Autumn’s blaze

Autumn is gathering pace here at Muir of Dinnet, with the reserve changing from day to day. What a spectacular season it is and what a captivating time to visit as the woodland moves towards deep goldens and reds.

Here the first leaves are just beginning to turn.

This annual event is triggered by autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter days. When there’s less sunlight, broadleaf trees stop producing chlorophyll, which they use to convert light into energy to grow. Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives leaves their green colour. When production slows down, the chlorophyll fades and yellow and red pigments are revealed.

Early morning is the best time to visit and a best chance to see wildlife such as Red squirrel as they spend time foraging nuts, cones and fungi to cache around the forest floor.

Red Squirrel – older kits will be dispersing from their
parents territory to find a place of their own to forage and sleep.

This morning on patrol revealed a landscape that looked like it had been dusted in snow. A heavy gossamer cloak of spider webs draped itself off trees and across the heather. Spiders build webs all year round, but autumn is the best time to spot them as the morning dew and mist droplets suddenly reveal a multitude of hidden webs that were previously virtually invisible thanks to the transparent nature of silk.

Even the mossy slopes of Loch Davan were carpeted in cobwebs. The webs here are known as sheet webs. They are densely woven, thin, horizontal sheets which look like silken hammocks on grass and low bushes. Insects fall onto the hammocks or get knocked down when they collide with a tangle of threads above the sheet.
Sheet webs are usually built by the Linyphiidae. This is the largest family of spiders in the UK, with 280 species.

A myriad of new and wonderful fungi appears after rain. Even a single species like the fly agaric can put on many faces so there is always something new to appreciate.

Lycoperdon perlatum – the Common puffball is also known as warted puffball, wolf farts or the devil’s snuff-box. At maturity, a hole opens at the top. When the puffball is compressed – whether by raindrops, a passing animal or human touch – a cloud of spores burst out.
High-speed photography has shown the puffed spores are ejected at a velocity of about 100 cm/second to form a centimeter-tall cloud one-hundredth of a second after impact. A single puff like this can release over a million spores.

Who doesn’t love a slime mold! We certainly do. They are among the world’s strangest organisms. Long mistaken for fungi, they are now classed as a type of amoeba. As single-celled organisms, they have neither neurons nor brains. There are more than 900 species of slime mold; some live as single-celled organisms most of the time, but come together in a swarm to forage and procreate when food is short. Yes they actually move – and while not fast enough for the naked eye to detect, if you come back after an hour, you’ll notice their patterns have changed. 

Dog vomit slime mold – they actually move, and while not fast enough for the naked eye to detect, if you come back after an hour, you’ll notice their patterns have changed. 
Chocolate tube slime mold or Tree hair – courtesy of Cairngorms National Park Ranger Judy

September has started dry and fair with days that prove that we can still have summer like heat fluctuating with driech cool days like today.

After a long hot dry summer an unusual butterfly has attempted another generation. Small pearl bordered fritillaries are on the wing here just now! The last time this happened in Deeside was the hot summer of 2015. Second generation butterflies are smaller and produced in far less numbers. With heather aplenty to nectar on we are hoping the weather will be kind to them.

Small pearl – bordered fritillary
Small pearl-bordered fritillary. Whilst in the milder, southern areas of the UK there are increasingly two generations In cooler northern parts of the British Isles there is typically only a single generation.
A handsome male common darter . Darters hover around all kinds of waterbodies, darting out to surprise its prey. On sunny days they perch on twigs and fences angling their wings towards the sun to warm up.

To end on another first – we are clocking up a few this year – is the arrival of common darter to the reserve. While they have been at Glen Tanar for a number of years they have seemed reluctant to cross the river Dee. A welcome addition.

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