Muir of Dinnet NNR -The Cruellest Month

“April is the cruelest month” wrote TS Eliot, “drawing lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain”. Boy, did he know what he was talking about! The winter tyres are still on the car and the frost light has been on almost every journey this week. A sudden, heavy dump of snow on Monday and Tuesday turned the hills white, with snow even at the Burn o Vat.

Snowy Morven

April snow

Dinging snow in April!

The cold weather on the hills has resulted in some localized movement of birds. We had several flocks of up to 40 meadow pipits feeding in the Old Kinord fields, pushed there by snow on the high ground.

Meadow pipit

And, in spite of the cold, most of the birds are still singing. This willow warbler was giving it his all from the top of a birch tree.

Willow warbler warbling

The redstarts were singing too. Unlike a lot of other birds, they often don’t sing from an obvious perch at the top of a tree, making them hard to spot. You can hear them- a distinctive jangly song- but where is he?

Singing from in the middle of a tree

Fortunately, he did pop out into the open for a few minutes. He really is a cracking-looking bird.

Male redstart

Male redstart

At least six of the lapwing are sat tight on eggs right now. They disappear into the long grass very easily but their mates, pottering around feeding, are a lot easier to spot.

Lapwing in Old Kinord fields

They are a bird of many names – lapwing, peewit, peesie, green plover, flapwing, flopwing or flapjack are all names for the lapwing. Which one do you like? I prefer “peewit” after their call….but green plover suits them too.

Flapwinged lapwing

Most of the trees are well into leaf just now. I love seeing all the different greens at this time of year. The birch are a vibrant, glossy green, while the willows have a grey-green sheen. The aspens (when they finally come out), will have a bronze tint, while the young rowan leaves (tasting of bitter almonds) are a pale silvery-green. But it seems strange, seeing the new green in front of the snow-covered hills.

Spring greens with a snowy backdrop

Willow trees

The aspen are still leafless

We had a cracking view of an osprey on Wednesday, circling over Loch Kinord. Didn’t see him catch a fish though!

Osprey overhead

Osprey circling over the loch

Last week, before it turned wintery, one of our ranger colleagues Helen was out on the heath looking for Kentish Glory moths. I’m delighted to say they found some of these elusive moths. They are a rare species and, in spite of the fact the males are large and day-flying, are very hard to spot. They need young birch for their caterpillars – they can’t manage to eat older birch, there are too many protective chemicals in the leaves.

Kentish glory moth on young birch

Kentish glory on lure

The spring flowers at New Kinord are at their best, with primrose, wood anemone and violet all in full flower. You can even still find the odd celandine if you look carefully. Mind you, the anemones have been rather sulking about the weather this week….nodding their heads mournfully rather than fully opening up.

Spring flowers- violet, wood anemone, primrose

Closed wood anemones

We also found signs of new life appearing in the snow this week. We’ve found bits of blackbird eggshell and this- which I suspect may be mistle thrush eggshell, as it’s slightly bigger than a blackbird’s. But, if you know different, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

Who’s eggshell?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Frosts and Fine Days

It’s been one of those weeks where you can practically feel spring advancing. Yes, it started cold- very cold- and we had minus 4 and frosty on Monday. The grass was white and the newly-emerged nettles were covered in frost.

Frost nettle

You’d also have thought freezing to death would be off the agenda by mid- April. but, no. The frosts evidently caught out the slugs and we found several frozen to death on the paths around the reserve.

Frozen slug

Fortunately, there still seem to be plenty of insects around for the birds. (I know, I’ll not be saying that in a month’s time once the midges are out). Admittedly, it’s not a very good picture, but you get the idea just how many sand martins were zooming around flycatching at Loch Davan. There must have been well over 100- and one swallow.

It’s also lucky that frost hasn’t destroyed the cherry blossom. A late frost can do that, it can “burn” the delicate petals on any flower. But the cherry seems to have survived unscathed.

Gean blossom

Gean blossom

We’ve seen yet more comings and goings on the reserve this week. There has been an almost constant passage of pink-footed geese overhead, high up skiens of geese all heading north.

Heading north

Some of the other winter visitors haven’t departed quite yet. We were slightly surprised to spot a small flock of fieldfare on Monday. These winter thrushes are probably just passing through on their way north. They will soon “hop” the North Sea and head for their breeding grounds in Scandinavia. There they will nest in large, noisy colonies, which they will defend vigorously by pooing in any invaders. Seriously, that’s what they do -repeated pooing on by fieldfares destroys the waterproofing in a predatory bird’s feathers and can lead to it freezing to death!

Fieldfare

That’s not a mistle thrush….

Freezing may have been on the agenda early in the week but now, Thursday afternoon, it’s 18 degrees. the wam weather is fairly bringing on the trees- I’d say the dominant colour of the reserve has just shifted from brown to green in the past day or so. The birches are all at least starting to open now.

Going green

Some of the less obvious flowers on the reserve are coming out too. If you look closely at the blueberry and bearberry, you’ll  see their flowers. They’re not obvious like the wood anemones, but are pretty in their own, quiet way.

Bearberry flower

Down on the lochs, things are still fairly quiet. We haven’t seen any goslings yet -any day now, surely- but we did find some broken goose eggshell. Either there has been a hatching and the parents are  keeping them out of the way, or something has eaten the eggs.

Broken goose egg shell

Some of the other ducks are still thinking about mating. These 4 mallard drakes were following the every move of the duck.

Four male mallards chasing one female. The goldeneye in the background is displaying to a female goldeneye just out of shot.

mallards

Other birds are singing to attract mates. The jangling song of this male redstart gave away his presence. He’s a new arrival, just back from Africa this week, and is probably our best-looking spring migrant.

Male redstart

By complete contrast are the meadow pipits. These are the archetypal “little brown job” and are the cannon fodder of the bird world- everything eats meadow pipits. But they’re good at what they do- in spite of the fact everything eats them, they’re one of the commonest birds on the open ground. So, if you’re out this weekend, and see one, spare it a kindly thought- they’re quite pretty in a subtle sort of way, even if they lack the glamour of a redstart!

A meadow pipit…up a tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Spring Flowers and April Showers

We’re right in the heart of spring just now. All the fields are full of lambs, no longer gamboling unsteadily on new legs, and the daffodils are just starting to go over. Here on the reserve, the wild flowers are just coming up for being at their best, with new ones opening every day. The woodland by New Kinord is carpeted with wood anemones and celandines.

Wood anemones

Wood anemones at New Kinord

Celandine

The violets are coming out, too. We first spotted these when litter picking….but it turned out to be a purple flower, not the well-known purple wrapping of a popular chocolate bar!

Violet

And, in sunny, sheltered spots, the primroses have burst into flower. In some countries, it was believed that the first young woman to find the first primrose of the year would marry that year. It’s up to you whether you want to give this method a try….

Primrose

The migrant birds continue to trickle in. And they have been trickling in- often, we have lots of willow warblers in full voice by now but there still aren’t many singing on the reserve. It’s likely that the cool and often blustery north-west wind this week has held up the migrants- birds don’t like flying into a strong headwind. It’s bad enough walking into a headwind, let alone trying to fly between continents when you’re the size of warbler or tree pipit! But we have had a couple of new arrivals this week, with swallow on the Monday (10th) and tree pipit on the Wednesday (12th).

Swallow

The first tree pipit of the season.

I always find this an exciting time of year, as every day can bring something new. It can be migrants leaving for the summer, like these whooper swans bound for Iceland, or an arrival from the south, or new plants bursting into life.

Incoming! Whooper swans on final approach….

The trees are just starting to flush green. The hawthorns are always the  first to put on leaf, then it’s a race between the birches and the other trees. The birches are just starting to come into leaf now.

New birch leaves, being blasted in NW wind!

And the hazels have burst, too. No signs of life from the oaks , ash or aspen just yet, though – they’re always later.

New hazel leaves

Another sign of spring is the “disappearance” of the adders after skin shedding and mating. They’ve spent the last two months basking and not doing a lot – but now they have shed their skins and mated, they are on the move and much, much harder to spot. We were lucky to find a couple for a photojournalist from the Guardian early in the week…but they did pose beautifully for some pictures https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/apr/12/scotlands-adders-emerge-from-hibernation-in-pictures

Watching you, watching me.

The graylag geese have become a fair bit quieter lately, probably as some are now sitting tight on eggs. The geese not on nest duty are often seen feeding in nearby fields, grazing the new grass.

Greylag goose feeding in fields

The wagtails are back in force, too. Grey wagtails have appeared back around the lochs and look like they’re prospecting for nest sites….although it’s more usual to see them by running water in places like the Vat gorge.

Grey wagtail

And the pied wagtails have been feeding in the car park most mornings.  As  their name suggests, they “wag” their tails constantly …but by bobbing up and down, not from side-to-side. Their old nicknames include “washtail” or “nanny dishwasher”, probably because of their association with water. I remember an old lady telling me her father used to say she “had a tongue like a dishwasher’s ass”…and didn’t find out until many years later that it meant it was always wagging!

Pied wagtail, foraging in the car park

Speaking of grazing, some creatures eat things that are utterly disgusting to us. One morning, after a brief April shower, all the slugs came out in the damp. Now, slugs get a bad press – they decimate your daffodils, hammer your hostas and ingest your irises. But not all of them – the big black ones aren’t plant-munchers, they eat dead organic material. And this includes poo. But if they, and other creatures, didn’t eat up all the stuff we think of as yukky, we’d be knee deep in it. So, if you’re gardening this weekend, at least leave off squashing the black slugs!

Slug eating pine marten poo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Snakes and Sunshine

Snakes and sunshine are two things we’ve had plenty of this week. The adders have finally started to shed their skins and are looking freshly minted. I can never get over how vibrant they look, like freshly-enameled jewels.

Lovely blue shed male

Compare this shed male with how he looks earlier in the week. He’s one of these two, the top one we think, and looks a totally different animal.

Sharing warmth

Newly shed male adder

Shed adder skin

The longest skin we’ve found this year -63 cm straightened out.

This male adder hasn’t shed yet- his eye is still cloudy. And, if you look closely, just behind his head, you can see his skin starting to split.

Let’s split. Unshed adder, but look closely- his skin is starting to split.

The male adders will now be on the lookout for females. We’ve only spotted two females so far this year- but we don’t have forked tongues to scent them out!

Male and female adder.

Other reptiles have been enjoying the sun, too. This slow worm was basking on the path- and was most unwilling to move until I gently ushered him into the long grass. Unfortunately, the middle of the path, with walkers, cyclists and dogs isn’t the safest place to bask.

Slow worm on path

The sun is fairly bringing on the new leaves. The birches haven’t burst- yet- but the hawthorns and larches are fairly starting to go green.

Larch bursting into “leaf”…well, needle.

It’s bringing out the flowers, too. We’ve seen our first wood anemones this week.

Wood anemone

The damp mornings, when it’s still dew-soaked, are the best time to spot the toads that are still on the lookout for mates. The number you see on the paths is dropping off a bit now but you do still come across amorous couples making more toads. The females are usually much larger than the males.

mating toads

In fact, everything is getting it on right now! The list of things we’ve seen mating this week include geese, lapwings, chaffinches, dunnocks, toads and robins….all full of the joys of spring.

Lapwing

The migrant birds continue to arrive. We saw, or at least heard, our first willow warbler last week and an osprey was reported fishing on Loch Davan.

Osprey

We’ve also had our first wheatear passing through the reserve. They don’t breed on the reserve but you find loads on the  west coast- look out for a small bird with a white bum flying away from the car!  These are cracking wee birds and the only small passerine bird to cross an ocean on migration…the northern race of wheatear can migrate from Canada to Africa via Greenland and Europe…and some may even take a more direct route across the Atlantic. All bird migration is an amazing story of survival against the odds- and this is one of the best!

Male wheatear

 

 

 

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Warm and Wet

Well, that’s the end of March and a quarter of the year gone. Did anyone else blink and miss it? Surely, now it’s coming into April, it’s safe to take the winter tyres off the car? You’d have thought so on Monday, it was as glorious a spring day as you’ll see anywhere – Loch Kinord looked utterly idyllic, lying flat and still under a blazing blue sky. It even got up to 21 degrees!

Paradise?

Feeling hot hot hot!

The only thing disturbing the peace were the graylag geese. They are still pairing up- noisily- and their honking carries all the way across the loch.

The greylags are pairing off- noisily.

This pair look absolutely placid, sailing serenely through the calm water. Don’t believe it- the second another pair get too close, they turn into hissing, honking, neck-stretching, pecking monsters!

Loch Kinord, looking idyllic

It’s even been so warm and dry we had to put up high fire risk signs early in the week. This is a “rain dance” activity, guaranteed to make the weather break…and it was indeed raining by Friday.

High fire risk at the start of the week….rain by the end.

The adders were lapping up the sun early in the week, with seven males but no females seen on Monday. However, the females appeared by the middle of the week, so skin shedding and mating must be imminent.

Snuggling snakes- sharing warmth

female adder

Spot the adder? There’s one, out in the open, and another you can only see a few inches of. We’ll be dead impressed if you can spot that one!

This adder had decided to sunbathe in a decidedly odd position. The back half of his body is flat on the ground, as you’d expect, but the front half was extended vertically up a rock. He seemed comfy enough though, he was still there, in the same position, when I passed again about an hour later.

Adder “on end”- an unusual basking position

There are still toads everywhere, wandering about in search of a mate and apparently oblivious to danger. The herons and otters (and anything else that eats toads) make a real killing at this time of year – it’s a froggy, toady banquet for them. We’ve seen several herons hunting round the lochs or even  lumbering gracelessly away from woodland pools.

Heron fishing for frogs by Loch Kinord

The leaves aren’t really bursting yet but the willow catkins are ripe now. We think of them as “pussy willows” when they’re at the grey, silky stage but they soon ripen with yellow pollen and the whole tree can look yellowish. Sorry, hay fever sufferers, the willows and the daffs are the start of it.

Willow catkins

The lapwings are well ensconced in the Old Kinord fields. We had at least 14 birds last week, so hopefully that means at least 7 pairs will breed here. Their “peewit” calls as the display and tumble are one of the sounds of spring.

The lapwing are displaying over the Old Kinord fields

We’ve now finished heather burning for the year. We might have tried for another day this week, but the high fire risk put paid to that – it would not be sensible to light up the moor in those conditions! Though it looks devastating, this will, in the long term, benefit the heath and the species that live here by burning off the dense, overly shading heather.

Burnt heather- we’re finished burning for the year.

But the fine weather was good for some other jobs, like getting the viewpoint painted. Not the worst place in the world to work, on a fine day….though it could just have been the varnish fumes making us happy.

Early season jobs

Speaking of being happy – this may make you smile. It’s our “…and finally” article – you know the sort, the kind they bung on at the end of the news to try and convince you that it’s not all depressing. It usually involves pets, like skateboarding spaniels or a cat that meows the national anthem. Well, our is a clearly computer-generated addressing error…and no, the office isn’t all that bad!

Flushed with success….?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The First Migrants are Back!

Yup, the title says it all. The first spring migrants are back, with a pair of sand martins seen zooming over Loch Davan on Monday morning. Admittedly, they probably wished they weren’t as it was blizzarding at that point but at least the sleety squall didn’t last- it blew through quickly, producing lots of rainbows.

Rainbow over Loch Davan

Squalls blowing through on the wind….

…and the same view, 5 minutes later!

Although it has been sunny, it hasn’t been all that warm. The adders are still getting up late in the day, but must be getting closer to shedding their skins- their eyes have started to go cloudy.

This male’s eye is just starting to go cloudy

This adder has a very cloudy eye

The adders aren’t the only reptiles we’ve seen this week. We’ve seen our first slow worms, basking in the sun and living up to their name. I like slow worms- they’re fairly peaceable creatures – but oh my goodness, they’re thick about getting out of the way of danger. We had to evict one off the lawn, where it was determinedly not moving, in spite of nearly being run over by people, the wheely bin and the wheelbarrow. The survival strategy of not moving only works up to the point you get squashed.

Not moving. Not. You can’t see me if I don’t move.

All of the resident birds are singing furiously just now. Among the most strident are the song and mistle thrushes. It takes a bit of getting used to before you can tell them apart by song, but there are a couple of “tricks” you can use. Mistle thrushes sing in a minor key, while song thrushes repeat repeat repeat, everything everything, often in that three-repeats, two- repeats cadence.

Mistles are minor…

 

Song thrushes repeat, repeat, repeat!

The song thrush would happily have made a meal of this newt we found wandering around the  visitor centre on Monday. These have only just emerged and, like the slow worms, freeze in the face of danger. Fortunately, we only wanted to take his photo!

Newt on path at back of visitor centre

There are even more toads and frogs to be seen on the paths on the mild mornings. In fact, there are toads everywhere! We’ve been doing the Dance of the  Toad, swaying around on one leg as you attempt not to tread on a toad you hadn’t spotted until it moved underfoot. So, if you’re out on the reserve this weekend, watch your feet….or practice your dancing!

Spot the toad?

How many toads?

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Spring is Springing

Spring is Springing. It’s been mild but windy this week. But, when spring feels like it is really springing, I always get wary and start asking myself the big questions in life. No, not Brexit or the referendum….if I take the winter tyres off my car, will it  snow?  March has been fine the past few years but April has seen some of the worst snow of the winter. Let’s hope this singing robin doesn’t have cause to be silent by next week!

Sing up- it’s spring!

The adders have been basking in the sun. They don’t seem to like the wind- maybe it makes for weird vibrations they pick up or something, but they always seem jumpier on windy days and more likely to slide off into the wall.

Adder, hidden in the grass

Dark coloured male adder

We’ve been seeing a lot of crossbills around the Burn o Vat this week. They are hard to spot until you learn their “chip, chip” call, then you hear and see them fairly frequently. You usually hear the call when they’re flying but we’ve had a male sitting singing just down the road from the visitor centre. It’s an odd song- fairly quiet, with lots of disjointed phrases and burbles- and not something you hear all that often.

Male crossbill

Not like the song thrush, who has been giving it laldy in the car park. You can hear him even with doors and windows shut.

Song thrush on top of the Douglas firs

This week has really marked the spring entrance of frogs and toads onto the wildlife scene. They’re everywhere! You can hardly walk on the paths without nearly treading on toads and the frogs are being frankly randy in every pool on the reserve.

Frog, on the lookout for a mate

Mating frogs

Toad on the path

All this mating activity leads to the production of what must be gallons of frogspawn across the reserve. This includes in newly-crated pools on Parkin’s Moss, that resulted from the damming work we did over the winter. A lot of work on bogs is long-term…come back in 500 years and it’ll look just great…..so it’s nice to see an immediate seal of approval from the wildlife!

Frogspawn

Frog spawn in pool created by Parkin’s Moss dam

The geese are pairing up on the lochs and starting to set up territories. Of course, being graylag geese, they can’t do this without huge amounts of honking, squawking, bickering and clattering. It’s a right racket! But they are getting so uptight as they are close to breeding- I’d expect some to be on eggs by the end of next week.

Greylag pair

A couple of the odder-looking residents from last year have returned. At least two of the graylag/ barnacle goose hybrids are hanging around the lochs. They may attempt to breed but will probably fail- usually hybrid geese are sterile.

Hybrid barnacle/graylag geese – barlag or greynacle- take your pick!

The hybrids are much smaller than the graylag geese

We’ve had a couple of “firsts”  for the year this week. We had our first bumblebee on Monday- which I didn’t get a picture of- and our first lizard- who did pose for a picture We’re also waiting for the first migrants back- surely the sand martins will show up any day now. So, if you’re out and about this weekend, keep your eyes peeled- you never know what signs of spring may appear!

Basking in the sun

The fist lizard of the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Goldeneyes and Golden Days

It’s been a busy week for us. And the wildlife is getting busier too. You can’t walk down by the lochs just now without hearing the “tsip- dzzzzoo” of the goldeneye displaying. The males are going all out to impress the females right now, with a series of head-flicks, feet-splashing and head-down displays.

Goldeneye display. I can stretch my neck further than him….mate with me memememe!

The head flick is accompanied by a tzzip- zzzzeoo! call

Goldeneye pair, male displaying

They are great entertainment to watch. The head-bob, foot splash is an “I’m showing off” move.

Male goldeneye displaying

But the head-down display is more likely to be a threat to rival males. I’ve never seen two males actually come to blows but you do see a lot of posturing. They have a very good idea of where the invisible lines are on the loch that mark the boundaries of each other’s territories. And there is a lot “sabre-rattling” on these boundaries – getting close enough to annoy the resident male but not close enough so he beats you up. The favoured technique seems to be to dive and try and torpedo your rival from underneath- so, if one goldeneye dives, they both do.

Male goldeneye, head down display

Male goldeneye

Female and diving male

Just surfaced after trying torpedo tactic.

You can see that the females are in prime breeding condition right now by the pale tip to their beak. You only see that in spring in adult females.

Female goldeneye

The mallards are displaying too, with rather more sedate head-bobs than the goldeneye. However, it won’t be long until they get completely carried away, and it’s not uncommon for female mallards to be drowned by over-enthusiastic males trying to mate with them.

The mallard are displaying too

The adders had a slow start to the week, with it being too cold on Monday for them to poke their heads up. But they did get some basking in on Tuesday and Thursday- and on Wednesday, between the heavy showers.

Adder coiled up

Other birds are starting to pair up, too. This pair of oystercatchers were investigating a shingly bit of the loch shore. You tend to know if there are oystercatchers around; their call isn’t exactly subtle and has led to an old country name of “skirlie wirlie”.

Oystercatchers.

Last year’s mute swan cygnets seem to be the only birds that aren’t interested in displaying right now!

One of last year’s cygnets

Bottoms up!

Well, not quite all of them. The cormorants spend most of their time “wing drying” on Castle Island, looking rather reptilian and prehistoric. They spend a fair bit of time perched there, as evidenced by the “whitewash” underneath them!

Cormorant – and cormorant “whitewash”

Many of the willow trees around the lochs are in full catkin now. They are irresistibly soft and strokeable!

Willow catkins

It stayed dry enough for us to get some more heather burning done this week.

Lighting up!

With spring starting to come in, it is easy to forget this can be a really hard time for wildlife. There aren’t many new leaves or insects yet and most of the winter food has run out. The robins soon appear looking for any insects if you as much as kick over a log.

Watching me. Will you hurry up and uncover some worms?

And the deer have been munching on this birch bracket fungus. Usually, these are too high up for deer to reach but this one has grown on a fallen birch. But please don’t be tempted by them…they are useful for stropping razors, or making plasters or even mounting moths….but not for eating!

Mushroom for tea. Something, probably a deer, has eaten this birch bracket

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Frosty Nights, Burning days

Spring is definitely in the air. The snowdrops around old, ruined houses are in full flower and a lot of the birds are in full voice. The snowdrops look striking under the straight, grey trunks of the aspen.

Snowdrops and aspen

Snowdrops and aspen

But the nights are still very cold. It’s been down to minus five a few nights and the adders have been slow to get up in the mornings. They often bask on the bracken rather than the stones of the dyke early in the day. I suppose it’s warmer on the tummy!

Basking adder

Basking adder

Snakes alive! There's two of them!

Snakes alive! There’s two of them!

We had a glorious day for an “away day”, helping to put up the tern fence at Forvie. Forvie has some of the best sand dunes in the country, making for an almost desert-like landscape down by the estuary and the terns love it – they have one of the largest mainland tern colonies in the country there, all tucked within about a mile of electrified fencing. This keeps predators out and has to be put up in early March, about 3 weeks before the terns arrive back. All going to plan, there can be up to 4000+ pairs of birds all tucked safely within the fence. Although it is a lot of work to put up,  it is absolutely vital for the preservation of the tern and gull colony.

Ythan estuary

Ythan estuary

What are they doing? The seals were curious about or fence making!

What are they doing? The seals were curious about our fence making!

Enclosing the shingle area

Enclosing the shingle area

Just upright- still needs guyed up

Just upright- still needs guy-ed up

The terns like the sand and shingle areas in the dune. Tern eggs look like stones so it’s good camouflage for them.

The terns like to nest on shingle and snad

The terns like to nest on shingle and snad

The low sun makes for long shadows in the dunes. Even the crushed mussel shell, regurgitated by eider ducks, casts a shadow on the sand.

Mussel shell fragments

Mussel shell fragments

Occasionally you can spot small pieces of worked flint in among the shingle. There were people here thousands of years ago, making tools from flints found in the shingle and it’s always a thrill to spot these chips of stone that may have last been handled by a person 3000 years ago.

You occasionally find chips of flint among the shingle

You occasionally find chips of flint among the shingle

Back at Dinnet, the breeding action is hotting up down on the lochs. the goldeneye are almost turning themselves inside out in an attempt to impress the females. They look utterly daft to our eyes but it clearly means more if you’re a duck.

More displaying

More displaying

Displaying

Displaying

Goldeneye displaying, with head tucked right back onto body

Goldeneye displaying, with head tucked right back onto body

And the swans are getting stroppier and stroppier. They’re even taking to the air now to see off rivals and chasing each other between the two lochs.

The swans are chasing each other between the lochs

The swans are chasing each other between the lochs

Even the reed buntings are getting in on the act, singing from bushes or dockans down by the loch. Well, for a given value of “singing” – reed buntings have a repetitive, nasal trill which gets marks for persistence, if not singing ability.

Male reed bunting

Male reed bunting

We had yet another glorious day for heather burning. It’s been the first one this year when the heather hasn’t smoked sullenly, then gone out….but that means you need to be extra careful that you can put it out! We burn small patches each year to allow other plants, including bearberry, to grow under the deep heather which would otherwise shade them out.  Many thanks to Daryl and Richard  for their help with the fire- and, more importantly, putting it out.

Lighting up

Lighting up

All going to plan so far...

All going to plan so far…

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Muirburn

Muirburn

Heather burning

Heather burning

 

 

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Sun, Showers and Snow

Typical Scotland, typical February. Fourteen degrees and sunny on Monday, very pleasant and spring-like….and then minus two and 4 inches of snow by Friday. It was really warm at the start of the week and the adders were out enjoying the sun. 

Basking time

Basking time

Watching me, watching you.

Watching me, watching you.

They are incredibly hard to spot in the bracken. Even we, who are used to them and look for them, don’t see them sometimes and I nearly trod on this male when I went to retrieve some litter from the bracken. 

Spot the adder? I didn't!

Spot the adder? I didn’t!

Can you see the adder?

Can you see the adder? It’s the dark line at the base of the dyke, 12 o clock in the picture.

 There were quite a few blustery showers early in the week, with the wind whipping short, sharp showers across the reserve. But these combined with the sun made for some spectacular rainbows. 

Blustery showers and pretty rainbows

Blustery showers and pretty rainbows

Rainbow at Old Kinord

Rainbow at Old Kinord

A lot of the birds are thinking breeding thoughts now. Mistle thrushes, song thrushes, great tits, blue tits, treecreepers and chaffinches were all singing in the first half of the week. 

Male chaffinch in his spring finery

Male chaffinch in his spring finery

 

Treecreeper

Treecreeper

The mute swans are getting increasingly aggressive as they push rivals or young birds out of their territories. The last year’s cygnets were not being allowed to settle on Loch Davan and were being repeatedly chased by the resident males. 

Aggressive mute swan chasing cygnets

Aggressive mute swan chasing cygnets

One of last year's cygnets, being chased by an adult swan

One of last year’s cygnets, being chased by an adult swan

A couple of the swans on Loch Kinord just now have probably been pushed off a park  pond or somewhere there are lots of people. They don’t seem wild and wary like the other swans, but are hanging around close to the bank and look like they’re used to being fed. “What have you got in your sandwiches? Go on, give us a bit.” But, unfortunately, bread for a swan is a bit like booze or chocolate for us- it’s so-o awfully fine but not good for you at all. 

You can see right through the swan's beak!

So close you can see right through the swan’s beak!

 Midweek, a suspicious-looking stain on the ceiling sent us into the loft to look for leaks. It seems dry up there but who’s poo is this? We get mouse and bat poo in the loft, both live up there, but this looks like stoat poo. I’ve heard of having bats in the belfry, but stoats in the attic…? 

Who's poo? We think it's stoat poo- in our loft!

Who’s poo? We think it’s stoat poo- in our loft!

It was nice to see one of our rarer and more obscure specialities putting in an appearance this week too. We found a couple of capsules of green shield moss by the Vat Burn. It’s a very rare, very fussy moss which only grows on very rotten wood that stays wet all the time. We don’t see it every year but it’s nice to know it’s still hanging on. 

Green shield moss

Green shield moss – the two green “blobs”.

It’s a good job we found it on Wednesday. It would have been covered with several inches of snow, after “Doris “day on Thursday. The reserve looked a very different place by the end of the week, a winter wonderland of crisp, fresh snow. It’s starting to melt rapidly by now – late Friday -but, if you come to the reserve this weekend, make sure you have good boots- it’ll be wet for a few days to come once this all melts off!

Moven is pure white today

Moven is pure white today

A snow view across the reserve

A snow view across the reserve

The hills are white today

The hills are white today

Even the birch brackets are covered in snow.

Even the birch brackets are covered in snow.

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