Welcome to April! TS Eliot had it as the “cruellest month” and it’s been doing its best to live up to that billing this week. We’ve had snow lying even down by the centre a couple of mornings this week and it has been bitterly cold in the often northerly wind. I think this wagtail is wondering who’s stolen spring!
Cold or not, the wildlife is on an agenda of its own. But breeding thoughts have had to be replaced by feeding thoughts in the cold, and I’ve seen more song thrushes feeding on the lawn this week than I have heard singing from the tree tops.
At least we managed to complete our heather burning at the end of last week before the weather broke. We don’t burn the heather after 31st March in case birds are starting to nest on the heath. It was satisfying to meet our yearly “quota” of burning, with 3.5 hectares burnt in small patches.
While out on the heath, we spotted this fuzzy wee fella. It’s a dark tussock moth caterpillar and feeds on heather.
We had a real treat after we’d finished burning. Just off the reserve (and me frustratingly without my camera) we had a superb view of a young golden eagle. Mary managed to snap this with her compact camera so you can imagine the kind of view we had! You don’t realise just how huge eagles are unless you see them alongside something else. The small bird in the top of the shot is a buzzard- which isn’t all that small itself. So, eyes to the skies if you’re on the reserve!
In spite of the cold, the some of the adders are still out basking. They must be within a fortnight of shedding now as their eyes are starting to get quite cloudy.
I was surprised it was warm enough for a couple of last year’s young females to be out. They are still pretty tiny but it’s only when you see them in context with something else you can judge how small they really are. We lowered this glove into shot with a litter pick to give an idea of scale (and it was behind the rock so it didn’t scare her.
Elsewhere, I saw something I’d never seen before on the reserve this week- a crossbill in a tree that wasn’t a pine or other conifer. I could hear one singing but it seemed to be coming from a big ash tree by Bogingore. Closer inspection was required! And yes, it was a crossbill, and, more unusually, the golden form of the male. These are known as a “golden cock” (everyone sniggers when I tell them this. Can’t think why…) and have golden -yellow rather than the usual brick-red plumage.
A lot of the frog and toads have now spawned. We haven’t seen massive numbers on the paths (yet) like we have in previous years, but I suspect the cold is keeping them nearer the water, with the option of burying themselves in the mud underwater if it looks frosty.
The lapwings are now firmly established in the Old Kinord fields. Given this is a bird that has declined badly over the past 50 years, it’s nice to see them doing well here. I’m not totally sure how many pairs there are – I’ve never been able to count more than 9 birds on the ground in any one go – but 16 got up to see off a buzzard the other day. So there could be as many as 8 pairs in the fields.
Down on the lochs, the redshank have been displaying. You hear them more often than you see them, but we did manage to sneak up on a couple of pairs this week. Two of them were swimming around while the other two perched up and basically yelled their heads off with their bubbling, whirling call.
Mind you, yelling is pretty moderate compared with what the swans do. Most swans hold territory very aggressively; I’ve even heard of whooper swans beating up sheep that get too close in the Northern Isles (sheep are big and white and the swans are so pumped with hormones that’s enough to trigger an attack). Our resident mute swans are getting pretty stroppy too- one lone mute swan was chased from one end of the loch to the other then soundly beaten up by the resident male. I really think he’d better find somewhere else to hang out!