Muir of Dinnet NNR -Flocks and Fungi

Now that August is half done and the schools are –finally- going back next week, I think we have to admit it’s getting into autumn now. In the past couple of weeks, the trees have really started to look tired and worn, and some are yellowing at the tips of the branches.

And August is the month of the heather. All of the ling, or Calluna heather is in bloom now and, even on the greyest of days, turns the hills purple. It’s really popular with the tourists- lots of people are jumping out of cars at the side of the road to take pictures of it. And we’ve even seen the quite a few bunches tucked on the front of cars in the car park!

The rowans continue to redden and the trees are starting to look quite spectacular. They almost look like a child’s drawing of a tree- green, with bright red fruit.

August is also the month where, on fine days, there is the constant drone of the glider tow plane over the reserve. We’re often asked about the gliders from the nearby strip at Aboyne and people find it hard to credit the distance and height these unpowered aircraft can reach. The “Wave”, an airmass off the cairngorms in August, can carry them to the height of a commercial jet or, with lucky thermals, they can make as far as central England.

Mind you, the drone of the tow plane wasn’t the only mechanical noise on the reserve this week. We were getting trained up in the new ATV, with fire fogging unit. Hopefully this will prove a lot safer than towing the old tender across the moor.

The late summer flowers are a real bonus for the bees. The knapweed, which is at its best just now, is often mistaken for a thistle. But, although they look superficially alike, the knapweed lacks the thistles’ spikes…and is occasionally picked as a souvenir “Scottish Thistle” because it doesn’t bite back.

Bird flock together at this time of year. It’s one of the earliest signs of autumn, when breeding is done and birds start to gather together for safety. The starlings are usually the first of these, and often form small flocks by late June. They’re also one the most obvious flocks- starlings don’t do things quietly or subtly. So you see big gangs of them in the fields, all squeaking, rustling and bickering, as they probe for insects like leatherjackets.

You start seeing the adders- well, sort of- in autumn. They’re more likely to be seen basking again at this time of year as the mornings get later and cooler. This tail sticking out of the wall was the first adder I’d seen since May.

Also beside the Old Kinord fields were not one, not two but three blond bunnies all together. It was a foul day, and, it might be my imagination, but I think this one looks pretty fed up with the weather too.

We are seeing lots of fungi at this time of year. This is a wooly milkcap- look out for a salmon-pink mushroom, with concentric rings on the top and shaggy edges. They’re not edible- most milkcaps aren’t- and produce a white milky liquid when broken open (hence the name). But, if you touched that liquid to your tongue (and I’m not recommending for a second you do), it would be burningly, painfully bitter…and you’d soon realise why eating it was a bad idea!

We do see lots of edible mushrooms on the reserve…but their ID is not always straightforward and, unless you are 100% sure, don’t pick them…you only need to make a mistake once. I’d recommend just enjoying looking at them-they come in all shapes, colours and sizes- so have some fun fungi spotting this weekend!

Yellow russula or yellow brittlegill

A red Russula or brittlegill mushroom. These mushrooms can be hard to tell apart.

A pink Russula or birittlegill

Grass green russula

A purple russula

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Muir of Dinnet NNR- The Season of Plenty

Now we’re well into August, we have to start thinking about autumn rather than summer. I’m sure some of you must have noticed how cool and dewy the mornings are getting and they just feel….well, autumn-y. But autumn is a time of plenty for the wildlife- and for us if we choose to tap into the bounty of fruit that is available. We held a wild food walk this week to show people some of the things that our ancestors would have eaten.

Wild raspberry pancakes – a great way to get children to try wild berries

Wool dyed with natural dyes


Wild rasps, strawberries and candied angelica

Mushrooms and blaeberries

Edible fungi- Cep, chanterelle and orange birch bolete

Tasting wild foods

We always emphasise  the importance of safety and sustainability when talking about wild food. Always, be sure 100% what you’re eating…and try a little first, everyone’s system is different. I often wonder if our ancestors tried out foods on less useful members of society…? Sustainability is important too. Our ancestors probably did it without thinking- you used too much of something, you starved. But we have the luxury of going to the supermarket, so we have to be responsible and not take all of a fruit or fungus – the chances are that you won’t need it all anyway, or that at least some will already be home to various insects- so leave plenty to re-grow or for the other wildlife. If you are interested in wild foods, you can find out more here , including some recipes for you to try out at home.

Helen reading from Scots’ Herbal

Smelling wood sage

Saffron milk cap, cut open to demonstrate how our ancestors got added protein- all of the wee holes are made by maggots.

And the wildlife is all taking advantage of all the wild food on offer too. The rowans are now red enough to appeal to the blackbirds, who are scoffing them down like there’s no tomorrow. But, for a wild creature, if they don’t eat enough, there won’t be.

Male blackbird scoffing rowan berries

The late flowers are providing a good nectar source for the butterflies. The devil’s bit scabious is hugely popular and is covered in insects. The most obvious of these are the Scotch arguses, which are just everywhere right now. These are a late-emerging butterfly and don’t seem to have been as badly affected by the cool, wet springs as some other species. They are really enjoying the warm, sunny days we’ve had this week.

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

Unfortunately, so have some people. As we’ve said many times, probably 99% of our visitors are lovely- but there’s always that 1%. Who, this week, had decided to take petrol with them to start a fire. In a can with a broken cap. With a plastic bag to try and keep it from leaking. Now, while in some ways, I have to give them credit for ingenuity, in terms of safety, stupidity and illegality….sorry folks, that’s a Darwin Award waiting to happen.

A novel and not-advised way to carry petrol….and we’d have called the police if we’d caught someone lighting fires with it.

The teasels are late-flowering as well and are much visited by bees and other insects. Come late autumn, their seeds will be a great source of food for finches.


The damselflies are furiously egg-laying around the loch. They only live for a few weeks in the summer and the first frosts will probably spell the end for these vibrant insects.

Common blue damselfly

As the summer moves on, you start to see thousands of “toadlets”. These are this year’s tadpoles, (toadpoles?) now metamorphosed into tiny toads. You can see how tiny this one is, perched on Willow’s hand.

A tiny toadlet

We also got some more footage from a trail camera this week. The best shot (thanks Stephen) was this action shot of a heron, tripping the camera as it flew past. You never know what you might encounter at Muir of Dinnet NNR!

Heron – action shot






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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Bringing History to Life

Well, that’s August here. Where is the year going? You always know the summer is wearing on when you start to see devil’s bit scabious in flower. I always think it’s a horrible-sounding name for a very pretty plant, but it comes from an old legend. The plant was used to treat scabies – a horrible, itchy skin disease (I can guarantee, if you Wikipedia it, you’ll be scratching by the end of the article) and the devil was so angry with the flower for the relief it gave, he came up through the earth and bit its roots off!

Devil’s bit scabious

The grass is still high and you can just see something the size of an adult roe deer in it. The long grass is also ideal for concealing any youngsters which will only be a couple of months old at this time of year.

Roe deer in tall grass

Some birds are just fledging new young just now. We were lucky to spot this fairly new garden warbler fledgie round the loch. These warblers have been in short supply this year and, like many African migrants, are in decline as a species.

Young garden warbler

All of the graylag goslings are looking quite grown-up now. They are still noticeably smaller than their parents but have fully-grown feathers. They are fun to watch when they have congregated in the water lily bays as they can’t swim through the lilies easily and form long lines to follow narrow channels of clear water.

A procession of greylags

Less fun are the clegs, or horseflies. These form part of the unholy trinity of Things That Bite, along with midgies and mozzies….but cleg bites are the worst of all. This insect is the reason why we are frequently found doing hot, heavy work in entirely unsuitable thick clothing. They can easily bite you through a light cotton shirt and (if you’re sensitive) can leave you with a huge itchy, oozy lump for a fortnight. And the only reason there’s a picture of it is that it’s on the other side of the window…I’d splat it if it were anywhere near me.

Cleg or horsefly.

I also saw something I’d never seen before this week- a toad eating an earthworm. We were moving the tarp over the trailer to shake some water off it and disturbed a toad and some worms that were under it. The toad instantly inflated- I’m a big, scary toad, don’t come near me – but pretty much instantly forgot about us when it spotted a large worm about a foot away. It crawled after it and, in fairly short order, scoffed it – a bit like spaghetti but with more wriggling. And we even managed to grab a quick video of it-though the shakiness was due to trying to get rid of the aforementioned cleg which landed on my hand at that precise moment!

Inflated toad, trying to look scary



We also  celebrated the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology at the reserve this week. Muir of Dinnet NNR is covered in archaeology, but it can be hard to excite people with what may just be a line of rocks on the ground. But seeing how people lived, what they ate, and what they had to do to survive is a bit different and we brought the past to life with the Rhynie Wifies. They created an Iron Age camp and showed off traditional foods and skills, which seemed to give people a new respect for how long everything took when you didn’t have shops or electricity…do you think you could survive without them?

Backing bannocks on a hot stone

Two “Celtic princesses” admiring themselves in a bronze mirror

Making a hole for a stone pendant with a bow drill

Willow demonstrating how flint arrowheads were attached, using roots and pitch to secure them.

Spindles for spinning wool

Iron age feast- bread, cured meat, smoked fish, mushrooms, goat’s cheese, nuts, beans and samphire.

The reverse of the bronze mirror. these were high status items and were often beautifully decorated.

Iron spearhead

Iron age washing line!

Quern stone

Making butter with “Tiny Rhynie”.

Totemic skulls- all real except for the one on the right.  It wasn’t someone who tied bags of dog poo onto a tree, honestly….

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Muir of Dinnet NNR- Moths and Mallards

It’s been another fairly mixed week on the reserve and I’ll be glad when this blasted humidity breaks- very warm and sticky all week. Still, that’s great weather for the moths and they have been out in force when a trap has been set. Last week’s count was 45 species and over 200 individual moths…in one night, in one trap.

Gold spot moth

Spectacle moth

The bell heather is out and almost going over- but the ling heather is almost out to replace it. We can expect purple hill for the next few weeks.

Bell heather in close-up

Late summer is also the time the bluebells come out. I grew up calling these “bluebells” or “Scottish bluebells” but an alternative name is harebell. It may even occasionally be called “witch’s bells”, possibly because of the belief that witches could turn into hares – or vice versa.


Bluebell flowers

The harebells aren’t the only thing coming out. Fungi are popping up everywhere in the warm, humid weather. The red and white fly agarics are the classic fairytale mushroom…but it wouldn’t be a case of “happily ever after” for the flies. The mushrooms were soaked in saucers of milk to poison flies.

Fly agaric

In spite of it still being July – just- signs of autumn are creeping in everywhere. The numbers of ducks, especially mallards, are starting to go up on the lochs. They mallards all look pretty sorry for themselves right now,  what with being in “eclipse”- their dull, dowdy non-breeding plumage. Compare these spring males with how they look just now.

Male mallards in breeding plumage

In eclipse

And, this week, we’ve seen the very first signs of the trees turning. A few trees in drier places are just starting to yellow slightly at the tips. Unlike this rowan, which has one branch already showing spectacular autumn reds- even if the rest of the tree is green, with not-yet-ripe berries.

Some tree leaves on the tips of branches are just starting to turn autumnal- especially if the tree is in a dry place and drought-stressed

The rest of the tree is still green, with as-yet unripe rowans.

Willow’s also been out with the camera trap again. This time, she set it up on a fallen tree over a burn. These are often good spots, because wildlife doesn’t like to get its feet wet either….it may be a fallen tree to us, but to them it’s a bridge.  And there’s been quite a bit of success! Even if you come and see us, you’d do well to spot all of the things on the camera…but give it a go!

Mallard duck



Mystery beast after dark…badger? Looks the right shape.

Young water rail. These birds are rarely seen but often heard. If you ever hear a squeal that sounds like a pig being killed in a reedbed, it’ll be a water rail.

Song thrush

Wood pigeon

The prize shot- pine marten! The first one we’ve ever captured on camera here.









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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Sunny Days and Moth-y Nights

What a cracking start we had to the week. Four nice days in a row- must be summer. In fact, in Scotland, that could have been summer -but we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a bit more sunshine still to come. We started the week with a visit to St Cyrus, partly to see off Andrew the student placement (who will be much missed) and partly to help out with other jobs. Now, you never know what you’ll be doing on your “own” NNR from day to day, let alone a different one, and it wasn’t long before I was scribing for Therese and Andrew as they took samples from a newly-washed-up dead porpoise calf. It’s a bit gruesome (but fascinating at the same time) – you need to take skin, blubber and muscle samples from the animal. And, while it’s heartbreakingly sad to see a young animal like this beyond help, the samples will tell us something about the health of the sea- did the porpoise get enough food, how much plastic is in its body and so on.

A sad sight- a young porpoise washed up at St Cyrus

Back at Dinnet, the loos blocked again, that that was Tuesday gone. Nuff said, let’s move on to a nicer subject. Like moths. We set up the moth trap on the Wednesday, with the light on a timer to attract the moths once it got dark.

Moth trap, set up for night-time

And, in the morning, we come back to see what we’ve got. What we had got was a lot….of toads, that is. There were eight, ringing the trap, waiting to catch any moths that had landed on the ground.

Free meal for the toads!

Unfortunately, the toad hopped off the sign just as I took the picture!

And the moth trap itself was crammed with moths. Helen, from Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service, is still sitting identifying moths as I write this, several hours later. She’s a great lepidopterist (moth and butterfly enthusiast) and can tell her engrailed clays from  small square spots- which is the point I give up and put the kettle on. The final scores aren’t in just yet but we  had over 40 species of moth and at over 200 individual moths in the trap. Here are just a few of them…

A snout moth. You can see how it came by its name.

Moth collection – true lover’s knot (top), antler moth (bottom right) and two grass moths (the small ones). They’re on an egg box- that’s not 151 calories per moth.

Two lesser swallow prominent moths, resting in a rather curious position.

Burnished brass moth. It is iridescent and the colours only show as you turn it to the light.

Light emerald moth

Away from the moths, the last of the fun day clearing up was completed. This involved stitching the gazebo canvas back together where it had parted company along the seams. Told you we never know what we’ll have to turn our hands to!

Fixing the tents after the fun day

With July galloping towards the end of the month, more autumn signs are starting to creep onto the reserve. One of the most obvious of these is the steadily-ripening fruit. It won’t be long before these rasps are edible – and some in sunny spots are already sweet enough to eat.

Ripening rasps

And the rowan berries are gradually changing from green to orange.

Ripening rowans

The rain later in the week has made some fungi pop their heads up. It’s actually been too dry for a lot of these mushrooms to form- but not for much longer, by the looks of the forecast. These chanterelle are still quite small after the dry weather.

Over at Old Kinord, there are a few very pale sandy-coloured rabbits going about. These stick out like a sore thumb and I’m always amazed nothing’s eaten them yet. Still, gotta catch them  first and if there’s one thing rabbits do well (apart from breed), it’s run fast!

Sandy coloured rabbit

And another heads-up. Last time it was for our Fun Day. This time it’s for the Rhynie Wifies on the 1st August. Step back in time with them and celebrate the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology…and see if you’d have made a good Celt!


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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Holiday Fun

It must be summer- that’s the schools broken up for the next seven (seven!!!!) weeks and the Fun Day has happened. We weren’t blessed with particularly good weather ….but we were still really, really busy! I must admit I was surprised how many people came out on a day of occasionally tipping rain- but it did seem a good time was had by all. And, as always, thanks to all who came along and helped out on the day- we couldn’t do it without you!

We were really busy in spite of the rain

The biodiversity stall, run by our old friend and colleague Ewen

Making oil lamps

Making bird boxes. No fingers were harmed in the making of this box.

Decision time in the tea tent – chocolate truffles or cupcakes?

Some of the Fun Day team, all looking rather soggy

At least we were under cover in the tents. But, of course, the downside of getting your tents wet is that you have to dry them before you can pack them away….otherwise they go horribly foosty and start growing nasty-smelling things. So Monday found us strewing wet canvas over anything that didn’t move- and eyeing the sky, daring it to rain again.

The aftermath of the fun day- trying to get tents dry!

We caught this glorious garden tiger moth in the moth trap for the Fun Day, for part of the biodiversity display. If you think he looks impressive and want to find out more about moths, our next event is all about the Marvellous Moths you find here. It’s on the 20th of July, 10-12.30. Give me a call at the visitor centre on 013398 81667 if you’d like to book on. And it’s free!

Garden tiger moth

As well as moths, there are quite a few butterflies in evidence just now. The commonest are the brown ringlets, so-called for the rings surrounding the spots on their underwing.

Ringlet butterfly

But the small heaths are also out in force too. If you see a small orange butterfly in a grassy place just now, there’s a good chance it’s a small heath.

Small heath butterfly

Out on the reserve, there are still quite a few young birds appearing. Some of these will be second, or even third broods and some will just be late starters. This mistle thrush is newly fledged – you can still see fluffy down on it – and will be a second-brood bird.

Begging for food

Whereas these goldeneye will just be late starters. We saw our first baby goldeneye over a month ago but there were two relatively new broods on the loch this week. One brood of four we startled out of the bushes at the side of the loch and the babies took off, almost running on the surface of the water. When they’re that tiny, there’s no weight to them, so when they paddle-cum-sprint across the loch, they aquaplane in the cutest fashion.

Aquaplaning baby goldeneye

Goldeneye ducklings

These swans have been hatched for a while but have been keeping well out of the way somewhere. I hadn’t seen a swan at all on Davan the last few times I’d been down, but this family of four must have been hiding in the reeds.

Mute swan family

The baby grebe is getting bigger and its parents have finally decided that it’s time for it to be swimming about, rather than hitching a ride on their backs.

Stripy face!

All this raising babies is hard work. This male redstart is no longer the dapper, immaculate bird he was in early May. He’s looking rather worn by now!

A rather worn-looking male redstart

Also looking a bit worn is this water lily. They’ve been out for a while and gradually get beaten-up by the wind and waves on the lochs. So, if you want to see them while they’re still  looking good, better come and visit us sooner rather than later!

Water lily




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Muir of Dinnet NNR – The Season of the Grass

‘Tis the season of the grass. The grasses are all at their full growth just now, as any hay fever sufferers will tell you. Even if you don’t suffer, you may well find yourself sneezing as there’s just so much pollen in the air. I know it’s a bit sad, but I have my favourite, and least favourite grasses. Least favourite definitely has to be cock’s foot. The pollen makes you sneeze and the damnable stuff is like wire when you cut it- I’ve had both mowers and strimmers grind to a halt with cock’s foot wrapped round their blades. Favourite is quaking grass- very pretty, but you don’t get it here, the soil is too acid. And I must admit, they have some great names – cock’s foot, Yorkshire fog, flying bent, sweet vernal grass, crested dog’s tail…the list goes on.

Sunset grass, mostly cock’s-foot

Yorkshire fog, the purple-y coloured grass

It’s not just the grasses that are out. The teasels are nearly at their full growth. The finches love their spiky seed heads over the autumn and winter and winkle the tiny seeds out with their fine bills.


And we’ve seen an adder for the first time in ages! Willow spotted a baby adder curled up the grass. You can see how tiny it is by the size of the goose feather and germander speedwell flower nearby.

Baby adder

you can see how small it is compared to the size of the feather or speedwell flowers

More obvious was this cormorant “wing drying” on the loch. It used to be thought that they were drying their wings, but sitting like this may be do with heat regulation. Or it could be saying “the fish I nearly caught was this big”.

Cormorant “wing drying”.

Also obvious and less attractive was the litter that continues to be left by, well,let’s face it, idiots, around the loch. Funny how it can be carried in but not out, isn’t it?

Funny how it’s much heavier to carry out empty, than in when it’s full, isn’t it?

After not seeing them for nearly a fortnight, we finally caught up with the grebes again. It was one of those odd days when you look over the loch and think “It’s raining. I can see rain on the water. But I can’t feel it”….but you were actually looking at the leading edge of a shower coming towards you.

Raindrops on the loch

The baby grebe is still there- and still hitching a lift on mum’s back. She must be feeling it by now- it looks massive. But I bet lots of parents think that – surely you can’t be that tired that you need carried? Especially now you’re that big!

But, mum, my legs are awfully tired! Big baby grebe on adult’s back.

The rain has made some of the fungi pop up. We’ve seen lots starting to appear, including this orange birch bolete. As its name suggests, it is associated with birch trees and has a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the tree.

Orange birch bolete

While  lots of creatures have finished breeding for the year, some look like they are just away to start. I suspect this squirrel is a pregnant female – she looks pretty fat- and is collecting material for her drey.

Drey making? Squirrel with a mouthful of moss.

Away from the wildlife, we’ve been really busy -lots of strimming and grass cutting, and the Fun Day to prepare for. Tonight, Thursday, the visitor centre looks like a whirlwind has hit it, with all the stuff lying out for tomorrow. But, if you come and see us tomorrow, Fri 7th, it will all be transformed into a wonderful, free activity-filled day!



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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Getting Wet!

It’s been a wet week. And not in a good way! Arrived back on Tuesday from a long weekend to find the loos swimming in (mostly) water….they’d blocked and backed up. Splish, splash I was making a dash….straight for the mop and to lock the doors. Bless them, the plumbers turned up the same day and we had the loos open by 7pm…but it took a very hot bath with added Olbs oil to get rid of the lingering aroma of septic tank!

The blocked pipe, dug up by the loos, but far enough back so’s you can’t see what it’s blocked with…

Away from the loos, the bell heather is well out now. The ling heather will be another 3-4 weeks but some patches of the woodland are looking lovely and purple.

The bell heather is coming out

It’s a great source of nectar for butterflies. The small pearl bordered fritillaries love it.

Small pearl- bordered fritillary feeding on bell heather

While the ringlets prefer grassy areas. When you walk through the grass, you often stir up ringlets, or maybe a chimneysweeper moth. These small black moths are really common here and do look like they’ve been dipped in soot.

Ringlet butterfly

The ringlet is a common brown butterfly found across the reserve

Chimney sweeper moth

Heather isn’t the only source of nectar for the insects. The fields near New Kinord are yellow with buttercups just now.

The field be New Kinord is yellow with buttercups

You often find goose feathers around the loch in June and July. The geese and ducks all moult out their feathers just now….and they shed all of their flight feathers at the same time. Some ducks and geese can’t fly for up to a fortnight until their flight feathers grow back. Not so very long ago, these feathers would all have been collected for making quill pens, or fletching arrows – but you need the feathers from the same wing (either left or right, ideally left) to make your arrow fly straight. Nowadays, no-one really uses the feathers- though I do know of one Orcadian jeweller  who collects goose feathers there and uses them to place glass beads on metal for enamelling.

The greylags are moulting their feathers

The water lilies continue to put on a lovely show. What a lovely view this is, over the loch up towards Culblean Hill.

Water lilies, with Culblean Hill behind

And you can sit on a bench to enjoy it! The loos weren’t the only structural failure we had this week. The bench looked fine until you looked closely at the legs.

Nice view from the old bench

So we replaced it. Guess who forgot the spirit level? The bottle of water isn’t there for a drink, rather as a makeshift level so no-one slides downhill on the new bench!

New bench, with makeshift “spirit level”.

As I was writing this, Willow, my colleague, has come in with a very old tooth she found in the Vat. It’s a cow’s tooth, and very old. I don’t know when the last time cattle would have been run across the hill here, but it’s not within the last twenty years- and the tooth looks older and more worn than that. It’s tempting to imagine it came from a highland cow that Gilderoy MacGregor was stealing before he had to run for cover in the Vat!

Old cow tooth

And finally- don’t forget it’s our Fun Day next Friday! We have a lot on – and it’s all free! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard, free. We’ll have local storyteller Pauline Cordiner (free!) here, an excellent facepainter (also free!) and the opportunity to try lots of free crafts- including making necklaces, designing your own bag, building your own birdbox and making mini oil lamps. There will also be teas, coffees and cakes available – they’re not free but are for the Guide Dogs. We hope to see you here!

A pic of our events leaflet!





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Muir of Dinnet NNR- Hot, Wet and Sticky

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

White water lily

Water lilies on Loch Kinord

Water lilies

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


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

Wet midsummer

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

Making a heart shape- mating common blue damselflies

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

Basking lizard in close up!

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

Small emerald moth

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

Roe buck in velvet

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

Can you spot roe deer no. 2?

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

Great crested grebe with a youngster on its back

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

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

Dog rose, pink form

Dog rose, white form

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

The bird cherry ermine moth caterpillars can completely strip a tree

Bird cherry tree, looking “webby”

Bird cherry ermine caterpillars

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

Female bullfinch, having a feed off the ceterpillars

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









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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Moths and Much Strimming!

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

Small elephant hawkmoth

Poplar hawk moth

Nettle tap moth

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

Two moths- poplar hawk moth and cocksfoot moth.

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

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

Dissecting owl pellets

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

Away into the cave at the back of the waterfall

How many?

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

Strimmed path

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


Deer 1

Mistle thrush


Deer 2


Deer 3. Hello there!

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

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

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

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

Toad pee on office floor


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