Grebes and Gathering Swallows

Autumn is sneaking up on us in a series of warm days and misty mornings.  It still feels like summer through most of the day- warm (over 20 degrees most days) and sunny. It’s been the sort of weather for lazy days of picnics and plightering in the water. But the mornings, ah, the mornings have been a different story. Get up early and there has been a silent, misty world, with ghostly trees and mirror-calm lochs.

A misty morning over Loch Kinord

A misty morning over Loch Kinord

Flat calm and mist

Flat calm and mist

The flat lochs make for some wonderful reflections. You can barely tell which way is up!

The calm mornings have made for lovely reflections

The calm mornings have made for lovely reflections

The heather is in full bloom just now and the hills in and around the reserve are carpeted in purple. And the heather is, in turn, carpeted with spider’s webs, invisible until they capture the morning dew.

The heather is looking spectacular - but webby- on a misty morning

The heather is looking spectacular – but webby- on a misty morning

Spiders' webs on heather

Spiders’ webs on heather

The warm weather may also make autumn come quickly to the trees on the reserve. We haven’t had much rain lately and this, combined with the season wearing on, is leading to some of the trees starting to go yellow already.

Some of the birches are starting to go a bit autumn-y

Some of the birches are starting to go a bit autumn-y

Other trees have other problems to deal with. It’s been a mega-rowan year this year, with the trees bending, and in some cases, breaking under the sheer weight of berries. These are almost fully ripe now and will be a feast for birds and mammals.

Weighed down with rowans

Weighed down with rowans

Other fruits are harder to spot. But, if you look closely at the hazel trees, you’ll soon spot the clusters of nuts ripening on the end of the branches.

The hazelnuts are swelling

The hazelnuts are swelling

The adders have been late in getting up on the cool, misty mornings. They don’t get up until the sun is out….and very quickly warm up to top speed. We did spot a couple this week but they spotted us too and shot off into the wall, the very epitome of liquid grace.

A well camouflaged adder

A well camouflaged adder

Another classic autumn sign this week have been the gatherings of swallows over and around the reserve. Keats wrote of “gathering swallows twitter in the skies” in Ode to Autumn….but we’ve invented power lines since and they are a good place to spot gathering swallows! At this time of year, probably about a month before they go for the winter, swallows come together in large social groups, all twittering and chattering to one another. They look for all the world like they’re discussing when and which way to migrate.

Which way's Africa?

Which way’s Africa?

"...and gathering swallows twitter in the skies".

“…and gathering swallows twitter in the skies”.

This week’s good news story was that we’ve re-found the great crested grebe chicks that we assumed had been eaten or otherwise expired. While down by Davan we spotted one chick with an adult and thought, “well, that’s us down to one”.  Then another appeared…then the second adult appeared with two chicks in tow!  Two of the chicks are larger than the other two, so it seems likely that one parent is better at finding food than the other. With larger broods (three upwards) the grebe parents will “split” the brood, with the adults solely caring for their portion of the brood….so, two of our chicks will be being fed by mum only and two by dad only. Unfortunately, you can’t tell the adults apart, so it’s hard to know who is the better parent!

One grebe chick plus diving adult

One grebe chick plus diving adult

Two grebe chicks

Two grebe chicks

Three of the GCGs

Three of the GCG chicks

The 5 nearest bird are the four grebe chicks plus one of the adults

The 5 nearest birds  are the four grebe chicks plus one of the adults

Grebe chicks retain their stripy faces for a few months

Grebe chicks retain their stripy faces for a few months

Funky face!

Funky face!

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