Grebes, Geese and Great Weather!

Scorchio! It’s been in the low twenties most of this week and the sunshine is bringing on all the trees and flowers. But it also means we’re back into high fire risk again. Please  respect this and don’t light fires in the countryside…and especially don’t chuck used disposable BBQs in the dead bracken….

Putting up high fire risk signs

It’s amazing how quickly the trees darken in the sun. These two photos were taken only a week apart and you can see how the green of the birch has deepened in colour in a very short space of time.

Bright green birch

Fresh snow on Morven

And the aspen are finally coming into leaf, too.

Aspen just coming into leaf

Young leaves of all trees are great food for caterpillars….if you can spot them! This bright green one blend in to the leaves really well.

green geometrid caterpillar

The aspen are producing seed now. You can only see this happening for a day or two- once the seed is ripe, it blows away within 48 hours. We were watching a gentle ‘snow’ of aspen seeds being carried off in the wind.

Aspen seeds blowing in the wind

Aspen catkins producing seed

We’ve also allowed some of the seed to be collected to preserve the genetics of our local trees. Should disaster in the shape of fire or tree disease strike, it’s nice to know some of our seeds will be held elsewhere.

Freshly collected aspen catkins

Our aspen woods support lots of rare and important species and we have one more now. We’ve just reintroduced aspen hoverfly (which used to be found here) to the aspen wood. These hoverflies need decomposing aspen for their larvae to feed on so hopefully the natural wind-blow of the trees will provide a long-term food source.

Aspen hoverfly pupae case

Aspen mulch with hoverfly larvae

The warm weather has been great for flowers and butterflies. Many of our pollinators -like bees and butterflies – are in trouble, with habitat loss resulting in declines of lots of species. So even plants we consider weeds, like dandelions, are great a food source for these insects.

A slightly ragged peacock butterfly

While kneeling down to take a photograph of one of our pollinators in action, I was suddenly jabbed in the knee. Let me introduce you to the culprit – a petty whin. These plants look a lot like gorse (whin) bushes but are tiny –  but, like their larger namesake, are also possessed of annoyingly sharp thorns!

Petty whin

Petty whin with my hand for scale

‘Real’ Gorse flowers

We’ve seen our first pearl-bordered fritillary of the year, too. We haven’t seen many of these stunning butterflies in the past few years, thanks a series of  cold springs. But they had a good year last year and there seem to be a few more around this year. Thanks to Helen for these cracking pictures.

Mating pearl bordered fritillary

Pearl-bordered fritillary on bugle

Down on the lochs, the great crested grebes have finally started nest-building. The male (at least, we think it’s the male) seems very attentive and was regularly bringing his mate parcels of weed…for grebe love, you say it with decomposing vegetation!

This attentive parent to be Great Crested Grebe delivers weed parcels to his incubating mate on Loch Davan.

While the greylags all seem to have babies just now. Not as many as I’ve seen in previous years, I think, but maybe that was the cold spring – any eggs that were left for even a short time could have chilled.

And other birds are still trying to find a mate. On a sunny day, cuckoos call almost incessantly from high perches. This one was calling from the Old Kinord ruin.

A cuckoo obligingly poses on the roof of the Old Kinord ruin

And soon attracted the attention of…a meadow pipit! Cuckoos are parasites and lay their eggs in other birds’ nests…so aren’t at all popular with other species of bird. At Dinnet, meadow pipits are probably the commonest unwilling ‘host’ for cuckoos and they have a fractious relationship. The pipits will often mob and annoy a cuckoo until it gives up and moves on.

Little and Large – a m’ipit watching a cuckoo suspiciously

Away from the wildlife, we have hosted a couple of visits from the Cairngorms Junior Rangers this week. Here they are, having a shot of one of the fire beaters….just to show what kind of thing goes in to dealing with wildfires.

Junior rangers having a go of the fire beater

And finally…it’s traditional to have a fun article as your ‘and finally’. You know, when the news talks about climate  change and how we’re all doomed, then the cut to Mrs Whatsherface and her skateboarding West Highland terrier to cheer everyone up. well, our this week was when we were paid a visit by the Banchory Morris Men last weekend. They danced for over an hour, entertaining (and nonplussing) visitors but were a colourful and entertaining addition to the weekend!

morris dancing

 

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May Madness – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a week! We’ve gone from what felt like a tropical start to the week to snow on Friday. yes, snow. But that’s Scotland in springtime for you, can’t make up its mind about anything.

Loch Davan reflections

Snow shower on Friday morning

Getting snowed on!

I always feel a bit sorry for thebirds when it’s like this. They’re really getting into spring, thinking breeding thoughts and raising babies…and then the weather turns cold. That’s why it’s important to keep feeders out in the spring- it’s a nice easy meal for parent birds.

Male Siskin

We’ve had our first reports of babies on the loch. I haven’t seen them yet, but there are supposed to be some goslings going around. Keep your eyes peeled – they’re pretty cute at that age.

Greylag goslings

While other birds are still arriving. The first cuckoo was heard on Saturday.

Cuckoo near Old Kinord

And the sunny weather was good for moths and butterflies last weekend. Kirstin had a close encounter with the spotted wood, while Simon got really lucky and managed to bag this, well, glorious Kentish glory moth.

A ‘spood’- spotted wood!

Kentish glory

Male Kentish glory

The warm weather was still making the adders amorous. I’ve never known such a long-drawn out mating season for the adders…usually, it’s all over in a fortnight but this must be the 5th week in a row we’ve seen some adder action.

Snuggling snakes – mating adders

Disappointingly, some of our visitors weren’t respecting the fact there was a high fire risk in Scotland and were still lighting fires. After driving past the miles of scorched land up by Gairloch over the weekend, it does make you worry that a little bit of irresponsibility can have disastrous consequences.

So much for high fire risk….

All cleared up

Hopefully the fire risk will drop soon with a bit more rain in the forecast. We could do with a bit of rain to make the trees and flowers grow! Although most of us don’t like getting wet, we need a good watering to have green trees and wild flowers, like these lovely wild pansies. They were traditionally associated with love are also known as heart’s ease or love-in-idleness. The juice of the pansies, squeezed into the eyes of the sleeping intended, could even make them fall in love with you…if they didn’t wake up too early and give you a good slap for being a creepy weirdo.

Heart’s ease- field pansies

A more subtle wild flower is the common whitlowgrass. It’s not a grass, but a crucifer and belongs in the same family as cabbages! Though it doesn’t look like it, at less than 10cm tall and with flowers on 2-3mm across.  So look closely when you’re visiting the reserve-  you never know what close examination will reveal!

Common Whitlow grass

 

 

 

 

 

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April Mists – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a glorious Easter! Best I can remember and fortunately no-one set fire to the reserve- always a worry on a fine weekend when there’s a high fire risk. I wasn’t surprised when we had 53 children for our Easter egg hunt on Good Friday, but was worried we’d run out of eggs! Then, on another glorious day on Easter Monday, we went an helped out with the spring beach clean at Forvie NNR. Since Blue Planet 2, I think people are a lot more aware of the dangers posed by marine plastic and a beach clean only emphasizes this, with the majority of litter collected being plastics. I think we’re seeing fewer whole plastic bags than we used to but it’s a bit depressing to know they’re all still out there, just in small bits now. We also picked up the remains of a tyre, whose makers closed down in the early 1980s …our waste won’t go away any time soon.

Lobby the Beach Clean Mascot. The other one’s Daryl. We’ll let you guess who’s who…

We did think of replacing Lobby as the Beach Clean Mascot but we figured a) the traffic police wouldn’t approve and b) it clashes horribly with the green car….

The beach cleaners. Thanks, everyone! And to Greggs for the donuts!

Plastic waste

Back out at Dinnet, it’s been a warm but hazy week. We’ve had a fair bit of warmth but it’s never been what you’d call clear days…possibly all this Saharan dust blowing in from the south. Looking out over the loch, you lose the far end of the view in the mist.

A misty but green morning

But what you do notice about the view is that it has gone green! The trees really burst into leaf over the weekend, with only the ash, oak and aspen still to leaf. These trees are always later than the birches in putting on leaves.

The woods have gone green now.

green birches

The spring flowers continue to come out. The wood anemones look at their best just now, carpeting the woodland near New Kinord.

wood anemones

And we spotted our first greater stitchwort this week, too. I’d always assumed they were called ‘stitchwort’ as someone in the past thought some part of the plant looked like a needle or something. But apparently they were used as a herbal remedy to cure a ‘stitch’ in your side caused by running.

Greater Stitchwort

Greater stitchwort

Less welcome spots were the bags of dog poo, neatly tied up and left for us to collect…or hung in a tree like some pagan offering to the God of Poo. It’s not difficult, it is? You either bag it and bin it, or, if you don’t want to carry the bag back to the bin, bury  the poo unbagged…I mean, it’s poo, it’ll biodegrade!

Why, oh why, oh why….

Back to the nice stuff…think pretty flowers, calm thoughts, not getting irritable at pet hate of dumped poo bags. Pretty flowers…like this gean blossom. The wild cherries have flowered well, so hopefully this will mean plenty of cherries later in the summer!

Unusually, we’re still seeing adders three weeks after they’ve shed. Usually, they mate then disperse almost right away. But not this year – mating has dragged on and there were still pairs copulating on Tuesday. These two seemed to be playing peek-a-boo around a rock in the bracken.

Peek-a-boo adders

This lizard was nearby and he’ll have to watch out, as lizards are a favourite food of adders. He’s missing his tail, which is relatively common in lizards as they can shed their tails to distract predators. But one of the commonest ways lizards seem to lose tails is actually in fights with other lizards – if you ever see them fighting, they always grab for their opponent’s tail. I suppose it makes sense – you damage him by making him shed his tail, and, knowing reptiles, there’s an evens chance the victorious lizard will have a go at eating the shed tail!

Common lizard minus tail

If you make it out to the reserve this weekend, keep an eye out for butterflies. This warm weather has meant we’re seeing lots, including small tortoiseshell, peacock, green- veined white and speckled wood. Pick your favourite… mine is probably the small copper, but I haven’t seen one this year – yet!

Small tortoiseshell butterfly

 

Speckled wood

 

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Hellos and Goodbyes – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s really, finally, properly felt like spring this week. Though that took a day or two, there was fresh snow on Morven on Monday and it was bitterly cold until Tuesday.

Snow on Morven

Then the temperature jumped by 10 degrees! What a difference this has made to the wildlife…all of a sudden, the migrants seem to be ‘in’ in big numbers . Now, unlike some associated with Brexit, if you say ‘migrants’ to most folk in our line of work, they will instantly think migrating birds…and maybe something really rare and  juicy like a bluethroat or shrike. So far, here, we’ve had osprey, sand martin, swallow, willow warbler and tree pipit and Wednesday was the first day the pipits and warblers really cut loose with their songs.

Sand martins

Willow warbler

Tree pipit

And we’re seeing plenty of birds going north to breed too. The flocks of brambling on the reserve had pretty much disappeared by the end of the week, probably using the southerly winds to hitch a lift across the North Sea to Scandinavia. As you move north, they replace our chaffinches… and you can see an obvious family resemblance between these finches.

brambling

male chaffinch

There has also been a steady passage of curlew northbound, high overhead and noticeable only by their calls. I always find this an exciting time of year… every bird you see arrive or depart is only a tiny microcosm of the massive movement of life that happens all across the northern hemisphere every spring and autumn. It’s pretty mind-blowing if you think about it…how many millions of birds must be on the move, right now, chasing spring northwards across invisible sky roads? Nature is just brilliant, isn’t it?

Curlew

Some of our local birds are nesting now, or will be very soon. These swans were definitely ‘house hunting’ – checking out the reedbeds for a suitable place to nest.

Swans house hunting

At least they are scoping out nest sites quietly! Unlike the greylags…they are incapable of finding nests and sorting out territorial disputes without a lot of unmelodious honking. We only have about a dozen to fifteen pairs round the lochs but it can seem like a lot more when they’re all yelling at one another!

Greylag goose

The wigeon are bickering as they pair up on the lochs, too. One minute they’re sailing along quite happily, the  next they’re threatening to take a chunk out of one another. I bet we all know people like that, too…

Wigeon

Wigeon bickering

Pied wagtails seem to be looking for nest sites all over the reserve, especially round the loch and in the dykes. Mind you, I doubt the wisdom of nesting too close to where the adders are- they’ll be on the hunt by now after mating. They’re so well camouflaged that they can ambush prey but will hunt actively too, searching through the undergrowth or dykes for rodents or nesting birds. Would you have spotted this one?

Pied wagtail

Spot the adder?

Go on, my shadow’s pointing at it!

Got it now?

The warm weather is bring on the tree leaves as well. You’re starting to notice just a hint of green as you look out across the woodland. The birch and the rowans are all in bud and one verge of bursting into leaf.

The first green on the birch trees

Rowan bud

More wild flowers are coming out, too. Primroses and wood anemones are all well out now and wild pansies are appearing round the loch.

Primrose

wild pansy

And we had one more disappearance this week, too. One of out colleagues Linda, reached her well-earned retirement on Thursday. Linda has been great to us on the NNRs over the years, ordering everything from chainsaws to pencils and generally being helpful..in fact, our 50,000 visitors a year wouldn’t have had loo roll if it wasn’t for Linda! She was the sort of person who you could say ” I need a Husqvarna 440 chainsaw, 12 loo seats, a tin of black treacle and a packet of caramel wafers…by tomorrow”  to, and she wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Linda, we’ll really miss you, but do think of us when you’re out in the garden, sitting in the sun on a gorgeous day like today!

Happy retirement Linda!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snakes and Spring Flowers – Muir of Dinnet NNR

At least the weather has improved a bit for the second week of the school holidays! We’ve had a couple of cracking days on Tuesday and Wednesday…but I didn’t expect to wake up to find the world grey with frost on Wednesday morning.

Frosty Bogingore

Of course, clear nights can make for gorgeous sunny days. And sun is just what the adders need to get going. They shed their skins last week and now they’re only interested in one thing – sex!  But it has to be quite warm to get them going and you don’t see much activity until at least lunchtime. Then it can all kick off…check out this link for an adder dance! https://www.facebook.com/ScotlandsNNRs/videos/1183483661682228/

The dance is actually a wrestling match between two males to see who gets to mate. It usually takes place in the open but mating itself is often a private affair, with the amorous couple often retreating into a ‘tent’ of bracken to mate. It makes sense…they’re less vulnerable to predators or disturbance that way. Let’s face it, it’s not something you’d want to be disturbed at, and is worse for adders as they can stay locked together for an hour. If they are disturbed, the larger female will flee, basically dragging the poor male behind her, in a horribly undignified U-shape. Can’t imagine it’d be all that comfortable for either partner …so if you are ever lucky enough to see adders mating, please respect their space and privacy.

Female adder

male adder

Male adder following female into bracken

There may be trouble ahead- a second male arrives on the scene

Dancing adders

Away from the adders (which I do struggle to tear myself away from), photographer Rachel has been taking some lovely photos of Loch Kinord on the calm days. Love the reflections of the clouds.

Loch kinord

Kinord cloud reflections

Loch Kinord

The lapwings are furiously displaying over the field both inside and outside the reserve. It’s not hard to see how they get their other names of ‘peesie’ or ‘peewit’ when you hear their call…but sometime they will fly really close to you and you can hear the wind throbbing and thrumming through their wings.

lapwing

The woods are alive with birdsong just now. Song thrushes have the most strident song but we’re hearing a lot of siskins, too. They look fantastic just now, glowing yellow and green in breeding plumage.

Siskins on feeder

Male Siskin

We’ve had our first osprey, sand martin and swallow this week but none of the woodland migrants are in -yet.

Backlit osprey

Though we have had some north-bound migrants. There’s been a small flock of brambling near the office this week, feeding on pine cones like they were crossbills.

Brambling

Down on the lochs, the predominant sounds this week have been the zip-zeeeoww of the goldeneye displaying – and the squawking of black-headed gulls dip-feeding on the lochs. There have been between 80 and 100 all week and these are probably birds on their way to breeding colonies in the hills or further north.

black-headed gulls dip feeding on Loch Kinord

One unwelcome ‘bird’ for the loch was the giant pink inflatable flamingo that some visitors saw fit to abandon on the shore. Yes, it’s a nature reserve and great for birds- just not that sort!

New bird species for the reserve- inflatable pink flamingo!

Wood anemones are coming out all over the place now. You’ll soon notice their pretty white starry flowers as you walk around the reserve.

Wood anemone

The gean blossom is just newly bursting into flower. I hope it didn’t get frosted on Tuesday night – though it looks okay –  a frost now can mean no cherries later in the year. so weather in spring can affect wildlife into the autumn.

The geans are coming into flower

Speaking of the weather, it’s been pretty dry. yes, it’s been cool and not all that bright a number of days…but there hasn’t been a lot of rain since mid-March. As a consequence, most of Scotland is experiencing a high fire risk just now. Please- do your bit and hold off from lighting fires in the countryside.

It’s been dry – no fires please!

I know the Easter holidays are coming to an end (well, in Aberdeenshire anyway) but I think everyone’s off again for good Friday next week? If you are, and you’re looking for something to do, why not come along to our Easter Egg hunt? Maybe see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April Showers – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, here we are in April. And, no sooner we are than it’s turned showery. Well, of course it did, it’s the school holidays. Some of those showers have even been snow on the highest bits of the reserve.

Patches of snow on the high, shady parts of the reserve

Rainbow over the reserve

It’s been cold, too. Some of the flowers that have come out probably wished they hadn’t! A few more wood anemones had opened over the weekend but we’re still a long way off having the carpet of anemones that brightens the aspen wood in spring.

Spring flowers at Dinnet

A few primroses are out, too. They, and the celandines, are usually the first out and primrose’s name comes from “prima rosa”, the first ‘rose’ of spring.

Primrose

The pleasant start to to the week meant that there were five adders out basking in the bracken. I must admit, I consider the fact that bracken is great habitat for adders its one redeeming feature! The black zig-zags on their backs really blend in with bracken fronds so they’re well camouflaged. I imagine it is also quite warm and comfy to lie in and easy to disappear into if any danger threatens.

Having a bask

Adder

Some of the aspen catkins appear to be starting to produce seed. I’m hoping at least some of this will take root and we’ll wind up with new aspen trees on the reserve.

Female aspen catkins

While walking round the aspens and checking how many have catkins, I was admiring an old section of  6-foot wide ‘consumption dyke’ at Old Kinord. You sometimes see these in the countryside, hugely wide drystane dykes which have ‘consumed’ all the stone taken from the local fields.  We just have a short section of consumption dyke here but you can see some cracking examples at Kingswells, where the dyke is 10 feet tall and over 2 metres wide.

Consumption dyke

Down on the lochs, the birds haven’t been easy to spot in the wind and the rain. They’ve been keeping their heads down and I can’t say I blame them. You could just make out this swan, tucked away in the reeds. I wonder if it’s nesting?

This swan may be sitting on a nest in the reeds

But the coot weren’t letting the weather distract them from sex and violence. To be fair, not much distracts a coot from violence, they (along with robins) are probably some of the stroppiest birds I can think of. They will attack each other readily and, as the breeding season wears on and the males’ testosterone level rise, they’ll attack anything, up to and including a swan. I’ve long said the collective noun should be a ‘cantankerousness of coot’.

Coot fight

We were quite glad to be inside at least a bit of the day, on Thursday, for our bird box making event. My fingers have just about recovered and hopefully these will be of future homes for nesting birds.

Bird boxes

As we’re now into April, and into the bird breeding season, we’d also like to politely remind our visitors that dogs should be kept on a lead or at heel while visiting the reserve. We have around 70 species of bird breeding on the reserve and at least a dozen of these nest on the ground, including birds as diverse as lapwing, mallard, curlew, capercaillie, willow warbler, teal and robin. Even if a dog doesn’t directly hunt or harm a bird, scaring off the parents can leave eggs or chicks open to chilling or predation. So please, for the sake of the wildlife, keep your four-legged friend on the path and under control. We know you’re walking here because you love the countryside, so we’re sure you’ll help us out by doing this and helping to protect birds like this lapwing chick. C’mon, it’s soooooo cute, you’d hate to think of something bad happening to it…wouldn’t you?

Lapwing chick

 

 

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Marching into April – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Where is the year going? That’s it nearly a third gone, the clocks go forward this weekend and it’s April on Monday. We’re getting busier too, trying to get everything tidied up for the Easter holidays, recruit staff and even say goodbye to some old faces. He’s not going to thank me for this, but one of our colleagues, Dave, retired this week. And we’ll miss him because he’s helped us with oh, so many things over the years. So, thanks, Dave and think of us when you’re reeling in the third trout of the day.

Farewell to Dave

And we also took the opportunity, while all together in one place, to see some other conservation in action. Our yearly away day took us to Perthshire and the Tay reedbeds. Now, when we tend to think of reedbeds, most of us tend to think of East Anglia, of the Hen, Minsmere, Walberswick or Dunwich reedbeds. But the largest continuous swathe of reed in the UK is actually in Scotland, between Perth and Dundee. This supports the largest UK population of bearded tits (who, sadly, refused to show themselves) …but we did have a very interesting talk from Vicky of the RSPB about managing this huge and complicated habitat.

Reedbed management

Reedbed

Out on the reserve, it has really felt like spring this week, with several warm days. Mind you, the wind has still been a fairly constant presence, with the lochs being choppy on a number of occasions. Maybe it’s the westerly wind that has kept the migrants south of here …I’ve yet to see a sand martin (though they have been seen in southern Aberdeenshire and I saw in Somerset nearly a month ago) and we could get an osprey any day now. The martins should have plenty to eat, a couple of large itchy lumps on my arm testify to the fact that there are plenty of biting insects around already!

Windy Kinord

Sheltered spot, Loch Kinord

The wind makes it hard to see the ducks as they bob up and down and disappear behind waves in the loch (though it’s not as bad as seawatching). That’s a shame, as they are all in their spring finery just now and it’s hard to decide which looks the smartest. The tufties are traditionalists, in black and white, as are the goldeneye…but they both have a lovely purple or green iridescence to their plumage if the light strikes them right.

Tufted duck

Goldeneye displaying, with head tucked right back onto body

Or maybe you prefer the striking yellow forehead of the wigeon? Or the greens and browns of the teal? Or maybe you just like a mallard…if they weren’t so common, we might stop and look at them and realise just what a good-looking duck they are.

Wigeon displaying

Teal, roosting in the reeds

Mallard ducks

The warm weather is bringing on the spring flowers, too. We’e seem our first violets and wood anemones this week. Not in any quantity though, just the odd flower in a particularly sunny spot.

Wood anemone

Dog violet

The blackthorn is in flower, too. Even if you haven’t seen it here, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it somewhere…it is widely planted along roadsides. It is really easy to identify – it’s the white, frothy-looking blossom that comes out before any of the leaves are on the trees.

Blackthorn blossom

Some of the aspen continue to flower. They, too are coming out at different times, depending on how sunny or shaded they are. We’ve just (thanks to David, who spotted it) found our first female catkins –  so that could mean seed and different aspen trees!

female aspen catkin

Female aspen catkins

In and around the wet areas, frogs and toads are a constant presence. Lots of people are coming into the visitor centre and telling me they’ve seen/ nearly trodden on dozens of toads while out walking.  There’s a lot of spawn appearing too. Let’s just hope we get some rain in the next couple of months so all the pools don’t dry up before it hatches.

Toad

Toad

As it is the Easter holidays next week, and if you are looking for something to do, we have an event on next week on Thurday (4th). Maybe see you there?

 

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Toadally Toads! – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s going to have to be a toad – dominated blog this week. Why? Well, the toads are rather dominating the paths at the moment –  you can hardly move but there’s a toad underfoot. Sometimes, they can be really hard to spot until they move…then you wobble around on one leg, trying not to tread on them. Can you spot the toad in this picture?

Spot the toad?

Or see how many there are in this one?

How many toads?

It’s the warm weather that’s bringing them out. It has been very mild a couple of days this week, especially on Thursday. First day I hadn’t needed a jacket! It was the kind of day you scan the skies, looking for the first sand martins or ospreys of the year. Sadly, no luck on either of those but you did keep having to look down to avoid toads! They were everywhere… on land, in the water or clasping mates.

Toad underwater

Toad in the water

Toad hiding in leaves

Male clasping female toad

They’re not the only thing enjoying the warmth. the adders are out basking too, and, if it stays warm, it won’t be long until the females emerge.

In close-up

And speaking of emerging…I got my first nettle sting of the year, kneeling down to take a photo. After swearing briefly at it, I realised that quite a few young nettles were poking their heads up. Our ancestors would have really welcomed this – edible, reasonably tasty spring greens full of iron would have been a massive boost after a winter of dried food.

Young nettle

All the birds are furiously displaying all over the reserve. Some of the more obvious songbirds are the great tits and chaffinches, with their “teacher, teacher” or “pink, spink” calls.

Great tit calling

Male chaffinch

Or listen out for the “zip-zzzeeeooow” of the goldeneye.

Male goldeneye displaying

There are plenty of tufted ducks on the lochs, too. You’re not so likely to hear them, though, they just grunt at one another.

Tufted duck

We’re starting to see more insects too. Peacock butterfly has been seen and several dor beetles were bumbling fairly purposefully across the path.

Peacock butterfly

Dor beetle

I also spotted my first bumbleebee this week. Not totally sure what kind it is –  buff-tailed maybe?

Bumblebee

With March coming towards its end and the weather warming, we know it won’t be long until the migrant birds are back. But some migrants are still going…we’ve had a steady trickle of whooper swans moving north this week. Keep your eyes peeled if you’re out and about – you may see your first spring migrant or departing winter ones.

Whooper swan family in flight

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Snow and Snakes – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been one of those weeks where you’re no doubt that we’re sitting half way between spring and winter. In the wind, it has been bitterly cold but, out of it, you can feel there’s warmth in the sun and it could be pleasant – if the wind just dropped. But it hasn’t, and the next thing you can see the sleet showers blowing in.

Mixed weather – shower coming in

And the sun is quite suddenly blocked out by the snow.

Snow blotting out the sun

There is fresh snow up on Morven and in the Cairngorms.

Fresh snow on Morven

But the snow isn’t lying and, much to my surprise, the adders were up and about, even with fairly regular showers. This one was wet and glistening in the sun.

Wet adder just after the sleet

And we had our first date for lizard pushed back by one of our visitors, who took this lovely picture of one curled up on the wall.

Common Lizard, Dinnet, 27 February 2019

The aspen catkins are still attracting attention. Euan McIlwraith from BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors programme paid us a visit to see them. Listen out for the interview this weekend!

Euan from the BBC, looking ta the aspens

Aspen catkins

We also managed to find him some adders. He’d said that, in 30 years of outdoor broadcasting, he’d never seen an adder. Ah, well, maybe we can help there. And, unusually, after promising someone that they’ll see something, it actually happened, with three co-operative adders tucked away in the bracken. Okay, we see a lot of adders at Dinnet but usually, when you take someone to see something, it has disappeared for the day and you’re left saying “you should have been here yesterday….”.

Euan’s first ever adder!

But, in spite of the cold, there are still yet more signs of spring coming in. We’re suddenly noticing siskins, as they’ve started displaying. The males look amazing, like little sherbet lemons. This one was singing on the Vat trail.

Male siskin

And we even saw a pair feeding on the aspen catkins!

Siskins feeding on aspen catkins

We were also really please to see a pair of great crested grebes back on Loch Davan. They breed, or attempt to breed, here most years but it’s never a bird you’re guaranteed to see. I don’t think I saw one until I was about 13, when we went to Norfolk and they were everywhere. And I thought I’d never seen anything so exotic!

Great crested grebes

Great crested grebe

Some other birds are greeting the spring with overt violence! Okay, birdsong, beautiful as it is, is all about sex and violence (“My tree. Push off or I’ll GET you”.) but you don’t often see a fight. But a couple of moorhens (which are normally shy and we hardly see) were out in the field and utterly determined to scrag one another. They were going at it for least 15 minutes, chasing, pecking and leaning back and trying to shred their opponent with their feet. So keep your eyes open if you come and visit us this weekend – it’s not all peace and quiet out there!

Moorhen fight!

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Adders and Aspen – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Ooh, second blog of the week! Just a short one, quickly covering everything that isn’t aspen at Dinnet…we did that already. But if you hadn’t heard, the aspen are in flower (catkin) for the first time in 23 years just now.

Aspen catkins male

The adders have been out on the warmer days. I’ve not seen more than four at once so far (with 16 in one day being the record!) but it is still quite early and is cold in the wind.

And they’re not easy to spot. Let’s play spot the adder. Did you find it?

Or this slightly easier one? You can see why they’re easy to miss and why people and dogs sometimes encounter them unexpectedly.

They’re not the only reptile on the go. We saw our first slow worm and common lizard this week, too.

Common lizard, in one of the adder basking spots

And this is the first butterfly of the year that sat for a photograph. We actually saw  our first small tortoiseshell 10 days ago but this is the first one we managed to capture on camera.

The sap is rising in the birch trees. Where trees have snapped and been cut down over the winter, the stumps are now soaking wet with sap.

And the damselfly pools are looking good. Yet again, a thousand thanks to the volunteers who from Aberdeen Uni and The Mountains and The People team who created not one, but two damselfly pools. Hopefully these will become home to northern damselflies in the summer…which will come very quickly, in spite of the snow forecast this weekend!

 

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