Grebes and Gathering Swallows

Autumn is sneaking up on us in a series of warm days and misty mornings.  It still feels like summer through most of the day- warm (over 20 degrees most days) and sunny. It’s been the sort of weather for lazy days of picnics and plightering in the water. But the mornings, ah, the mornings have been a different story. Get up early and there has been a silent, misty world, with ghostly trees and mirror-calm lochs.

A misty morning over Loch Kinord

A misty morning over Loch Kinord

Flat calm and mist

Flat calm and mist

The flat lochs make for some wonderful reflections. You can barely tell which way is up!

The calm mornings have made for lovely reflections

The calm mornings have made for lovely reflections

The heather is in full bloom just now and the hills in and around the reserve are carpeted in purple. And the heather is, in turn, carpeted with spider’s webs, invisible until they capture the morning dew.

The heather is looking spectacular - but webby- on a misty morning

The heather is looking spectacular – but webby- on a misty morning

Spiders' webs on heather

Spiders’ webs on heather

The warm weather may also make autumn come quickly to the trees on the reserve. We haven’t had much rain lately and this, combined with the season wearing on, is leading to some of the trees starting to go yellow already.

Some of the birches are starting to go a bit autumn-y

Some of the birches are starting to go a bit autumn-y

Other trees have other problems to deal with. It’s been a mega-rowan year this year, with the trees bending, and in some cases, breaking under the sheer weight of berries. These are almost fully ripe now and will be a feast for birds and mammals.

Weighed down with rowans

Weighed down with rowans

Other fruits are harder to spot. But, if you look closely at the hazel trees, you’ll soon spot the clusters of nuts ripening on the end of the branches.

The hazelnuts are swelling

The hazelnuts are swelling

The adders have been late in getting up on the cool, misty mornings. They don’t get up until the sun is out….and very quickly warm up to top speed. We did spot a couple this week but they spotted us too and shot off into the wall, the very epitome of liquid grace.

A well camouflaged adder

A well camouflaged adder

Another classic autumn sign this week have been the gatherings of swallows over and around the reserve. Keats wrote of “gathering swallows twitter in the skies” in Ode to Autumn….but we’ve invented power lines since and they are a good place to spot gathering swallows! At this time of year, probably about a month before they go for the winter, swallows come together in large social groups, all twittering and chattering to one another. They look for all the world like they’re discussing when and which way to migrate.

Which way's Africa?

Which way’s Africa?

"...and gathering swallows twitter in the skies".

“…and gathering swallows twitter in the skies”.

This week’s good news story was that we’ve re-found the great crested grebe chicks that we assumed had been eaten or otherwise expired. While down by Davan we spotted one chick with an adult and thought, “well, that’s us down to one”.  Then another appeared…then the second adult appeared with two chicks in tow!  Two of the chicks are larger than the other two, so it seems likely that one parent is better at finding food than the other. With larger broods (three upwards) the grebe parents will “split” the brood, with the adults solely caring for their portion of the brood….so, two of our chicks will be being fed by mum only and two by dad only. Unfortunately, you can’t tell the adults apart, so it’s hard to know who is the better parent!

One grebe chick plus diving adult

One grebe chick plus diving adult

Two grebe chicks

Two grebe chicks

Three of the GCGs

Three of the GCG chicks

The 5 nearest bird are the four grebe chicks plus one of the adults

The 5 nearest birds  are the four grebe chicks plus one of the adults

Grebe chicks retain their stripy faces for a few months

Grebe chicks retain their stripy faces for a few months

Funky face!

Funky face!

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The May…and Mid-August

I’ve had the privilege of being on not one but three of our NNR’s this week. Ok, one of those days was a day trip to the Isle of May…but, if you’ve never been, go, it’s fantastic! I’ll admit, I’ve been lazy and never gone before…we’re rather spoiled for seabirds in the north-east… and I’d just never got round to it.  So, although it’s getting late in the year for the puffins, we had a trip over and a tour of the island. I’d recommend it- a great boat trip out of Anstruther with a knowledgeable crew, fascinating social history and, of course, wonderful wildlife.

Isle of May, with foghorn, Low Light and Main Light

Isle of May, with foghorn, Low Light and Main Light

May Princess in Kirkhaven harbour

May Princess in Kirkhaven harbour

The loch on the IoM

The loch on the IoM

The old engines, used to compress air for the foghorns

The old engines, used to compress air for the foghorns

The steep brae up to the lighthouse!

The steep brae up to the lighthouse!

The Beacon. It was the first lighthouse in Scotland and burned between 1 and 3 tonnes of coal per night...which had to be winched up by hand.

The Beacon. It was the first lighthouse in Scotland and burned between 1 and 3 tonnes of coal per night…which had to be winched up by hand.

The ammonite-like Main Light stairs

The ammonite-like Main Light stairs

The view from the top

The view from the top

IoM from the lighthouse

IoM from the lighthouse

The ruined priory with the visitor centre in the background

The ruined priory with the visitor centre in the background

Bye bye IoM

Bye bye IoM

Back at Dinnet, it has been starting to feel like autumn. Oh, we’ve had some wonderful days- the temperature has mostly been above 20 degrees daytime- but the mornings have just felt…well, autumn-y.  The mist was hanging in the valley several days this week and often too until 9 or 10 am to clear.

The mist has been hanging in the valleys this week

The mist has been hanging in the valleys this week

The reserve is under there!

The reserve is under there!

The dew is soaking the cobwebs in the mornings too.

The webs catch the dew on the misty mornings

The webs catch the dew on the misty mornings

The toads are liking the damp mornings. We’re starting to see lots of tiny “toadlets” going around. These will have been tadpoles (toadpoles?) earlier in the year but have now grown up to the point they can leave the water. You can see how tiny this one is by my size 5’s next to it!

A tiny toadlet

A tiny toadlet

Tiny toadlet with my size 5's for scale

Tiny toadlet with my size 5’s for scale

And the adders are getting slower at getting up in the mornings as well. We’re starting to see more of them again- five on Tuesday- all looking freshly shed. They are probably well-fed snakes indulging in a bit of late season basking….any hungry adders won’t be hanging about, they’ll be on the hunt!

Two basking adders

Two basking adders

Back end of an adder, doing the "I can't see you, therefore you can't see me" thing. It's not quite working, is it....?

Back end of an adder, doing the “I can’t see you, therefore you can’t see me” thing. It’s not quite working, is it….?

A young adder, less than 3 years old. The sticks are a lot thinner than a pencil, for scale.

A young adder, less than 3 years old. The sticks are a lot thinner than a pencil, for scale.

Getting up. Adder emerging from dyke

Getting up. Adder emerging from dyke

They’d better watch out for the buzzards. There are several young buzzards flying over the reserve just now, “keeee-ow-ing” in a very wheezy tone of voice. But it won’t be long until they learn to hunt for themselves and an adder can make a decent, if rather risky, meal for a buzzard.

There are lots of young buzzards soaring over the reserve just now

There are lots of young buzzards soaring over the reserve just now

It won’t be long now until we won’t see any redstarts until next year…they’ll be joining the swallows in heading for Africa very soon. They are one of my favourite birds…so might as well enjoy them ’til then!

Male redstart looking a little faded

Male redstart looking a little faded

Another bird that will be heading south soon is this young cuckoo. The adults will all have headed away in July but their young…who never see their parents and are raised by non- migratory meadow pipits….will follow them in the next few weeks. It’s one of the miracles of nature, that these birds can migrate several thousand miles on instinct alone. Having said that, the meadow pipit “parent” of this cuckoo will be better off when its “offspring” leaves. These small birds run themselves ragged trying to keep up with the huge and voracious appetites of the cuckoo chick…but the parenting instinct is so strong, they just have to feed it, even if it should be obvious that it’s not a meadow pipit!

Young cuckoo with meadow pipit foster parent

Young cuckoo with meadow pipit foster parent

Demanding food from the m'ipit

Demanding food from the m’ipit

You can really see the size difference between the cuckoo and its "parent"

You can really see the size difference between the cuckoo and its “parent”

Being mobbed by other meadow pipits

Being mobbed by other meadow pipits

The Scotch argus butterflies are taking advantage of the late-season flowers. One of their favourites is the devil’s bit scabious. Look out for these on the purple flowers if you do visit the reserve.

Scotch argus on devil's bit scabious

Scotch argus on devil’s bit scabious

….and, if you do visit, and fancy a bit of sunbathing, you won’t be the only one! This robin had a bath in rainwater caught on top of the trailer tarpaulin, then had a good sunbathe to dry out!

Sunbathing robin

Sunbathing robin

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There’s a Tree on the Toilets…

….and other stories from Muir of Dinnet NNR! We were away for a week “down south” at a family wedding (congrats, Katie and Nigel) and came back to find a note from the cleaner “Hi, welcome back. Hope you had a great break. There’s a tree on the toilets.” Now, we don’t usually take time off during the school holidays, but that’s because we’re busy with visitors, not because we expect the weather to wreck stuff in August! (January, you half-expect it). So, out with the ladder and winch and chainsaw (not all at the same time, I hasten to add) to carefully remove the snapped birch leaning on the toilet roof. Fortunately, doesn’t seem to have damaged the roof, so the loos are reopened and there is no longer a tree on the toilets!

There's a tree on my toilets....

There’s a tree on my toilets….

Winching tree off toilet roof

Winching tree off toilet roof

Half way down

Half way down

Tree down.

Tree down.

This was just in time for our ever-popular wild food walk.  We had a really nice bunch of folk join us for an afternoon’s wander around the NNR, looking at the plants our ancestors used to use for food and medicine. Then it was back to the Burn o Vat for a taster session of candied angelica, dried cep, chanterelle, elderflower cordial, nettle “beer”, nettle soup ….and pancakes like grandma used to make with wild strawberries in!

Wild food walk taster sessions

Wild food walk taster sessions

With being away for a week, you don’t half notice how the season is moving on when you come back. Compare these pictures of rowan berries from the last three weeks.

The rowan berries are forming

Three weeks ago

Ripening rowans

10 days ago

Ripening rowans

Ripening rowans this week

The bird cherry berries are ripening too. In the spirit of the wild food walk, you can use these, once ripe, to flavour gin and make sloe gin-like drink. Useful to know in this part of the world where sloes can be hard to come by!

Bird cherries ripening

Bird cherries ripening

And the young birds are growing up fast. The great crested grebes seem to have lost one chick but still have three large and healthy-looking ones. The adult appeared with a huge fish and there was a sprint swim by the youngsters to see who’d claim the prize.

3 GCG chicks

3 GCG chicks. Distantly, in the rain.

Grebe with huge fish

Grebe with huge fish

Steaming in...one of the chicks has spotted the adult has food

Steaming in…one of the chicks has spotted the adult has food

Grebe family

Going down- the chick on the left claimed the fish but took a bit of time swallowing it.

This young woodpecker has discovered the peanut feeder. You can tell it’s one of this year’s youngsters by its red cap (the adults don’t have these) and vary pale pink under tail area. This will be red in an adult bird.

The juvenile GS 'peckers have discovered the peanut feeder

The juvenile GS ‘peckers have discovered the peanut feeder

But the biggest change has been in the swallow babies. I had my first hint of that when I opened the door…who’s been pooing on my doorstep????

Who's poo?

Who’s poo?

Before we left, all we’d seen were two small yellow beaks sticking up for food. And now look at them!

There's not two, there's four!

There’s not two, there’s four!

They are practically bursting out of the nest and looked ready to fly any day.

Only three? has one gone?

Only three? has one gone?

Feeding time

Nope. Feeding time and there’s still four

Unfortunately, “any day” turned out to be Thursday, when it poured rain for most of the day. First one, then two, then three, then four appeared on the roof round the back of the visitor centre, chattering and “vit-vit-vit”-ing  at one another in the hammering rain, while the adults swooped around trying to encourage their offspring to fly some more.  I don’t think the babies were convinced though and it was a good couple of hours  before they  headed off again. But it only took until Friday until the whole family were zooming around the visitor centre, calling to one another and practicing flycatching. They’ll be off to Africa in a month or so enjoy them while they’re here!

The first fledged swallow

The first fledged swallow

fledged swallow calling for a feed

fledged swallow calling for a feed

And then there were two

And then there were two

And then there were two

Oooh. Wobbly landing!

There are 5 swallow in this shot- but one is just a blur!

There are 5 swallow in this shot- but one is just a blur!

 One of the parent swallows

One of the parent swallows

Bedraggled baby swallow

Bedraggled baby swallow

Soggy swallow

Soggy swallow

Wet & dry. The lower one is out of the rain

Wet & dry. The lower one is out of the rain

The dry one....this baby swallow had the wit to get under the eves. Or crash landed and hasn't moved!

The dry one….this baby swallow had the wit to get under the eves. Or crash landed and hasn’t moved!

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Strimming and Swallow Chicks

Phew! What a busy week! We’ve haven’t stopped, what with events, visitors and everything growing furiously. It’s hard to know where to start, so let’s start with a (hopefully) good news story. Early last week, we’d spotted, on a damp and windy day, two great crested grebe chicks with their parents on Loch Davan. It was much nicer- sunny and calm- when we got back this week – but there weren’t two chicks- there were FOUR! I’ve never seen a brood of four before and I’d be surprised if they raise them all…but they’ve made it through the first week, which is a good start!

GCG plus four

GCG plus four

Great crested grebe plus FOUR babies!

Great crested grebe plus FOUR babies!

We have a few more babies around the visitor centre too. The swallows above the door have hatched and they seem to have a brood of two.

Feed me...feed me...

Feed me…feed me…

...and stuff in the insects

…and stuff in the insects

Swallows with the bunting we can't take down until the chicks fledge!

Swallows with the bunting we can’t take down until the chicks fledge!

And how’s this for a “baby” animal? This rather funky chap is an emperor moth caterpillar. They’re huge- he was easily as large as my little finger.

Emperor moth caterpillar

Emperor moth caterpillar

Our ranger colleague Helen (thanks for the pics, Helen) found some other amazing caterpillars this week too. There are Kentish Glory caterpillars on birch trees on the moor. Kentish glory are rare moths found on Deeside and their offspring are very fussy eaters- they need young birch trees to feed on but can’t use trees much more than 10 feet tall. Like any other caterpillar, they grow as the scoff the leaves until the point they get too large for their skin. But that’s not a problem- they shed the old skin and have grown a new, larger one underneath. Helen caught the KG caterpillar actually in the act of shedding- a very unusual thing to see indeed.

Just before shedding

Just before shedding

Kentish Glory caterpillar shedding it's skin

Kentish Glory caterpillar shedding it’s skin

Mid - shed

Mid – shed

Kentish glory caterpillar finishing shedding its skin

Kentish glory caterpillar finishing shedding its skin

And what do caterpillars grow into? Butterflies and moths- we all know that from school or from reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” books! Everyone is familiar with butterflies but less so with moths, and there is often a perception that moths will eat your clothes. Some will- but there are only two or three species that will- and thousands that won’t. With the aid of a moth trap, we introduced some of the moths to visitors at our “Moths in the Morning” event this week…and here are a few of the more striking ones.

Gold spangle moth.

Gold spangle moth.

The snout moth. Yes, it is called a snout as looks like it has a long nose.

The snout moth. Yes, it is called a snout as looks like it has a long nose.

Antler moth

Antler moth

Light emerald moth

Light emerald moth

Burnished brass moth. Not hard to see how they get their name.

Burnished brass moth. Not hard to see how they get their name.

A bit too close to macro! This mottled beauty landed on one of the visitor's cameras!

A bit too close to macro! This mottled beauty landed on one of the visitor’s cameras!

We also had an event for younger visitors last week with “Monsters of the Vat”. In spite of some parents commenting that this was appropriate for their wee monsters, this wasn’t referring to the children, rather to the “monsters” we made from clay and natural materials.

Monsters of the Vat

Monsters of the Vat

Clay squirrel

Clay squirrel

We have another event on for children this Sunday 31st July. Come and join us!

Poster - dragons and damsels

All young animals are curious. This young willow warbler wasn’t put off by us working out the back of the visitor centre and seemed to choose to perch on the wire so it could “hooweet” at us periodically.

Willow...or should that be wire....warbler

Willow…or should that be wire….warbler

Do you look better if I stand on one foot and put my head on one side? Nah, don't think so!

Do you look better if I stand on one foot and put my head on one side? Nah, don’t think so!

Mind you, sometimes curiosity is not such a good thing. This newly-fledged song thrush got itself stuck in the visitor centre. We had to evict it after gently throwing a jumper over it.

Evicting baby song thrush from the visitor centre with aid of a jumper.

Evicting baby song thrush from the visitor centre with aid of a jumper.

We’re also wondering if the spotted flycatcher has another nest nearby. She’s not above the back door but is spending a lot of time at the back of the building alarm calling at us. I can’t figure out if she’s in one of the swallow boxes or in the trees somewhere.

The spotted flycatcher is alarm calling constantly

The spotted flycatcher is alarm calling constantly

The newly-emerged Scotch argus butterflies better watch out for her and the swallows! They are a late-summer butterfly and have just begun emerging in the last week. But a few have been nobbled by the flycatcher or swallows already- we’ve found argus wings in the car park.

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

An argument of arguses- there were three of them all wanting onto the same flower

An argument of arguses- there were three of them all wanting onto the same flower

The adder we saw last week seems to have shed its skin. We think it’s the same snake, looking brighter and clear-eyed.

The adder was in the same place but seems to have shed its skin...we think it's the same snake.

The adder was in the same place but seems to have shed its skin.

Another late-summer sign is the bracken just starting, in places, to brown slightly. Mind you, in other places it is 8 feet high and growing like the blazes. We had to strim the entire east and south shores sections of the Loch Kinord trail this week, as collapsing bracken was starting to block the path. Not a fun job in the heat and humidity, but made worse by the clegs (horseflies)- I’ve never known so many- and we must have swatted over 100 on our bodies.  In spite of that, we still have several gull-egg sized itchy bumps to show for it. But, if you come and visit us this weekend, at least the paths should be clear!

The bracken is just starting to go brown

The bracken is just starting to go brown

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

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

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Heat and Heavy rain

We’ve had it all this week – scorching sun, torrential rain, really nice visitors who love the countryside and complete numpties who leave all their rubbish behind them. Yup, that’s the summer holidays for you! Our not-very-nice introduction to the week was to clear up an abandoned campsite ….extra annoying as we spoke to them the afternoon before and asked them to make sure they cleared up….so they left us this lot to pick up. In the rain. Oooh, we didn’t half think some bad words.

Tempting to caption this with words usually written by holding the "shift" key down and pressing the letters.....

Tempting to caption this with words usually written by holding the “shift” key down and pressing the numbers…..

Then the weather turned hot….so hot it even made the national news. That was pretty much the theme of the news on Tuesday, wasn’t it …It Is Hot In Scotland! It made it up to 29 degrees here on Tuesday…and the dragonflies were loving the heat.

Common hawker

Common hawker

The late-summer wild flowers are looking good in the sun. Probably the most striking of these are the foxgloves, up to six feet tall with a beautiful spike of purple or white flowers. I’ve never been sure why they’re called foxgloves…why would a fox need gloves?…but it may be a corruption of “folk’s gloves”. That perhaps came from “faerie gloves” becoming  “wee folk’s gloves”….you didn’t call the wee folk by name in case they heard you and came looking. These weren’t nice, twinkly fairies….these were bad milk-stealing, baby-swapping fairies and it did not do to come to their attention!

The foxgloves are at the height of their flowering and growth just now.

The foxgloves are at the height of their flowering and growth just now.

Foxglove in close-up

Foxglove in close-up

The bluebells are out too. I grew up calling these bluebells or Scottish bluebells but that can get confusing with the spring bluebells or wild hyacinths. But I just can’t get used to calling them harebells!

Bluebell

Bluebell

Bluebell or harebell

Bluebell or harebell

The “greenbottles” were loving the nectar produced by these thistles.

Thistle flower with greenbottles

Thistle flower with greenbottles

The weather made the news on the Wednesday night this week too, but not for the heat, for the massive thunder-and-lightning storms that battered the country. I’d hoped to get the grass cut on Wednesday before they hit but no such luck….and then the phone and power went too. It went really dark- I think it was even darker than the eclipse a couple of years back.

Getting dark...

Getting dark…

....darker ....

….darker ….

...and darker...

…and darker…

...and then the heavens opened. Stottin' rain!

…and then the heavens opened. Stottin’ rain!

So, it was cutting the grass on Thursday instead….25 degrees and 70% humidity….I’ve had more fun jobs, I’ll admit. However, the toads are loving the humidity and are crawling around everywhere just now.

We have seen heaps of toads in the warm, humid showery weather

We have seen heaps of toads in the warm, humid showery weather

The fungi are also enjoying the warm, wet weather and are starting to pop up all over the reserve.

Cep

Cep

After the grass cutting, we needed to cool off so it was time to go and count the ducks on Loch Davan. The highlight of the trip was spotting two, tiny, stripy great crested grebe chicks. They’re late this year so we hope they grow up fast.

The great crested grebes have two tiny chicks

The great crested grebes have two tiny chicks

We’re also going to digress briefly to plug a local grant scheme. Small grants of up to £250 are available to organisations and groups providing, or facilitating provision of, activities within the Cairngorms National Park. This includes youth groups, toddler groups, social clubs, local sports groups and special needs groups amongst others. So, if you could use the grant to visit us here, or you are within the Park and want some equipment, visit  http://cairngorms.co.uk/park-authority/funding/staff-charitable-group/

When hopping out of the landrover this afternoon, I stopped, wobbling, with one foot mid-air when something moved on the ground. I instantly assumed it was a toad – they’re everywhere just now- but quickly realised it was something rather more unusual. I’d nearly trod on a pipistrelle bat!  You don’t normally see them on the ground but I think it was a youngster and, at this time of year, they’re learning to fly. And, like all young animals, they sometimes get it wrong and wind up lost, outside the roost in daylight. We gently hung it on the wall below the roost entrance and it immediately began clicking and calling, then scrambled very speedily back into the roost.

Pipistrelle bat

Grounded Pipistrelle bat

If you come and see us this weekend, you’ll notice the bunting is up. It’s usually just up for the Fun Day, then we take it down. But it’s staying up because of the swallows. They’ve decided, very late on, to nest above the front door of the visitor centre, and we don’t want to freak them by climbing up ladders to take the flags down! So, if you’re here, look up…and spot the only swallows in the country that have bunting up for them!

Why the bunting is still up....we haven't taken it down so's not to disturb the swallows over the door!

Why the bunting is still up….we haven’t taken it down so’s not to disturb the swallows over the door!

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Fun Days and Wet Days

Sooooo…in the bible, when it rained for 40 days, they called it “The Flood”. Here, in Scotland, we call it “The Summer”….it’s been days (weeks?) since we’ve not had at least some rain every day. The Met Office agrees – June was the worst for 68 years. And it’s continuing into July too. But we were incredibly lucky last Friday to get a dry day for our Fun Day – it rained all night then went off for us!

Concentrating hard on building a bird box!

Concentrating hard on building a bat box!

Nature necklaces

Nature necklaces

Waiting for the rush in the bird box tent

Waiting for the rush in the bird box tent

Setting up

Setting up

Face painting- for children of all ages!

Face painting- for children of all ages!

Atten-shun! On parade for the Fun Day!

Atten-shun! On parade for the Fun Day!

Who says SNH staff never have anything interesting to do on the computer? Mottled beauty moth on Burn o vat computer!

Who says SNH staff never have anything interesting on the computer? Mottled beauty moth on Burn o Vat computer!

Peering into the pond life tank

Peering into the pond life tank

The tea tent. Mmmmmmm. Affa fine cakes!

The tea tent. Mmmmmmm. Affa fine cakes!

Birthday boy. Ewen's birthday coincided with the fun day- so we all had chocolate cake for breakfast!

Birthday boy. Ewen’s birthday coincided with the fun day- so we all had chocolate cake for breakfast!

We think (hope) a great time was had by all. And thanks to (deep breath) John, Catriona (not me!), Deirdre, Duncan, Mary, Joanna, Mhorag, Daryl, Simon, face painter Marley, storyteller Joan and Ewen (who even gave up his birthday!) for making it such a great day. Our next  event is  Friday 22nd July if you want to come and join in!

Poster - nature notebooks2

This week, we’ve been in and out, trying to dodge the showers. We had one visitor-induced grumpy fit mid-week, when someone abandoned a wrecked rubber dingy full of rubbish, plus tent, food and innumerable beer bottles by Loch Davan. You can really see why we ask people not to take boats onto this loch- you can’t get through the vegetation round the edge without damaging it. Getting rained on while clearing up this lot really did put the tin lid on the bad mood.

Abandoned boat full of rubbish- and there was plenty behind me too.

Abandoned boat full of rubbish- and there was plenty behind me too.

Still, at least the water lilies are beautiful, and can cheer you up even after that sort of stupidity….(grrrrr).

White water lilies

White water lilies

White water lilies

White water lilies

Water lilies

Water lilies

Water lily

Water lily

It’s been pretty quiet on the reserve wildlife-wise and will be for the next few weeks until (dare I say it) autumn really starts. Already there are hints of autumn, with things like these hazel nuts already looking quite well formed.

The hazelnuts are forming

The hazelnuts are forming

In other respects, it’s the height of summer. Young birds are still appearing and can be endearingly bold…or perhaps “innocent” is a better word. It’s just that they’ve not seen people before, so don’t think we’re a threat- which is nice, given that most wildlife disappears as soon as it spots us. I’ve heard that from bird ringers too, in the high Arctic, where birds have never seen people – they’ve had birds like ruff hide under their jackets when a gyr falcon has flown over- that’s much scarier than this guy putting a ring on your leg. This young willow warbler didn’t know what to make of us and soon decided that aphids and other soft, squishy insect-y things in the tree were far more interesting.

What are you?

What are you?

...hmmm. Still not sure.

…hmmm. Still not sure.

Young willow warbler.

Young willow warbler.

Foraging in the leaves

Foraging in the leaves

Living up to their Latin name "Phylloscopus", meaning "leaf explorer

Living up to their Latin name “Phylloscopus”, meaning “leaf explorer

Some birds are still feeding young, probably second broods by now. This reed bunting had a right gobful of flies- but he wasn’t going anywhere near his nest until we cleared off. So we left him to it.

Male reed bunting with a gobful of grub.

Male reed bunting with a beakful of grub.

We’re starting to get asked what the strange, webby things are on some of the trees. The chances are the tree in question is a bird cherry and the “webby things” are webs of the bird cherry ermine moth caterpillar.  As their name suggests, that’s what the caterpillars eat- bird cherry leaves. In some years, they can strip the trees bare …and the trees can look quite spooky, all bare and hung with hundreds of webs.

Bird cherry with lots of ermine moth webs

Bird cherry with lots of ermine moth webs

Bird cherry ermine moth caterpillar webs

Bird cherry ermine moth caterpillar webs

We’ve been seeing quite a few roe deer this week but they don’t usually hang about for a photograph. You can often get quite good views of them if you don’t stop and look at them, but keep walking slowly and watch them out of the corner of your eye. Like all animals that (at some point) evolved to live in a herd or deal with predators, roe deer are very sensitive to nuances of body language. They will instantly pick up a change in body posture that means you’re turning towards them- and that’s a threat, and they’re off. This doe hadn’t spotted us- hence the picture.

Roe doe. All the roe deer are looking very red just now as they are coming into rut.

Roe doe. All the roe deer are looking very red just now as they are coming into rut.

We’ve only seen the one adder this week, getting a bit of basking in prior to a mid-summer skin shed. If you look closely you can see the slightly cloudy eye that suggests he’ll be shedding before too long.  Keep an eye out for him, and any other wildlife, if you come and see us this weekend….oh, and bring your waterproofs!

Adder coming up for mid-summer skin-shed.

Adder coming up for mid-summer skin-shed.

 

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Rain and Shine

So, have you got wet this week? We have- repeatedly- and sometimes more than once in the same day. We’re still getting heavy, thundery showers here, with damp clear mornings. Hate to say it, but the mornings almost feel autumn-y, cool and still with all the grasses and spiders’ webs soaked in dew or rain.

Dew-covered grass

Dew-covered grass

A sure sign of autumn has been the curlew, passing high overhead on their way south. We’ve heard several this week- it’s the start of the autumn migration.

Curlew

Curlew

But, in other respects, we’re in the heart of midsummer. The heather is just starting to come into bloom, with the bell heather coming out first.

Bell heather

Bell heather

The small pearl bordered butterflies are taking full advantage of this new nectar source.

Small pearl- bordered fritillary feeding on bell heather

Small pearl- bordered fritillary feeding on bell heather

The woods have gone very quiet now. We’re in the middle of the mid-summer lull, where all the birds stop singing and concentrate on fledging youngsters or moulting feathers. Apart from a particularly persistent chiffchaff, there hasn’t been much singing in the woods this week.

A chiffchaff

Chiff, chaff, chiff, chaff, chaff, chaff, chiff…..a  non-stop chiffchaff

We’ve not had a great deal of time to look out for the wildlife this week, what with being in the middle of preparation for our Fun Day – there’s an oxymoron when you’re up to your eyes in prep! It’s this Friday, 8th July, 12-4pm if you want to come along. But we have seen and heard several ospreys fishing over the lochs. Ospreys have an odd call- its a penetrating but surprisingly small sound to come from such a big bird, and sounds like it should be coming from something much smaller, like a wader or passerine. They also have a very distinctive profile, with a sharply-bent wing joint to help hover in search of fish.

Feet dangling, head down

Feet dangling, head down

Always looking down into the water

Always looking down into the water

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

We’ve also seen our first adder in ages this week, spotting a very shy male in the grass.

Adder basking on a rock

Adder basking on a rock

But, as we said, most of this week has been take up with prep for the Fun Day. Here are some pics from last year’s Fun Day….maybe they’ll inspire you to come and see us and try your hand at bird box making…or have your face painted…or make something fun in the craft stalls….or listen to local tales from the storyteller…or win at antler hoopla….the list goes on!

Many of our younger visitors (and a few of our older ones!) had a go at assembling a wooden pencil holder during the fun day.

Many of our younger visitors (and a few of our older ones!) had a go at assembling a wooden pencil holder during the fun day.

Hands-on specimens at the fun day (not a live owl!)

Hands-on specimens at the fun day (not a live owl!)

Fun day craft stall

Our craft stall was very popular this year with lots of colourful creations leaving with our visitors.

 

 

 

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Lest We Forget

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned

(Words from “Green Fields of France” by Eric Bogle)

 Many thanks to Gavin for his piece this week.

This week in the Muir of Dinnet NNR blog we’re taking time out from our normal subjects to talk a little bit about our partnership with a Reserve in Picardie in the north of France – the Landes de Versigny – and to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July 1916.

Last year we were pleased to sign up to a simple agreement of co-operation with Landes de Versigny not only because it has lots of habitats which you’d easily recognise if you are familiar with Dinnet. You can learn more about  here http://conservatoirepicardie.org/les-landes-de-versigny

Picardie has some lovely mixed countryside and looking at this view of meanders in the river Somme valley it would be easy to forget that it is also a landscape which has been witness to terrible tragedy and carnage in the past.

Picardie

A stark reminder of the awful carnage of the Battle of the Somme is the memorial at Thiepval.  Sitting in a landscape covered by seeming endless rows of war graves, this memorial  – designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected in 1928-32 commemorates the 72,194 Allied soldiers who died in the battle and whose remains were never recovered.  Their names are engraved on 64 limestone panels on the 16 pillars which make up the memorial.

thiepval memorial

Another of the important battlefield sites which is still a focus of attention today is known as the Lochnagar crater or “mine”.  This marks the spot where – on 1 July 1916 – the Battle was triggered at 07:28hrs.  Allied soldiers instigated the battle by detonating massive explosive charges  – more than 25 tonnes in total – which had been placed underneath the enemy trenches at the end of long, deep tunnels dug from the Allies trenches. The trench where the digging took place from was known as Lochnagar Street – hence the name of the enormous crater.  Of course from the name of the trench we can guess that at least some of the soldiers were from our local area here in Deeside.

crater

Since we first met up with our counterparts in Picardy we’ve been pleased to welcome them to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire on two occasions and have introduced them to some of the wonderful sites the north-east has to offer, such as Forvie, St Cyrus, and Glen Tanar NNRs as well as Muir of Dinnet itself.

picardie visitors in the Vat

Although distance and language are a bit of a barrier, at least electronic communication makes keeping in touch easy these days…like the blog.. and we’re hoping to come up with some joint projects that we can work on together at a distance – perhaps even involving our local schools or communities – let us know if you have any ideas.

Meanwhile, back at Dinnet, we’re entering the mid-summer lull with a sense of uncertainty. Like  everyone else, we’re not yet sure what the implications of the “leave” vote will mean for us and the environment and countryside. You could drive yourself crackers wondering, so we’ve just been taking a leaf out of the wildlife’s book and just getting on with it! It’s the start of the summer holidays today so we’ve been making a concerted effort to hammer back the long grass and bracken alongside the paths. Its much nicer to walk along a path when wet grass isn’t emptying half a pint of cold water down your trousers! And many, many thanks to Annabel and Daryl, who strimmed like heroes to help cut it back.

Bracken strimmed down

Bracken strimmed down

The woods are going quite. Fewer birds are singing but you still hear the odd squeaks of young birds and the alarm calls of their parents. There redstarts were ” hooweet-tak-tak” -ing furiously at us for being too near their fledglings.

P1050957 P1050959

We’ve also seen lots of young blue and great tits this week.

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And this year’s graylag fledgings just look like geese now, not fluffy goslings.  They are surprisingly hard to spot in among the water lilies! There are about 30 geese in the first photo.

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They have been spending a lot of time on the shore, moulting out their summer plumage. All the ducks have….and there are feathers (and goose poo) all over the place.

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But my favourites were the newly fledged wrens. They are properly tiny but still “machine gun” you with their alarm call, just like the adults. Small bird, big voice- and attitude.

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The squirrels are losing their ear tufts in summer too…this on just has a few long hairs left.

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Its also the season when the grass is at it’s height. Not that you’d need to tell any hay fever sufferers that! Though often overlooked, grasses can be surprisingly attractive plants, with tufted hair grass being one of the prettiest. Look out for it if you come and see us this weekend- just bring a hanky if the pollen gets you!

grass

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A Trip to the Seaside!

We’ve been out and about this week, so haven’t seen too much of the Dinnet wildlife. But the highlight of the week was definitely the fledging of the spotted flycatchers from their nest above the back door. In all the years they’ve nested there, we’ve never seen the actual jump-out-of-the-nest moment of fledging before….but we did on Monday when all three large chicks bailed out, to the urgent “chacks” of their parents.  

Looking out on the world- the flycatchers are almost ready to fledge

Looking out on the world- the flycatchers are almost ready to fledge

Of course, they’ve got a lot to learn at this stage….and one of the first lessons was “don’t get stuck in the garage”. We were out cutting the grass and, when the mowers went back, we could hear a young bird cheeping. At first we thought it was in the garage, then we convinced ourselves it was outside, cheeping from the roof, then finally decided that, yes, it was in the garage…but where? We investigated every corner, even taking a ladder and climbing up to the roof and, eventually, after about 20 minutes, found one of the flycatcher fledgies right in the back corner. It took about another 10 minutes to get at it…we had to shift the mower, a wheelbarrow, 3 gazebos, a pump, two lances for the fire tender and a few helmets….before we could catch and gently evict it. It was last seen being fed by one of the parents in the big willow at the car park- phew! 

Into the big, wide world - on the roof after fledging

Into the big, wide world – on the roof after fledging

The rest of the week hasn’t been Dinnet-based. We’ve been helping out with site monitoring on the coast between Boddam and Collieston. I’ve lived all my life in the north-east of Scotland but had never walked some of the sections of the coast. Starting at Boddam, it’s a surprisingly dramatic coastline running south down to Cruden Bay. There are lots of sea stacks and arches, cut from the pink granite that is one of the local trademarks.

The cliffs south of Longhaven

The cliffs south of Longhaven

The cliffs at Longhaven

The cliffs at Longhaven

Waterfall near Longhaven

Waterfall near Longhaven

Bullers of Buchan

Bullers of Buchan

Dunby rock

Dunby rock

 

Rock arch near Slains castle

Rock arch near Slains castle

Cruden Bay

Cruden Bay

 

hidden gems on the coastal path

hidden gems on the coastal path

The coast south of Whinneyfold

The coast south of Whinneyfold

There are great seabird colonies on this part of the coast. The sight, sound and quite definitely the smell of a seabird colony in summer is a full sensory experience!. The calls of the birds echo up from the depths of the cliffs- kittiwakes shout their name over and over, while guillemots “aarrrrrr” urgently at one another. If you look closely at the guillemots, you can spot “bridled” ones- ones with a white eye ring and stripe that make them look like they are wearing specs. They’re not a different species though, just a different form of the normal guillemot, and you’re more likely to see them here in the north than further south. A lot of the birds have chicks just now, so are coming and going the whole time to feed hungry youngsters.

Can you spot the chick? And can you see how many bridled guillemots are in the picture?

Can you spot the chick? And can you see how many bridled guillemots are in the picture?

Razorbills have a surprisingly yellow gape when they open their beaks to "arrrrrrrrr" at one another

Razorbills have a surprisingly yellow gape when they open their beaks

Dapper dudes-three very smart razorbills

Dapper dudes-three very smart razorbills

Cormorants, guillemots and a razorbill

Cormorants, guillemots and a razorbill

Lesser black backed gulls

Lesser black backed gulls

Puffins on the "Blind Man"

Everyone’s favourite. Puffins on the “Blind Man” sea stack

Raven

Raven- there are at least a couple of pairs on the coast

One of this years' young peregrines

The peregrines have done well raising two big chicks this year. One of this years’ young.

Fulmars

Fulmars

Standing room only

Standing room only

Razorbill with chick

Razorbill with chick

Shag preening chick

Shag preening chick

Kittiwake with chick

Kittiwake with chick

 It’s not just the scenery and birds that make this coastline worth a visit. At this time of year, there are lots of wildflowers out. The campion and pink sea thrift are almost finished flowering, while the bird’s foot trefoil and plantains are at their height. You can even spot more unusual plants like sea mayweed or Scot’s lovage. 

Sea pinks or thrift

Sea pinks or thrift

Sea campion

Sea campion

Northern marsh orchid

Northern marsh orchid

 And there is some fascinating social history scattered along the coast here, too. There are three ruined castles, including Slains Castle, supposedly one of the inspirations for Bram Stokers’s “Dracula”…and his signature is in the local hotel’s guest book.

Slains castle

Slains castle

The remains of Boddam castle

The remains of Boddam castle

The coast also runs parallel to the dismantled coast railway- thank you for that one, Dr Beeching- so you come across old viaducts, all built from local stone.

Old railway viaduct at bullers

Old railway viaduct at bullers

There are also more transient traces of human habitation, like a rusting winch, half-buried in vegetation- it must have taken brave men to navigate in and out of the coves here and haul their boats above the winter storms.

Old winch, used for pulling boats out of the water

Old winch, used for pulling boats out of the water

 

North Have, Bullers of Buchan

North Haven, Bullers of Buchan…the winch is in the bottom left of the picture

 

Or this quarryman’s bothy, perched precariously on the rocks below Blackhills Quarry…how you got into it is anyone’s guess.

Can you spot the quarryman's bothy? And can you work out how they'd have got in to it?

Can you spot the quarryman’s bothy? And can you work out how they’d have got in to it?

Or, at Whinneyfold, the skeleton of a railway carriage, perched against the cliff…the old boys in the village tell how they used to climb down into it and pinch the brass fittings when they were kids. So, while I would always recommend visiting Dinnet, if you fancy a bit of salt air this weekend, and are reasonably fit, and definitely don’t mind heights, there are some great coastal cliff walks north of Aberdeen. Just don’t go too near the edge!

The skeleton of an old railway carriage near Whinneyfold

The skeleton of an old railway carriage near Whinneyfold

Doing the monitoring was the most interesting thing the cows had seen all week!

You nosy cow! Doing the monitoring was the most interesting thing the cows had seen all week.

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Wetness Happening

What a difference a week makes. We’ve gone from drought to downpour in a week…but that’s Scotland in summer for you. I’ve not actually taken all that many pictures this week because it’s been so wet….and cameras don’t like getting soaked through! But we have managed to grab a few watery shots in the odd half-hour it wasn’t hammering down!  

Rain on pine needles

Rain on pine needles

Rain on pine needles

Catching rainbows

Catching rainbows

Aboyne, just down the road, was the wettest place in the UK on Wednesday. It certainly felt like it in the Vat, with the water roaring thunderously down the waterfall. 

There was lots of water in the Vat this week

There was lots of water in the Vat this week

lots of water in the Vat!

lots of water in the Vat!

 We had a Junior Rangers group twice this week and the weather wasn’t great for them either day. Our efforts to illustrate biodiversity via a moth trap took a bit of improvisation- we had to put it out in a tent! 

Extreme moth trappping

Extreme moth trapping

Prize catch was probably this Beautiful (that’s its name, not just a description) Golden-Y moth We only had three species in the trap- brown rustic, flame shoulder and the “Y”- so the moths weren’t liking the rain either. 

Golden Y again

Beautiful Golden Y

beautiful golden Y moth

Beautiful golden Y moth

Unless, of course, they’d all been eaten by the spotted flycatchers? There are three large youngsters in the nest now and they’re big enough to see their heads poking out. Unfortunately couldn’t get a good picture though- it was too dull and dark to let the camera focus properly – and that was in the daytime! 

The spotted flycatcher has 3 large chicks- but it was too dull to get a decent picture

The spotted flycatcher has 3 large chicks- but it was too dull to get a decent picture

 

Spotted flycatcher

Spotted flycatcher

The peanut feeder has become popular again. Keeping warm in the wet uses up a lot of energy and both birds and mammals are after a quick and easy feed. The siskins have been much in evidence, as have some rather soggy-looking red squirrels.

Siskin on peanut feeder

Siskin on peanut feeder

Even the squirrels were looking bedraggled!

Even the squirrels were looking bedraggled!

The bracken is fairly shooting up in the rain. I swear, you can almost hear the grass and bracken growing in this! Long grass and bracken makes a huge amount of work for us at this time of year, what between keeping the picnic area tidy at Burn o Vat and strimming the path edges. There are less pleasant things to walk through than high, wet grass and bracken, but it’s hard to think what they are as freezing water soaks you from ankle to waist. So we try and keep the path edges cut back …but it’s a big job! Who was that bloke in Greek legend who had to push a boulder uphill, only for it to roll back down again? That’s what it feels like!

Bracken strimmed down

Bracken strimmed down

Even though we grumble, I don’t think I’d like to live in a totally arid part of the world. I love the green-ness of the woods and vegetation (even if I do wish death upon the bracken on an almost daily basis). And, without the rain, we wouldn’t have our wonderful wetlands like the lochs or bogs. The lochs are coming up to one of their finest times of year, with the water lilies just starting to come into bloom. These are worth seeing, so if you’re on the reserve in the next month or so, take a walk down to the loch and enjoy one of our most spectacular wild flowers.

White water lily

White water lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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