to be able to teleport) but we keep hoping. The only predator I’ve seen perched on the power lines this week has been one of the resident buzzards. But keep a look out for the shrike if you’re out this weekend…look for a thrush-sized bird, white and black, perched up on a tree, often near woodland edge. Good luck!

Buzzard

Buzzard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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