It’s been a lovely week on the reserve, but strange to think that only a week ago, we were admiring the trees in all their snowy glory. Even stranger was the appearance of the first butterfly of the year on Friday – yes, on the 31st of January. Council Ranger Helen came rushing in and declared she’d just seen a peacock butterfly basking on the dyke outside the office. Now, peacock butterflies do overwinter as adults and you sometimes find them hiding in cold, dark places, like sheds or garages or old WWII pill boxes. And, though Friday was a warm day, for them to emerge this early is unusual and neither of us had ever seen one in January before. I suppose it has been a mild winter, but late spring frosts can kill off things that emerge from hibernation too soon.
Another ‘early bird’ was this ladybird. Again, you often find them hibernating in clusters in sheltered spots, but this one was up and about and wandering around the picnic table. I suppose this sort of thing will become far more common as our climate warms.
We’ve had some cracking sunrises this week…almost every day seems to have had a glowing pink and golden dawn.
The early morning light is rose-gold. There’s something about the quality of the light at that time of day that makes the trees glow like they are lit from within. The pines especially glow fiery orange as the first light hits them.
Other trees stand, stark and bare, against a blue sky. I love looking straight up the trunks on a clear day, to see all the different colours and textures. The silvery-green of the lichen, the smooth grey bark and, above it all, a deep blue sky.
The tree fungi are obvious just now when there aren’t any leaves on the trees, too. Look out for the grey hoof fungus. It’s a birch specialist and is itself almost as hard as wood. But a leathery outer layer can be treated to create a tinder called amadou and was even used in the making of hats!
Down on the lochs, we’re seeing a steady throughput of birds. Most obvious are the whooper swans, trickling through on their way north. They will gradually move north through the UK over the next 6 weeks or so before making the long trip to Iceland to breed.
Although the weather has been mild, late winter/ early spring can be a hard time for birds and other creatures to find food. Almost all of the autumn seeds and berries have been used up but there are still some around if you know where to look. The reeds that surround the loch have heads full of seeds that will last through the winter. They’re tiny, but finches like linnets and goldfinches will feed on them, as will other birds like blue tits. I took these pictures down by the damselfly pools we are clearing out – more on that next week as the SD card with the pics is sitting in the wrong office – and you can see all the fluffy seeds poking out of the seed head.
Bulrushes also have lots of seeds. Oooh, lots. The sausage-shaped seed heads will likely contain well over 100 000 seeds, all of which will cheerfully go all over your house if you ever take them in for decoration. Best leaving them for the birds!
If the birds aren’t careful, they can become food themselves. Just beside the reedbed, a fallen tree provided a handy plucking post for a predator, probably a sparrowhawk. You can’t always tell what their last meal was but this time it was quite easy – it’s obviously been a blue tit. At least we can visit the reserve without worrying about something eating us!