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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have another event on for children this Sunday 31st July. Come and join us!
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.
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.
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 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.
The adder we saw last week seems to have shed its skin. We think it’s the same snake, looking brighter and clear-eyed.
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!