Bogs, Beetles and Baby Adders

I was very glad to see this swinging squirrel on Monday morning. He (or she) had hopped onto the peanut feeder from the garage and was sitting on top, apparently enjoying swinging back and forth! I’m afraid I was needing a bit of cheering up at this point; I’d just started my week with having to unblock one of the public urinals where someone had carefully plastered several bits of chewing gum in the plughole. No, it wouldn’t have occurred to me either as something to try and do!

Balancing act. Red squirrel on feeder at Burn o Vat.

Balancing act. Red squirrel on feeder at Burn o Vat.

We also managed to spot a couple of more baby adders this week. I nearly trod on one – about a foot in front of my boot in the picture- when I was away to step off the path to pick up some litter. Another two were basking together on the bank and the rabbit poo in the picture gives you an idea of size. We probably won’t see the young adders for much longer – they’re so tiny, they’ll go into hibernation quite soon and shut down for the winter. They may not eat before they do, but will be reliant on fat reserves they’ll have had from mum.

Hard to spot! baby adder curled up about a foot in front of my toes!

Hard to spot! baby adder curled up about a foot in front of my toes!

A close up of the baby adder just in front of my boot

A close up of the baby adder just in front of my boot

Baby adder beside a bit of rabbit poo

Baby adder beside a bit of rabbit poo

While I was watching the baby adders, some nearby movement caught my eye. This was the first time I’d ever seen a dung beetle in action on the reserve. They take dung underground to lay eggs onto, and then, when their larvae hatch out, they eat the dung. Dung beetles transport their dung by rolling it into small balls then pushing them across the ground until they reach their holes. This dung beetle was methodically collecting rabbit poo, which I suppose had the advantage of being ready- rolled…no preparation required.

Roll your own? Dung beetle moving rabbit poo.

Roll your own? Dung beetle moving rabbit poo.

It looks like it will be a good year for hazelnuts. Some years the trees produce hardly any nuts but this year all the hazels seem to be heavy with nuts. These are a really important source of food for animals like squirrels and mice. They were also eaten in huge quantities by our early ancestors- hazelnut shell “middens” can be found in lots of places across the UK.

Hazel nuts

Hazel nuts

We were also out finishing off some site monitoring this week. This involved a trip into one of the wetter places on the reserve, Black Moss. Sensible people don’t go there; you need waders, a long stick and a bit of luck avoiding ditches! Because this part of the site is rarely visited, you can see quite a lot of deer activity here and we were lucky enough to spot this roe doe before she slipped away into the sedges.

Watching you watching me. Roe deer in deep vegetation at Black Moss.

Watching you watching me. Roe deer in deep vegetation at Black Moss.

You can also see signs of where people have worked the land in the past. These hard, straight edges between the heather and the wetter, green fen mark where peat was stripped from the bog to allow people to access the diatomite deposits. This was done after a certain Mr Alfred Nobel discovered you could soak nitroglycerin into diatomite and make dynamite. Nitroglycerin was notoriously unstable and would explode with even minor knocks, while dynamite was far less likely to go bang until you wanted it to. After this discovery, there was a brief, intense demand for diatome which resulted in the mining here. It stopped in 1910, but you probably encounter diatomite on a daily basis without knowing it, in thing such as toothpaste, paint or cat litter. It’s kind of odd to think of this as the “industrial” site it once was, given as it’s one of the most undisturbed places on the reserve nowadays.

Hard edges often show where old peat or diatomie workings were

Hard edges often show where old peat or diatomie workings were

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