Wind, water, sun and soil

Some strong winds on Monday brought with it some rather wet and grey weather that has persisted much of the week. There have been a few nice spells though, leaving the loch calm and the trees glowing. With the clocks back an hour, the low evening light is catching the trees earlier in the day.

Evening light on deeside

Evening light on deeside

Sunlit birch

Sunlit birch

Light on the trees by Loch Davan

Light on the trees by Loch Davan

The foliage is turning yellower by the day, adding to the golden appearance of the woodland.

Yellowing bracken

Yellowing bracken

Bright yellow aspen

Bright yellow aspen

Aspen

Aspen

Gold in the birchwood

Gold in the birchwood

The still, grey weather this week has settled the loch. The reflections of the woodland’s colours and shapes are mesmeric.

Grey day reflections

Grey day reflections

Calm

Calm

Even on a grey day, the trees look lovely

Even on a grey day, the trees look lovely

The rain hasn’t been far away, coming on and off regularly. It does add water to the Vat burn however, which makes for a pretty waterfall.

Not all sunshine with lots of rain this week

Not all sunshine with lots of rain this week

The Vat waterfall

The Vat waterfall

With so much tall birch woodland on the reserve, the weekend winds took their toll, knocking a few more trees down to add to the forest’s deadwood supply. A fallen branch next to Loch Kinord blocked the path but remained attached to the tree, leaving a very unstable hazard.

Fallen birch branch over the path

Fallen birch branch over the path

Not to worry, we were quick with the winch to pull the branch down and make it safe.

Getting started

Getting started

Winched down with little fuss

Winched down with little fuss

Smaller bits are easier to transport away from the path...

Smaller bits are easier to transport away from the path…

All clear once again

All clear once again

Another branch near the New Kinord car park needed a similar treatment. This chunk of ash fell from near the top of the tree, over 15m above!

Ash branch in the way

Ash branch in the way

A thick old branch

Sawing up

All clear!

All clear!

We were lucky enough to get a trip out to Castle Island this week. A team of archaeologists from Aberdeen University are carrying out research there and they gave us a “lift” out in their boat. This was a great opportunity to get to a part of the site we can’t normally get to and carry out some checks.

Castle Island

Castle Island

First up were the goldeneye nestboxes. Goldeneye are rare breeders in the UK and are protected under Schedule 1 of the wildlife and countryside act, giving them the same protection as an osprey or golden eagle. Several females nest on Castle Island but they have a nasty habit of “egg dumping”- laying their eggs in someone else’s nest, and then not sitting on them. The trouble is that sometimes two or more females egg dump and no female actually sits on the eggs…so you get a nest box full of addled eggs. You also find unhatched eggs or abandoned clutches (perhaps if the female has been predated). In total we cleared out 46 eggs from six boxes ( 22,12,14,7 and 1)…and they were smelly!

Goldeneye box with abandoned eggs

Goldeneye box with abandoned eggs

The breeding goldeneye are one of the reasons we generally ask people not to land on the island… but other birds breed here too. Lots of greylag geese nest here and we found the remains of one unhatched clutch.

Unhatched greylag eggs

Unhatched greylag eggs

However, some people ignore our advice and do land onto he island. Fortunately, there wasn’t too much litter this time, but there were a few unsightly fire pits.

Clearing up a firepit on Castle Island

Clearing up a firepit on Castle Island

The archaeologists wasted no time in opening their first trench on the island. It’s called “Castle Island” and was associated with Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm III)  in the 11th century. There was definitely a “castle” or defensive structure there by 1335 and the last castle there was razed to the ground in 1648…but to the best of our knowledge, no one has investigated the site until now. It’ll be interesting to see what turns up in the trenches- artefacts, if we’re very lucky, but even dating material would be helpful in working out the history of the island. It may even be a man –made island….watch this space! If you’re interested in reading more, check out the blog about the works carried out here https://scottishcrannogs.wordpress.com/

The "mainland" from Castle Island

The “mainland” from Castle Island

The top of Castle Island

The top of Castle Island

Opening a trench on Castle Island

Opening a trench on Castle Island

From the boat, heading back to the mainland

From the boat, heading back to the mainland

This week’s blog will finish with a little reserve adventure with one of our resident mammals. Hedgehogs appear in the media at this time of year because they are settling down for their first stretches of hibernation. Around 5th November, we are reminded to check wood piles for hedgehogs and other hibernating animals and make sure we don’t accidentally set fire to them and their homes.

But why do they pick a pile of wood to hibernate in? A hedgehog will root around for a safe, sheltered spot and build a ramshackle nest. They are unlikely to stay put all winter long, often coming out of hibernation and moving to a different location. Old rabbit burrows, wood piles or beneath sheds are common haunts. The recent material cut up after the weekend’s winds has been piled and may provide shelter for not just hedgehogs, but slow worms, frogs, toads and, mice. If you have some spare space in the garden, it is quick and easy to prepare some habitat that might be vital for the survival of a few small animals over the winter.

Hedgehogs are difficult to photograph at the best of times, being quite secretive and nocturnal. Instead, we had a visit from a less photo-shy hedgehog named Ewen who had an explore around the reserve.

Ewen chose a nice day to go for a walk on the woodland paths

Ewen chose a nice day to go for a walk on the woodland paths

Perhaps Ewen will need a little more cover if he wants to hibernate on the reserve...

Perhaps Ewen will need a little more cover if he wants to hibernate on the reserve…

Ewen even managed to get into a tree to admire these rowan leaves.

Ewen even managed to get into a tree to admire these rowan leaves.

Ewen finding his way towards the loch...

Ewen finding his way towards the loch…

Enjoying Loch Kinord on a still day

Enjoying Loch Kinord on a still day

Ewen had just enough time to get in a visit to the Vat

Ewen had just enough time to get in a visit to the Vat

Ewen sat very still to have his photo taken next to the waterfall. Another happy visitor to Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

Ewen sat very still to have his photo taken next to the waterfall.

Another happy visitor to Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

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