We’ve had an easterly airflow across Scotland this week. As a birder, I’d rather have had that a month ago, in migration season, but the weather seldom does what you want. Now we do have the easterlies they have brought unremittingly cold, grey weather to Aberdeenshire. I don’t think we’ve seen the sun at all this week and every morning has been damp and misty.
Mist hanging over the resreve
It was cold enough for frost on only one morning in the week.
But the rest of the time it’s been pretty wet. The forecast said “light rain” and, fair enough, we have had light rain. Unfortunately, this has been interspersed with heavy rain and the entire office reeks of drying waterproofs and chainsaw gear from working in the rain (actually, chainsaw gear is about the best of the lot – you’re in amongst wood so much, it pretty much just smells woody and resinous). We were taking down trees that had snapped or died near paths recently and, thanks to Simon and Daryl, are well through this winter job now.
Taking down dead tree
When it’s as grey as it’s been, the reserve doesn’t look at it’s best. Oh, it still has a sombre winter beauty, but it’s not as eye-catching as on a sunny day. So you start finding small beauties, in the water on a spider’s web or a leaf.
Oak leaf with raindrops
The wildlife can’t take cover all the time, no matter how bad the weather is. But many creatures will have a snug hollow or sheltered spot they can hole up in. This wren popped out of a log pile looking remarkably dry, given it had been teeming down all morning.
The log pile also seemed to be home to the biggest damn rat I’ve ever seen in my life! We know we get brown rats on the reserve -you see their footprints on the mink rats, find droppings and occasionally see them laminated on the road. But I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a live rat on the reserve…and even then, it’s only been a glimpse. This big one evidently didn’t spot me, and spent a good while looking out of the log pile, much like a gentleman of leisure surveying his estate. Introduced to the UK sometime between the mid 1500s and early 1700s, brown rats like this one are native to Asia. But they’re smart, adaptable, omnivorous and prolific breeders, and have largely displaced the native black rat.
For some reason, rats are far more reviled than mice and don’t tend to appear in much children’s fiction (unlike Mickey, Reepicheep, and various Beatrix Potter characters, though I suppose Muppet Rizzo gets a look in)…the main legends associated with them are the slightly sinister rat king stories. Personally, I think an intelligent and social animal like a rat is probably worth a few more positive stories than they get. Yes, they carry disease, breed too much and can cause environmental damage… but it could be argued that humanity does that, too.
The damp weather this week seems to have provoked a minor flush of late fungi to grow. These are easily killed off by frost but it’s just been the odd morning that’s been below freezing. Quite a few false chanterelle seemed to have popped up.
Today, (Friday) was one of the national goose count days. These are done across the country by dozens of people (largely volunteers) who all count “grey geese” -pinkfoot or greylag- on the same day. This allows the populations to be estimated in the UK in any given year. Normally, you’re well compensated for the stupidly early start ….the sound of the geese, the first rosy flush of dawn in the sky, the anticipation of the morning flight. And I’ve had some magical mornings goose counting… but this wasn’t one of them. It was dark, cold, lashing down and the geese had chosen to spend the night elsewhere. Dawn was at best slow, colourless and reluctant, I could hardly hear for the rain banging off my waterproofs, my binoculars were useless with water and I got out of my bed before 5am to count 19 poxy geese, mutter, grumble, mutter…. but even that is one of the (somewhat dubious) charms of wildlife. If it was too easy and we saw these things all the time, we wouldn’t value them. So, even in the rain….get out there!
A grey gooseless dawn over Loch Davan