Cameras, Butterflies and Frogs

Hi folks! I’m writing this blog on another extremely hot day. The temperatures are not quite as elevated compared to the July heatwave, but we are still enduring an exceptionally dry summer. My rain dances have clearly not paid off yet! Today I am covering quite a broad range of topics; most of them are positive, informative and hopefully entertaining. But I have to start off by talking about some of the realities of reserve work, which, are not always pretty or fragrant, because of the waste and litter left behind.

The hills overlooking Loch Davan on a very hot day.

Unfortunately, one of our reserve Trail Cams was recently stolen. I placed this camera in a woodland location near Loch Davan and really enjoyed setting up the area for Red Squirrels, Jays, Pine Martens, Greater-spotted Woodpeckers and other species, that would take advantage of the easy meal of peanuts left behind to coax them in. Kirstin, Jennie and myself had a lot of fun watching through the footage and stumbling across ‘little gem’ moments to share with you, where for example, an inquisitive woodpecker would look at the camera, or a Pine Marten (as pictured in a previous blog) would pose perfectly while checking that the coast was clear, and of course, let’s not forget my arboreal rabbit! The camera is there to capture interesting wildlife behaviour, which is then used as an educational tool for the general public, especially children who have learnt so much from watching some of Kirstin’s Trail Cam videos in the past. It also gives us an idea of what species are present in the area and this can be very useful to monitor how healthy the habitat is. I find this particularly saddening, because that camera contained some very unique and irreplaceable footage. It would be wonderful to think that whoever took the camera might return the SD card with all that priceless material, but it’s probably a long shot.

The hinge that the Trail Camera was attached to. It has clearly been snapped off.

Moving on, this brings me onto another regrettable situation, which is illegal fishing on Loch Davan. It has been banned for nearly 10 years, to protect this smaller and more fragile ecosystem (than Loch Kinord). But people still continue to fish there despite our requests to refrain from doing so. For the most part, the fishermen we encounter are very understanding when we explain the reasons behind the ban, and are happy to move onto more sustainable waters. However, there are always those who feel that the law does not apply to them. This puts us into a difficult position because no one wants to be heavy handed and have to escalate the situation.

The ecosystems on this reserve are fragile, so seemingly careless, but unintentional acts can have a significantly and disproportionately negative impact.

In a little bit, I will be talking about more nature related encounters, but first I need to address another issue which has been blighting our reserve recently. That is dirty camping. In talking about this, I realise that in the case of 90% or more of the people reading this blog, I am probably ‘preaching to the choir’ as it were. But in saying this, I might just manage to inform someone who was a bit unclear on the rules and generally accepted etiquette of residing on a nature reserve (or anywhere in the countryside for that matter). We remove all the human waste that we identify, but anything we miss presents a health and safety risk to the public and the wildlife. I’m sure I don’t need to point out, that these unwelcome human ‘deposits’ can be a breeding ground for E.coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and everyone will be aware that the most recent Polio outbreak has originated from human waste. I’m sure most people will bring their own trowel and know how to dispose of their waste safely (let’s face it if a cat can manage it, I’m sure we can!). Following these extremely simple rules will make your trip to the countryside much more pleasant. When you consider that a minimum of 40,000 people visit the site each year, this could become a serious issue on many levels. Like they say, when visiting the countryside ‘take only memories, leave only footprints’.

Back to Nature

Almost anywhere on the reserve where there is tall and damp grassland (which is very common here!) you will have probably observed a very pretty, dark brown and orange butterfly. These butterflies (pictured below) are called Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops). I have been tip-toeing around them in recent weeks while out on patrol or when conducting bird surveys. From a distance, they appear to be black with very striking circular orange patches on each wing. Despite what its name might suggest, this species does actually live in other parts of the UK, but only being present in a couple of locations in northern England outside of Scotland. This species is adapted to living in the cooler temperatures of northern Europe and is thought to be one of the first butterflies to colonise the UK after the last Ice Age ended 10,000 years ago. This species, like so many others, has experienced a long term decline in the UK (which can probably be attributed to both habitat loss and climate change), but despite this trend, it is not a species of priority conservation efforts because it has actually increased at specifically monitored sites. They are a lovely site to see on a warm summer afternoon and evening, and I am very glad that they appear to be thriving here at the Muir of Dinnet.

Another species which are constantly crossing my path (or should I say our footpaths are crossing their territory) are Common Frogs (Rana temporaria). If you are near water, in the meadows or even in dense pine woodland, with a bit of patience, you do stand a very good chance of seeing them. So, please be extra careful with your footing if you see a froglet. In my experience, where you encounter one, there are usually multiple individuals. These amphibians have extremely smooth, moist and very absorbent skin, which they breathe through; they also breathe through their lungs and the lining of the mouth. Skin colour ranges quite dramatically from brown and yellow to grey or olive green. They have irregular dark blotches, a dark stripe around their eyes and eardrum and dark bars on their legs. One really cool fact that I only learned recently about Common Frogs is that they are actually capable of lightening or darkening their skin to match their surroundings. Pretty handy when hiding from predators! These charming amphibians are a widespread species across the mainland of Britain. They are most active at night and will usually hibernate under logs, stones, piles of rotting leaves or pond mud during the winter. I think what most of us probably find fascinating about frogs is their remarkable, transitional stages of development from frogspawn into tadpoles and then eventually into froglets. Once spawning has occurred and the tadpoles hatch, it takes them approximately 16 weeks to slowly change into froglets, in a process known as metamorphosis.

Thank you for taking the time to read my fourth blog. Apologies for the less than inspiring beginning, but if you truly value and cherish our open spaces as places to relax and enjoy nature, then I’m sure you won’t mind this personal appeal to do your part in nurturing them. In the meantime, take care and enjoy what you have on your doorstep. Danny

About dannyfabianharvey

Danny works for NatureScot as an Assistant Reserve Officer, at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, in the Eastern Cairngorms National Park. He graduated in 2019 with an MSc in Ecology and Conservation from the University of Aberdeen. This has provided him with the scientific rigor required when dealing with issues of Ecology and Conservation, coupled with a profound respect for wildlife and habitats. He directs his own short films, two of which were Highly Commended in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2018. Currently, he is co-directing and filming a documentary feature called, 'The Bough Beaks', with independent production company, Mousehole Films, due to complete in the summer of 2023. Danny is regularly booked for his lively talks on Wildlife Filming, where he discusses the joys, challenges and techniques. Recently he has started working as a freelance bird surveyor, having conducted multiple farmland bird surveys for the James Hutton Institute for their Framework program. Previously, he has worked with the RSPB, Trees for Life and Aquila Ecology.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.