Is It February Already?

Many thanks to Ewen Cameron, Chair of  the Habitats & Species Group, North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership, for this week’s blog.

There’s lots of wildlife activity now to remind us that 2017 is starting to speed up.   The annual Big Garden Bird Count has passed (I hope you took part) and tree leaf buds are starting to swell.   If you are managing to keep to your New Year resolutions – well done.   Even if not, there are still lots of things that it’s not to late to “start up” for 2017.   One of the easiest and most useful for nature is “wildlife gardening”.

Many gardeners and most gardening programmes would have advised you to get your “tidying up” done in the Autumn to be ready for Spring.   But I always leave my tidying until March.   That way, birds, hedgehogs and lots of other wildlife get the advantage of piles of fallen leaves, dead plants and so on for food and shelter through the Winter.  I particularly like watching the blackbirds and blue tits repeatedly searching through little piles of leaves or dead flowers for something to eat.   And what they are eating will include the sorts of the wee beasties that you don’t want (or at least don’t want lots of) in your garden.

Female blackbird

Blackbird raking around in leaves for insects


Coal tit feeding frenzy

Coal tit feeding frenzy

Lots of gardening experts will also tell you that slugs are your enemy number one. Some slugs can certainly damage prize plants, but if your garden is bird and hedgehog friendly, then they will be busy controlling your slugs while you are sitting with your feet up or sound asleep in your bed.   Nature never rests.   And of course there are some slugs, like the leopard slug, which is really the gardener’s friend because it not only eats (and therefore recycles) dead vegetation – it also eats other slugs.   So, like the rest of life, when it comes to the garden, make sure you know who your real friends are.   Very often, the creepy crawlies you don’t like the look of, really will be your best friends.   Remember what your mother told you – looks aren’t everything.

The aptly-named Great Black Slug

The aptly-named Great Black Slug. They eat dead and rotting vegetation- and even eat poo!

Leopard slug

Leopard slug

Sexton beetle

Sexton beetle – they bury and eat dead animals

 I have been gardening here on Deeside for more than 30 years and my slightly untidy wildlife garden also has hostas growing without any damage.   And its years since I used any chemical pesticides.

Wildlife out on the reserve at Dinnet is getting a move on too.   Last week the covering of ice on Loch Kinord, was being broken up into plate sized pieces by the wind and waves.   This also piled them up against the loch shore creating some lovely patterns that had a distinct Art Nouveau look about them.

Ice crystals do abstract art

Ice crystals do abstract art

No straight lines in nature?

No straight lines in nature?

Ice by Loch Kinord

Ice by Loch Kinord

And when the loch is free of ice, the ducks and swans have a much bigger area to feed in.   Two “teenager swans” – probably hatched last year – were quietly swimming round the loch edge and feeding on the newly accessible plants growing just below the water.   The mature swans were occupied elsewhere defending territories, trying to impress females and all the other things that go with the early stages of a new year and a new breeding season.

Mute swans- this year's cygnets

Mute swans- this year’s cygnets


Swan fight

Swan fight. Swans defending their territories can be very aggressive

Of course, to get such good views of wildlife you have to be quiet, you have to move carefully and you really do have to leave your dog at home.   If you don’t, wildlife will usually give you a wide berth and you’ll be lucky to see more than their tail end disappearing in the distance.

We had a group of 21 whooper swans pass through the reserve on Thursday.

Swans feeding undisturbed by watcher

As you will have seen in previous blogs from Dinnet, sunlight early and late in the day can give some striking photos, like this male goldeneye which looks as though it’s paddling through golden syrup rather than a chilly Aberdeenshire loch.

A pair of goldeneye displaying on Loch Kinord

A pair of goldeneye displaying on Loch Kinord

Sleepy ducks in the sunrise

Sleepy ducks on pink water

So why don’t you resolve to make 2017 the year that you do some positive things for wildlife in your garden – no matter how big or small it is.   The internet is a great source of information for wildlife gardening tips and ideas.

2017 could also be the year that you and your family resolve to improve your wildlife watching skills.   No doubt some of you will have seen the wildlife photography and sightings on the BBC’s Winterwatch; and indeed on other television programmes.    So when you visit the reserve, or indeed any part of the countryside; keep the noise down and, at least sometimes, leave the dog at home and you will be rewarded with more close up wildlife sightings.   The wildlife will appreciate your efforts – as will the reserve’s other visitors hoping for some wildlife close encounters too.

SNH staff and Board members on a site visit to St.Cyrus NNR, Grampian. ©Lorne Gill/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177


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