Burnt Heather and Bad Weather

It’s been a bit of a mixed week on the reserve this week. One minute, it’s lovely sunshine, the next the snow showers are sweeping in from the hills. The lochs are still partly frozen and the bushes at their edges have ice “stalagmites” where water has dripped then frozen.

Upside -down icicles at the edge of the loch

Upside -down icicles at the edge of the loch

The ducks are all still concentrated in small areas of open water. With all the teal being frozen out of the reedbeds, we had a really high count of these this week. Usually I get about a dozen to twenty on a count but I know there are more in the reeds, because I can hear them. They’ve all been forced onto the open water and we had 141 teal this week. Teal are lovely little ducks but their small size makes then extra- edible, so they prefer lurking in cover.

Ducks at the end of the rainbow

Ducks at the end of the rainbow

And, yes, we did get them counted just before the weather arrived…the sky was inky black before the snow came on!

It's snowing over the hills behind Loch Davan but...

It’s snowing over the hills behind Loch Davan but…

But it cleared really quickly- this is the same view 15 minutes later.

...a mere 10 minutes later.

…a mere 10 minutes later.

Fortunately, the weather eased off by the next day, which allowed us to carry out a little bit of controlled heather burning. It always seems a counter –intuitive thing to do for conservation – burning, is, on the face of it, a destructive thing to do. However, it is necessary to maintain our area of bearberry heath in good condition.

Bearberry

Bearberry

Burning knocks back any tree regeneration and strips off the long, dominant heather. This allows the light to get in and other plants, like bearberry and intermediate wintergreen, to thrive. We only burn small patches of heather and no more than once every 12-15 years.

Starting the fire

Starting the fire

It can be a nerve –wracking experience, once a burn gets going. However, we watch it carefully and have firebreak, beaters and a fire tender to control it. We need to make sure it’s properly out before we go home, so we hose down any smoky hot-spots.

The heather lit easily in the wind

The heather lit easily in the wind

The burn, well alight

The burn, well alight

Damping down hot spots after the fire has passed

Damping down hot spots after the fire has passed

Around 1/2 hectare of burnt heather

Around 1/2 hectare of burnt heather

We didn’t get much of a break in the weather though. It started gently, with the odd flake from what seemed like a clear sky…then it hit with a vengeance…all the snow in this picture fell in not much more than 10 minutes.

Snow from a clear blue sky!

Snow from a clear blue sky!

....and here it comes.

….and here it comes.

All this snow fell in the space of about 15 minutes.

All this snow fell in the space of about 15 minutes.

The cold weather will be hard for the small birds. We found this wren’s nest, right next to a path, which looks like it is being used. Obviously, it won’t be used to raise young right now but may be used by wrens to roost overnight – a nice, snug, mossy nest is probably a good option in minus temperatures. Wrens often roost communally, as several tiny feathery bodies are warmer than one.

Wren nest

Wren nest

The icy roads forced me away from the reserve at the end of the week- so here are some pictures from the wonderful Forvie NNR instead!

Beach bums- common gulls hanging out on Forvie beach

Beach bums- common gulls hanging out on Forvie beach

The view through the rocks....

The view through the rocks….

Limpets, with an accompanying ring of barnacles

Limpets, with an accompanying ring of barnacles

Forvie beach

Forvie beach

Oystercatcher tracks

Oystercatcher tracks

The weather salmon,  pointing due "stormy"

The weather salmon, pointing due “stormy”

Grey seals hauled out

Grey seals hauled out

Eider drake in all his finery

Eider drake in all his finery

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