Hot ‘n’ Humid – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Finally! Some rain! After the increasingly hot and dry weather we’ve had, you’ve no idea how grateful we were for it raining on Wednesday. It’ll also hopefully break the heat and humidity, which have been desperately unpleasant to work in for the past week. A temperature of 29 degrees and a relative humidity of 60 % does not make for happy working conditions!

Finally – rain!

It’s actually been really lovely to have a few damp mornings for a change. The air smells different – all green, and full of life, rather than dry and dusty. And the moisture in the air, reveals, as if by magic, all the spiders’ webs in the heather. Normally invisible, a coating of fine dew suddenly shows just how many wispy white webs are concealed in the vegetation. It must be hard to avoid them if you are an insect!

Spider webs

Up close, the dew drops are beautiful, a constellation of watery diamonds trapped in a silken web.

Water on web

And the grass drips with water-jewels, too.

Bejewelled grass

The wet weather has brought the slugs out in force. All of a sudden, you’re trying to avoid them on the paths. This one has climbed an ox-eye daisy for a protein-rich pollen-and-petal meal…relatively unusually for the great black slug, as they usually eat detritus.

Slug eating ox-eye daisy

The bats that live in the roof of the visitor centre will be glad of the cooler conditions, too. At this time of year, when they all have dependant young, it must get incredibly hot, crowded, smelly and unpleasant in the roost. After excessively hot weather, we often find ‘stray’ bats on odd places, probably over-heating in the roost, trying to get away from it for a bit, but getting lost or grounded instead. A pipistrelle in the visitor centre looked a bit worse for wear, but after a huge drink, perked up and (after being carefully hung on the wall outside) soon scrambled back into the roost.

Pipistrelle bat

Pipistrelle bat

We also had a stray brown-long eared bat (look at those amazing lugs!) in the garage one day. They don’t normally hang out (well, hang up) in the garage, also being in the roof on the visitor centre, but this one may have got disorientated and taken shelter for the day.

Brown long-eared bat

The rain has given the lochs a much-needed top-up. Our bird count on Thursday was poor as many birds will have taken advantage of the extra wet areas available to them and disappeared into the reed beds. But one set of birds out in the open were the moorhens. They seem to have had a really good year this year, with several broods around the loch. It’s great entertainment watching the youngsters ‘lily-trot’ – using their huge feet to run over the top of the lily pads. And occasionally fall in, too!

Moorhen chicks ‘lily-trotting’

Speaking of the lilies, there aren’t all that many left in flower now. It won’t be long until they are all gone now, so enjoy the last few while they last.

Water lily

While the water lilies are just about done, the last of the summer flowers are coming into bloom. Devil’s bit scabious are late in flowering; we never see them out before mid- July and and their peak flowering season is August. They are much-loved by our latest emerging butterfly, the Scotch argus. These are taking over as the commonest butterfly you’ll see on the reserve right now. Look out for them if you come visit us this week – they’re the dark, chocolate-brown ones that rise in clouds from grassy areas. And especially look out for them feeding on devil’s bit scabious!

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

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Taking the Pulse of Nature

One fabulous benefit to the frankly ferocious heat we have been experiencing this week is that it is the optimum conditions for our butterflies.

Right now Butterfly Conservation are asking asking for as many people as possible to take part in the Big Butterfly Count.

This highly enjoyable count is a great excuse to find a suntrap to bask in for 15 minutes and watch these scaley winged wonders. It is a massively successful nation-wide citizen science project run by Butterfly Conservation which helps us assess the health of our environment simply by counting the amount and type of butterflies (and some day-flying moths) we see.

We count butterflies because not only are they beautiful creatures to be around but they are also extremely important. They are vital parts of the ecosystem as both pollinators and components of the food chain. 

Butterfly declines are the canary in the mine – an early warning for other wildlife losses. Butterflies are key biodiversity indicators for scientists as they react very quickly to changes in their environment. Therefore, if their numbers are falling, then nature is in trouble. So tracking numbers of butterflies is crucial in the fight to conserve our natural world.

Please take part and help take the pulse of nature! To take part please go to: https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org

Just this morning on patrol this morning on the Little Ord trail we must easily have seen over 300 butterflies of many and diverse species.

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Green-veined Whites mating. This is a butterfly of This common butterfly of damp areas with lush vegetation. It usually occurs in hedgerows, ditches, and banks of burns and lochs. It might just be me but I am not seeing as many as I have done in previous years.
Dark green fritillary
Dark green fritillary showing these lovely pearled panels on its underwing.

Possibly my favourite big splendid butterfly is the Dark Green Fritillary. This large and powerful butterfly is one of our most widespread fritillaries and can be seen flying rapidly in a range of open sunny habitats. The adults nectar on thistles and knapweeds.

Our butterflies are making this heat a little bit more bearable. Happy butterfly hunting everyone and please remember to submit your records. I have high hopes that my count of 8 species shall be broken instantly.

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Summer Lovin’? – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Do you love the summer? The long, sunny, warm days, the holidays, the flowers…or do other seasons appeal more? Personally speaking summer is my least favourite season of the year. Unremitting daylight, leading to lack of sleep, unrelenting stress, too many people, too hot to work in (try strimming, spraying or balsam pulling in coveralls or neoprene chest waders when it’s 26 degrees; it’s not pretty) and being the favoured foodstuff of the unholy quadrinity of Things That Bite (clegs, mozzies, midgies and ticks). As far as I’m concerned, summer doesn’t have much to recommend it. Which is a shame, really, because it does, and I occasionally, in my sweaty, stressed, sleep-deprived and itchy state, I need to remind myself of that….especially after doing the sheer amount of strimming we’ve been doing in the heat this week!

All strimmed. Phew. A hot and unpleasantly cleg-ridden job.

Probably the most obvious thing about the summer that makes me smile are the wild flowers. There are a great way of gauging how the year moves on, as some don’t come out until mid-late summer. The bluebells (or harebells) are really in evidence just now but aren’t a plant you’ll see here much before July. They are one of our prettiest wild flowers and I love their delicate shade of blue.

Bluebell

Another plant that is obvious just now is the meadowsweet. These grow in damp places and their frothy creamy-white flowers give off a sweet, not-totally-pleasant smell. This plant would have been hugely important to our ancestors; it’s absolutely full of salicylic acid, which is a painkiller and the active ingredient in asprin. In fact, asprin itself takes its name from meadowsweet – another name for the meadowsweet family is the Spireas, and you sometimes still hear it called ‘wild spirea’. You can make a cordial from the flowers but it is so full of salicylic acid that anyone on heart medication, blood thinners or who has a bleeding condition is advised not to drink it.

Meadowsweet

The wildflowers are even making the bog look colourful just now. For most of the year, the colours here are subtle- the browns of the heather, the greens and reds of the sphagnum mosses. But now, the heather is starting to bloom and patches of starry yellow bog asphodel are adding a sunshine-y splash of colour to the bog.

Bog asphodel
Bog asphodel

And it’s not just ‘land’ plants. Who can forget the stunning display of lilies on the lochs? They are starting to go over now but there will still be a few hanging on for the next fortnight.

Water lilies

Apart from the flowers, the other major plus-point of the summer is the insects. Arguably the most striking are the butterflies. Who doesn’t love seeing a red admiral or peacock basking in the sun?

Red admiral
Peacock butterfly

But our most obvious butterflies right now are the ringlets. These are the small brown ones that rise in numbers when you walk through any grassy area. They don’t emerge until late June so are a sign the summer is moving on. In about another two weeks they’ll be joined by out latest butterfly, the Scotch argus.

Ringlet butterfly
The ringlet is a common brown butterfly found across the reserve

The other obvious summer insects are the dragonflies. Visit Parkin’s Moss on a sunny summer’s day and it’s unlikely –unless it’s really windy- that you won’t see at least some dragons and damsels on the move. The most striking of these are the common hawkers, with their fast flight, huge eyes and blue or yellow stripes.

Newly-emerged common hawker

And the much smaller black darters have emerged too. These have only appeared in the last 10 days and, like the ringlets are a mid-summer insect. A few might hang on into October but the long hot days of July and August are their time.

Black darter

You also see other insects, too. This particular large beetle wasn’t hard to spot, as it crashed into my head than landed on the trailer tarpaulin, giving us the chance to grab a picture for ID. It’s a four-banded longhorn beetle, and should really be seen feeding on umbellifers like hogweed or cow parsley. But its crash-landing did give us a chance to have a good look at what is a rather striking insect.

Longhorn beetle – four-banded or spotted?

It’s also nice to see the next generation of insects in caterpillar form. Glancing down at some nettles, at first I thought there was a black fungal growth on the leaves. But, on closer inspection, it was moving and turned out to be a horde of jet-black, hairy, spiky-looking caterpillars. Remember that peacock butterfly from earlier in the blog? Well, this is what their caterpillars look like, and, yes, they do eat nettles!

What’s the black stuff on the leaf?
Peacock butterfly caterpillars

So, the upshot is that yes, summer does have many, many good points. One of these is the weather (if you don’t have to work in it!) and it’s shaping up to be a lovely weekend. Yet again, we extend a welcome to responsible visitors but would respectfully remind people this is a nature reserve, not a place for noise, fires, mess and parties. Share, respect, enjoy – and there will be wildlife and beautiful places in the future for everyone.

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A Rich and varied Tapestry

As we enjoy the height of summer and biological productivity is at its peak in the reserve it is an opportunity to take a good look at how our wildlife are faring – has it been a good year?

We do this in a range of ways. A key approach is to research around certain rarer or under recorded species. We find out when they emerge, how long they are around for, their preferred habitat and when the conditions are right we go out and actively look for them.

This is the case with the Northern Brown Argus Butterfly.

In Scotland most individuals are of the endemic race artaxerxes and have a
clear white spot in the middle of the forewing. If you get a clear view of its upperside,
they are readily identifiable

In Scotland this butterfly has a distribution of small, scattered colonies and is on the Scottish Biodiversity List as considered to be of principal importance for biodiversity conservation in Scotland and in most urgent need of conservation action.

The butterfly forms discrete colonies that are generally small (<100 adults). Most colonies breed on habitat patches of less than 1 ha. The adults have a very limited ability to move and colonise new areas, the biggest movement recorded at just several hundred metres.

On the reserve we are really fortunate to have patches of its preferred habitat type and we are really pleased to have discovered a colony of Northern Brown Argus butterfly around our wild thyme and rock rose mini-meadows on the Little Ord trail. This small gem of a butterfly has a silvery appearance as it flies low to the ground over sheltered flowery grasslands.

We will go on to map our common rock rose range here and carry out surveys of eggs and of adults in flight.

A preliminary timed count of 15 minutes identified 5 individuals

For nocturnal species such as moths we can use tools such as light traps to sample what is around.

Moths are a fascinating yet often overlooked group of insects, and as a result some of the UK’s most important species remain poorly understood. Moths are a vital part of the UK’s biodiversity as they pollinate plants and provide food for birds, bats and other wildlife.

Not only that – they come in fantastic shapes and colours, with elaborate names and amazing life-cycles. If you take a close look you begin to appreciate their minute yet completely beautiful details.

Helen Rowe, Aberdeenshire Council Ranger and butterfly conservation county recorder, alongside keen volunteers Duncan, Mary and Shona set their light traps at home and around the reserve as part of moth night in a celebration of all things mothy. Mothnight coincides with the peak of the year in terms of the number of species on the wing.

A really healthy haul with every egg carton full of moths in crevices. Over 50 species were recorded, including 5 large poplar hawk moths

I joined Helen and co the next as they shared their haul with some keen families and moth enthusiasts.

My favourite was this beautifully fresh green arches – a species of broadleaf woodland and bogs

As you know we are real fans of deploying trail cameras to record our wildlife in remote corners of the reserve.

In an act of studied neglect we accidentally left a camera out for a month in a location that has proven to be really rich. Going through the thousands of images this week we have realised that this burn is a little ribbon of life, with 6 species of mammal recorded and 13 species of bird. So yes we think our wildlife are having a good year.

We will leave you with a small selection.

Dippers feed on underwater invertebrates, such as stonefly and caddis fly larvae, by walking straight into, and completely under, the water to find them.
Common sandpiper. They habitually bob up and down, known as ‘teetering’

The elusive and secretive otter. Otters are well suited to a life on the water as they have webbed feet, dense fur to keep them warm, and can close their ears and nose when underwater. They require clean rivers, with an abundant source of food and plenty of vegetation to hide their secluded holts.

The Bushnell camera takes some lovely photo’s of our family groups of Mallards and their ducklings.

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Dazzling Summer Days – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, that’s us into July. And that’s the year turned, technically, we’re now a week past the longest day. Won’t be long now until someone says ‘Aye, the nights are fair drawing in’ – if they haven’t already! But, out on the reserve, it’s high summer now and probably one of the best times of year to see insects. Butterflies are much in evidence, with ringlet and small heath probably being the commonest ones seen right now.

Ringlet butterfly
The ringlet is a common brown butterfly found across the reserve
Small heath butterfly

We also spotted our first common hawker and golden-ringed dragonfly of the year, too. These dramatically large insects are one of the best fliers and hunters in the natural world, with a success rate of over 90% in their hunts. And they eat midgies, too, so what’s not to like?

Newly-emerged common hawker
Golden-ringed dragonfly

A splash of orange in the grass made me think I’d just seen my first small copper butterfly of the year. But, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a female ghost moth. These common- but-not-often-seen moths are found in and around grasslands. While some moths will carefully select egg-laying sites, to the point of only laying a single egg per plant, the ghost moth takes a more scattergun approach and literally scatters her eggs, sometimes even in flight! She can lay anything from 200 to 1600 eggs and the larvae will take 2-3 years to reach maturity.

Ghost moth

Another nice insect ‘spot’ was a bee beetle. As the name suggests, it’s a beetle that looks a bit like a bee. It’s not uncommon for animals to mimic another species, generally one much bigger and nastier than they are. Don’t mess with me, the colours say, I’ll sting/bite/be poisonous/ taste bad. But it’s visual lying – they are likely to be totally harmless (and tasty). Still, does that matter if you don’t get eaten?

Bee beetle on dog rose

Down by the loch, the lilies are still looking lovely. They won’t last forever in this heat, so we’d seriously suggest coming to see them sooner than later if you are planning to. And maybe at the start or end of the day as the car park is busy through the middle of the day!

Water lily
Water lily

The waterfowl love these lily-choked bays. Aquatic plants, like every other plant, have their own set of things that eat them and these invertebrates then provide food for birds and fish. One of the most fun to watch are the moorhens. They ‘lily-trot’, legging it over the surface of the lilies, spreading their weight on their huge feet. But some of the youngsters haven’t quite got the hang of it and I’m afraid we laughed when this one fell in.

Young moorhen
Moorhen ‘lilytrotting’

Sadly, the mute swans on Davan are down to one chick. Speaking to other colleagues elsewhere in Scotland, a few have mentioned that swans aren’t having a great year. This may not be true all over but certainly there were some dramatic changes in water level during the times they were likely to have been on eggs. Maybe some were flooded out? Hopefully, as this chick gets bigger it will be less vulnerable to the dangers that the world throws at young animals.

Swan family

When you are as small as these mallard ducklings, I’m afraid you are just bite-sized for oh, so many predators, from pike, to crows, to dogs to gulls. That’s why lots of birds have large broods, to help withstand losses of especially young birds. It’s the main reason we ask people to keep dogs on a lead during the breeding season – the birds have enough ‘natural’ threats to deal with without worrying about our pets.

Mallard duckling
Mallard with ducklings

Also on Loch Davan, unusually, were a small gang of Canada geese. These non-native geese were introduced to the UK in 1665 and have proliferated. While they don’t breed here (and we wouldn’t want them to, they would compete with native birds for food and nest sites) we often see them passing through at this time of year. Birds that have bred in the UK, especially those from the English midlands, undertake a ‘moult migration’ to the Beauly Firth where they shed and regrow their feather. The birds we see here are likely on their way north to do this.

Canada geese

If a bird is really making a racket beside you, it’s appreciated if you move on from that area. Often, it’s a sign a youngster or nest is tucked away nearby. I was seriously yelled at by a common sandpiper while litter-picking, so I grabbed this quick snap and headed away. I’m going, honestly!

Common sandpiper
Common sandpiper calling

Meanwhile, the woods are full of strange calls. Normally, I can fairly quickly ID most of what is calling or singing in the woods – but not at this time of year! Young birds haven’t quite found their voices yet, so they produce odd squeaks, wheezes and calls that you just can’t quite identify. But, if you have the patience to track them down, you can be well rewarded by some lovely views of young birds. Pursuing a wheeze into the trees produced a brood of six freshly- fledged blue tits. So we’ll leave you this week with some ‘awwww’ pictures!

Young blue tit asleep
Sleepy young blue tit
Young blue tit

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Stately towers of Purple and the scent of roses

Foxgloves are a really important source of pollen for bees. The species has evolved to be especially attractive to long-tongued bees such as the common carder bee. The brightly coloured flowers and dark spotted lip attracts the bee, while the lower lip of the flower allows the insect to land before climbing up the tube. In doing so, the bee will drop pollen from other foxgloves, allowing the plant to reproduce.

The mythology and lore surrounding foxgloves is extensive. They are said to be ” Little gloves for the foxes and the fey”. In some parts of the British Isles the name seems be a corruption of “folksglove,” associating the flowers with the fairy folk, while in others the plant is also known as “fox fingers,” its blossoms used as gloves by the foxes to keep dew off their paws.

Another theory suggests that the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word foxes-gleow, a “gleow” being a ring of bells. This is connected to Norse legends in which foxes wear the bell-shaped foxglove blossoms around their necks; the ringing of bells was a spell of protection against hunters and hounds.

A rare sight of a fox hunting for rodents – maybe improved by a garland of foxglove flowers?

Foxgloves give us digitalin, a glysoside used to treat heart disease, and this powerful plant has been used for heart tonics since Celtic and Roman times.

Our dog rose is also flowering.

Dog rose in bloom giving off a faint sweet smell

The well known fruit of the Dog rose – the rose hip – fruits are a really important food source for birds such as blackbirds, redwings and waxwings.

Rosehips. Whilst oranges and lemons are well known for their Vitamin C content, rose hips are the wild alternative in the UK, having been used to treat scurvy in the past. 

In both ancient Greek and Roman mythology roses are heavy associated with love and beauty. As such roses are a favoured symbol and popular as a tattoo.

Common Cow-wheat

In the north east meadows of Loch Kinord the woodland edge is carpeted in common cow-wheat and its primrose like deep golden flowers. It almost looks like they are trying to fly using the two perpendicular leaves as wings. It is a hemi-parasitic plant, meaning that it relies on obtaining some of its nutrients from the roots of nearby plants. 

Field forget -me-not

This upstanding greyish coloured plant, weaves its very small, bright blue flowers into the vibrant colours of the Kinord meadows. It is a wildflower of disturbed ground, often cultivated arable land.

Forget-me-nots used to be known as ‘scorpion-grass’, the current name only appearing in the early 19th century. The name Scorpion-grass arose because the flower clusters are more or less bent over or coiled. Other common names include Bird’s eye, Robin’s eye, Mammy-flooer, Snake-grass and Love-me.

For our birds raising their broods is foremost on their minds. Our female spotted flycatcher is sitting tight on her clutch of 5 wine red veined eggs above our office door, though the debris of dead bumblebees and flies under her nest is a promising sign that she is getting time to feed as well.

This is the intense stare of Mrs spotted flycatcher we are met with as we enter the office – but she is tolerating us.
A quintessential bird of our farmland and grasslands habitats the Skylark population s declining rapidly with habitat loss.

Male skylarks can be spotted rising almost vertically from the ground where they hover effortlessly, singing from a great height, before parachuting back down to earth. Despite their aerial activities, skylarks nest on the ground, laying three to four eggs. 

New feathers please

You may come across areas scattered in big primary feathers. This is where our greylag geese have begun their post breeding moult. . Moulting is a process of shedding and regrowing feathers.

Unlike most other birds, ducks, geese and swans lose all their flight feathers at once, rendering them flightless for a period. 

Adult birds are shedding their worn out feathers from this year’s breeding season and growing new, strong, warm feathers to see them through the winter.  Moulting is a drain on a bird’s resources. It takes energy to grow new feathers, there may be heat loss when feathers are shed, affecting insulation, and when flight feathers are lost, more energy may be needed for flight. 

Greylags and goslings

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Making Space for Nature – Muir of Dinnet nNR

Changes are afoot on the NNR. This week, we have taken the step of asking people not to take water – borne access to Loch Kinord until 31st August. Well, why not? Surely people have the right of responsible access? And yes, that is true. But levels of water access – boats, paddleboarders, swimmers – have risen to such a level that, on a small loch like Kinord, there simply isn’t any space left for wildlife. And to take access in a way that disturbs wildlife isn’t responsible. Given Muir of Dinnet is a National Nature Reserve, our priority has to be the protection of the wildlife on the site so we have – and not lightly – taken the decision to ask folk to stay off the water during the bird breeding season. While we’re aware not everyone will agree with us, we hope that people will understand why we are asking this and support us in looking after the wildlife on the reserve.

Loch Kinord

And I do admit, I can understand why people want to come here. It’s, quite simply, beautiful. The water lilies are as spectacular and plentiful as I’ve ever seen them. There are plenty of places to appreciate them from the shoreline all around the loch.

Water lilies
Water lily
Water lily

Flitting over and among the lilies like little flying jewels, damselflies and dragonflies. The dragonflies you’re most likely to see just now are called four-spotted chasers, named after the spot on each of their (you’ve guessed it) four wings (please ignore the fact they technically have eight spots!). They live up to their name, charging and chasing each other over the lilies (or the bog, at Parkin’s Moss), with a flurry and rustle of wings.

The smaller, bright red damselflies will be large red damsels. They are our commonest damselfly here and may even be seen egg-laying in garden ponds.

And the bright, electric blue ones are most likely to be common blue damselflies.

But not always! On Parkin’s Moss and in a few hidden pools around the reserve are the much rarer Northern damselflies. However, you need to look very closely to tell them apart, as, at first glance, they look almost the same. But often, Northerns have a slightly greenish tint to their colour – a hint of turquoise rather than a true, deep blue – and, seen closely have half-green eye, rather than blue and black ones.

Mating northern damselflies. Note half green eyes for ID!

If you fancy testing your ID skill in your local patch, the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) are asking people to adopt a square to record the Northern Damselfly in Perthshire, Strathspey and Deeside. The link is here https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/recording/northern-damselfly-survey/ . It’s an easy survey which doesn’t require too much time commitment, and the Northern Damselfies are on the wing just now and for the next few weeks.

Mating northern damselflies

In fact, in breaking news, Daniele, from the BDS says ‘The BDS is very pleased to confirm the Muir of Dinnet NNR is becoming our newest Key Site for the rare Northern Damselfly and we look forward to working with Nature Scot to help this gorgeous wee damselfly in the future.’ We’re delighted about this and it is yet another accolade for a very fine nature reserve indeed!

Northern damselfly

Away from the lochs, lots of other wild flowers are popping up. Scattered among the commoner buttercups are the bright yellows of rock rose. They aren’t that common here; our soil is generally acidic and rock roses prefer calcium-rich ‘basic’ soils. But you do find scatters of them, often with wild thyme, here and there on the reserve. But, why, if the soil is acidic? Well, for many years, the soil was ‘improved’ by the addition of lime, and, nowadays, you find rock rose where you would have had a particular concentration of that lime. So you find them near old lime kilns, or at the edges of fields, perhaps where the lime was stored, or along paths, where years of lime dribbling out of carts has made the soils more base-rich. It’s an interesting example of how plants can help you read the landscape and human activity from many years ago.

A scatter of rock roses
Rock rose

You can also use nature to see more immediate changes. For example, we know the lochs have dropped around 5-6 inches in the last fortnight. How? Well, the pine pollen started a fortnight ago and, looking at the pollen tidelines on the stones around the loch, we can see the water has dropped a fair bit. So we know that the loch has dropped – and that there’s enough pollen in the air to make you sneeze lots!

Pollen tideline
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A Fabulous flush of Colour

Summer brings a fabulous flush of colour and sweet smells to the reserve courtesy of our wildflowers. Not only do they provide an idyllic backdrop for mellow musings, they are also vital feeding and nesting habitats for insects, butterflies, birds, small animals and other wildlife.

A throng of germander speedwell. Considered a good luck charm for travellers, the bright blue flowers of Germander speedwell are meant to ‘speed’ you on your way. They certainly always charm me on patrol.

Common bird’s-foot-trefoil has a wealth of names that conjure up some interesting images: ‘Eggs and Bacon’, for instance! One of the more evocative names for common bird’s-foot-trefoil is ‘Granny’s toenails’, which gives an instant, and not-so-pleasant, impression of the claw-like seed pods of this abundant and sprawling species.  Its small, yellow, slipper-like flowers can be seen in little clusters.

A rare occurrence of a colony of the white variety of heath milkwort. The family name is derived from Greek and means “much milk” – it was believed that the cattle that grazed on these plants produced a good high yield of milk. Another thought is that the flowers resemble little udders.

Hawthorn blossom

Our Hawthorn trees are spectacularly in bloom. In Gaelic this thorny shrub is known as sgitheach (pronounced SKEE-ach). In Celtic lore the hawthorn was one of the most likely trees to be inhabited or protected by the Wee Folk. Such trees could not be cut or damaged in any way without incurring the often fatal wrath of their supernatural guardians. Hawthorn is famed for its white, highly scented flowers. People historically used the blossoms for garlands. They also cut leafy branches and set them in the ground outside houses and decorated these May bushes with wildflowers. We can see why!

With this abundance of flowers comes an abundance of food and shelter for insects.

A frothy, glistening mass of cuckoo-spit on pignut. Inside is a tiny juvenile yellow-green froghopper. Despite being a sap-sucker, this small bug is is completely harmless to plants.

A male orange tip butterfly showing his mottled moss green underwings off superbly. He is using his long proboscis to reach in to drink nectar from this bluebell. You have got to admire the ambition! Females lay single pale eggs on the underside of flower buds that turn a deep orange after a couple of days.

A colourful and metallic knot grass leaf beetle with a dazzling green head and red carapace was caught up in our sweep net. These beetles are highly specialised to their host plants, in this instance, those of the deadnettle aka mint aka sage family.

Don’t get into a staring match with a two-banded longhorn beetle. You lose. The adults feed on a range of conifers and broad-leaved trees. It lays its eggs in dead wood, mostly of conifers, where the larvae bore deep, broad tunnels until they are ready to pupate after about two years. Interestingly in mountainous areas they will head to grassy summits in their thousands on sunny days – even to the tops of Munro’s.

Or indeed a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly. Morning time – before the full heat of the day is the best time to see these charismatic insects at rest. By mid-day they are really active spending a lot of time hawking over water for insect-prey or to mark out their territories. They mate on the wing; the female then hovers over the water, dipping the tip of her abdomen in to drop her eggs on to vegetation below the surface.

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Sun! – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a glorious week it’s been! I’m often struck by the contrasts that the natural world offers and rarely more so than this week. It’s been warm, and the temperature rose to 23 degrees on Thursday – that’s 41 degrees warmer than it was a mere 3 ½ months ago! Suddenly, it’s feeling like high summer on the reserve, with the trees starting to lose their vivid spring green and a heat haze shimmering across the hills.

Pollen mist over pine wood

Mind you, at least part of that haze is due to pine pollen. Everything is getting coated in a fine, yellow dust just now. Hay fever sufferers beware!

Pine trees producing lots of pollen

In spite of this, some of the trees are only just starting to put on leaves. The aspen are always late, but usually they are in leaf by June. Not this year – the first leave just appeared this week.

Aspen leaves

The warm weather has meant that the wild flowers are finally out in abundance. The fields at New Kinord have drifts of wild pansies in them just now.  Much used as a means of making people fall in love in literature, it carries lots of other romantic sounding names – heartsease, love-in-idleness, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me or love’s delight. While I suspect this is largely literary invention, it does have a rather more prosaic use as a diuretic and a treatment for cystitis!

Wild pansies

But I just love looking closely at the flowers. They have a lovely, delicate patterning and I always play spot-the yellow-one. They come in such a variety of colours and sometimes you find ones almost pure yellow as opposed to the normal purple-yellow-white mix.

Wild pansies – a pale version

Scattered through the turf are other flowers, too. Look out for the tiny pink dove’s-foot cranesbills.

Dovesfoot cranesbill

The warm weather has also been bringing out the invertebrates and reptiles. Slow worms have regularly been seen on paths near the visitor centre, much to the horror of many people who assume they are snakes. Despite appearances, they aren’t, they are ‘legless lizards’ instead. So what’s the difference? Well, a big one if you get bitten! Our snakes –adders – have two piercing fangs at the front of their top jaw, which they use to bite and inject venom into prey – or, vary rarely, anything that threatens them. (Contrary to popular belief, snakes don’t WANT to bite people or dogs – they can’t eat them, they’re just a waste to venom, they just want you to go away). Whereas slow worms have a row of small, backward facing teeth for grabbing slugs and don’t –can’t- bite people. Even if a slow worm chewed on your finger for 10 minutes, it’s unlikely to break the skin. So, if you see one, don’t panic, just enjoy looking at these shiny, rather attractive reptiles.

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Slow worm
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Slow worm

The other things that are out in abundance are the dragonflies and damselflies. Quite suddenly, we’ve gone from none to drifts of them rising around you as you walk through the woods and heather. The large red damsels are the commonest at the moment but we’ve also seen our first common blues this week.

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Common blue damselfly

And the four-spotted chaser dragonflies are living up to their name, dashing around Parkin’s Moss in a frenzy of sun-fuelled activity.

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Four spotted chaser

We’ve been delighted to see several pearl-bordered fritillaries around the visitor centre this year, too. These small, orange butterflies are uncommon, and it’s always a pleasure to see them. The very cold spring looks likely to have knocked numbers back this year but, strangely, we have seem more around the Burn o Vat than we have for several years. I always think the prettiest bit about them is the underwing pattern, like a stained-glass window.

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Pearl-bordered fritillary on bugle

The mining bees have been busy. Certain areas of the track are pitted with tiny holes where these bees are making their burrows. I must admit, I know very little about them, and one of the jobs for the next couple of weeks is to find out what species they are. So, if anyone out there knows, we’d love to hear from you!

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The other big news for the week is that the swans have cygnets. We’ve only seen three so far but, given the lochs have risen and fallen dramatically during the time they will have been on eggs, they’ve done well to hatch any at all. Let’s hope they (and we!) are able to cope with whatever the summer throws at them!



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Swan with cygnet







The warm weather has also been bringing out the invertebrates and reptiles. Slow worms have regularly been seen on paths near the visitor centre, much to the horror of many people who assume they are snakes. Despite appearances, they aren’t, they are ‘legless lizards’ instead. So what’s the difference? Well, a big one if you get bitten! Our snakes –adders – have two piercing fangs at the front of their top jaw, which they use to bite and inject venom into prey – or, vary rarely, anything that threatens them. (Contrary to popular belief, snakes don’t WANT to bite people or dogs – they can’t eat them, they’re just a waste to venom, they just want you to go away). Whereas slow worms have a row of small, backward facing teeth for grabbing slugs and don’t –can’t- bite people. Even if a slow worm chewed on your finger for 10 minutes, it’s unlikely to break the skin. So, if you see one, don’t panic, just enjoy looking at these shiny, rather attractive reptiles.

Slow worm
Slow worm

The other things that are out in abundance are the dragonflies and damselflies. Quite suddenly, we’ve gone from none to drifts of them rising around you as you walk through the woods and heather. The large red damsels are the commonest at the moment but we’ve also seen our first common blues this week.

Common blue damselfly

And the four-spotted chaser dragonflies are living up to their name, dashing around Parkin’s Moss in a frenzy of sun-fuelled activity.

Four spotted chaser

We’ve been delighted to see several pearl-bordered fritillaries around the visitor centre this year, too. These small, orange butterflies are uncommon, and it’s always a pleasure to see them. The very cold spring looks likely to have knocked numbers back this year but, strangely, we have seem more around the Burn o Vat than we have for several years. I always think the prettiest bit about them is the underwing pattern, like a stained-glass window.

Pearl-bordered fritillary on bugle

The mining bees have been busy. Certain areas of the track are pitted with tiny holes where these bees are making their burrows. I must admit, I know very little about them, and one of the jobs for the next couple of weeks is to find out what species they are. So, if anyone out there knows, we’d love to hear from you!

The other big news for the week is that the swans have cygnets. We’ve only seen three so far but, given the lochs have risen and fallen dramatically during the time they will have been on eggs, they’ve done well to hatch any at all. Let’s hope they (and we!) are able to cope with whatever the summer throws at them!

Swan with cygnet

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Here Comes the Sun

After enduring a chilling average temperature of 6°C across this month and triple the amount of rain we normally see, I think we all deserve the glorious sunshine that the end of this month has brought. The fine and dry weather is forecast to last long into June.

Not least our wildlife, especially our cold blooded insects and reptiles. In the sunshine yesterday the reserve was transformed and we saw a sudden eruption of our pollinators including brand new butterflies like this lovely Peacock and the first Speckled Wood butterflies of the year. In the heady buzz it’s quite hard to know where to look first when you are out and about.

This Beautiful Peacock Butterfly is dorsal basking with wings fully outstretched – drinking in the radiant heat from its surroundings

As butterflies have no means for regulating their body temperatures they have to rely on instinctive behaviours to warm their bodies up in order to fly.  They do this by basking in the sun in different ways. Dorsal basking involves lying in the sun with wings fully outstretched – like we sunbathe.

Speckled wood lateral basking

The Speckled wood (Spood) is a butterfly of dappled shaded woodland. To gain solar power it sometimes sunbathes with its wings fully upright, using the underside of its wings to absorb heat. This heats up their abdomens and helps them make short hop flights.

Spoods often perch in sunny spots in glades, with the males spiralling up into the air to chase each other.

We have been waiting with growing impatience for our damselflies and dragonflies. They are pretty late this year. Yesterday was the first day we have seen good numbers of the aztec coloured Large Red Damselfly – while the common blue damselfly and 4 spotted chaser dragonflies are still conspicuously absent. Any day now.

Large red damselflies emerge from their ponds at the same time over a period of just three weeks. The acid bog pools of Parkins’ Moss are a perfect stage for their larvae to feed and grow. The female then spends about 16 days (less for males) as an immature damselfly feeding and mating, before returning to her pond to lay up to 750 eggs onto floating vegetation. The adult lifespan is shockingly short at 7 days for males, 5.5 days for females.

An eyed ladybird. At 9mm its our largest ladybird and unmistakable with these pale borders around its black spots

An unexpected treat yesterday was this Eyed ladybird. There are a wopping 30 species of ladybird in Scotland. Both adults and larvae feed on aphids, making them a friend in the garden. 

In the heat this is a great time for our reptiles who can spend less time getting up to ambient temperature and more time hunting.

We have been receiving lots of reports of slow worms on paths from visitors on sunnier days.

While slow worms may look like snakes, they are actually legless lizards. They have smooth, glossy, grey or brown bodies and, unlike snakes, a tail which sheds when under attack. The tail will carry on moving even when it has been shed in order to distract the predator.

Slow worms feed mainly on slugs, worms, snails and spiders. Their backward curving teeth are perfect for gripping onto slippery or wriggly meals.

A male slow worm on path gently shooed into the heather

It is baby bird time in the reserve. This week we have seen baby chaffinches, mistle thrushes, long tailed tit and robin. All very cute and very naïve. We have two baby robins around the visitor centre taking exploratory nibbles out of everything around them, working out what they can and can’t eat. No that’s a fence post, no that’s a truck. Its everything in the mouth at that age.

Young long-tailed tit

You will find that you can get very close to these young song birds as they are often really low down on trees or on the ground, are fairly gormless and have no fear yet of people or dogs. It is crucial that dogs are kept under close control across the reserve to give them a chance.

Enjoy the Sunshine and the wildlife.

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