Going Viral – Muir of Dinnet NNR

No, not the staff, but the blog (I wish!). However, following government advice, I’m afraid our office, visitor centre and public toilets are closed until further notice. While most of us should be ok, unless we all starve to death thanks to overly selfish stockpiling, we are staying at home and playing it safe for the sake of our staff, their families and the wonderful NHS. Mind you, it was only on Wednesday morning last week we closed, that didn’t stop me having to unblock a toilet on Monday first thing. Coronavirus may be the new kid on the block, but fecal coliforms and e-coli are old, old friends when you have public toilets to manage. But after cursing and plunging the blockage out, I had the delight of walking out of the toilets and seeing a ‘golden cock’.

Golden cock crossbill

I know, the mind boggles, doesn’t it? But ‘golden cock’ is the term given to a male crossbill whose dominant plumage colour is yellowish rather than the usual red. Compare the bird above to the one below, a more typical red male. These crossbills have been singing since before Christmas and are often very easy to spot when they sit right on top of a pine tree.

male crossbill.

The sun has made for good basking weather. We’ve seen up to 5 adders out in the bracken, soaking up the sun.

Adders

They often snuggle up together early in the morning, for extra warmth. These two seem to be particularly good pals and I’ve seen them curled up together more often than not.

A pile of adder!

And the flatten their bodies out to maximise the amount of sun they can soak up.

Flattened to get maximum sun

We’ve also seen the first lizards of the year. Thanks to Maggie for the picture, they eluded me and the camera  last week!

Common lizard

The frogs and toads are out and about too, and, as of a week ago, frogspawn was starting to appear in quantity in the pools by the paths.

Mating frogs

Frogspawn

The trees are starting to show signs of life, too. Where we’ve had to cut damaged trees over the winter, the stumps are not oozing sap.

The sap is rising

And, after last year’s unusual flowering of the aspen trees, it looks like only one tree will flower this year. Aspen don’t usually flower in any numbers -in fact, last year was the first time I’d ever seen it – but the odd tree may do so, often in response to stress. I suspect this is the case with this tree – it has snapped off years ago and rot is now probably reaching the living part of the tree. A lot of plants or fungi will attempt to seed or spore in response to stress- quick, breed before you die!

Aspen catkin

Damaged aspen

As we mentioned at the start of the blog, the reserve office and toilets are shut. We have also taken in the dog poo bin as we won’t be there to empty it. While it’s best to exercise close to home to, if you do visit the countryside, please take all your litter away – don’t assume anyone will clear it up after you. Okay, this should be the case anyway, but it’s especially important just now – none of us wan’t our beautiful country messed up by a few selfish folk. Stay well, stay safe and we will all see each other out and about soon!

Why????

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Snakes and Sea Eagles – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Hello out there. Hope you are all well, being able to find stuff in the supermarket (it was really bare this morning) and enjoying the oncoming spring. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind having to self-isolate for a week too much – the house would be tidy, the garden would be immaculate, next year’s firewood would be cut and I’d finally have bagged up all the clothes I swear I’m going to slim back into for charity. And I’d be bored, bored, bored ….with the spring coming, you just want to be outside to enjoy the fine days. Especially when all the birds are singing. This song thrush was giving it laldy from the top of a pine tree just beside the visitor centre.

Song thrush

While this one was raking for worms on the lawn outside.

Song thrush

And this woodpecker decided to briefly drum on our garage before picking around for insects, then giving up and going onto the peanut feeder. I’m glad it stopped; imagine having to explain that to the insurance company ‘ So, the hole in your building was caused by a woodpecker? Pull the other one!’.

Woodpecker on garage

Also taking advantage of the feeder was this rather smart red squirrel. Though I am reminded of why the camera we mounted here doesn’t work any more…

Stretching for the peanuts!

Wonder why the camera doesn’t work….

Most days have been pretty sunny, but have often started cold. On Monday, there were gossamer-fine ice crystals on the frost that vanished as soon as the sun touched them.

Frost crystals on moss

Frost crystals on moss

Sparking frost crystals on moss

And the odd shower was scattered into rainbows by the spring sun (thanks to Rachel for these pics).

Rainbow over Kinord

Rainbow over Kinord

More creatures are emerging as the sun warms the land. We had our first slow worm on Wednesday and our first frogspawn this week, too.

First slow worm of the year

The first frogspawn of the year

The toads are up as well but we haven’t had any huge numbers yet – but give it a couple of warm days and they’ll be everywhere.

It’s the toad!

There are several adders out basking now. This knot of scales and coils resolved itself into three snakes when we zoomed in with the camera.

How many adders?

And this smart male was enjoying the warm stones on the drystane dyke.

Male adder

But, in spite of the fine weather, the wind last weekend was enough to damage trees and this one, right by the path, had to go.

What’s the crack? The tree’s knackered, that’s what!

Crack in tree

taking down damaged tree

Highlight of the week definitely happened on Monday, while I was doing a bird count on the loch. Suddenly all the ducks and geese took off, quacking, honking, whistling, grunting and it was raining birds as they all crashed and piled into the reedbed. I barely had time to curse at losing count when a huge presence made itself felt overhead – sea eagle! This explained the mass panic on the loch – these big predators can take anything even up to the size of a swan.

Sea eagle!

This was an adult bird, the first time I’ve seen a full adult sea eagle here. We occasionally see roving juveniles, often about this time of year, when they can make an easy meal of sex-crazed toads. And it just got better and better – the bird came into land on the far side of the loch.

Coming in to land

Landing gear down

It’s not that obvious, perched up high.

But I think I was the only one for miles around to welcome its presence. The local crows, buzzards and a red kite, all came over to mob it and annoy it into moving on. They eventually succeeded and the bird flew off west but not before I’d enjoyed a spectacular performance of eagle-baiting. I hope it’ll reappear for some amphibian snack food in the next few weeks!

The raptors have spotted the sea eagle

Kite and eagle

Red kite incoming!

Right overhead

Buzzard flypast

That was close!

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Adding up to Spring – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s spring! We’ve finally had the first adders of the year on Monday this week.

the first adder of 2020!

Adder on the wall

Thanks to the heavy snow last week and the stormy conditions this year, the adders have been late in waking up. I can’t remember the last time it was into March before I saw one, they usually emerge in the last fortnight of February. But they’re up in force now and we saw 5 on Tuesday.

can you spot 3x adders in this picture?

Adder basking

Two basking adders

The storms haven’t left the reserve totally unscathed but we’ve had remarkably few trees blown down onto the paths, given how windy it has been. this birch had snapped off and its topmost branches were now dangling at head-height over the path. Many thanks to Neville for his help in clearing it up …and for taking the pictures while I poked at the tree with the chainsaw.

Tree snapped, overhanging path

Tree down

Cleared path

The snow here is almost gone now, with only a smattering remaining in shady places.

Snow going off the fields

Snow nearly gone from Parkin’s Moss

But the hills around the reserve are still pure white. We had a spectacular view over towards Lochnagar on Tuesday…. there’s still plenty of snow up there.

Lochnagar from top of reserve

And the puddles are all frozen. the patterns in this one reminded me of a surrealist-drawn face – Picasso or Dali – in one of their odder moods.

Ice patterns – like a surrealist face!

Even in the cold weather, you find signs of life. This lichen is producing red spores, earning it the nickname of ‘devil’s matchstick’. It’s one of the Cladonia lichens…but you need a book, a microscope and a lot more patience than I have to tell them all apart.

Devil’s matchsticks

And this fungi is quite happy, growing through the winter, feeding off dead wood.

Fungi on dead birch

Unfortunately, the shrike hasn’t reappeared but it was great to see a green woodpecker her eon Monday. I used to hear, if not see these, pretty regularly until about 2012, but, since then, have only seen the odd one. This one was, for a green woodpecker, remarkably confiding (I actually got a view and a picture of it rather than the usual view of it disappearing into the trees).

Green woodpecker

Meanwhile, other wildlife is on the move. There have been a steady trickle of whooper swans passing through the reserve, arriving, staying for a day or two and moving on. They will gradually congregate in the north-west of the country before making the journey across the north Atlantic to their breeding grounds in Iceland.

Swans can be hard to see in front of a snowy hill!

Coming closer …

…and right overhead.

We also had an away day this week, helping put up the Forvie tern fence. That, and the adders, mean it’s definitely spring! Let’s hope the more settled weather continues for a bit (though it doesn’t look like it from the forecast) so we can all get out there and enjoy some sunshine!

Tern fencing

 

 

 

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Let it Snow – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, it’s snowed this week, And, boy, did it snow on Monday, for 12 hours solid. It’s been a long time since we had such a prolonged snow ‘shower’ and it dumped several inches of snow on the reserve. While the roads are a pain (when the weather people say ‘icy on untreated surfaces’, it pretty much describes my journey to work), it makes the reserve look so beautiful. I do like the snow, it seems to wipe the world clean for a wee while and hide all the man-made stuff in the landscape. Many thanks to Rachel for supplying most of the pictures in this week’s blog.

Snowy waymarker

Snowy trees

Snowy tree stump

Snowy bushes

The trees look amazing with all the snow caught on the branches – a beautiful monochrome world that, later on, when the sun came out, turned dazzlingly white and blue.

Snow on birch trees

Trees flattened with snow

Snowy birch

The cold weather has at least partially frozen the lochs. You get some fantastic patterns in the ice.

Loch Kinord with snowy hills behind

Snowy Loch Kinord

Snowy Kinord

Snowy rushes

Ice on loch

The ducks don’t approve of the their world being made smaller by the lochs freezing. But it can be a good time to see them as they often sit out on the ice.

Ducks and swans on the ice

And, if you want a bit of innocent amusement, just watch them trying to get around on the ice on webbed feet. Here’s a video from a couple of years back of two whooper swans trying and failing to walk on the ice. https://www.facebook.com/muirofdinnetnnr/videos/245451829507497/

Walking on ice isn’t easy.

It’s a massive contrast to the conditions that they’ve been having 35 miles away on the coast. I’ve been grumbling that I can’t get at the muirburn and my colleagues at Forvie sent me this picture…look, no snow!

Looking out onto Forvie beach

From the weather forecast, it looks like all the snow will be gone by next week, so we might as well make the best of it while we can. Here’s a few pictures to finish with of some snowy scenes.

Snowy boardwalk footsteps

Snowy Vat

Frozen Loch Davan and snowy Morven

Snowy trees on Monday

Snow shadows

 

 

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Strimming for Terns and a Cuddly Killer – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It has been another wind-battered week, with Dennis following in Ceira’s footsteps and lashing the reserve. Fortunately, not too much damage…I think any trees that were going to blow over or break have already done so, with all the wind we’ve had.

Clearing fallen tree

In between all the screaming westerlies, we usually get a day or two’s grace, where the weather settles and there’s actually no wind! This, combined with a layer of melting ice on the lochs, made for some amazing reflections.

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

You could almost turn this picture upside down and not notice!

You could turn this upside down no problem!

There have been some beautiful sunrises, too, with the early-morning sun blushing the snow pink on Morven.

Morven sunrise

Morven, pink in the sunrise

The ducks have been showing off on the fine days. They are definitely thinking breeding thoughts and some will be on eggs in about a month’s time.  You don’t notice them displaying on a windy day – but I don’t suppose there’s much point showing off if you disappear behind a wave every 30 seconds.

Male goldeneye, head down display

Wigeon displaying

We’ve also had a bit of an away day, this week, helping to strim the Forvie ternery in preparation for the birds arriving back to breed. When the ternery – and gullery – is in full swing, there can be as many as 10 000 birds crammed into a small fenced area. Now, that’s a lot of bird poo, which enriches the soil. Which, in turn, allows things like nettles and rose-bay willowherb to grow. This isn’t a problem while the birds are there -it’s good cover for chicks to hide in – but, over the winter, these plants die back and leave woody stems behind. Come the next spring, these woody stems act like bird spikes and make it hard for the birds to land. So, off we go with the strimmers and clear out the best ternery on the east coast.

Summer starts here….clearing the ternery for its avian visitors later in the year

Although it’s nice to get a trip to another reserve for a change, highlight of the week was definitely provided by Dinnet. We’d just done a bird count and were heading away from Loch Kinord when a spotted a bird, sitting right at the top of a tree. I was driving, so didn’t have binoculars, so said to my colleague, mostly jokingly, to ‘just check out that bird and see it’s not a shrike, will you?’ So, he raises his binoculars and….it only was one!

Is it? Isn’t it? It is!!!!

Great grey shrike

Great grey shrikes, like the one we’d spotted, often have traditional wintering grounds and Muir of Dinnet is one. But we don’t see them here every year, more like once every 5 years or so and it’s always a real thrill (and results in an occasional excited expletive) when we do. They are smart, quite cute-looking birds, but are efficient predators. There aren’t insects around for them over the winter months so all their prey is larger creatures, voles, early reptiles and other birds. They will happily take on prey almost as large as themselves and usually kill by severing the spinal cord at the back of the neck. While this mistle thrush is probably big enough to be safe, it recognised a predator and was not happy about the shrike’s presence at all. But the local finches will need to watch out!

The shrike and the thrush weren’t all that keen on one another….

And so will the goldcrests. Shrikes often come to the UK in the autumn, with ‘falls’ of goldcrests from the continent, following a food supply. Shrikes earn their other name of ‘butcher bird’ by stashing food for later in a ‘larder’….which usually consists of various prey items impaled on twigs or thorns. This goldcrest was a victim of a shrike was saw in Orkney and, though I’ve probably seen a dozen different shrikes in my life, I’d never found a larder until then.  Even if you don’t see the shrike, it’s worth checking any thorny bushes for a larder – they are a fascinating, if gruesome insight into the diet of these enigmatic birds.

Goldcrest spiked for later consumption

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snow, Sun and Storms – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a fairly productive time on the reserve, in spite of the best efforts of the weather. Last week, we had Cairngorms National Park Volunteer rangers Leo and Keira out, helping with clearing pools for northern damselfly. Left to nature, these pools will gradually become covered with vegetation – sedges, rushes and the like – and eventually become unsuitable for the rare northern damselfly. We need to go down there every so often and howk out some of vegetation to maintain some open water. We pile all the plant matter at the side of the pool so anything living in it can crawl back into the water.  Its a wet and muddy job – and a cold one when you have to break the ice on the surface! – so we’re always grateful for help with it.

Clearing damselfly pond

Damselfly pool

Cairngorm National Park Volunteers Leo and Keira

But it’s a job you can only do so much of in those temperatures before your feet and hands start to get uncomfortably cold. So we spent the afternoon going through the aspen tree tubes, picking up the fallen ones, reinstating them on new saplings and moving any off dead trees. Aspen is probably THE tree most favoured by browsers – everything, from deer to rabbits like to eat it, and before any other tree saplings. So we need to protect the young aspen if, in the long term, we still want to have an aspen wood here. And we do- as well as being a beautiful tree, it has lots of rare species in the wood.

Volunteers tree tubing aspen

Aspen tree tubes

This group of ladybirds had decided that one of the tree tubes was a good place to hibernate. While we did see a ladybird on the go last week, these still seemed pretty dozy – and it’s a good job, as the weather was turning cold again.

Ladybirds hibernating on a tree tube

We were actually pretty lucky with the weather over the weekend. Storm Ciara lashed the country but did very little damage to the reserve. Yes, there were a few snapped trees but they all fell away from the paths and Monday morning dawned bright and sunny. But there was the odd snowflake falling, apparently from a clear blue sky.

The first flakes

It stayed nice most of the morning and we were treated to the sight of  a flock of long-tailed tits foraging right beside us. These gorgeous little birds are like flying teaspoons, all tail and fluffy body, chirruping and ‘prrrp’ing at one another. They are sociable birds and often, even in the breeding season, non-breeding ‘helpers’ will aid parents to raise young. But two of them had a right argument over some particularly tasty morsel and you can see the eyelids of the second bird have turned yellow with stress or excitement, while the bird bird with red eyelids is happier.

Long tailed tit

Long tailed tit

But all the while, we were aware of the weather lowering to the west of us. While we were in the sun on the east side of Loch Kinord, the far side of the loch disappeared under a snow shower.

A sunny start, but cloud on the horizon

snow at far side of Kinord

And gradually the showers blew in out of the west. Not seriously at first, but soon the sun was blotted out by heavy snowfall.

Snow coming on

The sun is blotted out by snowfall

When it’s like that, it doesn’t take long for the snow to accumulate. The view from the visitor centre turned white inside 20 minutes.

Heavy snow shower at Burn o Vat

Heavy snow shower at Burn o Vat

The snow then went – completely -overnight, before doing much the same the following day. But it lay longer this time as the temperature had dropped. We were obviously sitting right on the edge of where the snow was falling as there was noticeably more snow to the west of the reserve than to the east. Still, we’ve not had any significant snow yet this winter and may not as the year wears on.

Snowy heather

The cold has made the birds hungry. This picture was taken a scant hour after I’d filled the feeder to the top and there are hardly any nuts left. This woodpecker has the ideal beak to get at the last few!

Great spotted woodpecker

Some of the trees that snap off in the wind are dead already and, while we remove any that are right by the paths, we like dead wood. It’s great for wildlife – full of fungi, and invertebrates, which are food for other creatures, and holes in the trees are nest sites for goldeneye, tits, treecreepers and woodpeckers. Some of the fungi are quite spectacular and I think I’ve spotted the biggest hoof fungus I’ve ever seen on the reserve this week.

Hoof fungus

You get a better idea how big it is with with my gloves sitting on top of it. See if you can spot a bigger one if you’re out on the reserve this weekend!

Hoof fungus with gloves

 

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Spring, Seeds and Sunrises – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a lovely week on the reserve, but strange to think that only a week ago, we were admiring the trees in all their snowy glory. Even stranger was the appearance of the first butterfly of the year on Friday – yes, on the 31st of January. Council Ranger Helen came rushing in and declared she’d just seen a peacock butterfly basking on the dyke outside the office. Now, peacock butterflies do overwinter as adults and you sometimes find them hiding in cold, dark places, like sheds or garages or old WWII pill boxes. And, though Friday was a warm day, for them to emerge this early is unusual and neither of us had ever seen one in January before. I suppose it has been a mild winter, but  late spring frosts can kill off things that emerge from hibernation too soon.

Peacock butterfly on 31st Jan

Another ‘early bird’ was this ladybird. Again, you often find them hibernating in clusters in sheltered spots, but this one was up and about and wandering around the picnic table. I suppose this sort of thing will become far more common as our climate warms.

Ladybird

We’ve had some cracking sunrises this week…almost every day seems to have had a glowing pink and golden dawn.

Growing light behind the pines

Sunrise -under the power lines!

Sunrise over Kinord

Woodland sunrise

Fiery sunrise

The early morning light is rose-gold. There’s something about the quality of the light at that time of day that makes the trees glow like they are lit from within. The pines especially glow fiery orange as the first light hits them.

Scots pine in morning sun

Birch in morning sun

Other trees stand, stark and bare, against a blue sky. I love looking straight up the trunks on a clear day, to see all the different colours and textures. The silvery-green of the lichen, the smooth grey bark and, above it all, a deep blue sky.

Lichen on rowan tree

The tree fungi are obvious just now when there aren’t any leaves on the trees, too. Look out for the grey hoof fungus. It’s a birch specialist and is itself almost as hard as wood. But a leathery outer layer can be treated to create a tinder called amadou and was even used in the making of hats!

Hoof fungus

Down on the lochs, we’re seeing a steady throughput of birds. Most obvious are the whooper swans, trickling through on their way north. They will gradually move north through the UK over the next 6 weeks or so before making the long trip to Iceland to breed.

Whooper swans

Whooper swan

Although the weather has been mild, late winter/ early spring can be a hard time for birds and other creatures to find food. Almost all of the autumn seeds and berries have been used up but there are still some around if you know where to look. The reeds that surround the loch have heads full of seeds that will last through the winter. They’re tiny, but finches like linnets and goldfinches will feed on them, as will other birds like blue tits. I took these pictures down by the damselfly pools we are clearing out – more on that next week as the SD card with the pics is sitting in the wrong office – and you can see all the fluffy seeds poking out of the seed head.

 

Reed seed head

Reed seed head

Bulrushes also have lots of seeds. Oooh, lots. The sausage-shaped seed heads will likely contain well over 100 000 seeds, all of which will cheerfully go all over your house if you ever take them in for decoration. Best leaving them for the birds!

Bulrush seed head

Bulrush seeds

If the birds aren’t careful, they can become food themselves. Just beside the reedbed, a fallen tree provided a handy plucking post for a predator, probably a sparrowhawk. You can’t always tell what their last meal was but this time it was quite easy  – it’s obviously been a blue tit. At least we can visit the reserve without worrying about something eating us!

A plucking post . Victim – blue tit.

 

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Wet and Wonderful – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s the World Wetlands Day today …. and the Year of Coasts and Waters … so we’re going to celebrate our wonderful wetlands here at Dinnet with a series of blogs about the lochs and other wet places on the reserve …and their plants animals and people. Wetlands support a massive amount of biodiversity; in fact, 40% of ALL species breed on, live in or are in some way dependent on wetlands….us included. But this blog isn’t going to focus on people (though another will), but on the bird life of our wetlands at Dinnet. It won’t mention everything, but will pick out some of our more obvious residents – or , at least, ones I have pictures of. After all, who wouldn’t rather look at a duck than a crowded street?

Mallards on ice. Can you spot the one that fallen on it’s bum trying to walk on the ice?

All of the ducks look at their best in late winter/early spring. The moult their feathers in summer and, through autumn and early winter, look dowdy and lack their summer colours. Unlike small birds, they will moult all their wing feathers in one go and can’t fly well, or even at all for a few weeks. It makes sense not to be colourful at this point, because, if you can’t fly, you can’t escape from predators – so it doesn’t do to draw attention to yourself.

Eclipse mallard

But, by the turn of the year, most of the ducks are in all their finery. In terms of ducks that breed here, we usually get mallard, teal, goldeneye, tufted duck, and occasionally wigeon. All of these ducks have showy, spectacular males, while the females are grey and brown for camouflage. I always struggled to decide which one is the handsomest – the tiny teal, with their vermiculated grey and chestnut and green head? Or the wigeon – definitely the best noise -‘wheooo!’- rather than a quack. Or the goldeneye and tufted duck, understated, but dapper in black and white.

Teal

Teal roosting

Wigeon displaying

Tufted duck

Goldeneye

Of course, the lochs aren’t just about ducks, though they are the most striking residents. Swans also breed here and it’s a poor summer if we don’t have at least one ‘awww’ moment with some fluffy, new cygnets. Cormorants, pterodactyl-like, fish, then hang themselves out to dry on the trees. Coot patrol the reedbeds, breaking off from feeding to beat one another up on a regular basis, while little grebes whinny and bicker by the loch margins. Geese honk and clatter at…well, everything…as they shepherd broods of goslings to safety. Herons stalk, stately and deadly, in the shallows while water rails, rarely seen, make their presence known with a call that sounds like a pig being slowly killed. A reedbed is a truly wonderful place; a rustling, whispering haven with a maze of hidden waterways. The sights, sounds and the smell of a reedbed are one of the great experiences in the natural world, and one I have a soft spot for – even on holiday, there’s an evens chance I’ll wind up in a reedbed in East Anglia.

Bejeweled reeds

Cygnet snuggling into mum for warmth

Coot. It soon degenerates in to FIIIIIGHT!

Cormorant “wing drying”.

Water rail

Greylag geese plus goslings

Heron fishing for frogs by Loch Kinord

As well as the residents, we have lots of birds that use the lochs in passing. Our duck numbers climb in the winter and it’s likely that only 3-4% of those birds we see in the winter will actually stay to breed. Some just pass through and this is where lochs and wetlands are important on both a national and international scale. Yes, our lochs are nice. Yes, they’re good for biodiversity. But they’re no good if they’re not part of an international nature network of wild places that allows creatures from all over the world to thrive. Geese and whooper swans follow invisible sky roads across the North Atlantic every autumn and spring…and they need places to stop off and feed. Our lochs help with this and it’s always a privilege to see these birds on their epic migrations.

Lift off- the geese are getting up for the day

Winter visitors heading north- whooper swans

We even occasionally get wanderers turning up!

Great White Egret in reeds

Sea eagle hunting ducks

So, why not celebrate World Wetlands day by taking a walk near a wet place? We have a decent path round Loch Kinord here…and you might even see some of the things mentioned in the blog!

Loch Kinord

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Winter Wonderland – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Just a short blog today, folks, as our main blog is coming out on Sunday for World Wetlands Day. But we had to share some pictures with you of the trees this week. We had our first real snowfall of the winter early on Tuesday morning and woke up to a picture-perfect winter wonderland. The first hint we had was coming over Queens View (the Deeside one overlooking Tarland – I’m aware there are several ‘Queen’s Views’ in Scotland).

White -not dark – Lochnagar

And the road down to the visitor centre was lined with snow-laden trees.

Arriving at work – the road near the visitor centre

As the sun came up, the colours just got brighter and brighter.

A snowy journey to work…the road by Burn o Vat.

The car park and lawn were pure white. It looked like about 4 inches of snow had come down overnight.

Burn o Vat centre and car park

The view from the front door

It was one of those rare mornings where the cloud had time to clear before dawn and it wasn’t windy, so the sky was blue and the snow hadn’t been blown off the trees. It’s a pretty rare combination (and becoming even rarer, as we see less snow as the climate warms) that makes for a stunningly beautiful morning. So here are a heap of photos of Tuesday morning – enjoy.

Every twig is laden with snow.

Backlit snow

Snowy birch and pine

Snowy trees

Snowy trees

Snowy birches

Great-spotted woodpecker

Snowy trees

Snowy willow

Snowy birch

Snowy trees

Snowdrops. In the snow.

Snow on every twig

 

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January Warmth – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a warm and lovely week it has been. After the storms of last week, the weather has settled and it’s at least pretending to be spring. Already? Well, the signs are all there but I can’t help but think the wildlife will get a nasty shock yet. But that’s not stopping the birds…already, some are singing. The great tits started way back on the 6th of January.

Great tit calling

We’ve added another couple of songsters this week, too. At least 3 mistle thrushes were singing by Tuesday, sitting right up on the highest tree or power lines, singing of love in a slightly melancholy and minor key.

Mistle thrush

And the chaffinches were getting off to an early start as well. It’s often it’s another fortnight until we hear them singing but at least a couple had started up beside the visitor centre.

Male chaffinch

Though not a ‘song’ the woodpeckers are displaying as well. Listen out for the ‘drrrrt’ of them drumming on a tree to declare it’s their territory.

Great spotted woodpecker

It has been so warm, I’ve been keeping half an eye out for adders. Not that I’m really expecting them just yet, and I was relieved that the ‘addery’ – their main hibernation and basking area – was still in the shade and reasonably cool for most of the day. You don’t really want the reptiles getting up just yet, it’s likely that there will be a cold snap and they use up too much energy and die if they wake up too early. But there’s been enough warmth in the sun to get at least some of the insect life going. There have been several swarms of insects, dancing in the sun, by the path this week….and I’m sure something bit me on Tuesday, that was the first itchy lump of the year.

Insects on the wing – In January!

Some of the plants are just starting to stick their heads up out of the soil. With the exception of the snowdrops, which always get off to an early start, I wouldn’t expect to see the first green until next month. But, in sheltered spots, the nettles at least are getting going.

The nettles are starting to grow

However, the trees won’t have leaves for at least another 2 months and this makes it easy to spot birds, especially now some have started singing. The mixed tit flocks are especially obvious in the bare trees, with long-tailed tits and goldcrests probably competing for title of ‘Cutest Bird in the Flock’.

Long-tailed tit

Long tailed tit

Goldcrest

You very often see treecreepers with these flocks as well. It makes sense – the more eyes there are, the more likely someone is to spot a predator and no-one will get eaten . You need to look closely to spot them – they are usually solitary and silent at the fringes of the flock, creeping mouse-like, up the trunk. Always up, never down…when they get as high as they want to go, they will fly back down again.

Treecreeper, up to its neck hunting for insects.

Treecreeper

The warm days have made for some lovely view across the lochs and cold, clear, but not-very-frosty nights. Unfortunately, the camera only has a minute’s shutter speed, so you can’t get great pics of the stars, but you can just make out Orion, the Hunter, always in pursuit of the Pleiades across the night sky. Day or night, the reserve is a wonderful place to be!

Starry sky

Phragmites reeds

Loch Davan

 

 

 

 

 

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