New Leaves and New Life

Spring is springing even more on the reserve.  We can hardly keep up with the season – the leaves are coming out, the wild flowers are in full bloom and migrant birds are arriving from Africa all the time. The primroses on the Vat trail are turning a sunny bank yellow with a lovely display of flowers. Rather more unwelcome are the first fronds of bracken uncurling after the winter!

Primroses....and, making an unwelcome entry, bracken!

Primroses….and, making an unwelcome entry, bracken!

The first wood sorrel have opened, too. At first glance, these look like the commoner wood anemones but are easily identified by their three- lobed clover-like leaf and more drooping head.

Wood sorrel

Wood sorrel

Mind you, wood anemones can droop, too. They seem to go to sleep overnight, closing their petals and nodding their heads, but a few hours of sunshine soon wakes them up.

The wood anemones are still nodding and haven't woken up yet.

The wood anemones are still nodding and haven’t woken up yet.

The same patch of anemones a couple of hours later.

The same patch of anemones a couple of hours later.

The trees are all coming into leaf too. The birch are bursting and it won’t be long until the woods are green again, rather than their winter brown.

New birch leaves

New birch leaves

The first rowan leaves are coming out

The first rowan leaves are coming out

Some trees and shrubs put on blossom before their leaves. The blackthorn, or sloe, bushes are in flower just now. Confusingly, they are sometimes  called “whitethorn”  as well, because of their blossom!

Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

A cousin of the sloe, the wild cherry or gean trees, are also coming into flower. On a hot, still day you can fairly smell the blossom.

Gean blossom

Gean blossom

And we’ve had a lot of hot, still days. The lochs are flat calm and everything is dust -dry. There is still a high fire risk across much of the east of Scotland.

Flat calm on Loch Kinord

Flat calm on Loch Kinord

I don’t think this toad was liking the heat much. He’d retreated into this rabbit scrape for some shade.

A toad...in a hole.

A toad…in a hole.

The heat has made the adders harder to spot. They don’t need to bask to warm up and are moving around with incredible speed and grace. We were lucky to snatch a shot of these two fine-looking males hunting in the grass.

Big blue adder

Big blue adder

Smaller, paler adder

Smaller, paler adder

Migrant birds are continuing to arrive from Africa. The latest arrivals this week have been redstart and common sandpiper. Even if you don’t see them, you usually hear both of these species from the north shore of Loch Kinord. The common sandpiper, for such a tiny bird, has a surprisingly loud voice and one of their nicknames “willywicket” come from this call. You also hear them called “summer snipe” occasionally, probably because they are often found in similar habitats to snipe- but only in summer!

The first common sandpiper of the year

The first common sandpiper of the year

Another migrant to arrive is the wheatear.  We see these almost annually on passage migration (ie passing through, not staying to breed) but this one was singing. He was probably just practicing for when he gets up into the hills, but he was attracting a lot of attention from some of the local birds…who didn’t seem to know quite what to make of him! They have a white rump when they fly and their name “wheatear” is a corruption of “white rear”. Their original name was “white arse” but there is a (probably apocryphal story) locally about Queen Victoria, pointing to one of these and asking “what’s that bird?” To which the reply was “oh, that’s a white ar…um…a white…emmm…a white REAR! Yes, that’s what it is …a white rear!”  And so “wheatear” came about.

A lovely male wheatear

A lovely male wheatear

M'ipit checking out the wheatear...

Meadow ppit checking out the wheatear…

....and then a pair of chaffinches.

….and then a pair of chaffinches.

Hello...and what are you?!

Hello…and what are you?!

Meanwhile, arrived migrants and local bird are setting up territories and nesting. The meadow and tree pipits are all displaying furiously. It’s a good job their songs are vastly different as they’re not easy to tell apart!

Tr'ipit - a tree pipit

Tr’ipit – a tree pipit

M'ipit- a meadow pipit

M’ipit- a meadow pipit

While watching meadow pipit, I nearly trod on this fine fellow. He’s a tiger beetle and is as fierce as a tiger if you’re an ant…that’s their main food.

Tiger beetle, hunting ants

Tiger beetle, hunting ants

This coal tit must be in the process of nest building. He or she seemed determined to collect a ball of fluff as big as he was…goodness knows how it could see where it was flying!

Coal tit gathering nesting material

Coal tit gathering nesting material

Some of the other residents have got a lot further than nest building. We had our first babies of the year on Thursday this week- a newly-hatched brood of mallard ducklings! It’s always a real landmark in the year, the first young animals, so keep your eyes peeled if you come and visit us this weekend.

The first ducklings of the year!

The first ducklings of the year!

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