Strimming and Swallow Chicks

Phew! What a busy week! We’ve haven’t stopped, what with events, visitors and everything growing furiously. It’s hard to know where to start, so let’s start with a (hopefully) good news story. Early last week, we’d spotted, on a damp and windy day, two great crested grebe chicks with their parents on Loch Davan. It was much nicer- sunny and calm- when we got back this week – but there weren’t two chicks- there were FOUR! I’ve never seen a brood of four before and I’d be surprised if they raise them all…but they’ve made it through the first week, which is a good start!

GCG plus four

GCG plus four

Great crested grebe plus FOUR babies!

Great crested grebe plus FOUR babies!

We have a few more babies around the visitor centre too. The swallows above the door have hatched and they seem to have a brood of two.

Feed me...feed me...

Feed me…feed me…

...and stuff in the insects

…and stuff in the insects

Swallows with the bunting we can't take down until the chicks fledge!

Swallows with the bunting we can’t take down until the chicks fledge!

And how’s this for a “baby” animal? This rather funky chap is an emperor moth caterpillar. They’re huge- he was easily as large as my little finger.

Emperor moth caterpillar

Emperor moth caterpillar

Our ranger colleague Helen (thanks for the pics, Helen) found some other amazing caterpillars this week too. There are Kentish Glory caterpillars on birch trees on the moor. Kentish glory are rare moths found on Deeside and their offspring are very fussy eaters- they need young birch trees to feed on but can’t use trees much more than 10 feet tall. Like any other caterpillar, they grow as the scoff the leaves until the point they get too large for their skin. But that’s not a problem- they shed the old skin and have grown a new, larger one underneath. Helen caught the KG caterpillar actually in the act of shedding- a very unusual thing to see indeed.

Just before shedding

Just before shedding

Kentish Glory caterpillar shedding it's skin

Kentish Glory caterpillar shedding it’s skin

Mid - shed

Mid – shed

Kentish glory caterpillar finishing shedding its skin

Kentish glory caterpillar finishing shedding its skin

And what do caterpillars grow into? Butterflies and moths- we all know that from school or from reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” books! Everyone is familiar with butterflies but less so with moths, and there is often a perception that moths will eat your clothes. Some will- but there are only two or three species that will- and thousands that won’t. With the aid of a moth trap, we introduced some of the moths to visitors at our “Moths in the Morning” event this week…and here are a few of the more striking ones.

Gold spangle moth.

Gold spangle moth.

The snout moth. Yes, it is called a snout as looks like it has a long nose.

The snout moth. Yes, it is called a snout as looks like it has a long nose.

Antler moth

Antler moth

Light emerald moth

Light emerald moth

Burnished brass moth. Not hard to see how they get their name.

Burnished brass moth. Not hard to see how they get their name.

A bit too close to macro! This mottled beauty landed on one of the visitor's cameras!

A bit too close to macro! This mottled beauty landed on one of the visitor’s cameras!

We also had an event for younger visitors last week with “Monsters of the Vat”. In spite of some parents commenting that this was appropriate for their wee monsters, this wasn’t referring to the children, rather to the “monsters” we made from clay and natural materials.

Monsters of the Vat

Monsters of the Vat

Clay squirrel

Clay squirrel

We have another event on for children this Sunday 31st July. Come and join us!

Poster - dragons and damsels

All young animals are curious. This young willow warbler wasn’t put off by us working out the back of the visitor centre and seemed to choose to perch on the wire so it could “hooweet” at us periodically.

Willow...or should that be wire....warbler

Willow…or should that be wire….warbler

Do you look better if I stand on one foot and put my head on one side? Nah, don't think so!

Do you look better if I stand on one foot and put my head on one side? Nah, don’t think so!

Mind you, sometimes curiosity is not such a good thing. This newly-fledged song thrush got itself stuck in the visitor centre. We had to evict it after gently throwing a jumper over it.

Evicting baby song thrush from the visitor centre with aid of a jumper.

Evicting baby song thrush from the visitor centre with aid of a jumper.

We’re also wondering if the spotted flycatcher has another nest nearby. She’s not above the back door but is spending a lot of time at the back of the building alarm calling at us. I can’t figure out if she’s in one of the swallow boxes or in the trees somewhere.

The spotted flycatcher is alarm calling constantly

The spotted flycatcher is alarm calling constantly

The newly-emerged Scotch argus butterflies better watch out for her and the swallows! They are a late-summer butterfly and have just begun emerging in the last week. But a few have been nobbled by the flycatcher or swallows already- we’ve found argus wings in the car park.

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

An argument of arguses- there were three of them all wanting onto the same flower

An argument of arguses- there were three of them all wanting onto the same flower

The adder we saw last week seems to have shed its skin. We think it’s the same snake, looking brighter and clear-eyed.

The adder was in the same place but seems to have shed its skin...we think it's the same snake.

The adder was in the same place but seems to have shed its skin.

Another late-summer sign is the bracken just starting, in places, to brown slightly. Mind you, in other places it is 8 feet high and growing like the blazes. We had to strim the entire east and south shores sections of the Loch Kinord trail this week, as collapsing bracken was starting to block the path. Not a fun job in the heat and humidity, but made worse by the clegs (horseflies)- I’ve never known so many- and we must have swatted over 100 on our bodies.  In spite of that, we still have several gull-egg sized itchy bumps to show for it. But, if you come and visit us this weekend, at least the paths should be clear!

The bracken is just starting to go brown

The bracken is just starting to go brown

All strimmed. Phew. A hot and unpleasantly cleg-ridden job.

All strimmed. Phew. A hot and unpleasantly cleg-ridden job.

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