Snow, Sun and Storms – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been a fairly productive time on the reserve, in spite of the best efforts of the weather. Last week, we had Cairngorms National Park Volunteer rangers Leo and Keira out, helping with clearing pools for northern damselfly. Left to nature, these pools will gradually become covered with vegetation – sedges, rushes and the like – and eventually become unsuitable for the rare northern damselfly. We need to go down there every so often and howk out some of vegetation to maintain some open water. We pile all the plant matter at the side of the pool so anything living in it can crawl back into the water.  Its a wet and muddy job – and a cold one when you have to break the ice on the surface! – so we’re always grateful for help with it.

Clearing damselfly pond

Damselfly pool

Cairngorm National Park Volunteers Leo and Keira

But it’s a job you can only do so much of in those temperatures before your feet and hands start to get uncomfortably cold. So we spent the afternoon going through the aspen tree tubes, picking up the fallen ones, reinstating them on new saplings and moving any off dead trees. Aspen is probably THE tree most favoured by browsers – everything, from deer to rabbits like to eat it, and before any other tree saplings. So we need to protect the young aspen if, in the long term, we still want to have an aspen wood here. And we do- as well as being a beautiful tree, it has lots of rare species in the wood.

Volunteers tree tubing aspen

Aspen tree tubes

This group of ladybirds had decided that one of the tree tubes was a good place to hibernate. While we did see a ladybird on the go last week, these still seemed pretty dozy – and it’s a good job, as the weather was turning cold again.

Ladybirds hibernating on a tree tube

We were actually pretty lucky with the weather over the weekend. Storm Ciara lashed the country but did very little damage to the reserve. Yes, there were a few snapped trees but they all fell away from the paths and Monday morning dawned bright and sunny. But there was the odd snowflake falling, apparently from a clear blue sky.

The first flakes

It stayed nice most of the morning and we were treated to the sight of  a flock of long-tailed tits foraging right beside us. These gorgeous little birds are like flying teaspoons, all tail and fluffy body, chirruping and ‘prrrp’ing at one another. They are sociable birds and often, even in the breeding season, non-breeding ‘helpers’ will aid parents to raise young. But two of them had a right argument over some particularly tasty morsel and you can see the eyelids of the second bird have turned yellow with stress or excitement, while the bird bird with red eyelids is happier.

Long tailed tit

Long tailed tit

But all the while, we were aware of the weather lowering to the west of us. While we were in the sun on the east side of Loch Kinord, the far side of the loch disappeared under a snow shower.

A sunny start, but cloud on the horizon

snow at far side of Kinord

And gradually the showers blew in out of the west. Not seriously at first, but soon the sun was blotted out by heavy snowfall.

Snow coming on

The sun is blotted out by snowfall

When it’s like that, it doesn’t take long for the snow to accumulate. The view from the visitor centre turned white inside 20 minutes.

Heavy snow shower at Burn o Vat

Heavy snow shower at Burn o Vat

The snow then went – completely -overnight, before doing much the same the following day. But it lay longer this time as the temperature had dropped. We were obviously sitting right on the edge of where the snow was falling as there was noticeably more snow to the west of the reserve than to the east. Still, we’ve not had any significant snow yet this winter and may not as the year wears on.

Snowy heather

The cold has made the birds hungry. This picture was taken a scant hour after I’d filled the feeder to the top and there are hardly any nuts left. This woodpecker has the ideal beak to get at the last few!

Great spotted woodpecker

Some of the trees that snap off in the wind are dead already and, while we remove any that are right by the paths, we like dead wood. It’s great for wildlife – full of fungi, and invertebrates, which are food for other creatures, and holes in the trees are nest sites for goldeneye, tits, treecreepers and woodpeckers. Some of the fungi are quite spectacular and I think I’ve spotted the biggest hoof fungus I’ve ever seen on the reserve this week.

Hoof fungus

You get a better idea how big it is with with my gloves sitting on top of it. See if you can spot a bigger one if you’re out on the reserve this weekend!

Hoof fungus with gloves


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