A Preview of Winter – Muir of Dinnet NNR

This week has certainly felt like a taster of the winter yet to come. It’s been cold, grey, wet, sunny and frosty. We’ve had rain every day, bar one, for a fortnight, and everything is soaking. The burn coming down through the Vat is high and the lochs are flooding the woods at their edges.

What a lot of waterfall!

Flooding at the edge of Loch Davan

When I see the reserve with a lot of water on it, it always makes me realise what an important role places like this play in preventing flooding elsewhere. Yes, the lochs get bigger. Yes, in extreme conditions, the footpaths flood. But that’s not a big deal compared with water thundering through someone’s living room. The water that is effectively ‘stored’ on the NNR isn’t getting into places we really don’t want it to. As it’s likely the climate will get wetter, flood management will become more and more of an issue.

Flooded Loch edge, Loch Davan

Especially when it felt like the rain would never stop at the beginning of the week! It was relentlessly grey and wet on Monday and Tuesday.

A grey and gloomy morning

We were very grateful to see the sun on Wednesday…the first time for several days!

Sunrise over Old Kinord fields

But when the sky cleared and the moon came out, the temperature plummeted. Appropriate, I suppose – one of the names for the November full moon is the ‘Frost Moon’.

The full moon

Unfortunately, that did rather mean taking your life in your hands on the roads to get to work. There’s a mythical creature called a ‘gritter’ but unfortunately they don’t roam the small roads I use! But the cold did mean the reserve was a frosty, sparking wonderland.

Frosty bushes

frosty grass

Frosty clover leaf

Frosty bracken

Frosty cleavers

Ice crystals on a fallen cherry leaf

One of the things I always regret is you can’t capture scintillation on camera – the way the light moves as you do, throwing sparkles and rainbows off ice prisms. The camera never does this justice and the nearest you can come is to play with the star filter in the camera settings.

Frosty aspen leaf

Most of the leaves have gone now and the reserve is starting to look pretty monochrome. The main splash of colour in the woods now comes form the bracken, which glows where the sun hits it.

Birch leaf floating on Loch Davan

Autumn bracken

The roe deer are now in their dark brown winter jackets. They have lost the red russet coat of their summer rut.

Roe deer – winter

Roe deer in summer- much redder

And the berries have almost gone. Those that haven’t been eaten are now wizened and blackened by frost. They look thoroughly unappetizing to us, but are still edible to birds, especially those that like bullfinches that will eat the kernels of the seeds inside the berries. If you’re really lucky, you’ll come across these lovely birds mumbling over their food as they extract the seeds…and you can get a really nice view as the leaves are off the trees. Just watch out for icy patches!

Wizened rowan berries

Bullfinch eating the few remaining rowan berries

 

 

 

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Coming Full Circle

I arrived with the rain and I am leaving with the rain . This weekend is my final weekend here at Muir of Dinnet this year so Catriona has kindly allowed me to write a farewell blog.

The highlights of this season are way too many to pinpoint any single event or encounter. This reserve is easily the most varied and biodiverse I have ever worked within and I have never failed to be bowled over by something new and unexpected on patrol.

Some of my favourites include Green Hairstreak butterflies in late spring on the Parkin’s Moss trail, our resident female adder who is almost perpetually basking by the Celtic Cross, the verdant wildflowers that just kept coming throughout the summer and who nurture a truly breath taking range of pollinators, the whole cycle of our birds pairing up and raising their broods, the maternity roost of Common Pipistrelles we have by the back door and all the nocturnal creatures I have had the privilege to camera trap throughout the season. And of course just the phenomenal natural landscape of our lochs and the drama of the Burn O Vat.

Airborne pine marten

I think now is a good time to go though – as winter fast approaches. Not only am I a bit of a fair weather Scot – but winter can be a really hard time for our wildlife.

Short days and freezing cold nights make winter a tough time for many animals. Whilst some stock up in autumn and hibernate through the winter, others must face the daily challenge of finding food and water to see them through to spring.

It’s any ones guess about the severity of this years winter given the vagaries of the Scottish climate. Generally our mammals hibernate for short periods, emerging to forage for available food. Many such as badgers and foxes will have to extend their ranges and hunting hours to increase their food supply.

This badger will have to work harder and travel further to obtain enough food to take him through the winter.

There are some simple pro-active steps that you can take to make this winter a little bit easier on your garden wildlife at least.

  1. Feed (and water) the birds. Birds require high-energy (high-fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights.

2. Create habitat for hibernating animals. Leaving a few logs and leaves in the garden will provide a sheltered place for hedgehogs, toads, newts, bats and many insects to rest.

3. Prepare for spring. Plant out early flowering plants to give pollinators an important early source of nectar.

I will not be gone completely though. I am going to continue to camera trap across the reserve this winter so I feel my spies at least will be here. I have switched out the camera’s batteries to lithium batteries and will equip each camera with a big enough memory SD card to allow them to plod on throughout the winter months unbaited. You have no idea how excited I am by the prospect of 3 months of footage to review when I start back next spring.

Here are just a few images from the cameras this week.

On this note Muir of Dinnet is very proud to host the Cairngorms nature big weekend in 2020 – around a theme of bioblitz – and simultaneously celebrate the Year of Coasts and water. We are hoping to get our hands on as many trail cameras as we can beg and borrow and hold a session open to all to place these around the reserve the week before. The results will be show cased at the weekend itself.

Please watch this space.

It has been delightful sharing the reserve with you all this year and I cannot wait to do the same next year. Have a good winter.

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Rain and Rainbows – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, that’s the clocks changed and winter is on it’s way. I’m always in a minor sulk for a fortnight after the clocks change as it effectively wrecks and chance of evening outdoor time after work…the nights have officially drawn in. We drove through our first snow of the year last Friday, but, in general, it’s been a week of sun and showers. When the sun comes out, there are still some gorgeous autumn colours to be seen …but the leaves are really going fast now.

The road down to the visitor centre

Golden birch

Autumn birch

Some of the trees still have glorious autumn colours

It’s also been a time of rainbows. Sun and showers can make for these and we’ve seen a lot this week.

Rainbow over Loch Kinord

Rainbow at Old Kinord

Of course, you could make your own rainbow out of leaves .

Tree leaves

Or try and find something red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple out on the reserve. Here’s our attempt for a bit of fun.

Crimson tormentil leaves

Orange slime mould

Yellow – and green

Blue tit

A purple russula- not sure exactly which one!

Even though the trees haven’t lost their leaves yet, the rowan berries have been decimated by the thrushes. There aren’t that many left now but some birds have the option of stocking up on other food. I was walking along the path to Old Kinord when some movement in the heather caught my eye. Was there something there or wasn’t there?

Is there something in the heather?

Yes, there’s definitely something there….

Yes, there was- an absolutely cracking male bullfinch. Although we are more used to seeing these bird up in the trees, feeding on berries or buds, they will take seeds from ground plants, too. I’ve seen them jumping up and down to pull seeds off dandelion heads and this group of three were down in the heather feeding up on heather seeds. Admittedly, heather seeds are pretty tiny but there are lots of them, so it makes sense for birds to take advantage of this food resource.

It’s a bullfinch!

Our works on the toilets continue apace. Hopefully, we’re entering the last fortnight of the works and life will return to normal thereafter. We’ve also been doing some pathwork up the hill, trying to sort out a chronically wet bit and repairing the wall in the car park…buses and drystane dykes don’t mix very well. Here’s hoping that the drain works as well as the dyke repair!

Oops. Bus/ wall interface didn’t end well….

All sorted now.

 

 

 

 

 

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Golden Autumn Days – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a glorious week to come back from a fortnight’s holiday! The trees haven’t half  turned in my absence and are probably at their best this week. But it won’t be long until they lose their leaves, so we’d strongly advise getting out there NOW- or you’ll miss the best autumn colours!

Birch leaves against blue sky

Birch leaves in autumn sun

Autumn birch

Even on a dull day, the trees just glow.

The trees glow even on a dull day

Birch woods

 

Loch Kinord has been looking especially pretty with the yellow birches. There’s just something about reflections on water that makes things extra-beautiful.

Autumn reflections

Loch Kinord

Loch Kinord

Looking glorious

And I can even bring myself to like bracken at this time of year too….when it’s dying.

Autumn bracken

Autumn bracken

The wildlife has been pretty quiet this week. But we did have some lovely, shy, wary redwings just outside the office window, scoffing whitebeam berries. All the rowans have gone already and a lot of the flocks will move south and west in search of new food sources.

Redwing eating whitebeam berries

One food source that often lingers through the winter is rosehips. They are usually one of the last things the birds go for and the seeds can provide food for birds like bullfinches well into winter.

Rosehips

The adders seem to have gone underground for the winter – none this week, even on the warmer days- but the amphibians are still on the go. This frog was risking the frost one morning (thanks for the pic, Rachel) and the newt survived the attentions of Finn the Forvie Reserve Dog …thought it was a high-risk strategy, going for a dip in the dog bowl!

Frog

Newt in dog bowl

Forvie ‘reserve mascot’ Finn deciding he’ll drink the water once the newt leaves…..

The work on the septic tank and car park has fairly progressed during my fortnight off, with the car park being finished (wayhey!), the new sewage treatment system having arrived and been installed and the secondary treatment wetland being half built. The lads are fairly cracking on! We still need to get the interior of the toilets done up and this should happen over the next fortnight or so, when there will be portaloos in the car park. But it won’t be long until it’s all finished!

Car park finished!

new sewage tank!

It’s also gotten a lot darker in the mornings since I’ve been on leave. The one good thing about getting out of your pit at that time of day is that you se some cracking sunrises at this time of year. When the clocks go back over the weekend, try and make the effort to rise early one day and just appreciate the sunrise – it’s well worth it!

A burning sunrise over Loch Davan

Glowing sunrise

 

 

 

 

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Collaboration and Celebrating Diversity through Adventure

I would like to dedicate today’s blog to the issue of encouraging access for everyone – no matter what background, age or ability – to our glorious countryside as championed by the social enterprise organisation backbone in a really innovative project called “Our Natural Heritage” and funded by a range of organisations including:

  • Cairngorms National Park Authority
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Scottish Natural Heritage

And supported by diverse ranger services including:

  • Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service
  • Forestry and Land Scotland Ranger Service
  • Local Community Trust Rangers
  • Glen Tanar Ranger Service
  • Balmoral Ranger Service
  • National Trust for Scotland Ranger Service

The benefits of visiting the countryside are legion and include enhanced health and well-being, cultural exchange, fostering a desire to protect the natural world and building the confidence to explore. The outdoors belongs to everyone and experiencing nature can be genuinely cathartic.

Helen Rowe of Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service, Pammy Johal – the director of backbone and myself welcomed a group of New Scots from Inverurie to the reserve over the weekend. We set the moth trap the night before and were lucky enough to share this male feathered thorn (amongst others) with the group.

A male feathered Thorn moth

Working with backbone and New Scots has certainly opened my eyes and since I have done a bit of homework on ethnic minority participation in the outdoors . The James Hutton Institute published a report in 2018 on adult use of the outdoors https://www.hutton.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/Fullreport-use-of-the-outdoors.pdf

Its key findings show overall that:

The population groups least likely to report using the outdoors on a weekly basis include Muslims and Black and other non-white minority (BME) ethnic groups.

It states “There are many possible reasons for this difference in use of the outdoors between white and BME populations in Scotland. Particular barriers faced more by those of ethnic minority groups can include economic factors (e.g. around lack of transport), fear (of attack, discrimination, of pests and dangerous plants and animals), unease or feeling unwelcome or out of place (particularly in relation to rural settings), and language barriers “.

Backbone’s ambition is to nurture and empower marginalised Scots to become happy and active citizens. backbone recognises that outdoor spaces are powerful playgrounds and encourages the use of the natural environment as a classroom together with creative experiential sessions to encourage open and honest conversations and solutions.

Pammy has organised for 48 visits to the countryside by marginalised communities to occur across the length and breadth of Scotland within a year.
The next step for the visiting groups as part of a 1 year leadership training project is to undergo some navigation training, first aid training and under take their mini-bus license and so begin to explore as communities, for themselves, the wonderful nature of Scotland.

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Winter Thrush Wonderland – Muir of Dinnet NNR

They’re here! The reserve has been a winter thrush wonderland this week, with a big influx of redwing and fieldfare off the continent. These winter thrushes breed in Scandinavia and head across the North Sea to our much gentler winters.

Winter thrushes, fieldfare top, redwing bottom

The first of these to arrive are usually the redwings. They look a lot like a song thrush but have a russet-red ‘ armpit’ under their wing. We had our first one on the 30th September.  They breed all through Scandinavia up into Iceland and get bigger and darker the further north you go (a bit like the bird in the last picture, though I don’t think it is an Icelandic bird). The easiest way to spot them is to look for their big, pale supercilium (eyebrow) and to listen out for their high pitched ‘tseep’ call. Like many birds, they often migrate and night, navigating by the stars, and many’s the time I’ve found my first redwing of the winter on a clear starry night, hearing that call high, high overhead. That one call is just a tiny snapshot, a second’s glimpse,  into a huge mass movement that is taking place all across the northern hemisphere as bird forge south ahead of the oncoming winter. If you just stop for a second to think about it…well, it blows your mind.

Redwing

Rowan-guzzling redwing

Redwing, posing beautifully in holly tree

In the Orkney Islands, they call redwings ‘windthrushes’, as they always seem to blow in on the first northerly or easterly gales of the winter. I always think this is a wonderfully evocative name for a bird from the far north.

redwing in rowan tree

Rewing

The other winter thrush we see here is the fieldfare. As their name suggests, they are often seen feeding in fields but, here, we’re as likely to see them eating rowan berries. Fieldfare are bigger and noisier than redwings and tend to crash around a tree with their ‘football rattle’ alarm call. They tend to be pretty gregarious, and, in Scandinavia, even nest communally. This allows them to gang together to see off predators, which they do, at least in part, by communally crapping all over any attacking crow or bird of prey. As well as being disgusting, this can destroy the waterproofing in the feathers of a predators, which can lead to chilling or even death. Don’t mess with the fieldfares!

Fieldfare…in a field!

Fieldfare, guzzling rowans

Fieldfare in rowan tree

To some degree, you see that cooperation in the winter flocks, too. I’m glad to say I’ve never fallen victim to a poo attack, but they do seem to leave a sentry bird in a tree nearby. There’s no doubt they can be wild, wary and difficult to get close to.

Sentinel fieldfare

 

Fieldfares are very shy- they took off before I’d even got the camera focussed.

Bailing out of the tree

It’s always an exciting time of year when the thrush flocks come in. Often, your first indication is a white noise of thrush calls as mixed flocks of redwing, song thrush, fieldfare, mistle thrush and blackbird all band together for protection. They travel all over the reserve, gorging on rowan berries. These are the favourites and always go first, long before any whitebeam or domestic shrub berries. But all of the thrushes love apples, so pinning a few out in the garden can be a really good way to see these wary birds close up. Or you just wait until the rowans get in short supply, or the weather turns cold – then you can get some fantastic views.

Fieldfare toppling over after berries…

Fieldfares

So, if you’re wondering what that funny-looking (or sounding) thrush is in your garden right now….it’s probably one a redwing or a fieldfare. Enjoy- they are a joy to see.

 

 

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Geese and Gatherings – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s either been driech or sunny this week, with not much in between. Monday started grey  and with geese…grey geese, appropriately enough. We has a big passage of greylags, over the reserve, from west to east. We suspect these were Scottish breeders on the move but we’re not sure where they were going to, there were far too many to be the local birds. It was interesting to see they were going west to east, while the pink-feet were going north to south.

Greylag geese passing west to east over the reserve

Greylag geese in flight

Other arrivals on the reserve this week were the thrushes. We don’t have big numbers of the ‘winter thrushes’  – redwing and fieldfare – in yet,  but I’ve never seen so many song thrushes and blackbirds on the reserve. Some will be ‘our’ birds but many will have come in off the continent. We often don’t think of birds we see all year round as migrants, but they often are, we just can’t tell it because they’re the same species we see in the summer.

Song thrush

Song thrush eating rowans

One of the clues you can look for in blackbirds is a dark beak.  It’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule, but often black-beaked blackbirds are migrants. They, like the song thrushes, are taking advantage of all the rowan berries on the reserve right now.

Possibly a continental blackbird- the black beak can be a giveaway.

Blackbird, waiting for me to leave so it can go back to eating rowans

And we did get the first of the other thrushes in this week, with a lone redwing, feeding among the song thrushes. They look a lot like a song thrush at first glance but look out for that big, pale eyebrow- it’s a lot easier to spot then the red wing.

Redwing. You can just make out the red underwing.

Our two best days of weather this week were spent away from the reserve, at our annual NNR managers gathering. Day one was a trip to the magnificent Isle of May …no puffins at this time of year, but a fascinating tour of the island and a wee bit of drystane dyking to help tidy up for the winter. Day two was based indoors and it was great to hear from CEO Francesca and about what other reserves are doing- and shamelessly pinch ideas from other places. But that’s what it’s all about….no point re-inventing the wheel.

Main light

Bass rock

Main light staircase

Grey seal

Darvic ringed shag

Spectacular light as we left the Isle of May

Back at Dinnet, and we were back to grey days again. At least the bracken and the trees are turning now to offset the grey-ness,  but we really need a glimmer of sun to bring out the  best of the colours.

Autumn aspen

Autumn birch

As well as the trees turning, it’s always worth a walk in the woods in autumn because a lot of the wildlife gets a lot easier to see. Jays, squirrels and coal tits are all stashing food for the winter but the shorter days mean you often spot animals that may lie-up during the day. This young roe deer froze and watched me for ages as I walked past. So keep your eyes autumn for autumn treats like this!

Roe deer

 

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September Swans – Muir of Dinnet NNR

This is a beautiful pine tree. I’d guess it’s 80-100 years old, around 60 feet high and the sun dappling through the branches is just gorgeous.

This tree will probably die due to its roots being burnt

Unfortunately, it’s probably going to die as the wildfire from last week looks to have destroyed much of its root network. It just takes one small act of selfishness (like not putting out a fire) or carelessness (not making sure a fire is properly out) to destroy something it took decades to grow.

Burnt tree roots

Though I’m not inclined to believe that the people who lit the fire will care a great deal. If they did, I suspect they wouldn’t have abandoned a BBQ, litter and an inflatable dinghy here as well. It’s such a shame that such a tiny minority can spoil it for everyone…and raise the reserve staff’s blood pressure to dangerous levels, too. While we (I hope) always remain polite  an professional on the outside, I can promise you that on the inside, we’re seething, cursing and probably wishing a direct meteor strike on the perpetrators. Especially after dragging 20-odd kilos of  rubbish several hundred yards off the reserve…

Litter – BBQ and burnt dinghy

And we get so annoyed because it is just so beautiful here that it really shouldn’t be spoiled by stupidity! Looking over Loch Kinord on an autumn’s day must be one of the finest views in the north-east.

Autumn trees

Mind you, it took until Thursday and Friday to see any sun. The rest of the week was pretty grey and miserable, and we were glad to be inside for a training course on Tuesday. This involved learning plant crafts we rangers could potentially do with children. Mind you, basket making has not turned  out to be a hidden talent of mine, I watched in envy as Willow made it look easy!

Basket weaving

Making baskets with SCRA.

While making the baskets, we found the now-empty cocoon of a moth. But what moth? It’s likely to have been a bulrush wainscot, whose larvae feed on the starchy base of the bulrush stems.

Bulrush wainscot moth cocoon

 

Work continues apace on the car park and toilets. The new base for the sewage treatment works is in and needs to set for a fortnight or so. Meanwhile, they have started laying the surfacing for the car park, so we’re still on schedule for the works to finish early November.

The materials have arrived to surface the car park

Digging the hole for the new septic tank

Car park surfacing started

The base for the new sewage treatment system

All these works have been taking place in a gentle shower of falling leaves. The trees are still – just – more green than yellow, but are shedding leaves in the wind.

Fallen birch leaf in a spider’s web

It’s not just the birch and other deciduous trees that shed leaves in autumn. The pine trees do, too, only it’s not so obvious as they keep some of their needles rather than shedding them all like a deciduous tree. But if you look underfoot, a thick carpet of pine needles is building up in the woods right now.

Pine needles going yellow

 

Fallen pine needles

It’s getting harder to spot orange or yellow-coloured fungi in the woods, what with all the fallen leaves. But this buff-white one is quite easy to identify. It’s a hedgehog fungus. Flip it over and you’ll see why – it has spines underneath instead of gills.

A ring of hedgehog fungi

Hedgehog fungus spines

Down on the lochs, we’ve had our first winter swans in. Some were reported Tuesday last week when I was on holiday (typical!) but I saw my first whoopers on Wednesday.  We were hauling out the old interpretation posts when “Whoop. Whoop whoop” drifted across the loch and made me drop my spade.  I’ll admit to having a bit of a thing about wild swans and it’s always exciting to hear your first ones of the winter. A pair of whoopers were being chased around Loch Kinord by the resident mute swans, resulting in the anxious whooping. But, by Friday, the mutes were ignoring the whoopers and were back to duffing up the neighbouring swans on the loch. It’s a bit like countries, really- you always fall out with the ones next door worst of all.

The swans at the far side of the loch are whoopers!

 

Whooper swan being chased by irate mute swan

The butterflies have been making the most of the autumn sun. Most obvious are the “vanessids” – big, brightly-coloured butterflies like peacocks or small tortoiseshells. At the moment, it’s red admirals that seem to be everywhere, basking, taking advantage of any sunny spot. If the warm weather inspired you to get out this weekend (if it is still fine!), keep an eye out for them – it won’t be long until we won’t  see butterflies until next spring.

Red admiral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Autumn Sunshine and Spiders, A Near Miss and a Work in Progress

A nice autumnal day can beat a great summers day.
One of the nicest ways to view the reserve at this time of year is to head out early-ish in the morning to see the woodland carpeted in dew crystallised spiderwebs and hopefully take in some tranquil views – such as this from Thursday when Loch Kinord was limpid calm and an intensely blue sky today at Parkin’s Moss.

If you are lucky you may see noisy flocks of pink footed geese flying overhead. Large numbers of pink-footed geese arrive in the UK from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland.  Thousands spend the winter on the eastern coast of Scotland. These birds start to arrive from early to mid September, with numbers increasing up to mid October.

During the autumn and early winter mornings, pink-footed geese move from these roost sites to stubble fields, where they will feed, returning late afternoon. The birds’ ”yak” calls can carry for several miles on still days.

As Autumn drifts in the amount of spider silk around the country reaches a peak as most common species are fully grown and ready to mate.
A perfectly still loch kinord
Parkin’s Moss
Noisy Flocks of geese fly to their feeding grounds early morning and return late afternoon

Parkin’s Moss is the stage of mating Common Hawker dragonflies just now. Built like small helicopters and measuring up to 7.5 cm you can hear these dragonflies rustle on the wing. Watch for them hunting woodland rides at dusk too. I watched riveted as a common hawker chased down a red admiral butterfly.

As the hawkers join in tandem to mate they have a combined length of 15 cm. This creates a really imposing shadow on the waters surface.

The near miss referred to in the title was not actually a miss but an event – a small wildfire that burned for several days- and could have had even more serious consequences. I call it a near miss because we nearly missed it as it occurred in a strangely isolated and inaccessible corner on Loch Kinord. Spotted by an eagle eyed colleague on Tuesday but we think originating from a campfire on Sunday it took 2 days to bring under proper control, causing an area of damage approximately 10m x 20m at a depth of 5 inches. An abandoned camp fire is to blame.

The black bucket hanging on the tree was instrumental in getting this fire under control.
A good example of irresponsible access and a lesson that unattended fires can spread. Now extinguished but it took up a significant amount of staff time, has caused damage, and was at risk of spreading further.

Fire is a risk at any time of the year and as a woodland reserve predominately we have a massive fuel load at its disposal with potentially devastating consequences.

As we head into a weekend set fair weather wise I know that we shall be teeming with visitors here to walk, cycle, kayak, fish, wild-camp, picnic, barbecue and sunbathe. Can we please ask all visitors to be fire sensitive and if you must, raise it above vegetation, never leave it unattended, extinguish it fully and dismantle it to leave no trace.

On that note we are now fully in the swing of our car-park resurfacing and half of the car park is currently unavailable to vehicles. The lower section of the Burn O’ Vat trail is closed in preparation of a future toilet refurbishment but the Burn O Vat itself is still completely accessible from the upper path. Please bear with us and be considerate to other motorists. If you find us full there are a few alternative places to park and still access our trails.

The Burn O’ Vat path closure will be in place until late October

There are 3 lay-bys within a mile of the visitor centre which can accommodate up to 4 vehicles each on the B9119. Alternatively we have another smaller car park at New Kinord which can be accessed via the A97 – look out for the small brown sign with New kinord written on it at the end of the access tack -and this is a really nice way to walk the Loch Kinord and little Ord trails. There is also a public car park within Dinnet village beside the Loch Kinord hotel with a connecting path that leads into the reserve.

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Trees, Thrushes and The Start of the Works! – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a busy old week and I’m quite relieved it’s almost over. It started early doors on Monday, with the tree surgeons arriving to take down a big Douglas fir that had been damaged in the last high winds. The tree was on the lean, towards the path, and had developed a big split of the back. Now, split trees can fall unpredictably, they can twist and land almost anywhere…and this one could have landed on the office if it did. So the tree surgeons very efficiently dismantled it top to bottom. And, when I saw the state of the stump, I was extra-relieved to see it down.

Dangerous tree by visitor centre

Dangerous tree half-felled

Split tree

Tree stump

Other work has started here this week, too. Earlier in the year, we were grateful to secure  Rural Tourism Infrastructure Funding to upgrade the car park and toilets. The 45-year old septic tank is badly needing replaced…and will be with a new sewage treatment system and reedbed. Meanwhile, in the car park, the old plastic geoblock will be replaced with concrete block and the chronic drainage problem (hopefully) sorted. This all means that access to the site will be a restricted over the next 8 weeks, with only half the normal amount of parking and part of the Burn o Vat trail being closed. We hope you will bear with us while this happens.

Old geoblock being lifted

While removing the old geoblock, one of the contractors stumbled across this old golf ball. We think it’s a ‘gutty’, an early golf ball made from hard-setting gutta-percha sap. They were most widely used between the 1860s and 1900, so it’s likely to be at least 150 years old. We’ve never had a golf course here, so it’s a puzzle as to what it’s doing here. Given they cost a shilling (over £5 in today’s money), I can’t imagine someone was all that pleased to lose it!

Old golf ball discovered during works.

Old golf ball with construction works in the background.

Away from the works, the reptiles have been making the most of the late sun. There have been a few adders out and about, including a couple of babies and this female, who was basking right on top of the wall. I think this is the highest I’ve ever seen an adder off the ground.

Adder, high up on dyke

Adder at top of dyke

There have been plenty of lizards around too, including some bronze-coloured baby ones. Unfortunately, these have all eluded the camera (they’re small, fast and wary…you need to be at that size) but there were a couple of cracking big ones at the back of the visitor centre.

Common lizard

Common lizard

In between the sun, we’ve had some cold nights and the first frost last weekend. This is really making the trees quite suddenly ‘turn’, with more yellowing happening by the day. It’ll be a while yet until green isn’t the dominant colour of the wood but it’s coming – the aspens are noticeably going yellow now.

Aspen trees, starting to turn yellow

There have been quite a few showers too, and that has made for some lovely rainbows. The reserve is right at the end of the rainbow with this one!

The reserve at the end of the rainbow

Elsewhere, what we’ve been noticing is how quiet it has gone. This week was the first  we’ve not noticed the constant background of swallows vit-vit-vit-ing or the gentle farting ‘prrrp’ calls of the house martins. Oh, they’re still around and some won’t go for another month but the constant background of their call has fallen silent and it’s a noise we’ve got so used to hearing, you don’t even notice it until it stops. But their calls have been replaced by those of birds feeding on the rowans. The local thrushes -song thrush, mistle thrush and blackbird- have formed flocks and are rapidly stripping the trees. They’re not the only ones –  on Monday alone, I saw the three species of thrush, plus carrion crow, jackdaw, bullfinch, reed bunting, great tit and starling all scoffing rowan berries.

The rowans are being eaten by the birds

Male blackbird scoffing rowan berries

We’ve also been seeing jays out and about too. These colourful crows are very shy and you tend to hear them rather than see them, but they’re always more obvious in autumn as they gather acorns. The big oaks by Wisdomhowe or on the east shore of Kinord are good places to spot them. Keep a look out for a bird with a pink body and white rump….and a horrible scrawking voice!

Jay (love the eyebrows).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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