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!