The View From Above

What a busy week! We’ve hardly had chance to look at the wildlife this week, what with hung-up trees, grass needing cut, contracts needing let and quarterly reporting needing done. Unfortunately, although it may look like it, it’s not all sunny days and watching wildlife….but you don’t have to go far at Dinnet to see something!  The devil’s bit scabious flowers are starting to go over and the bees are frantically topping up on nectar before the flowers fade or we get frosts to kill them off.

Devil's bit scabious with bumblebee

Devil’s bit scabious with bumblebee

Devil's bit scabious with bumblebee

Devil’s bit scabious with bumblebee

Mind you, it doesn’t look like we’re at any risk of frosts any time soon. It’s been incredibly hot and humid this week. Unpleasantly humid for us – according to the weather station, the lowest the humidity fell to last week was 67 % and it was generally above 80%. That may not be a lot of fun if you’re cutting grass or wearing chainsaw gear – awfully sweaty work – but the toads have been loving it. There are tiny toadlets all over the reserve just now – I even had to evict one for the office!

Tiny toadlet

Tiny toadlet

The young great crested grebes are getting bigger all the time. They seem to be feeding themselves more or less all the time now- this is the first week we haven’t seen an adult feeding a fish to one of the youngsters. One of them begged for food from the adult but was ignored, so started diving and looking for food itself . I bet a lot of parents feel like that… “look, you’re perfectly capable just doing it yourself, so just get on with it!”

Adult plus one (and here comes another)

Adult plus one (and here comes another)

An adult great crested grebe plus two chicks

An adult great crested grebe plus two chicks

Three stripy faces

Three stripy faces

Young grebes and swan

Young grebes and swan

Five grebes- the four youngsters plus one adult

Five grebes- the four youngsters plus one adult

The grebes aren’t the only youngsters on the lochs to be getting big.  Two of this year’s cygnets were feeding just beside the grebes.

Swan with cygnet

Swan with cygnet

And we spotted – just- another two of this year’s young animals down at Bogingore. These two roe deer fawns were quite well grown but were beautifully camouflaged in the long, yellowing grass. Do you remember those books you used to get, where, if you stared at an abstract image long enough, you’d see pictures? (I could never see them and suspected they were just making it up).  It was a bit like that- is that shadow in the grass a deer – or isn’t it?

Is it there-or is it my imagination?

Is it there-or is it my imagination?

Spot the deer?

Spot the deer?

Roe fawn 1

Roe fawn 1

Roe fawn 2

Roe fawn 2

Roe deer heading off

Roe deer heading off

The adders have been hard to spot this week as well -they’ve been lurking in the deep grass.

Snake in the grass

Snake in the grass

We had a day away from the reserve on  Wednesday, getting together with the rest of our Tayside and Grampian colleagues at Glen Clova. It’s a rare chance to have us all in one place and catch up with what’s happening in other areas, and well done to the organisers- we know that getting us in one place is like herding cats!  We also brought cake –lots of it, and very nice it was too, thank you to the bakers- as it was the last such meeting for one of us. Ewen, who has been with NCC and then SNH for 40 years, retires soon and will be sadly missed. But I’m hoping to persuade him to do the odd article for the blog, so watch this space….

Tayside and Grampian staff

Tayside and Grampian staff

Oh course, the downside of a group meeting is that someone’s bound to have a camera to catch you doing something incriminating. In this case, it was my turn. “Daryl, there’s a huge mozzie on your neck!”

“Agh, getitgetitgetit!”

Snap! And here’s a picture of me looking like I’m slapping my colleague round the head!

Candid camera! We were killing a mosquito on his neck- honest!

Candid camera! We were killing a mosquito on his neck- honest!

Finally, we’ve got a photo-fest to finish off this week’s blog. Mary, one of our volunteers, who you may have seen on the blog rescuing frogspawn, or helping clear up fly tipping, was given a glider trip last Christmas, Well, she finally took advantage of it this week from the Deeside Gliding Club at Aboyne. That’s just down the road from us and the gliders are a constant presence over the reserve on fine days. They have a surprisingly huge range – they can easily reach the north of Scotland and have an altitude record of 38,000 feet (yes, thirty eight THOUSAND feet).  Mary was staying a bit closer to the ground and requested she could have a soar over the reserve – so here are her photos from the air!

Going up!

Going up!

Dinnet village looking north

Dinnet village looking north

Kinord and Davan

Kinord and Davan

Kinord and Davan

Kinord and Davan

Edge of reserve, looking south towards River Dee

Edge of reserve, looking south towards River Dee

Western end Kinord and Davan

Western end Kinord and Davan

Parkin's Moss

Parkin’s Moss

Loch Davan

Loch Davan

The Burn o Vat trail

The Burn o Vat trail

Over the Vat gorge, looking east

Over the Vat gorge, looking east

Towplane, looking west up Dee valley

Towplane, looking west up Dee valley

Bogingore

Bogingore

Loch Kinord

Loch Kinord

Tow plane

Tow plane

Wetlands, NW corner Loch Davan

Wetlands, NW corner Loch Davan

Castle Island

Castle Island

Loch Davan

Loch Davan

The crannog and Castle Island

The crannog and Castle Island

The gliding strip at Aboyne

The gliding strip at Aboyne

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Scorching September

It’s been sunny for the second week running – the first time it’s done that since June! On the calm days, we’ve had some gorgeous reflections in the lochs – you can barely tell which way is up!

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

Kinord reflections

It is turning into a proper Indian summer….a late period of warmth when it should really be coming into autumn. It’s obviously a known phenomenon as lot of languages have their own term for it –  “old women’s summer” in Germany, “poor man’s summer” in Bulgaria or “little summer” in South America (where autumn happens in May). Centuries ago, it’d have been “St Luke’s summer” or “All Hallow’n summer” here, named after October feast days. It hit just short of 27 degrees on Tuesday- that’s properly hot, for September (and too hot for strimming!)

27 degrees! In September!

27 degrees! In September!

Whatever you call it, the dragonflies are enjoying it, (as, unfortunately, are the mosquitos – itchy bites this week) and some are still mating and egg-laying.

Common hawkers

Common hawkers

Common hawker dragonflies mating

Common hawker dragonflies mating

But the warm weather is drying out the trees. It looks like they will turn yellow early this year, with some already well on the way to losing their leaves.

Some of the birches are going yellow very early this year

Some of the birches are going yellow very early this year

At least it’s killing off the bracken too- it is finally going brown.

The bracken is going brown

The bracken is going brown

Bracken

Bracken

The adders are enjoying the late warmth. We’re still not seeing many basking but we suspect they are getting going early in the morning, before we are here. It won’t be long until they have their babies- I wonder if we’ll see any this year?

Basking adder

Basking adder

If you visit the reserve, you’ll notice there are a lot of dead rabbits just now. Another outbreak of myxomatosis is doing the rounds and killing off many of the rabbits. They are a sad sight to see in the latter stages of the disease  and, even before they die of it, are easy prey for buzzards, foxes and dogs.

Rabbit with myxomatosis

Rabbit with myxomatosis

The woods are largely silent at the moment – unless a tit or finch flock goes by. In spring, all the birds are shouting about territories and, not too put too fine a point on it, sex. But, by this time of year, they usually aren’t singing (robins are the exception) and most of the calls you hear in the woods are communication calls. These are a flock’s way of keeping in touch – a constant cheeping, churring, muttering that lets the other members of the flock know where they are and that all’s well. Listen out for this if you encounter one of the large siskin or redpoll flocks that are feeding in the tops of the birch trees right now.

Feeding on birch seeds

Feeding on birch seeds

Siskin on alder strobiles

Siskin on alder strobiles

Redpoll

Redpoll

Redpoll

Redpoll

They are feeding in the birch just now as the birch catkins have ripened and are full of seeds. These seeds are tiny….but siskins and redpolls aren’t very big either. They use their fine, pointed beaks to delicately pick the seeds from the catkins.

Birch catkins

Birch catkins

The mixed tit flocks call constantly too. They often have willow warblers, robins, chaffinches and wrens all following the flock- the more eyes there are, the more likely someone is to spot a predator. The tits will feed high in the trees, while the robins feed more at a medium height, and wrens and dunnocks pick through the understory. This wren was constantly disappearing in and out of the drystane dyke, earning its Latin name of “troglodytes” or “cave dweller”.

Rock-climbing wren

Rock-climbing wren

The edges of the Vat trail are purple with the devil’s bit scabious flowers. They produce lots of  late nectar for the butterflies.

Devil's bit scabious

Devil’s bit scabious

Even more swallows are gathering on the lines this week.

Swallows gathering on the lines

Swallows gathering on the lines

And, finally- if you come out to the reserve this weekend, have a look round and think differently. Ellie, with the aid of a clever app, has taken these rather different views on the reserve. Enjoy!

Pine cone

Pine cone

rowan view

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September Sun

It’s been another cracking week on the reserve. It’s 21 degrees Centigrade as I write this…and it’s going to be written quickly so we can go outside and get some sun! We’ve not had a great deal of rain for nearly a fortnight now and we’ve seen more butterflies these past three weeks than all the rest of the summer. 

Red admiral

Red admiral

 As you may have heard on the news, it’s been a poor year for butterflies. They don’t like cold, damp weather- and, apart from a fortnight in June, that’s all we’ve had until now. It would be a sorry world without the bright splash of colour these insects bring….but their decline is likely to be another symptom of climate change. This is only the 3rd peacock butterfly we’ve seen on the reserve this year.  

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Peacock b'fly

Peacock b’fly

It’s been too warm to see adders this week- they’ve probably basked and got going before we arrive at work! But we did spot a lizard, right in the middle of one of the usual “bask” spots. It’d better watch out- lizards are a common prey of adders. 

Common lizard, in one of the adder basking spots

Common lizard, in one of the adder basking spots

 We also spotted another animal we don’t usually see this week. This shrew was rooting around the grass by Loch Kinord, on the hunt for insects. Shrews are tiny mammals that live life at a phenomenal rate; they need to eat about 80-90% of their own body weight daily and their heart beats at upwards of 500 beats per minute. They can starve to death is they don’t find food for as little as half a day, so this one wasn’t stopping, even when we pointed the camera at it. We think it’s a common shrew, not a pygmy shrew, so it’s not the even the tiniest of the shrews you find here! You more often hear them than see them, squeaking in the grass, but, bizarrely, that could be as common shrews can use echolocation to help work out their surroundings….you can’t see very far when you’re less than 5 cm tall. 

Shrew foraging

Shrew foraging

Nose down- hunting insects

Nose down- hunting insects

Shrew...possibly common shrew?

Shrew…possibly common shrew?

Not co-operating for a photo!

Not co-operating for a photo!

The warm,dry weather seems to be bring autumn on faster than normal. Some of the trees are getting a little drought stressed- so, at this time of year, they effectively cut their losses, drop their leaves and start to shut down for the winter. The dry week has brought a noticeable change in many of the birch trees.

The birch are changing colour faster than the aspens

The birch are changing colour faster than the aspens

Some of the birches are yellowing rapidly

Some of the birches are yellowing rapidly

Down on the lochs, all four grebe chicks are looking fat and healthy. This is the first week we’ve seen them diving, so it looks like they’re starting to feed themselves….which will doubtless be a relief to their parents! But they are still being fed- we saw one particularly large fish being delivered while we were there. 

The adult has just fed the youngster a large fish

The adult has just fed the youngster a large fish

That's a big one!

That’s a big one!

Head back....down the hatch!

Head back….down the hatch!

Finally got it down!

Finally got it down!

The baby grebes have learned to dive!

The baby grebes have learned to dive! There were three when we pointed the camera…..

The heather is just starting to go over. There’s a hint of brown in it there wasn’t last week. So, if you want to see purple-clad Scottish hills, we’d suggest going sooner than later. 

The heather is just starting to go over

The heather is just starting to go over

The rowans are gradually getting redder and redder, changing from an orangy-scarlet to a deeper blood-red. It’s one of the heaviest crops of rowans we’ve ever seen this year, with every tree drooping under the weight of berries. The birds are spoiled for choice just now- but they’ll have competition in a month or so when the winter thrushes arrive from Scandinavia! 

Weighed down with rowans

Weighed down with rowans

The branches are bent with the weight of fruit

The branches are bent with the weight of fruit

The late sun has been benefitting the dragonflies too. There are loads of black darters around just now, although they, like all dragonflies, will gradually fade away through September. Look out for these small dragons perched on the boardwalk if you come and see us this weekend.

Black darter

Black darter

Black darter

Black darter

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Grebes and Gathering Swallows

Autumn is sneaking up on us in a series of warm days and misty mornings.  It still feels like summer through most of the day- warm (over 20 degrees most days) and sunny. It’s been the sort of weather for lazy days of picnics and plightering in the water. But the mornings, ah, the mornings have been a different story. Get up early and there has been a silent, misty world, with ghostly trees and mirror-calm lochs.

A misty morning over Loch Kinord

A misty morning over Loch Kinord

Flat calm and mist

Flat calm and mist

The flat lochs make for some wonderful reflections. You can barely tell which way is up!

The calm mornings have made for lovely reflections

The calm mornings have made for lovely reflections

The heather is in full bloom just now and the hills in and around the reserve are carpeted in purple. And the heather is, in turn, carpeted with spider’s webs, invisible until they capture the morning dew.

The heather is looking spectacular - but webby- on a misty morning

The heather is looking spectacular – but webby- on a misty morning

Spiders' webs on heather

Spiders’ webs on heather

The warm weather may also make autumn come quickly to the trees on the reserve. We haven’t had much rain lately and this, combined with the season wearing on, is leading to some of the trees starting to go yellow already.

Some of the birches are starting to go a bit autumn-y

Some of the birches are starting to go a bit autumn-y

Other trees have other problems to deal with. It’s been a mega-rowan year this year, with the trees bending, and in some cases, breaking under the sheer weight of berries. These are almost fully ripe now and will be a feast for birds and mammals.

Weighed down with rowans

Weighed down with rowans

Other fruits are harder to spot. But, if you look closely at the hazel trees, you’ll soon spot the clusters of nuts ripening on the end of the branches.

The hazelnuts are swelling

The hazelnuts are swelling

The adders have been late in getting up on the cool, misty mornings. They don’t get up until the sun is out….and very quickly warm up to top speed. We did spot a couple this week but they spotted us too and shot off into the wall, the very epitome of liquid grace.

A well camouflaged adder

A well camouflaged adder

Another classic autumn sign this week have been the gatherings of swallows over and around the reserve. Keats wrote of “gathering swallows twitter in the skies” in Ode to Autumn….but we’ve invented power lines since and they are a good place to spot gathering swallows! At this time of year, probably about a month before they go for the winter, swallows come together in large social groups, all twittering and chattering to one another. They look for all the world like they’re discussing when and which way to migrate.

Which way's Africa?

Which way’s Africa?

"...and gathering swallows twitter in the skies".

“…and gathering swallows twitter in the skies”.

This week’s good news story was that we’ve re-found the great crested grebe chicks that we assumed had been eaten or otherwise expired. While down by Davan we spotted one chick with an adult and thought, “well, that’s us down to one”.  Then another appeared…then the second adult appeared with two chicks in tow!  Two of the chicks are larger than the other two, so it seems likely that one parent is better at finding food than the other. With larger broods (three upwards) the grebe parents will “split” the brood, with the adults solely caring for their portion of the brood….so, two of our chicks will be being fed by mum only and two by dad only. Unfortunately, you can’t tell the adults apart, so it’s hard to know who is the better parent!

One grebe chick plus diving adult

One grebe chick plus diving adult

Two grebe chicks

Two grebe chicks

Three of the GCGs

Three of the GCG chicks

The 5 nearest bird are the four grebe chicks plus one of the adults

The 5 nearest birds  are the four grebe chicks plus one of the adults

Grebe chicks retain their stripy faces for a few months

Grebe chicks retain their stripy faces for a few months

Funky face!

Funky face!

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The May…and Mid-August

I’ve had the privilege of being on not one but three of our NNR’s this week. Ok, one of those days was a day trip to the Isle of May…but, if you’ve never been, go, it’s fantastic! I’ll admit, I’ve been lazy and never gone before…we’re rather spoiled for seabirds in the north-east… and I’d just never got round to it.  So, although it’s getting late in the year for the puffins, we had a trip over and a tour of the island. I’d recommend it- a great boat trip out of Anstruther with a knowledgeable crew, fascinating social history and, of course, wonderful wildlife.

Isle of May, with foghorn, Low Light and Main Light

Isle of May, with foghorn, Low Light and Main Light

May Princess in Kirkhaven harbour

May Princess in Kirkhaven harbour

The loch on the IoM

The loch on the IoM

The old engines, used to compress air for the foghorns

The old engines, used to compress air for the foghorns

The steep brae up to the lighthouse!

The steep brae up to the lighthouse!

The Beacon. It was the first lighthouse in Scotland and burned between 1 and 3 tonnes of coal per night...which had to be winched up by hand.

The Beacon. It was the first lighthouse in Scotland and burned between 1 and 3 tonnes of coal per night…which had to be winched up by hand.

The ammonite-like Main Light stairs

The ammonite-like Main Light stairs

The view from the top

The view from the top

IoM from the lighthouse

IoM from the lighthouse

The ruined priory with the visitor centre in the background

The ruined priory with the visitor centre in the background

Bye bye IoM

Bye bye IoM

Back at Dinnet, it has been starting to feel like autumn. Oh, we’ve had some wonderful days- the temperature has mostly been above 20 degrees daytime- but the mornings have just felt…well, autumn-y.  The mist was hanging in the valley several days this week and often too until 9 or 10 am to clear.

The mist has been hanging in the valleys this week

The mist has been hanging in the valleys this week

The reserve is under there!

The reserve is under there!

The dew is soaking the cobwebs in the mornings too.

The webs catch the dew on the misty mornings

The webs catch the dew on the misty mornings

The toads are liking the damp mornings. We’re starting to see lots of tiny “toadlets” going around. These will have been tadpoles (toadpoles?) earlier in the year but have now grown up to the point they can leave the water. You can see how tiny this one is by my size 5’s next to it!

A tiny toadlet

A tiny toadlet

Tiny toadlet with my size 5's for scale

Tiny toadlet with my size 5’s for scale

And the adders are getting slower at getting up in the mornings as well. We’re starting to see more of them again- five on Tuesday- all looking freshly shed. They are probably well-fed snakes indulging in a bit of late season basking….any hungry adders won’t be hanging about, they’ll be on the hunt!

Two basking adders

Two basking adders

Back end of an adder, doing the "I can't see you, therefore you can't see me" thing. It's not quite working, is it....?

Back end of an adder, doing the “I can’t see you, therefore you can’t see me” thing. It’s not quite working, is it….?

A young adder, less than 3 years old. The sticks are a lot thinner than a pencil, for scale.

A young adder, less than 3 years old. The sticks are a lot thinner than a pencil, for scale.

Getting up. Adder emerging from dyke

Getting up. Adder emerging from dyke

They’d better watch out for the buzzards. There are several young buzzards flying over the reserve just now, “keeee-ow-ing” in a very wheezy tone of voice. But it won’t be long until they learn to hunt for themselves and an adder can make a decent, if rather risky, meal for a buzzard.

There are lots of young buzzards soaring over the reserve just now

There are lots of young buzzards soaring over the reserve just now

It won’t be long now until we won’t see any redstarts until next year…they’ll be joining the swallows in heading for Africa very soon. They are one of my favourite birds…so might as well enjoy them ’til then!

Male redstart looking a little faded

Male redstart looking a little faded

Another bird that will be heading south soon is this young cuckoo. The adults will all have headed away in July but their young…who never see their parents and are raised by non- migratory meadow pipits….will follow them in the next few weeks. It’s one of the miracles of nature, that these birds can migrate several thousand miles on instinct alone. Having said that, the meadow pipit “parent” of this cuckoo will be better off when its “offspring” leaves. These small birds run themselves ragged trying to keep up with the huge and voracious appetites of the cuckoo chick…but the parenting instinct is so strong, they just have to feed it, even if it should be obvious that it’s not a meadow pipit!

Young cuckoo with meadow pipit foster parent

Young cuckoo with meadow pipit foster parent

Demanding food from the m'ipit

Demanding food from the m’ipit

You can really see the size difference between the cuckoo and its "parent"

You can really see the size difference between the cuckoo and its “parent”

Being mobbed by other meadow pipits

Being mobbed by other meadow pipits

The Scotch argus butterflies are taking advantage of the late-season flowers. One of their favourites is the devil’s bit scabious. Look out for these on the purple flowers if you do visit the reserve.

Scotch argus on devil's bit scabious

Scotch argus on devil’s bit scabious

….and, if you do visit, and fancy a bit of sunbathing, you won’t be the only one! This robin had a bath in rainwater caught on top of the trailer tarpaulin, then had a good sunbathe to dry out!

Sunbathing robin

Sunbathing robin

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There’s a Tree on the Toilets…

….and other stories from Muir of Dinnet NNR! We were away for a week “down south” at a family wedding (congrats, Katie and Nigel) and came back to find a note from the cleaner “Hi, welcome back. Hope you had a great break. There’s a tree on the toilets.” Now, we don’t usually take time off during the school holidays, but that’s because we’re busy with visitors, not because we expect the weather to wreck stuff in August! (January, you half-expect it). So, out with the ladder and winch and chainsaw (not all at the same time, I hasten to add) to carefully remove the snapped birch leaning on the toilet roof. Fortunately, doesn’t seem to have damaged the roof, so the loos are reopened and there is no longer a tree on the toilets!

There's a tree on my toilets....

There’s a tree on my toilets….

Winching tree off toilet roof

Winching tree off toilet roof

Half way down

Half way down

Tree down.

Tree down.

This was just in time for our ever-popular wild food walk.  We had a really nice bunch of folk join us for an afternoon’s wander around the NNR, looking at the plants our ancestors used to use for food and medicine. Then it was back to the Burn o Vat for a taster session of candied angelica, dried cep, chanterelle, elderflower cordial, nettle “beer”, nettle soup ….and pancakes like grandma used to make with wild strawberries in!

Wild food walk taster sessions

Wild food walk taster sessions

With being away for a week, you don’t half notice how the season is moving on when you come back. Compare these pictures of rowan berries from the last three weeks.

The rowan berries are forming

Three weeks ago

Ripening rowans

10 days ago

Ripening rowans

Ripening rowans this week

The bird cherry berries are ripening too. In the spirit of the wild food walk, you can use these, once ripe, to flavour gin and make sloe gin-like drink. Useful to know in this part of the world where sloes can be hard to come by!

Bird cherries ripening

Bird cherries ripening

And the young birds are growing up fast. The great crested grebes seem to have lost one chick but still have three large and healthy-looking ones. The adult appeared with a huge fish and there was a sprint swim by the youngsters to see who’d claim the prize.

3 GCG chicks

3 GCG chicks. Distantly, in the rain.

Grebe with huge fish

Grebe with huge fish

Steaming in...one of the chicks has spotted the adult has food

Steaming in…one of the chicks has spotted the adult has food

Grebe family

Going down- the chick on the left claimed the fish but took a bit of time swallowing it.

This young woodpecker has discovered the peanut feeder. You can tell it’s one of this year’s youngsters by its red cap (the adults don’t have these) and vary pale pink under tail area. This will be red in an adult bird.

The juvenile GS 'peckers have discovered the peanut feeder

The juvenile GS ‘peckers have discovered the peanut feeder

But the biggest change has been in the swallow babies. I had my first hint of that when I opened the door…who’s been pooing on my doorstep????

Who's poo?

Who’s poo?

Before we left, all we’d seen were two small yellow beaks sticking up for food. And now look at them!

There's not two, there's four!

There’s not two, there’s four!

They are practically bursting out of the nest and looked ready to fly any day.

Only three? has one gone?

Only three? has one gone?

Feeding time

Nope. Feeding time and there’s still four

Unfortunately, “any day” turned out to be Thursday, when it poured rain for most of the day. First one, then two, then three, then four appeared on the roof round the back of the visitor centre, chattering and “vit-vit-vit”-ing  at one another in the hammering rain, while the adults swooped around trying to encourage their offspring to fly some more.  I don’t think the babies were convinced though and it was a good couple of hours  before they  headed off again. But it only took until Friday until the whole family were zooming around the visitor centre, calling to one another and practicing flycatching. They’ll be off to Africa in a month or so enjoy them while they’re here!

The first fledged swallow

The first fledged swallow

fledged swallow calling for a feed

fledged swallow calling for a feed

And then there were two

And then there were two

And then there were two

Oooh. Wobbly landing!

There are 5 swallow in this shot- but one is just a blur!

There are 5 swallow in this shot- but one is just a blur!

 One of the parent swallows

One of the parent swallows

Bedraggled baby swallow

Bedraggled baby swallow

Soggy swallow

Soggy swallow

Wet & dry. The lower one is out of the rain

Wet & dry. The lower one is out of the rain

The dry one....this baby swallow had the wit to get under the eves. Or crash landed and hasn't moved!

The dry one….this baby swallow had the wit to get under the eves. Or crash landed and hasn’t moved!

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Strimming and Swallow Chicks

Phew! What a busy week! We’ve haven’t stopped, what with events, visitors and everything growing furiously. It’s hard to know where to start, so let’s start with a (hopefully) good news story. Early last week, we’d spotted, on a damp and windy day, two great crested grebe chicks with their parents on Loch Davan. It was much nicer- sunny and calm- when we got back this week – but there weren’t two chicks- there were FOUR! I’ve never seen a brood of four before and I’d be surprised if they raise them all…but they’ve made it through the first week, which is a good start!

GCG plus four

GCG plus four

Great crested grebe plus FOUR babies!

Great crested grebe plus FOUR babies!

We have a few more babies around the visitor centre too. The swallows above the door have hatched and they seem to have a brood of two.

Feed me...feed me...

Feed me…feed me…

...and stuff in the insects

…and stuff in the insects

Swallows with the bunting we can't take down until the chicks fledge!

Swallows with the bunting we can’t take down until the chicks fledge!

And how’s this for a “baby” animal? This rather funky chap is an emperor moth caterpillar. They’re huge- he was easily as large as my little finger.

Emperor moth caterpillar

Emperor moth caterpillar

Our ranger colleague Helen (thanks for the pics, Helen) found some other amazing caterpillars this week too. There are Kentish Glory caterpillars on birch trees on the moor. Kentish glory are rare moths found on Deeside and their offspring are very fussy eaters- they need young birch trees to feed on but can’t use trees much more than 10 feet tall. Like any other caterpillar, they grow as the scoff the leaves until the point they get too large for their skin. But that’s not a problem- they shed the old skin and have grown a new, larger one underneath. Helen caught the KG caterpillar actually in the act of shedding- a very unusual thing to see indeed.

Just before shedding

Just before shedding

Kentish Glory caterpillar shedding it's skin

Kentish Glory caterpillar shedding it’s skin

Mid - shed

Mid – shed

Kentish glory caterpillar finishing shedding its skin

Kentish glory caterpillar finishing shedding its skin

And what do caterpillars grow into? Butterflies and moths- we all know that from school or from reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” books! Everyone is familiar with butterflies but less so with moths, and there is often a perception that moths will eat your clothes. Some will- but there are only two or three species that will- and thousands that won’t. With the aid of a moth trap, we introduced some of the moths to visitors at our “Moths in the Morning” event this week…and here are a few of the more striking ones.

Gold spangle moth.

Gold spangle moth.

The snout moth. Yes, it is called a snout as looks like it has a long nose.

The snout moth. Yes, it is called a snout as looks like it has a long nose.

Antler moth

Antler moth

Light emerald moth

Light emerald moth

Burnished brass moth. Not hard to see how they get their name.

Burnished brass moth. Not hard to see how they get their name.

A bit too close to macro! This mottled beauty landed on one of the visitor's cameras!

A bit too close to macro! This mottled beauty landed on one of the visitor’s cameras!

We also had an event for younger visitors last week with “Monsters of the Vat”. In spite of some parents commenting that this was appropriate for their wee monsters, this wasn’t referring to the children, rather to the “monsters” we made from clay and natural materials.

Monsters of the Vat

Monsters of the Vat

Clay squirrel

Clay squirrel

We have another event on for children this Sunday 31st July. Come and join us!

Poster - dragons and damsels

All young animals are curious. This young willow warbler wasn’t put off by us working out the back of the visitor centre and seemed to choose to perch on the wire so it could “hooweet” at us periodically.

Willow...or should that be wire....warbler

Willow…or should that be wire….warbler

Do you look better if I stand on one foot and put my head on one side? Nah, don't think so!

Do you look better if I stand on one foot and put my head on one side? Nah, don’t think so!

Mind you, sometimes curiosity is not such a good thing. This newly-fledged song thrush got itself stuck in the visitor centre. We had to evict it after gently throwing a jumper over it.

Evicting baby song thrush from the visitor centre with aid of a jumper.

Evicting baby song thrush from the visitor centre with aid of a jumper.

We’re also wondering if the spotted flycatcher has another nest nearby. She’s not above the back door but is spending a lot of time at the back of the building alarm calling at us. I can’t figure out if she’s in one of the swallow boxes or in the trees somewhere.

The spotted flycatcher is alarm calling constantly

The spotted flycatcher is alarm calling constantly

The newly-emerged Scotch argus butterflies better watch out for her and the swallows! They are a late-summer butterfly and have just begun emerging in the last week. But a few have been nobbled by the flycatcher or swallows already- we’ve found argus wings in the car park.

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

An argument of arguses- there were three of them all wanting onto the same flower

An argument of arguses- there were three of them all wanting onto the same flower

The adder we saw last week seems to have shed its skin. We think it’s the same snake, looking brighter and clear-eyed.

The adder was in the same place but seems to have shed its skin...we think it's the same snake.

The adder was in the same place but seems to have shed its skin.

Another late-summer sign is the bracken just starting, in places, to brown slightly. Mind you, in other places it is 8 feet high and growing like the blazes. We had to strim the entire east and south shores sections of the Loch Kinord trail this week, as collapsing bracken was starting to block the path. Not a fun job in the heat and humidity, but made worse by the clegs (horseflies)- I’ve never known so many- and we must have swatted over 100 on our bodies.  In spite of that, we still have several gull-egg sized itchy bumps to show for it. But, if you come and visit us this weekend, at least the paths should be clear!

The bracken is just starting to go brown

The bracken is just starting to go brown

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

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

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Heat and Heavy rain

We’ve had it all this week – scorching sun, torrential rain, really nice visitors who love the countryside and complete numpties who leave all their rubbish behind them. Yup, that’s the summer holidays for you! Our not-very-nice introduction to the week was to clear up an abandoned campsite ….extra annoying as we spoke to them the afternoon before and asked them to make sure they cleared up….so they left us this lot to pick up. In the rain. Oooh, we didn’t half think some bad words.

Tempting to caption this with words usually written by holding the "shift" key down and pressing the letters.....

Tempting to caption this with words usually written by holding the “shift” key down and pressing the numbers…..

Then the weather turned hot….so hot it even made the national news. That was pretty much the theme of the news on Tuesday, wasn’t it …It Is Hot In Scotland! It made it up to 29 degrees here on Tuesday…and the dragonflies were loving the heat.

Common hawker

Common hawker

The late-summer wild flowers are looking good in the sun. Probably the most striking of these are the foxgloves, up to six feet tall with a beautiful spike of purple or white flowers. I’ve never been sure why they’re called foxgloves…why would a fox need gloves?…but it may be a corruption of “folk’s gloves”. That perhaps came from “faerie gloves” becoming  “wee folk’s gloves”….you didn’t call the wee folk by name in case they heard you and came looking. These weren’t nice, twinkly fairies….these were bad milk-stealing, baby-swapping fairies and it did not do to come to their attention!

The foxgloves are at the height of their flowering and growth just now.

The foxgloves are at the height of their flowering and growth just now.

Foxglove in close-up

Foxglove in close-up

The bluebells are out too. I grew up calling these bluebells or Scottish bluebells but that can get confusing with the spring bluebells or wild hyacinths. But I just can’t get used to calling them harebells!

Bluebell

Bluebell

Bluebell or harebell

Bluebell or harebell

The “greenbottles” were loving the nectar produced by these thistles.

Thistle flower with greenbottles

Thistle flower with greenbottles

The weather made the news on the Wednesday night this week too, but not for the heat, for the massive thunder-and-lightning storms that battered the country. I’d hoped to get the grass cut on Wednesday before they hit but no such luck….and then the phone and power went too. It went really dark- I think it was even darker than the eclipse a couple of years back.

Getting dark...

Getting dark…

....darker ....

….darker ….

...and darker...

…and darker…

...and then the heavens opened. Stottin' rain!

…and then the heavens opened. Stottin’ rain!

So, it was cutting the grass on Thursday instead….25 degrees and 70% humidity….I’ve had more fun jobs, I’ll admit. However, the toads are loving the humidity and are crawling around everywhere just now.

We have seen heaps of toads in the warm, humid showery weather

We have seen heaps of toads in the warm, humid showery weather

The fungi are also enjoying the warm, wet weather and are starting to pop up all over the reserve.

Cep

Cep

After the grass cutting, we needed to cool off so it was time to go and count the ducks on Loch Davan. The highlight of the trip was spotting two, tiny, stripy great crested grebe chicks. They’re late this year so we hope they grow up fast.

The great crested grebes have two tiny chicks

The great crested grebes have two tiny chicks

We’re also going to digress briefly to plug a local grant scheme. Small grants of up to £250 are available to organisations and groups providing, or facilitating provision of, activities within the Cairngorms National Park. This includes youth groups, toddler groups, social clubs, local sports groups and special needs groups amongst others. So, if you could use the grant to visit us here, or you are within the Park and want some equipment, visit  http://cairngorms.co.uk/park-authority/funding/staff-charitable-group/

When hopping out of the landrover this afternoon, I stopped, wobbling, with one foot mid-air when something moved on the ground. I instantly assumed it was a toad – they’re everywhere just now- but quickly realised it was something rather more unusual. I’d nearly trod on a pipistrelle bat!  You don’t normally see them on the ground but I think it was a youngster and, at this time of year, they’re learning to fly. And, like all young animals, they sometimes get it wrong and wind up lost, outside the roost in daylight. We gently hung it on the wall below the roost entrance and it immediately began clicking and calling, then scrambled very speedily back into the roost.

Pipistrelle bat

Grounded Pipistrelle bat

If you come and see us this weekend, you’ll notice the bunting is up. It’s usually just up for the Fun Day, then we take it down. But it’s staying up because of the swallows. They’ve decided, very late on, to nest above the front door of the visitor centre, and we don’t want to freak them by climbing up ladders to take the flags down! So, if you’re here, look up…and spot the only swallows in the country that have bunting up for them!

Why the bunting is still up....we haven't taken it down so's not to disturb the swallows over the door!

Why the bunting is still up….we haven’t taken it down so’s not to disturb the swallows over the door!

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Fun Days and Wet Days

Sooooo…in the bible, when it rained for 40 days, they called it “The Flood”. Here, in Scotland, we call it “The Summer”….it’s been days (weeks?) since we’ve not had at least some rain every day. The Met Office agrees – June was the worst for 68 years. And it’s continuing into July too. But we were incredibly lucky last Friday to get a dry day for our Fun Day – it rained all night then went off for us!

Concentrating hard on building a bird box!

Concentrating hard on building a bat box!

Nature necklaces

Nature necklaces

Waiting for the rush in the bird box tent

Waiting for the rush in the bird box tent

Setting up

Setting up

Face painting- for children of all ages!

Face painting- for children of all ages!

Atten-shun! On parade for the Fun Day!

Atten-shun! On parade for the Fun Day!

Who says SNH staff never have anything interesting to do on the computer? Mottled beauty moth on Burn o vat computer!

Who says SNH staff never have anything interesting on the computer? Mottled beauty moth on Burn o Vat computer!

Peering into the pond life tank

Peering into the pond life tank

The tea tent. Mmmmmmm. Affa fine cakes!

The tea tent. Mmmmmmm. Affa fine cakes!

Birthday boy. Ewen's birthday coincided with the fun day- so we all had chocolate cake for breakfast!

Birthday boy. Ewen’s birthday coincided with the fun day- so we all had chocolate cake for breakfast!

We think (hope) a great time was had by all. And thanks to (deep breath) John, Catriona (not me!), Deirdre, Duncan, Mary, Joanna, Mhorag, Daryl, Simon, face painter Marley, storyteller Joan and Ewen (who even gave up his birthday!) for making it such a great day. Our next  event is  Friday 22nd July if you want to come and join in!

Poster - nature notebooks2

This week, we’ve been in and out, trying to dodge the showers. We had one visitor-induced grumpy fit mid-week, when someone abandoned a wrecked rubber dingy full of rubbish, plus tent, food and innumerable beer bottles by Loch Davan. You can really see why we ask people not to take boats onto this loch- you can’t get through the vegetation round the edge without damaging it. Getting rained on while clearing up this lot really did put the tin lid on the bad mood.

Abandoned boat full of rubbish- and there was plenty behind me too.

Abandoned boat full of rubbish- and there was plenty behind me too.

Still, at least the water lilies are beautiful, and can cheer you up even after that sort of stupidity….(grrrrr).

White water lilies

White water lilies

White water lilies

White water lilies

Water lilies

Water lilies

Water lily

Water lily

It’s been pretty quiet on the reserve wildlife-wise and will be for the next few weeks until (dare I say it) autumn really starts. Already there are hints of autumn, with things like these hazel nuts already looking quite well formed.

The hazelnuts are forming

The hazelnuts are forming

In other respects, it’s the height of summer. Young birds are still appearing and can be endearingly bold…or perhaps “innocent” is a better word. It’s just that they’ve not seen people before, so don’t think we’re a threat- which is nice, given that most wildlife disappears as soon as it spots us. I’ve heard that from bird ringers too, in the high Arctic, where birds have never seen people – they’ve had birds like ruff hide under their jackets when a gyr falcon has flown over- that’s much scarier than this guy putting a ring on your leg. This young willow warbler didn’t know what to make of us and soon decided that aphids and other soft, squishy insect-y things in the tree were far more interesting.

What are you?

What are you?

...hmmm. Still not sure.

…hmmm. Still not sure.

Young willow warbler.

Young willow warbler.

Foraging in the leaves

Foraging in the leaves

Living up to their Latin name "Phylloscopus", meaning "leaf explorer

Living up to their Latin name “Phylloscopus”, meaning “leaf explorer

Some birds are still feeding young, probably second broods by now. This reed bunting had a right gobful of flies- but he wasn’t going anywhere near his nest until we cleared off. So we left him to it.

Male reed bunting with a gobful of grub.

Male reed bunting with a beakful of grub.

We’re starting to get asked what the strange, webby things are on some of the trees. The chances are the tree in question is a bird cherry and the “webby things” are webs of the bird cherry ermine moth caterpillar.  As their name suggests, that’s what the caterpillars eat- bird cherry leaves. In some years, they can strip the trees bare …and the trees can look quite spooky, all bare and hung with hundreds of webs.

Bird cherry with lots of ermine moth webs

Bird cherry with lots of ermine moth webs

Bird cherry ermine moth caterpillar webs

Bird cherry ermine moth caterpillar webs

We’ve been seeing quite a few roe deer this week but they don’t usually hang about for a photograph. You can often get quite good views of them if you don’t stop and look at them, but keep walking slowly and watch them out of the corner of your eye. Like all animals that (at some point) evolved to live in a herd or deal with predators, roe deer are very sensitive to nuances of body language. They will instantly pick up a change in body posture that means you’re turning towards them- and that’s a threat, and they’re off. This doe hadn’t spotted us- hence the picture.

Roe doe. All the roe deer are looking very red just now as they are coming into rut.

Roe doe. All the roe deer are looking very red just now as they are coming into rut.

We’ve only seen the one adder this week, getting a bit of basking in prior to a mid-summer skin shed. If you look closely you can see the slightly cloudy eye that suggests he’ll be shedding before too long.  Keep an eye out for him, and any other wildlife, if you come and see us this weekend….oh, and bring your waterproofs!

Adder coming up for mid-summer skin-shed.

Adder coming up for mid-summer skin-shed.

 

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Rain and Shine

So, have you got wet this week? We have- repeatedly- and sometimes more than once in the same day. We’re still getting heavy, thundery showers here, with damp clear mornings. Hate to say it, but the mornings almost feel autumn-y, cool and still with all the grasses and spiders’ webs soaked in dew or rain.

Dew-covered grass

Dew-covered grass

A sure sign of autumn has been the curlew, passing high overhead on their way south. We’ve heard several this week- it’s the start of the autumn migration.

Curlew

Curlew

But, in other respects, we’re in the heart of midsummer. The heather is just starting to come into bloom, with the bell heather coming out first.

Bell heather

Bell heather

The small pearl bordered butterflies are taking full advantage of this new nectar source.

Small pearl- bordered fritillary feeding on bell heather

Small pearl- bordered fritillary feeding on bell heather

The woods have gone very quiet now. We’re in the middle of the mid-summer lull, where all the birds stop singing and concentrate on fledging youngsters or moulting feathers. Apart from a particularly persistent chiffchaff, there hasn’t been much singing in the woods this week.

A chiffchaff

Chiff, chaff, chiff, chaff, chaff, chaff, chiff…..a  non-stop chiffchaff

We’ve not had a great deal of time to look out for the wildlife this week, what with being in the middle of preparation for our Fun Day – there’s an oxymoron when you’re up to your eyes in prep! It’s this Friday, 8th July, 12-4pm if you want to come along. But we have seen and heard several ospreys fishing over the lochs. Ospreys have an odd call- its a penetrating but surprisingly small sound to come from such a big bird, and sounds like it should be coming from something much smaller, like a wader or passerine. They also have a very distinctive profile, with a sharply-bent wing joint to help hover in search of fish.

Feet dangling, head down

Feet dangling, head down

Always looking down into the water

Always looking down into the water

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

Osprey hovering

We’ve also seen our first adder in ages this week, spotting a very shy male in the grass.

Adder basking on a rock

Adder basking on a rock

But, as we said, most of this week has been take up with prep for the Fun Day. Here are some pics from last year’s Fun Day….maybe they’ll inspire you to come and see us and try your hand at bird box making…or have your face painted…or make something fun in the craft stalls….or listen to local tales from the storyteller…or win at antler hoopla….the list goes on!

Many of our younger visitors (and a few of our older ones!) had a go at assembling a wooden pencil holder during the fun day.

Many of our younger visitors (and a few of our older ones!) had a go at assembling a wooden pencil holder during the fun day.

Hands-on specimens at the fun day (not a live owl!)

Hands-on specimens at the fun day (not a live owl!)

Fun day craft stall

Our craft stall was very popular this year with lots of colourful creations leaving with our visitors.

 

 

 

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