Dazzling Summer Days – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, that’s us into July. And that’s the year turned, technically, we’re now a week past the longest day. Won’t be long now until someone says ‘Aye, the nights are fair drawing in’ – if they haven’t already! But, out on the reserve, it’s high summer now and probably one of the best times of year to see insects. Butterflies are much in evidence, with ringlet and small heath probably being the commonest ones seen right now.

Ringlet butterfly
The ringlet is a common brown butterfly found across the reserve
Small heath butterfly

We also spotted our first common hawker and golden-ringed dragonfly of the year, too. These dramatically large insects are one of the best fliers and hunters in the natural world, with a success rate of over 90% in their hunts. And they eat midgies, too, so what’s not to like?

Newly-emerged common hawker
Golden-ringed dragonfly

A splash of orange in the grass made me think I’d just seen my first small copper butterfly of the year. But, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a female ghost moth. These common- but-not-often-seen moths are found in and around grasslands. While some moths will carefully select egg-laying sites, to the point of only laying a single egg per plant, the ghost moth takes a more scattergun approach and literally scatters her eggs, sometimes even in flight! She can lay anything from 200 to 1600 eggs and the larvae will take 2-3 years to reach maturity.

Ghost moth

Another nice insect ‘spot’ was a bee beetle. As the name suggests, it’s a beetle that looks a bit like a bee. It’s not uncommon for animals to mimic another species, generally one much bigger and nastier than they are. Don’t mess with me, the colours say, I’ll sting/bite/be poisonous/ taste bad. But it’s visual lying – they are likely to be totally harmless (and tasty). Still, does that matter if you don’t get eaten?

Bee beetle on dog rose

Down by the loch, the lilies are still looking lovely. They won’t last forever in this heat, so we’d seriously suggest coming to see them sooner than later if you are planning to. And maybe at the start or end of the day as the car park is busy through the middle of the day!

Water lily
Water lily

The waterfowl love these lily-choked bays. Aquatic plants, like every other plant, have their own set of things that eat them and these invertebrates then provide food for birds and fish. One of the most fun to watch are the moorhens. They ‘lily-trot’, legging it over the surface of the lilies, spreading their weight on their huge feet. But some of the youngsters haven’t quite got the hang of it and I’m afraid we laughed when this one fell in.

Young moorhen
Moorhen ‘lilytrotting’

Sadly, the mute swans on Davan are down to one chick. Speaking to other colleagues elsewhere in Scotland, a few have mentioned that swans aren’t having a great year. This may not be true all over but certainly there were some dramatic changes in water level during the times they were likely to have been on eggs. Maybe some were flooded out? Hopefully, as this chick gets bigger it will be less vulnerable to the dangers that the world throws at young animals.

Swan family

When you are as small as these mallard ducklings, I’m afraid you are just bite-sized for oh, so many predators, from pike, to crows, to dogs to gulls. That’s why lots of birds have large broods, to help withstand losses of especially young birds. It’s the main reason we ask people to keep dogs on a lead during the breeding season – the birds have enough ‘natural’ threats to deal with without worrying about our pets.

Mallard duckling
Mallard with ducklings

Also on Loch Davan, unusually, were a small gang of Canada geese. These non-native geese were introduced to the UK in 1665 and have proliferated. While they don’t breed here (and we wouldn’t want them to, they would compete with native birds for food and nest sites) we often see them passing through at this time of year. Birds that have bred in the UK, especially those from the English midlands, undertake a ‘moult migration’ to the Beauly Firth where they shed and regrow their feather. The birds we see here are likely on their way north to do this.

Canada geese

If a bird is really making a racket beside you, it’s appreciated if you move on from that area. Often, it’s a sign a youngster or nest is tucked away nearby. I was seriously yelled at by a common sandpiper while litter-picking, so I grabbed this quick snap and headed away. I’m going, honestly!

Common sandpiper
Common sandpiper calling

Meanwhile, the woods are full of strange calls. Normally, I can fairly quickly ID most of what is calling or singing in the woods – but not at this time of year! Young birds haven’t quite found their voices yet, so they produce odd squeaks, wheezes and calls that you just can’t quite identify. But, if you have the patience to track them down, you can be well rewarded by some lovely views of young birds. Pursuing a wheeze into the trees produced a brood of six freshly- fledged blue tits. So we’ll leave you this week with some ‘awwww’ pictures!

Young blue tit asleep
Sleepy young blue tit
Young blue tit

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