Thundery and Rumbley – Muir of Dinnet NNR

So. I’m sitting here writing this, wondering idly if the local thunderstorm will knock out the power or internet before I finish. We were off-line (and wasn’t it lovely, though you do wonder what’s piling up) for a week after the last time we had lightning. At the moment, it’s just grey and threatening-looking, but we’re just waiting for the flash, bang and rumble….

Flags out…in the thunder….

Mind you, we had a glorious start to the week. The weekend was nice and over 80 folk turned out for our dinosaur hunt on the Sunday. It’s always nice to remember it was someone else’s planet before it was ours …and it will be again, some day.

Dino hunt!

Our show-off adder was making the best of it and having a good bask in the sun. She’s getting harder to spot as the grass gets ever longer. And it’s a good job she did have a bask on the Monday, we’ve not seen the sun a great deal the rest of the week.

Basking adder

Not that it hasn’t been hot, mind. It’s felt hotter than it really is, with uncomfortably high humidity. On Wednesday, the humidity dropped (yes, dropped ) to 84% at one point…which made strimming not a lot of fun at all. On days like that, it just never feels like there’s enough air in the air to breathe.

Bracken strimmed down

The wild flowers look good at this time of year. One thing the humid days do well is carry the scent of flowers, and most noticeable of these is the sweet smell of the white clover.

White clover

In amongst the grass, the tiny, pretty eyebrights flourish. They’re not as innocent as they look though and are hemi-parasites, stealing some of the nutrients from the grass roots.

Eyebright – a pretty parasite

But the plants of the moment are the grasses. Any hay fever sufferer will know that they are at their height just now, with whole fields tinged purple with the seed heads of Yorkshire fog.

A grassy field, with lots of Yorkshire fog

Yorkshire fog grass

And let me introduce you to one of my least favourite grasses. Step forward, cock’s foot. Not only is the pollen one of those that makes your eyes and nose run, the stems are very tough and will tangle up mowers and even brushcutters. Many’s the time I’ve muttered darkly at it while untangling and restarting various pieces of machinery over the years.

Cock’s foot grass

Down on the lochs, the water lilies are out. Catch them while they last in the next month.

Water lilies in the wind

They are full of invertebrates, which, in turn, provide food for other creatures. This moorhen was pottering around, picking small flies off the water surface. Not that you ever see a moorhen on a moor- the name is a corruption of ‘mere-hen’.

Moorhen

We’re hoping it will stay dry for our Fun Day (tomorrow, 12th July, 12-4pm) but I’m not betting on it. Still, everything will be under cover and (bar the teas and homebakes) is free of charge…so we hope to see you here, rain or no rain!

Fun Day

 

 

 

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Summer Silences – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a weekend! Last Saturday saw mega rainfall and thunder and lightning – and, courtesy of natural electrics, our internet is only just back up to write this blog!

Lightning over the Celtic cross

After the weather on Saturday, it’s been pretty quiet on the reserve this week. Oh, not with visitors – we’re getting busier by the day now the school holidays are upon us – but the wildlife has been keeping its head down. For a lot of creatures, there’s no such thing as summer – they jump straight from spring (breeding time) to autumn (fattening up for the winter time). Although we’re just past midsummer, we’re already seeing the odd autumn sign, with southbound wading birds and flocks of starlings. But a lot of the birds are keeping quiet, so it’s a better time to enjoy the insects and flowers. On a sunny day, there are lots of four-spotted chaser dragonflies at Parkin’s Moss…and the should be joined by common hawkers any day now.

Four-spotted chaser, in close up

The large red damselflies are usually easy to spot, too. You may see them perched individually or, often, in a mating pair, where the male clasps the female behind the head.  Once they have mated, she will lay her eggs (oviposit) in one of the pools or ditches on the bog.

Large red damselflies mating

Dragonflies are hugely efficient predators, with a 90% success rate. They eat lots of smaller insects, like midgies and mosquitos (three cheers for the dragonflies!) but they aren’t the only thing that make a meal of them. At this time of year, you can see lots of sundew on the bog surface, glowing red in the sum. Every one of those glistening droplets can spell the end for a midgie – they are sticky, and, once caught, the plant will slowly digest the unfortunate insect.

Sundew with flower

Sundew leaves

They’re not the only insectivorous plant on the bog. Look into the bog pools and you may spot the ferny-looking bladderwort. Those bladders on the leaves are triggered by small swimming insects and suck in water and the insect…which, again, is digested.

Bladderwort

And if the dragonflies, sundew or bladderwort don’t get you, there’s always the butterwort. These plants, which look a bit like a green starfish,  also have sticky leaves and also enjoy a midgie for dinner.

Butterwort

We’re starting to see more butterflies as the year wears on. We spotted our first ringlets this week and it won’t be long until clouds of these rise out the grass when you walk by.

Ringlet butterfly

The ringlet is a common brown butterfly found across the reserve

And there are plenty of small pearl-bordered fritillaries too. These small, orange butterflies are making the best of the newly-opened bell heather.

Small pearl- bordered fritillary feeding on bell heather

Harder to spot was this painted lady. Although it is a large, conspicuous butterfly when on the move, when it landed and folded its wings, you could barely see it against the bracken.

Painted lady butterfly with folded wings

Of course, we start seeing all these different pollinators because there are lots of nice flowers out. As well as the heather, which everyone thinks of as typically Scottish, we’ve seen a few of the white ” throw” of the dog rose. These white roses were one of the symbols of the Jacobite rebellions of the 1700’s…the ” brave, brave lads with their white cockades”.

White dog rose

And, from another song – the wild mountain thyme is out, too. We mostly see this along track edges, where there is a bit of nutrient enrichment.

Wild thyme

Finally, if you’re round the loch this weekend, keep an eye out for goldeneye ducklings. They have very cute black-and-white ducklings…and you may spot this late brood if you’re lucky!

Goldeneye ducklings

 

 

 

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Summer Sun – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a week! the weather has improved steadily until, as I write this, it’s 26 degrees outside and I’m quite glad of the cool in the office. Such a difference from Monday, when it rained all day. Even Tuesday was cool and overcast, but we still had fun with Banchory primary school ‘stream dipping’ in the Vat burn.

Stream dipping

Until the end of the week, the weather has been unsettled. You can see by the sky in these pictures of Rachel’s that the clouds were always blowing through.

Sun but a showery sky, Kinord

Loch Kinord

But I didn’t get to see anything of Dinnet on Wednesday, thanks to the car breaking! However, I was able to help out at Forvie for the day, with a fence check and some ring reading. The brightly coloured ‘darvic’ rings can be read from a distance and tell you something of the bird’s life history. The adult bird in this picture,  sandwich tern rEJL, is 19 years old and was ringed at forvie. It has a chick this year, also darvic ringed. yECB, another ringed sandwich tern, had a chick that was in the hide with me (if I don’t move, you can’t see me. no, we really can…) and has twice been seen in Namibia over the winter. Wow!

Both parent and chick have been ringed.

Sandwich tern with fish

Mind you, it wasn’t all mind-blowing science. The sandwich terns are well through their breeding season now and most of their young are pretty large. This doesn’t stop them wanting to be brooded by mum or dad and lots of terns had a large, feathery bum sticking out from under one wing. And a late brood of black-headed gulls were very cute indeed!

Sandwich term snuggle

Black-headed gull chick

Fortunately, the car was soon fixed and it’s back out to Dinnet. You notice a lot of wild flowers here at this time of year and these are great for pollinating insects.

Rock rose

Broom flower

Speedwell and sorrel

Summer flowers, speedwells buttercups and bedstraw

Heath spotted orchid

And, where there are flowers and sun, there are butterflies, too. Most noticeable this week has been the influx of painted ladies. These butterflies migrate, over several generations, from north Africa, and the ones we’re seeing are pretty pale and worn. But, come August, there will be another generation on the wing and they’ll look like they’ve been freshly minted.

Painted lady

Small tortoiseshell butterfly

We’re also being asked about ‘the frothy white stuff on the heather’. This is cuckoo spit but, in spite of the name, is nothing to do with cuckoos. It’s secreted by froghopper insects for protection and, in the middle of the ‘spit’, you’ll often find the insect itself.

Cuckoo spit

It was so hot on Thursday and Friday, the adders were only basking first thing in the morning. Rachel took this lovely picture of a female in the morning sun.

Adder coiled up in the sun

The woods start to feel a bit sleepy in the heat. Many of the birds have stopped singing now and are concentrating on feeding up young birds. Kirstin spotted this very newly-fledged willow warbler chick in the grass. If you see any birds like this, leave them be – the chances are the parents are nearby and will come back and feed it once you’ve gone.

Young willow warbler hiding in the grass

And I would never have spotted this young redstart if it hadn’t been for an over-protective parent. Its father was getting really uptight and his ‘hoowheet tic-tic’ call allowed be to spot him, trembling his tail and glowing red in the leaves. I’d have never seen the youngster if it hadn’t been tail-trembling too…that red ‘start’ (tail) give it the old name of ‘fire-flirt’.

Juvenile redstart

Male redstart

male redstart

Much more obvious chicks are the cygnets belonging to the mute swans. There are eleven in total, belonging to two broods of five and six, on Loch Davan just now.

Mute swan family

We’re forecast some more hot weather over the weekend, so why not come and visit us and see some of these things for yourself? You might need some shade though, if it stays this hot!

Bracken shadows

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wet and Wetter – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, that’s been another wet week. Just when you think it’s getting a bit better, nope, here comes the rain again. Everything is growing furiously and I’m getting a little fed up of cutting grass in the rain. But if you wait for a dry day, it’s a jungle by then!

Strimmed path

The lochs are high, too. This is probably the highest I’ve seen them for, ooh, over a year.

The water levels at loch Davan and a languishing trail camera.

We’ve had to take what wildlife we’ve seen in among the rain. It’s a really bad time of year for it to be persistently  wet for the wildlife. Small, young birds chill easily in the wet and can die. Yes, their parents will brood them and keep them warm and dry but can only do so for so long before they need to go and feed, too. It can be especially bad for birds that produce ‘precocious’ young, often fluffy, mobile chicks that run around almost immediately after birth. Small fluffy things brushing against wet vegetation get very wet, very quickly, then chill and die, and there is often a high mortality in years with a wet May and early June.

Lapwing chick

Fed-up looking lapwing in the rain

This adder was out basking, in the rain. Often, at this time of year, they bask to help them digest food but this one was more likely seeking warmth. The temperature wasn’t even in double figures when we saw her.

Adder in the rain

On the odd sunny day, the reserve comes to life. Like Kirstin said last week, you suddenly see dragonflies and butterflies if you get just a glimmer of sun. They’re definitely solar powered!

Small Copper butterfly

But a lot of the time, birds are just keeping their heads down and waiting out the rain. You’ll often only see- and hear- them as they go about the vital ongoing business of feeding their recently-fledged young.

Young thrush , begging for food

The woodpeckers have been really taking advantage of the peanut feeders. One day, we had a male on one feeder and a female on the other!

His ‘n’ hers peanut feeders

Less welcome was the young woodpecker that got itself into the garage and couldn’t figure out to fly out the huge double doors we wedged open at one end. Woodpecker are great birds but not in the garage, for their own sake! It’s a lousy photo but we were more concerned with trying to usher it out than get its picture.

Woodpecker in the garage

The rain has been giving us massive problems with our toilets, too. I’m not sure if the soakaway is just overwhelmed with all the water, or if it has totally packed up, but at the moment the loos are just backing up. Now, we’ve been lucky in securing some Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF ) grant money and had planned to do up the loos in autumn, being sensible folk and waiting until the busy summer was over. But I think the toilets heard us and have thrown a massive sulk and packed up in advance of this…so we may be on portaloos for the summer. Please bear with us until we get these works done.

Toilet closure a couple of years ago- no tree this time, just too much water….

It also seems like we’ve spent half the week keeping ditches clear and digging ‘grips’ – temporary drainage channels to take water off the path. We were onto a hiding to nothing for most of the week but a surprising amount of the water had gone by Friday.

Digging ‘grips’ beside the path

We’d also like to give you a heads up about out events. We’re running a number of these over the summer, suitable for families and all free, yes, that’s FREE of charge. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

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Notes From Patrol and an Introduction

Hello to all of the Muir of Dinnet NNR Blog readership. I would like to introduce myself as the new Seasonal Reserve Assistant. My name is Kirstin Mair and I am delighted to be working in such a beautiful, species rich and diverse reserve in such a lovely part of the world.

A really brief bit about me. I have come over the hill from Angus (to the right side of the hill I have been told by several locals haha) where I have worked for the past 2 seasons as the receptionist at Glen Doll Ranger Base and across the winter months for the past 3 years for the Wildcat Project surveying for wildcats across the Angus Glens Priority area both as an intern and this year as part of the wildcat trapping team. More generally I have worked for about a decade as a seasonal ranger in Scotland, Wales and France. So that’s enough about me!

I have been in post for about a month and still getting familiar with the NNR which at 1100 hectares is pretty big!. I have the wonderful job of patrolling loch Kinord at the weekends, meeting our visitors from near and far on the trail and watching the seasons advance and change. I thought for my maiden blog I could talk about the incredible wildlife encounters I have had on patrol in just a week. But first!

Water, Water everywhere.

I am in awe at the amount of rain we experienced throughout May on the reserve and this has had its benefits and impacts. In a slightly geeky way I checked out SEPA’s Scottish rainfall data for the weather station in Tarland to put a figure on this https://apps.sepa.org.uk/rainfall . We had a whopping 108.6 mm of rainfall across the month with almost 21 mm of rainfall falling in one single event on the 20th – making May the rainiest month in over a year.

The first massive visual impact is in our burns and our two Lochs . Even now the burns are swollen and channeling alot of water quickly. The Red Burn and the larger Logie Burn feed Loch Davan, carrying water from the fields and moorland north of the loch. The water catchment area for Loch Kinord is smaller, the loch being fed solely by the Vat Burn, which drains a woodland and heathland area.

The Vat Burn

I deployed a trail camera on the foreshore of Loch Davan a few weeks ago where there was clear otter spraint to hopefully catch some footage. My camera was placed a clear 6 feet from the water. As you can see below it is now in real danger of being drowned by rising water levels. The really good news is that our Great Crested Grebe pair have not been flooded out of their reed bed nest site and are sitting happily on eggs.

The water levels at loch Davan and a languishing trail camera.

Parkin’s Moss has benefited from the recent heavy rains and continuous and interconnected leads have formed across areas surrounding our boardwalk trail.

Parkin’s Moss

These are the scenes of an abundance of 4 spotted chaser Dragonflies exhibiting some intriguing breeding and territorial behaviours. On the boardwalk I observed the fast and aggressive male 4 spotted Chasers chasing off other males and grabbing females mid air to mate. I also watched several females dipping their abdomens into the water in the act of laying eggs on aquatic vegetation.

4 spotted chaser female

“Build it and they will come” I think describes the surge in productivity I have seen in the last week as the combination of rain and high temperatures has sent our vegetation into overdrive, and close behind it an explosion in insect life. Here are a few of our incredible wildflowers on display just now.

Doves-foot Cranesbill. Nicholas Culpeper – a physician writing in 1652 raves about the healing qualities of Dove’s Foot Geranium . “It is is found by experience to be singularly good for wind cholic, as also to expel the stone and gravel in the kidneys. The decoction thereof in wine, is an excellent good cure for those that have inward wounds, hurts, or bruises” .
A profusion of this showy Mountain Pansy are growing strangely? on the anglers peninsula near Meikle Kinord
Lesser Trefoil. In Ireland this lovely little flower is known as the Yellow Shamrock
Heath Milkwort on Parkin’s Moss. Also known as Thyme-leaved Milkwort due to the resemblance of its leaves to those of Thyme.  The name ‘Milkwort’ was given to the plant as it was thought that cattle grazing on this plant had increased milk yields. 
Bugle. The deep blue flower spikes are beginning to carpet our damp grasslands and woodland clearings. It’s an important nectar plant for a a number of insects including White-tailed Bumblebees, Pearl Bordered Fritillaries, Green-veined White butterflies and Common Carder Bees.

And fueled by this productive base are our pollinators.

A white tailed Bumblebee nectaring on Germander speedwell which forms verdant carpets around the reserve. Considered a good luck charm for travellers, the bright blue flowers of Germander Speedwell are meant to ‘speed’ you on your way. 
A very friendly Pearl Bordered Fritillary alighted on my foot yesterday as I patrolled Parkin’s Moss. This is one of the earliest fritillaries to emerge and can be found as early as April in woodland clearings or rough hillsides with bracken.
It flies close to the ground, stopping regularly to feed on spring flowers such as Bugle.
Female Orange tip

And finally just a nice photo of a few families of grey lag geese shepherding their Goslings around Loch Kinord. I am off to rescue a trail camera!

A Multi – family party of Greylags with their Goslings. Notice how much smaller the goslings on the right are to the ones on the left!

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Wet and Wetter! – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a wet week. It managed not to rain on Wednesday but every other day gave us at least some rain, and some of that was torrential. All the trees and plants have been more-or-less constantly soaked with raindrops.

Rain on pine tree

Rain on rowan leaf

Water on bird cherry flowers

And the rain has brought the slugs out. Most obvious of these are the great black slug (not the most inventive name but does what it says on the tin) who are detritovores – they eat dead vegetation.

A great black slug. Someone didn’t think too hard about that name…

The rain doesn’t stop the birds breeding. They are on a timetable of their own and eggs have become chicks. We’ve seen lots of young birds, newly fledged, this week, from robins to long-tailed tits.

Newly-fledged baby robin

Newly-fledged long tailed tit

A brood of young song thrushes have been dashing around the car park, too.

Newly fledged song thrush

While the adults frantically dash around looking for food for them.

Song thrush with worm

Meanwhile, some young chaffinches have learned about the peanut feeder. They aren’t at the stage yet where they are even willing to attempt hanging onto it, but the scraps dropped by other birds are easy pickings. So we’ve had up to six of them, picking around under the feeder and waiting hopefully for food to fall from the sky!

Manna from heaven? Waiting below the peanut feeder!

And, out in the Old Kinord fields, little fluffballs on stilts are the first batch of lapwing chicks.

Lapwing chick

Lapwing chick

Even when you don’t see chicks, you’ll often see parent birds foraging for food. If you’ve been watching ‘Springwatch’, you’ll have seen bullfinches regurgitating a sort of seed paste for their chicks. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of those seeds were from dandelions –  here, they have been on the lawn most days, picking the seeds out of the dandelion heads and even jumping up to grab them. But they both looked pretty soggy from the wet grass!

Bullfinches on lawn

Female bullfinch

Male bullfinch eating dandelion seeds

When it did dry up, Rachel was out with her camera and sent us these nice shots of the paths around Bogingore and the Vat burn.

Vat burn away under the road

Path by Bogingore

Bogingore area

Flat calm Loch Kinord

She also spotted this hairy caterpillar. I think it’s a garden tiger moth caterpillar and they are a favourite food of cuckoos. Caterpillars are often hairy to put off predators (would you want to swallow something that furry?) but cuckoos will shake a hairy caterpillar until they turn it inside out and effectively skin it. Problem solved!

garden tiger moth caterpillar

The birds aren’t the only thing breeding. The pine trees are producing loads of pollen just now and every puddle has a yellow ‘tide-line’ around it. If you look carefully at the pine trees, you’ll also see the red female flowers. If pollen lands on these and everything goes well, this will become a ripe pine cone in a couple of years.

Pollen scum on water

Male flowers with yellow pollen stuck on spider web, Scots pine

Female flower on Scot’s pine

As well as all the wonderful wildlife, we’ve been busy with visitors this week. We’ve had visits from the rest of the NNR team (who probably don’t get the credit they deserve for managing websites and making sure things like budgets, signs and leaflets happen) and David, Stewart, Stuart and Susan brought the sun with them. We also had a visit from Jane, one of our Directors and Denise, our Area Manager, so, of course, we tried to convince them that ours was the best NNR in Scotland. I’m not sure we succeeded though- we were rather upstaged by this little chap at Forvie at the end of Wedesday! Dinnet is fantastic but we’ve not had bluethroat – yet……

NNR team in the Vat

Bluethroat

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Trees, Bees and Little Cuties – Muir of Dinnet NNR

We’re finally getting some rain. And, my, hasn’t it just made things grow? The grass, sulking quietly in the drought, has suddenly shot up and all the trees are grateful for a drink. But, underneath it all, the ground is still pretty dry from last summer and it won’t take long for a fire risk to develop again if it dries up.

Rain on pine needles

A number of the tree species are coming into flower. In places, the air is heavy with the musky, slightly almond-y smell of rowan and bird cherry.We think of flowers as being good for the bees but it’s easy to forget that tree flowers are important, too, and the nectar from these provides a lot of food for pollinating insects.

Bird cherry

rowan flowers

Several of the days have been pretty muggy and very still. This has made for some lovely reflections in the lochs.

Different colours of green in the trees

Kinord reflections

It’s the kind of weather that brings the beasties out. I’m grateful the midgies haven’t started – yet – but the mosquitos are definitely on the go. Ooooo, yes, definitely, I’ve got the itchy lumps to prove it. But the insects most people have asked about are ‘ those big, black fly things, do they bite?’. Well, probably no, if they referring to the St Mark’s fly. There are lots of these around, especially by water, between April and June and get their name from the fact they emerge around St Mark’s day (25th April). They are a kind of bibionid fly and most of these don’t feed at all as adults, so they are pretty short-lived. And, if you look closely, you cans see they have a really funky set of hairy eyeballs!

St Mark’s fly

These flies are a favourite food of swallows, swifts and martins, who all arrive back in the UK just as all the flying insects emerge. Unfortunately, we don’t have swallows nesting on the visitor centre (though a pied wagtail seems to be thinking of occupying the swallow box) but we do get the occasional visit from them. A pair came and sat just outside the office window and discussed whether they were going to nest (roughly ‘didididi-dee-d-dee-d- Vit, vit VIT’ in swallow). Aren’t they gorgeous?

Swallow

Swallow

Swallows aren’t the only thing that eats these flies. The first dragonflies have emerged and this four-spotted chaser was sunning itself on a pine tree. Once it has warmed out, look out other insects – dragonflies are voracious predators!

four-spotted chaser dragonfly

The aspens are almost totally in leaf now. They have quite different colours of leaves when they first burst and now, thanks to them flowering this year, we now know that the greener trees in this picture are female and the more bronze coloured ones are male.

Male and female aspen

And, as May draws near its end, we’re starting to see lots of young birds. This week’s cute chick pics come courtesy of Kirstin, who spotted the first goldeneye babies and even more goslings. So keep your eyes peeled if you’re out this weekend…and I defy you not to say “awwww” if you see them!

Goldeneye chicks

Goldeneye brood

Goslings

Goslings, with parent keeping watch

 

 

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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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