Merls and Mavises

A bit of a mixed week, this week- some days it has felt like spring, on others it’s been cold and damp. The bird don’t know whether they’re coming or going, and nor do we! It was positively idyllic out of the wind on Tuesday and, like this teal, I could have happily dozed off in the sun.

Teal, roosting in the reeds

Teal, roosting in the reeds

Mind you, most of the teal were awake and displaying, not sleeping. The sun really brings out the green colour around their eyes.

Teal swimming

Teal swimming

The adders were also appreciating the sun. There were three basking by the wall on Tuesday and up to four on Friday. A couple of them were being fairly sociable and I suppose it helps to share body heat.

How many adders?

How many adders?

Want some company, mate?

Want some company, mate?

Snuggling snakes!

Snuggling snakes!

Up the Vat gorge, a bit off the beaten track, there are still oak trees clinging on high among the rocks. Thanks to browsing and fire, we don’t find much oak across the reserve nowadays, but it must have been reasonably common once upon a long ago. The dugout canoes found in Loch Kinord were oak and there is a record of the Battle of Culblean being fought in “swampy oak wood”. Given that was in 1335, these trees are probably at least grandchildren of the original oaks….but could be older than they look, given that oaks are slow-growing and they are stunted with growing from the rock.

Oak growing out of Vat gorge

Oak growing out of Vat gorge

The rocks up here often have these horizontal lines across them. I’m not sure if the theory of what causes this has changed, but the explanation I remember from school is that these were horizontal fractures caused by the rock expanding “suddenly” (ie over a mere few thousand years) after being compressed by the weight of ice during the Ice Age.

granite rocks showing horizontal fracturing

Granite rocks showing horizontal fracturing

The black rabbit we saw last year at New Kinord is still around. Thanks, Jen, for the picture.

Black rabbit. Photo courtesy of Jen Heatley.

Black rabbit. Photo courtesy of Jen Heatley.

One of the surest signs of spring was the appearance of the first frogspawn this week. At least it hasn’t been snowed on yet this year!

The first frogspawn of the year, on the 10th March

The first frogspawn of the year, on the 10th March

In the ditch next to the frogspawn we spotted these tiny mushrooms. Known as “bog beacons” these are less than 5 cm tall and feed on decomposing leaves.

Bog beacons

Bog beacons

The merls and mavises have been making their presence felt this week. The mistle thrush is known as a mavis (probably from Old English “mavys”) and is the largest of our native thrushes. They’re a bit larger and greyer than song thrushes and, unlike them, sing in a minor key. Their song is a bit more melancholy than a strident song thrush, and they don’t repeat, repeat, repeat phrases like a song thrush. They’ll also keep singing when the rain comes on, earning them their other name of “stormcock”.

A mavis or mistle thrush

A mavis or mistle thrush

And the merls are the blackbirds. They, too, have been singing, and this female was noisily raking for insects in the leaves. “Merl” comes from their Latin name “merula”…but I’ll bet you know this Latin word better from the red wine merlot. The grapes are named after the word for blackbird, so maybe you’ll be sitting down to a nice glass of blackbird red tonight?

Female blackbird

Female blackbird

And finally…. “imagination, not intelligence, made us human”. I couldn’t resist this quote as a tribute to the late Sir Terry Pratchett this week, after seeing some fairly young children making “dens” in the wood and being told these were their “castles”. Why not get out into the countryside this weekend….and give your imagination and your intelligence a treat?

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