Falling Leaves and Feeding Thrushes – Muir of Dinnet NNR

This week has flown by. Suddenly, we’re into November and we have to start thinking about changed clocks, frosts and fireworks….and hope no-one fills the car parks with firework debris or nails any onto signs this year (yes, people do that. No, of course you shouldn’t. Yes, we get annoyed and yes, it does damage the signs). But it’s not winter just yet- there is still enough colour in the trees to tell ourselves it’s autumn for a bit longer. 

The aspen at Burn o Vat is still in leaf- but they are falling fast

The aspen at Burn o Vat is still in leaf- but they are falling fast

Dew-covered aspen leaf

Dew-covered aspen leaf

 We’ve had a few cool, misty mornings this week. The lochs have looked moody, brooding quietly under the slowly clearing mist. 

Misty morning

Misty morning

 We still have a good crop of rowans. The trees are bare of leaves now but the berries are still hanging in glowing blood-red clusters. 

Red berries, blue sky

Red berries, blue sky

Red rowans

Red rowans

Most of the birds we have seen this week have been spending at least some time in the rowan trees. Fieldfares, also here  from Scandinavia, seem to have replaced redwings as the most numerous and obvious thrush on the reserve. They are larger and greyer than the redwings, with a rattling chack-chack-chak call. Like all the other thrushes, they are gorging themselves on the berries before they go. Gotta feed up before winter strikes in  earnest!

fieldfare with rowan berry

fieldfare with rowan berry

Fieldfares perching in birch tree between feeds

Fieldfares perching in birch tree between feeds

Chack. Chack-chak! Fieldfare in rowan tree

Chack. Chack-chak! Fieldfare in rowan tree

Feeding fieldfare

Feeding fieldfare

We also caught these resident blackbirds mid-scoff. All of the thrushes swallow the berries whole and can eat far more rowans that you’d think they could fit in their tummies!  

Young blackbird also mid-scoff

Young blackbird also mid-scoff

Male blackbird scoffing rowan berries

Male blackbird scoffing rowan berries

Bullfinches, however, break up the berries to eat them. Like many finches, they sort of “mumble” their food, manoeuvring it around in their beaks to find the best bits, be it seed kernels or fruit pulp.

Male bullfinch with rowan berry

Male bullfinch with rowan berry

Male bullfinch reaching for a berry

Male bullfinch reaching for a berry

....and stretch....

….and stretch….

Juvenile bullfinch

Juvenile bullfinch

We’ve been seeing other birds in the rowans too. This robin seems to be practicing his pose for Christmas cards ….only 50 days to go…. 

Robin. Posing.

Robin. Posing.

And the blue tits and goldcrests were foraging for insects in among the berry clusters and on the bark. 

Goldcrest foraging in rowan tree

Goldcrest foraging in rowan tree

Blue tit, blue sky, red berries

Blue tit, blue sky, red berries

However, the redpolls prefer birch trees. Their fine beaks are ideally suited for winkling out tiny birch seeds. 

Redpoll feeding in birch tree

Redpoll feeding in birch tree

A rather bedraggled redpoll

A rather bedraggled redpoll

It was something of a surprise to trip over a very late- blooming bluebell in the grass near the Celtic cross…we thought the frosts would have finished off any flowers. 

A late-flowering bluebell

A late-flowering bluebell

Down on Parkin’s Moss, we had a day with volunteers and a large rubber mallet attempting to put in another dam across the ditch. Two of the old dams don’t seem to be holding water any more, so the intent was that the new dam would replace these. However, we ran into problems in the shape of unrotted pine tree roots buried in the bog. There is no sign of the trees now, they will have fallen over and rotted away over 1000 years ago, but their roots, buried in the peat, have been well preserved…. and you can’t bang plastic piling through them! Needless to say, it was almost the last pile that wouldn’t go in and we couldn’t shift the others.  The word “dam” was said quite frequently…and not meaning to block water either! We’ve had to leave some of the piling sticking up until we get a big pinch bar to try and break through the roots.

Ditch damming on Parkin's moss

Ditch damming on Parkin’s moss

The dam piling was not going in to the dam(n) bog!

The dam piling was not going in to the dam(n) bog!

This week was marked by a steady whooper swan passage through the reserve. I always find it hugely exciting to first hear and then see the first whoopers of the season, freshly arrived from Iceland. Yes, I’ll admit they are one of my very favourite birds- their whooping calls are swan music to me and, in my head, epitomises wild places and wild birds. It’s amazing that a bird that weighs up to 11 kilos can fly pretty much non-stop for hundreds of miles over the north Atlantic to get here. And that’s with no map, no compass, no sat-nav- I think most humans would do well to find the right continent, let alone the right country!

Super whooper - 20 whooper swans on passage

Super whooper – 20 whooper swans on passage

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