Spring Singers, Snow and Swans

Welcome to spring time in Scotland. There’s been fresh snow on Morven every morning and the only migrants we’ve seen for most of the week have been the ones heading north away from us. We did have the wonderful spectacle of 99 whooper swans stopping off with us early in the week. The sight and, more importantly, the sound of these gorgeous birds in the morning light was sheer magic. Check out a video of them at https://www.facebook.com/Scotlands-National-Nature-Reserves-125227577507847/?ref=bookmarks   for some swan music!

There are 18 whooper swans (+ whooper one tail) and one mute swan in the picture. can you spot the mute?

There are 18 whooper swans (+ whooper one tail) and one mute swan in the picture. can you spot the mute?

Wing stretching

Wing stretching

Whoopers feeding at Loch Davan

Whoopers feeding at Loch Davan

A flock of whooper swans, Loch Davan

A flock of whooper swans, Loch Davan

They are gradually trickling northwards towards their breeding ground in Iceland. About 20 decided to head off today and we just saw the last of them disappearing through the trees.

Heading north- around 20 of the whoopers decide it's time to be on their way

Heading north- around 20 of the whoopers decide it’s time to be on their way

The mornings have been chilly. Very chilly, frosty even – and it’s been a cold wind most of the week, blowing off the still snow-covered hills. Morven has had fresh snow almost every day this week.

Fresh snow on Morven, Thursday

Fresh snow on Morven, Thursday

Perhaps that’s why the celandines have been so slow in coming out here this year. They are often out by mid – March, and I’ve seen carpets of them elsewhere- but ours are only grudgingly opening this week.

Celandine just coming out

Celandine just coming out

The willow catkins seem late this year too. I’ve been seeing these elsewhere since late January – but ours are still coming out now.

Willow catkins-"pussy willows"

Willow catkins-“pussy willows”

Although the mornings have been cold, it has warmed up through the day. The male adders are still basking in the sun – no females yet to give them another interest in life – but they must be due to emerge any day now. Some of the adders are clearly coming up for skin shedding – one of the brown males and this small dark one have very milky eyes now.

Basking adder

Basking adder

This adder must be getting close to shedding his skin

This adder must be getting close to shedding his skin

But the biggest adder we’ve seen still has a clear eye. He’s a thumping great snake, probably getting on for about 80cm long and greater in girth than all the others. You wonder how old he is – is he older than all the others or just had particularly good food and has good genes? Adders can live up to 30 years old in the wild, so it’s strange to think that some of the babies I’ve seen could be thumping great snakes, still here, when I retire!

Hello big boy! This was the largest adder we've seen this year.

Hello big boy! This was the largest adder we’ve seen this year.

The adders weren’t the only ones basking – this rabbit was dozing in the sun!

Basking rabbit

Basking rabbit

The thrushes are getting, if possible, even more vocal. Both mistle and song thrushes like their voices to carry, so they’ll often pick as high a perch as possible, right on top of a tree. And that’s not just for vocal projection- it’s also saying to possible mates “look at me, I’m fit and strong enough to sit out in the open singing, ’cos I know I’m fit enough to escape a predator”. You need to be a show-off to get the girls – if nothing eats you first!.

Thrushes like singing from a high spot

Thrushes like singing from a high spot

Lots of the geese feed in the fields next to the reserve. You often get honked at from both sides while walking round the loch, by the ones on the water and the ones in the fields! 

The greylags are often seen feeding in the fields around the reserve

The greylags are often seen feeding in the fields around the reserve

Speaking of honking, we heard a goose with a funny voice this week. It was higher pitched than the greylags and much “yappier”. So what was it? Incoming goose…landing….and it turned out to be one of the barlag/ greynacle crosses from last year. 

Who's got the funny voice?

Who’s got the funny voice?

Splashdown....what is it?

Splashdown….what is it?

It's one of the graylag/ barnacle goose hybrids! Pure greylag in the background.

It’s one of the graylag/ barnacle goose hybrids! Pure greylag in the background.

We’ve seen lots of roe deer the past couple of weeks but almost never get a picture. However, this one was watching Mary opening the gate and didn’t register me in the landrover…so wasn’t just a disappearing white bum in the woods. 

Roe deer

Roe deer

The archaeologists are coming to the end of their dig at Old Kinord. They have been trying to work out the sequence the structures there were built and have, luckily, managed to find plenty of charcoal to radio-carbon date. Provided no Victorian archaeologist had a picnic fire there, we should be able to finally date these buildings. 

One of the trenches at old Kinrd, possibly through a turf-built round house

One of the trenches at old Kinrd, possibly through a turf-built round house

Excavated souterrain, Old Kinord

Excavated souterrain, Old Kinord

We’ve also spotted our first fungus of the year. False morels are a spring fungus- they pop up just now, not in autumn like most fungi. They are called false morel as they resemble the tasty, edible morel – but don’t eat them, they contain some quite nasty toxins!

Gyromitra esculenta, the false morel.

Gyromitra esculenta, the false morel.

Late on Thursday evening, we finally had our first report of returning spring migrants. Frustratingly, I missed them, but thanks to Lizzie for the records of both chiffchaff and osprey on the reserve. So, if you visit this weekend- keep your eyes to the skies- you  might see your first osprey of the year.

Backlit osprey

Osprey

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