Redwings and Autumn Winds – Muir of Dinnet NNR

The wind thrushes have arrived! The reserve is practically sinking under the weight of redwings this week…I must have see upwards of 2000 on Wednesday alone. The easterly winds have brought them in from Scandinavian in huge numbers, with big “falls” being reported all along the east coast. It’s really exciting time to be out in the field, when birds seem to be raining out of the sky, making landfall, any landfall, as rain and darkness push them ashore. But they’re not hanging around the coast for long and are piling inland to the berry trees in huge numbers.

Redwing. You can just make out the red underwing.

Redwing on the lines

I reckon, on Wednesday, I saw eight flocks of upwards of 200 redwing on the reserve, plus another dozen or so flocks ranging between ten and fifty birds. But what surprised me was how quiet they were being- often, when the thrushes are in, all you can hear is the white noise of bird voices chuckling, creaking, rattling and squabbling. But, bar the odd “tsleeeeep” -and the rush of wings – they’ve been pretty silent. Too hungry to squabble maybe, or maybe it’s because the fieldfares aren’t in yet. These are our other the winter thrushes, larger, greyer, noisier  and just generally bolshier than the redwings.  If they don’t arrive very soon, all the rowan berries will be gone- virtually every tree on the reserve has been stripped this week.

Redwing flock

redwing in rowan tree

We’re still seeing a steady trickle of other migrants. Most days there have been small groups of whooper swans on Loch Davan.

Whoopers bathing

We’ve been getting more mute swans than whoopers on the lochs this week, with nearly 30 mutes uneasily sharing Loch Davan. Mute swans are very territorial – or just grumpy -and often chase each other around the loch. At this time of year, you don’t tend to see any proper fights, it’s all just posturing….a bit like two drunk guys who face off but never throw a punch. It’s all “this is my patch of water, push off or I’ll have you”. “Oh, will, you now? Well, you gotta catch me first. And your mother was a cormorant”. “Yeah? Well I can break a man’s arm with my wing, so I can knock your silly head right off. I’m going to, I am, yes, I am, here I come”…..and so on. It’s hardly surprising that we keep seeing swans flying between the lochs- I think they head over to Kinord for a rest from all the belligerence.

Mute swans flying between the lochs

Flying swans

Mute swans coming in to land at Loch Davan

It’s not just swans on the loch. Sitting quietly can reward you with some lovely sights – like these two mallards, who dabbled quite happily past me, almost at my feet, and never clocked I was there.

Mallards feeding

Or the sight of an unusual bird. This grebe surfaced by the loch shore and I glanced at it, assuming it’d be a little grebe. On the lochs, anything that small, which dives, is going to be a little grebe 99% of the time. But this was the one percent time, and closer inspection revealed a bright red eye and pale tip to the beak, making it a Slavonian grebe!

An unusual visitor- Slavonian grebe

Or the sudden swirl and clop of water that alerts you that there might be something nearby. Something that dives. What is it? Duck? No, otter! He started off well out on the loch but surfaced pretty close by, chewing on something. When you see those formidable teeth, you can understand how one of Gavin Maxwell’s assistants lost a finger to an otter.

Otter- coming closer!

Otter diving

Chewing on something

And the geese are still on the move, with lots passing over the reserve- or even coming in to briefly land and rest on the lochs.

Geese on the move

Geese on approach

The trees are probably wearing their best autumn dress this week. I reckon this is about as good as it’ll get this year in terms of autumn colours – all of the trees are yellow now and will rapidly lose their leaves hereafter (especially with yet more gales forecast). It’s just a shame we’ve had so little sun to bring the colours to life…but they glow even on a dull, grey day.

Autumn birch

Aspen

Sun through the autumn leaves. Just a glimmer, then it was gone.

Autumn aspen

Castle island

Autumn at Loch Kinord

With all the glorious autumn colours around just now, we don’t think much about the pine trees. We all know that the deciduous trees shed their leaves in autumn, but the pines just go on, dark, evergreen, brooding quietly in the background. But pine trees do shed needles in the autumn too- walk on any path through the pinewood and you’ll be walking over a thick carpet of fallen needles. It’s just they don’t shed them all at once like the birches or rowans. But, if you do go for a walk this weekend, you’ll find them far less satisfying to scuff through than leaves…and much pricklier if they stick in your socks!

Pine needle carpet on the path

 

 

 

 

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Migrant Magic – Muir of Dinnet NNR

“The north wind shall blow and we shall have snow”…well, mercifully, no snow yet, but we’ve certainly had northerlies this week. The wind shifted to the north-west on Monday night and with it has come birds, riding it south away from an Arctic winter. The most obvious of these are the geese. The whole reserve has resounded to the sound of “goose music” as skein after skein of pink-footed geese have headed southbound high overhead.

Geese heading south

And, much to my excitement, my favourite winter migrant has also returned. There were 12 whooper swans on Loch Davan on Wednesday.

Super whoopers!

The whoopers are the largest winter migrant we’ll see on the reserve, with a healthy adult male weighing in at around 11 kilos. That’s a lot of bird to carry across the north Atlantic from Iceland! But the smallest migrants are the real miracles…and they often go unnoticed. Goldcrests are resident here but their numbers are swelled in the autumn by migrants from Scandinavia. So, that’s a bird, 8 centimetres long, weighing (if it’s healthy) about the same as a 20p coin, flying across the North Sea. I really don’t know how they do it and heaven knows how many don’t make it. They really are little miracles!

Goldcrest

We’ve also had our first redwings in this week. Only a couple, not the big, noisy flocks that we’d expect in a week or two. No fieldfares yet either…and they’re so noisy, you soon know when they arrive!

Redwing

And the winds have taken other birds away. When was the last time you saw a swallow? I don’t think I’ve seen since last weekend. But you expect them to disappear in October, when the days get shorter and the nights get colder. This is what triggers the trees to change…and they are well on their way to wearing their autumn dress by now. I’d say the dominant colour from the viewpoint is still green – just.

The view from the viewpoint

But when you look closer, a lot of the leaves are quite golden. Those that haven’t been blown off the trees, that is….

Birch trees against a rainy sky

Autumn birch leaves, yellow and green

Autumn leaves

Autumn trees

Thought it has been cool in the wind, it’s been quite warm in sheltered spots and the reptiles have been taking advantage of the late sun. We found this large slow worm basking on the path.

It was “scenting” with it’s tongue. Now, I’ve never looked at a slow worm’s tongue before (well, you don’t, do you?) but it’s much flatter and fatter than an adder’s, and only forked at the tip. I had to dig out the other picture to compare them.  I suppose it is forked (like the adder’s) so the slow worm can “taste” different intensities of scent on each fork and work out which way food or danger lies.

Slow worm “scenting” with its tongue

Adders have longer, thinner more deeply forked tongues than slow worms.

We have managed to spot an adder this week, tucked right into a drystane dyke, out of the wind. Like the swallows, you wonder if this is the last one you’ll see this year.

Adder, tucked away in wall

The last adder of the season?

Other creatures are shutting up shop for the winter too. We disturbed this small tortoiseshell butterfly out of the garage this week and this peacock butterfly was not moving out of the shed. They are looking for places to hibernate over the winter and will often tuck themselves away in sheds or garages. Look out for them this weekend if you are doing some gardening or clearing out.  The best thing you can do is leave them alone – don’t evict them- if you don’t mind sharing your shed with a sleeping butterfly.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly, perched on trailer

Peacock butterfly, in the shed.

 

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Why Are Wasps Annoying and Other Autumn Stuff- Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, it was National Poetry Day yesterday, so I suppose we should be putting some verse up. But, according to the radio it’s national Ask a Stupid Question Day today…so we’re going to lead with the question I was asked this week. A chap came into the visitor centre and we asked if we could help. So, he thought about it for a bit and than said “Yes, maybe you can. Can you tell me….why are wasps such a***h****s?”. Once we straightened our faces, we did our best to answer. Wasps are a pain at this time of year and, in autumn, I quite share the gentleman’s opinion of them. They do a good job for much of the year, eating a lot of garden pests. However, once the queen dies and the hives break up, they go off looking for high-energy sugary food….like ripe fruit, or cans of of juice or even beer…and that’s when they really start spoiling your picnic. They’re also more likely to sting just now, as they are old, knackered and frankly grumpy. The best thing is to stay calm and try not to flap at them as this can provoke them. But I’m afraid people do occasionally get stung without provocation and you’re forced to conclude it’s just because wasps are a***h****s.

Wasp

It’s been a pretty grey week to come back to after a fortnight’s holiday sun. It was Thursday before we had a glimmer of sun but at least it stayed dry for the pupils of Aboyne Academy who were out learning about wildlife survey techniques. I think they were very interested in the tracking and feeding signs session, surprised at how colourful moths could be, and alternately disgusted and fascinated by the owl pellet dissection (“Eeuuugh! That’s poo! I’m not touching that!”). Hopefully they will be able to apply these techniques to their own study site and get a few good wildlife records for the area.

Track board. Can you name any of them?

Feeding signs- hazelnut shells

The contents of the owl pellets

Moth trap

Autumn green carpet

Pink barred sallow

Green brindled crescent

This rather unremarkable-looking moth rejoices in the name of Flounced Chestnut

Dark Swordgrass moth- a migrant moth

Canary shouldered thorn, impersonating a dead leaf

Pink barred sallow and sallow moths. You get a lot of yellowish-dead-leaf tpye moths at this time of year.

The odd sunny day has brought the adders out for a bit of last-minute basking. This young female is doing a fairly typical adder thing of hiding her face under the rock. Snakes don’t have eyelids so they will often shade their eyes from the sun by poking their face under a rock or moving to keep their eyes in the shade of some vegetation.

young female adder

Out on the reserve, autumn is in full swing. I don’t think, unless the winds drop, it’s going to be a particularly “yellow” autumn- the leaves are being stripped from the trees as soon as they turn.

The aspens are starting to go yellow but the leaves are soon blowing away

The first winter migrants are in. We’ve seen redwing- just a couple, more will arrive once the winds stop being out of the south- and heard geese overhead.

Redwing

The winter thrushes will fall on the rowan berries when they arrive- if the local blackbirds haven’t had them all first.

Red rowan berries

The rain has left big puddles on the track. Not that the wildlife objects, they are ideal bathing pools for lots of small birds.

Bath time!

Bathing thrush and chaffinch

Bathing song thrushes

There are still lots of fungi around. They really vary in size, from these tiny yellow “fairy clubs” less than an inch long, to this huge cep, nearly a foot tall with a diameter like a dinner plate.

Yellow club fungus

Cep

If you’re out and about this weekend, things to look out for include geese arriving back from Iceland …but I’d suggest just going for a walk and enjoying the autumn. We’ll have another month of it before the clocks change and winter starts, so make the best of those golden, sunny days that smell of fallen leaves and changing seasons. Enjoy!

Bracken. Yes, I hate it- but it does look pretty at this time of year.

bracken

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – guest blog

Friday the 22nd of September and it’s the Autumn equinox – how did that happen!   I guess people take it easier during the summer months, unlike wildlife that knows Summer is just a short respite for having new families and, if you can, stashing away some reserves for the Winter.   With the wet weather last week, I wasn’t able to get on with my latest wildlife gardening projects, so used some of the time to catch up on my reading.   And I was pleased to pick up some “good news” Nature stories.

First of all and fairly close to home, my wife was out walking at Crathes and popped into the walled garden to see if there were any new gardening ideas worth pinching.   She did see a slightly unusual butterfly and thought it might just be an end of year one getting bit raggedy.   Very sensibly, she took a picture of it and lo and behold it is in fact a Comma, which is always naturally “raggedy” looking.

Comma

Comma butterfly taking advantage of nectar from a Crathes sunflower

It’s always worth taking a pic of anything you see that looks a bit unusual.   Checking on the North East Scotland Biological Record Centre website, I discovered they only have 14 records of this species in NE Scotland.   If you see something unusual and get a picture of it, send it to your Local Wildlife Record Centre and they will almost certainly be able to identify it for you.   The more wildlife records we have, the better for all sorts of people and projects.   Most wildlife recorders are not professional scientists or anything like that; just people who are interested in what they see.   Give it a go – but be warned, it is addictive as well as useful.

It was also good to read about the ongoing success of the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project around Aberdeen.   More people are aware today of the dangers of bringing in non-native plants and animals, but I still find it a bit hard to believe that the North American Grey Squirrel was only introduced to Aberdeen as recently as the 1960s.

SSRSs is a Partnership led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust which has been working for several years to control grey squirrel numbers and advise on managing more woodlands to benefit reds, which amongst other things suffer from a fatal disease carried by greys.   Monitoring work by one of the partners, Forest Enterprise Scotland, has shown no greys and more and more reds over the last couple of years at Countesswells and Foggieton.   A friend in Cults is delighted to have reds back in her garden for the first time in 30 years and the James Hutton Institute in Craigiebuckler have just had their first ever red recorded in their grounds.   Well done to all involved.

Turriff squirrel

Happy north east red squirrel at the Turriff Show.

A couple of years ago, the North East Scotland Local Biodiversity Partnership ran a small camera trapping project for local primary schools.   The results were great and Scottish Natural Heritage were persuaded to fund the rolling out of the project across Scotland.   I was lucky enough to be invited to preview the latest videos, from both rural and urban schools; and they were absolutely fantastic.   A pupil at one school said she thought pine martens were fictitious animals like unicorns until she saw one on their camera trap.   And of course the pupils learn about maths, team working, co-operation and loads of other things as well as wildlife.   Many people now want to know about camera trapping and some of the participating schools travelled to the Royal Highland Show to tell Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Secretary, about the project.  A few days ago we heard that the project has been short listed for the 2017 Nature of Scotland Awards.

Rose Toney, the Local Biodiversity Partnership’s Co-ordinator has been the moving force behind camera trapping in Scotland and along with her husband Nick Littlewood has developed the small mammal cam (which now enables small animals to be recorded) and they are currently working on a floating version!!   Have a look at their Facebook page and you’ll soon see what all the excitement is about.   These cameras can take stills or video; daytime and night-time.   The camera trap kit is fairly inexpensive (mine cost less than £100) – and it’s only 100 days until Chr*s***s !!

Hedghog

Hedgehog foraging around the compost bins in my garden.

This week the Press & Journal carried an interesting article about a “wildlife bridge” being built across Aberdeen’s new City Bypass. I’m sure you have seen lots of dead wildlife on the roads – hedgehogs, roe deer, red squirrels, badgers and lots more.   Individual wild animals die all the time, but that’s usually when they are killed by a predator that will eat it or feed it to it’s own family.   Wildlife killed on the roads are often females out foraging and if they are still feeding young, those youngsters will starve to death too.   Of course, wildlife killed on our roads rarely “go to waste” as a fox or other scavenging animal will usually eat them fairly quickly – even although the scavenger runs the risk of being killed too.   These bridges are already common in Europe and the United States.

Green bridge

Green bridge on the Weymouth relief road in Dorset

Green walls are an increasingly common feature around the world, especially in cities where the growing plants help to reduce levels of pollutants in the air.   They also add a bit of green to brighten up the urban environment and can provide a little bit of habitat for wildlife, especially insects.   In some places they even have them in school grounds and use them to grow fruit to improve the pupils’ diet, but they can be quite expensive to install and often need complicated watering systems or daily watering by hand.

The SEPA Office by the harbour in Aberdeen have kindly agreed to let me experiment with installing a low-cost, low-maintenance green wall in their car park and Aberdeen City Council are already interested in seeing how it works out, as some parts of the city suffer from quite serious air pollution.   SEPA’s office car park has a retaining wall of stone filled gabion baskets; a fairly common construction technique.   For the experiment, I’m planting up some of the gaps (with a little peat free compost, of course) in the stones with the sorts of native wild plants you would find growing on coastal cliffs and just above the high water mark.   These plants have to cope naturally with salt spray, poor soils and very dry conditions – just the sort of conditions you would find on the average stone filled, gabion basket wall.   I collect a small amount of wild plant seed in the autumn, sow it in my garden and then move the young seedlings to their new home in Aberdeen.   So far sea campion, thrift, roseroot and wild thyme have proved the most robust, but I plan to add some white stonecrop soon and hopefully some sea rocket and even wild strawberry next year.

Stone wall

Part of the functional stone wall I hope to turn green.

 

Catriona will be back with her blog next week, but I hope you enjoyed this different view of managing for wildlife.   As Nature continues to face growing pressure, we need to be imaginative and come up with new ideas to give it a helping hand.   Nature reserves and green spaces in our towns, cities, gardens, farms and parks are all important.   Making things better requires a little effort and a bold imagination – so go to it.

Ewen Cameron

Chair: Habitats & Species Group and Awareness & Involvement Group

North East Scotland Local Biodiversity Partnership

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Guest blog Muir of Dinnet NNR

Catriona the Dinnet Reserve Manager is away on a well deserved holiday and, as I live in a village quite close to the reserve, she asked if I would like to keep the blog going.   Although I recently retired from SNH after 40 years, I’m still very much involved in nature conservation.   National Nature Reserves are very important for Scotland, but now I am much more focussed on what we all do for Nature on our farms, school grounds, local parks and individual gardens.   Management for wildlife is needed in all these places – nature reserves aren’t enough on their own.   A farmer once asked me for one thing he could do that would help wildlife and I suggested he didn’t “tidy up” so much.   No need to let things turn into a jungle, just no need for obsessive tidying up either.   This small bundle of clippings in my garden will provide shelter for all sorts of smaller wildlife.   Many people seem to worry unduly about rats and mice making a beeline for any food or shelter we make available.   A wee bit of shelter like this won’t have you over run by them!

ShelterA small pile of clippings provides shelter for all sorts of our smaller wildlife.

Although I’ve heard many groups claim to be the “real custodians of the countryside”, the truth is that none of us have done a very good job since the 1950s.   Many native plants and animals that I regularly saw as a boy have become rarer and rarer over that time.   As a farmer’s son, the greatest tragedy I’ve seen is the continuing decline of the bumblebees and other insects that are still so vital for pollinating many of our food crops – and just for the sake of a little suitable habitat.  If you keep your eyes and ears open when you are out and about at Dinnet or elsewhere you can see and hear where bumblebees are foraging for food and if you are patient you will often see them disappearing into small burrows, woodpiles, compost heaps and other dry places where they might have their nest or their “winter quarters”.   The Internet has plenty examples of bee hotels you can build and place in your garden – I mainly have wee piles of rocks and bits of wood in the corners of the garden.   I have some native plants in my garden and I choose garden varieties which have lots of nectar and pollen.   Some modern varieties of garden plants are bred to have little pollen, which isn’t much use to bees as they need it to feed to their growing youngsters.

Bee

Native plants and wee shelters sustain bumblebees until next year’s crops are ready for pollination.

For many years now, I have managed parts of my own garden to benefit wildlife and encourage as many others as I can get to listen to me to do the same.   And if they have control of parks and other public green spaces, gardens, forestry plantations, farms and so on; I encourage them to do the same.   My wee green space is not going to save nature on its own, but along with the thousands and thousands of others in Scotland it certainly can help – and it really will help if everyone does just a little too.

The first Spring after I dug my garden pond 5 frogs visited and laid one clump of frog spawn.   Now I get over 30 frogs and several clumps of frog spawn.   Some frogs spend the Winter at the bottom of the pond and frogs of all ages turn up elsewhere in the garden throughout the year where they kindly eat insects, slugs, snails and so on.   And the pond is now home to newts, damselflies, pond skaters and loads of other wee beasties.   In more than 60 years I have never lost my fascination for the wildlife that occupies our ponds.   While a big pond is good, I know of many ponds no more than a metre square in folks gardens that are stuffed with wildlife.   When I started my pond, I took a bucketful of water and mud from someone else’s pond and the beasties and their eggs in that bucketful got mine off to a flying start.   I remember putting out my daughters’ paddling pool on the lawn many years ago and within a few hours a Great Diving Beetle had taken up residence!   If you are anxious about young children and ponds, have a bog or pebble and water garden until they are older.   If you provide the facilities, nature will take it from there.

Frog

Frog taking advantage of the food and shelter provided by a garden pond.

Great diving beetle larva

The spectacular Great Diving Beetle larva which grows to 6 cms long.

And do get the truth about wildlife in your garden,   I have heard so many times on gardening programmes and read in magazines about slugs being the gardener’s enemy.   Some certainly are, but others really are your friend.   The Leopard slug is definitely your friend as it eats rotting vegetation, recycling the nutrients back into the soil – and it eats other slugs too.   So learn to recognise it and welcome it with open arms as well as a few bits of wood to give it shelter.

Slug

Leopard slug stalking the garden’s gravel paths by night.

If you enjoy the wildlife of Dinnet or any other nature reserve, wildlife gardening is a way of getting that enjoyment right outside your window every day.   Children are endlessly fascinated by Nature (and so are pensioners!!) and it gets them outside; but still where you can keep an eye on them.   The Internet is a great source of information and there are lots of groups across Scotland, like allotment associations and schools who are taking this on board.

We have come to the stage where we think Nature is something nice to have but not essential.   Sadly we have forgot the vital role it plays in pollinating our food crops and if managed properly how it can reduce soil erosion and flood risk.   None of us are doing enough for Nature, so go on and do something more on your farm, garden, school grounds etc. – you know it makes sense.

Ewen Cameron

Chair: Habitats & Species Group and Awareness & Involvement Group, North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR- Turning Seasons

As soon as September hit this year, it suddenly feels like the year has turned. The nights especially, have been cold, and the frost light has come on a couple of mornings. This nip in the air will make the leaves go yellow faster…the cold, and the shortening day length, are their triggers to shut down for the year.

Bird cherry leaves revealing yellow carotenoid pigments

How long will it be until we see geese back? The winds are supposed to turn northerly this weekend and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first few geese ride these south, fleeing the coming Arctic winter.

Geese flying over

The other migrants, those that come here for the summer, are fairly thinning out now. There are still a few swallows around and the odd willow warbler- but I haven’t heard or seen any of the others for over a week now.

Willow warbler

There are still plenty of fungi on the reserve. Look out for the orange birch boletes, these have an orange cap and (as the name suggests) you can only find them where there are birch trees.

Orange birch bolete

I continue to despair of a tiny fraction of our visitors. Why, having lugged full beer cans and bottles onto the reserve, can’t you take away the almost-no-weight empties? It’s not even like the people’d be full of beer- as everyone knows, beer is only ever rented!

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

The red squirrels have started visiting the feeder again. They, like everything else in the  woods, are stocking up for winter…and some high fat, easily accessible peanuts are a real bonus!

Feeding up

We’ve not actually been at Dinnet a great deal this week, a staff meeting has taken us west and south for a couple of days. While I’m not generally a fan of meetings  (do they get in the way of real work? Discuss…) it’s a great opportunity to see and catch up with the others in the Tayside and Grampian team- who we otherwise don’t see for most of the year. There was an interesting programme of events, starting with a talk from Invercauld estate on moorland and grouse management. While there’s no doubt that conservationists and grouse moor managers don’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues, we sometimes forget that we do have the common ground of an enthusiasm for the outdoors and countryside….that’s why we do the jobs we do.

A rainbow in the Dee valley

Listening to a talk on “Pearls in Peril”

Tree planting to stabilize banks

We also had a go at spotting beavers at Loch of the Lowes. These animals are now well established in Tayside and you can clearly see the trees they felled from the hide. Unfortunately, the beast itself remained absent- possibly due to the hilarity resulting from an attempt to upload a picture from the hide on social media….apparently, large tree-felling rodents aren’t the first thing that shows up under “beaver”. It was worth it for the full moon reflecting over the water, though.

The view from the hide at loch of the Lowes. Sadly no beavers.

Full moon over one of the Lunan Lochs

We also had a very informative session on what are catchily known as “INNS” – Invasive Non-Native Species. This includes stuff like Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed, piri-piri burr, signal crayfish….and various other plants, animals, molluscs and event sea squirts. As someone who has done battle with a few of these, it was reassuring to hear what can be done- and that other dislike these things as much as we do!.

Himalayan balsalm

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Officially Autumn

September’s here. The golden, changing month when summer slides into autumn, when the first frosts nip the air and when the wild geese arrive on rushing wings from the north. In myth, it was the month of Hermes, god of going, who guarded gateways and crossroads. There was a time the god wayposts-the herma- stood at all crossroads showing travelers the way (though they weren’t quite fingerposts, featuring an entirely different part of his anatomy all together). And the wildlife could certainly use some guidance – so many of our birds will be heading south with only their in-built natural guidance systems to see them all the way to Africa. All of these birds will be gone soon. Good luck, little bids- we hope you make it.

Willow Warbler

redstart

Tree pipit

“…and gathering swallows twitter in the skies”.

Other changes are afoot too. The numbers of geese and ducks on the lochs are picking up as winter roosts start to form. These aren’t Icelandic geese, rather the local area greylag flock congregating on Loch Davan for the winter.

The geese are gathering

They are shedding their feathers just now, as are the ducks, and the waterline is thick with wildfowl feathers.

The edges of the lochs are covered in feathers

Moulting geese produce a LOT of feathers!

Goose feather

Also shedding are plants with wind-blown seeds. We used to call these “hairy witchies” when we were kids and try and catch them. Most of these will be seeds of rosebay willowherb.

“Hairy witchies”- mostly willowherb seeds blown on the wind.

The heather is still in bloom. There are still lots of people leaping out of cars to take pictures Scotland’s bonny purple hills, as pictured in all the literature- even though they are really brown for 3/4 of the year!

Purple heather, with Kinord in the background

The bees love the heather. This late-summer nectar source is vital for insects- a real bonanza as the days shorten.

Bee feeding on heather

Mind you, it’s not just the flowers the insects love. This gorgeous small copper butterfly seemed to be interested in a patch of bare ground. Perhaps it was after some salts or minerals it couldn’t get from plants.

Small copper butterfly

Small copper butterfly

The scotch argus are still around in quite good numbers but are really looking on their last legs now. This ragged specimen was by no means the worst of the bunch!

Scotch argus, looking ragged

Other animals have been tucking in. too. While you don’t often see a red squirrel, the remains of squirrel-chewed cones are a constant presence underfoot.

Squirrel-chewed cones

And any low-growing birch bracket fungus may well be munched by a roe deer.

Birch brackets low down often get munched by deer

And the mornings get colder, we’re starting to see adders again…but they’ve eluded the camera so far! Much more obliging were these common lizards. I always think the way their mouths turn up slightly always gives them a slightly pleased-with-themselves look!

Common lizard

Lizard, basking in the sun- and looking a bit self-satisfied

This one both did and didn’t have something to be pleased about. It’s growing a new tail and must have had a nasty surprise that caused it to lose the old one – maybe a fight with another lizard, or a strike by an adder or bird attack. And, let’s face it, you don’t shed bits of yourself unless you have to. But losing a tail isn’t fatal to a lizard- they can contract muscles around arteries and veins to stop bleeding and will grow a new tail over time. Much better to be a lizard with a stubby second tail than dinner.

Lizard, growing a new tail

We’ve been out with the trail camera again and Willow has managed to get some good shots. It’s nice to know that even if you don’t see it, all this wildlife is out there…and you never know your luck, you might just see one of these creatures on the reserve!

Pigeon drinking- the pigeons and doves are the only birds that don’t need to tilt their heads back when drinking

Ducks after dark

Mallard ducks

Blackbirds

Otter sprainting

Do you think this is my best side?

Or is this side better?

Yes, definitely this one!

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Showers and Sunshine

What a mixed week we’ve had. The weather has been terribly unsettled, with sun, rain wind all competing for our attention. It’s making the grass grow- but it’s never dry to cut it! And the winds are knocking the first leaves off the trees – you’re starting to notice yellow birch leaves on the ground now.

The leaves are falling…

The heavy rain showers can block up ditches and drains and gravel washes into them. So it’s a constant job for us, clearing these out…and, theoretically at least, keeping the water off the paths.

The unglamorous side of reserve work!

On the warms days, Scotch arguses are your constant companions as you walk through the grassland. But they’re starting to look a little worn now, fading from their new velvety-black colour to a more russet brown.

Scotch argus

In contrast, this peacock butterfly must be freshly emerged. We often see these early in the year but then don’t see again until late summer, when a new generation have hatched.

Peacock butterfly

The woods have been quiet this week, with the (largely) damp weather silencing the birds.  It won’t be long until even more of them, like this willow warbler, depart for Africa. The cuckoos are long gone already and I haven’t seen a swift for a fortnight…they have headed south too.  Mind you, if the wind turns northerly, we could have geese back inside two weeks…

A young and yellowish-coloured willow warbler

In spite of the grey dampness this week, you don’t have to look far to find colour. The heather is still in full bloom, turning the hills purple.  And there are red berries, above you in the rowans and below your feet on the cowberries. The juice of these was traditionally used (like cranberries) for the treatment of urinary tract infections. They are also called lingonberries and you see jam or meat jellies made from them. You may even have seen some in the food section of a well-known Swedish flat-pack-furniture shop!

They are very similar in appearance to bearberries. As their name suggests, they are eaten by bears in places you still get bears. Here, a rustle in the bushes is just a roe deer or blackbird. But, if you ever walk on the continent or in the States, where these big predators are still found,  the woods feel a very different place. Even if your chance of just seeing these creatures is very low, let alone being attacked by them, there’s a certain frisson of wariness you just don’t feel here. I sometimes wonder if being the top of the food chain has made us lose some respect for the countryside in the UK.

Also providing a splash of autumn colour are the fungi. They are just everywhere just now, from round puffballs to colourful fly agarics. They are hugely important in any woodland, helping trees gather water and nutrients and providing food for various animals and insects. It’s a myth that all fungi are bad for trees -only a tiny fraction of them are parasitic and kill trees, most actually help the tree to grow. So, if you see these growing beside the path, please don’t kick them over because “all toadstools are poisonous” (they’re not, but you do need to know how to safely ID the good ones) – even if you can’t eat them, they are helping the woods and providing homes and food for lots of different creatures!

Fly agaric

Puffball mushroom

fly agarics

Orange birch bolete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Pollen

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 http://scotlandsnaturallarder.co.uk , 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.

Teasels

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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