Different Strokes – Muir of Dinnet NNR

One of the things I love about nature – and there are oh, so many – is that there is always something new to see and experience. A big part of that is the turn of the seasons and this week, as the equinox passed, we saw even more changes on the reserve. Although the days have been warm, the nights are getting cooler and there was nearly a frost on Monday morning. And, as so often happens around the equinox, it’s been windy, with the first gales of autumn bringing down several trees.

Grey skies

Stormy sky

Fallen birch

The north-westerly winds on Thursday also brought the first geese of the winter. If you’re travelling south from Iceland, a screaming north-westerly tailwind is exactly what you need to make the journey faster and more easily than you would if you had to flap all the way. And it seemed like the entire population of Icelandic pink-footed geese were hitching a lift on the wind. Every time we looked up, great skeins were scribbling V and W shapes in the sky, and there was the constant murmur of goose noise on the wind. Colleagues from Glen Feshie to Glen Doll to Forvie were all on Whatsapp, commenting that geese were going over them all day so it seems the whole country was under the flyway on Tuesday.

Pink footed geese overhead

And the wind didn’t just bring the geese. Dinnet and Forvie both bagged their first whooper swans of the winter. These are another Icelandic breeder, and the winds will have really helped them on their way. A big adult male swan can weigh up to 11kg, and that’s a lot of whooper to haul south across the North Atlantic. So they, too, have used the winds to ease their journey south, and it lovely to have them back. For me, goose and swan calls are the sound of autumn and winter, and I can’t hear them but I think of misty mornings, huge pastel sunsets under endless skies, the taste of frost and the smell of woodsmoke on the wind.

Super whoopers!

It’s not even necessarily something big, like the goose passage, that can catch your eye and make you thing ‘ whoa, that’s new’. I remember once seeing a long-tailed tit, hanging by one foot, clasping food in the other food and reaching down to eat it. And that was a behaviour I’d never seen before.

Hanging by one leg and using foot to help deal with food

Or it’s an unusual ‘throw’ of something common. Most of us, at some point, will have seen a white version of a common plant – white heather for example – but you get white versions of lots of plant. This is usually caused (although some plants bleach in the sun) by genetic variation and recessive gene combinations showing up. At some point over the years, I’ve seen white forms of thistle, bellflower, rock rose, 3 types of heather, bugle and bluebell.


White bluebell

It can show up in pretty much anything, too. We’ve had a couple of unusual insects this week, with an aberrant ‘throw’ of a white-tailed bumblebee giving us the screaming heebie-jeebies. It’s unusual colouration, at first glance, makes it look like a greater-yellow bumblebee, which are really rare and you definitely don’t get here. Could we have found something remarkable? Well, yes and no. It wasn’t a greater-yellow but was an unusual form of the white-tailed – and a rather attractive insect to boot.

White- tailed bumblebee – yellow form

Another very unusual and attractive insect we spotted this week was this pink form of the common green grasshopper. Now, normally, the name’s a bit of a giveaway, it does what it says on the tin. It’s a) common, b) green and c) a grasshopper. But this one was more than half pink. And bright pink at that, a violent cerise colour. While I can’t say it’s the most attractive colour combination I’ve ever seen (frankly, it clashes horribly, green and cerise, don’t go at all) it does make for a very striking insect. Unfortunately, the pink forms of these don’t have great survival rates as they are so much more obvious to predators than the all-green versions. And, right enough, bright pink insect in green grass? Not going to work!

Common green grasshopper

Away from the ‘unusual’ stuff, autumn is progressing apace. And we’re seeing all the things you’d expect at this time of year -late flowers, late second-generation butterflies, fruit and berries forming, the trees turning and some lovely misty mornings. We’ll leave you today with a selection of pictures of these that will hopefully inspire you to get out there and enjoy autumn!

Aspen leaf

Red admiral

Hawthorn berries

Rowans for far side of loch

Misty morning

Reeds edged with dew

Mist rising off the loch

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