Thriving in Ballater and the Heralds of Winter

Last weekend saw us joining forces with the local community for the three day International Bike festival Thrive Ballater. With over 50 stalls around the greens it was a fantastic opportunity to engage with the local community and international visitors alike with over 450 people dropping into our tent to talk about responsible mountain biking in the great outdoors, to test their knowledge of the fabulous wildlife of Scotland, pick up a pack of native wildflower seeds, paint a paper mache bunny or make a woodland animal track.

Thrive aims to promote Mountain Biking for the wellbeing of people, whilst ensuring that the local economy, community, and environment thrives. The profits from the Thrive Bike events are invested into various initiatives focused on building and improving the trail networks in the area.

Into the Wild – (c) Trev Worsey. Advice on how to Do the Ride thing can be found at

Set to the imposing backdrop of the Loch Nagar ridgeline Thrive was a great opportunity to meet mountain bikers from across the world and discuss how they can be a real asset in conservation projects. For instance right now, mountain bikers in the Cairngorms are fast becoming a leading light in capercaillie conservation as they prepare to deliver their own solutions for the endangered species as part of the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project.

A recent survey of riders in the Cairngorms National Park, the last remaining stronghold for capercaillie in the UK, revealed that almost all riders feel responsible for the environment they ride in and are willing to change behaviours to help protect the environment.

To help riders deliver their own solutions for capercaillie, the project, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has made £100,000 available. Workable solutions might include a programme of repairing trails which have become unrideable, to reduce the need to build new trails in areas which are home to capercaillie.

Shh – artists at work. It was lovely to see so many teeny tots zipping confidently around on bikes.

Moody cloudscapes, luminous day moons and cracking sunrises all herald the changing of the seasons and, with us past the equinox, the beginnings of the slide into the darker months.

Big sky country
The 1st quarter moon was luminously shining over the reserve yesterday afternoon. Pale and ghostly, a daytime Moon can sometimes catch you unaware, stopping you in your tracks.
Sunrise from viewpoint
The 1st ethereal Whooper swan flyover on the 28th of September . The sound of Whoopers flying overhead just makes you feel good!

Another herald of winter is the arrival of our first Whooper swans on the reserve. All of Scotland’s Whooper swans actually nest in Iceland. They migrate here every autumn to escape the freezing winter temperatures up there.

Once they decide to leave Iceland, there is no going back. Whooper swans undertake what is probably the longest sea crossing of any swan species. For the next few days all they are going to see is open ocean – over a thousand kilometers of open ocean. They have got to be very careful that they have got their weather forecast right. With a super favourable tail wind this journey can take only 2 days, but more generally up to 5 days. For such a large bird, sadly flying accidents are a major cause of death.

Whooper swan families make the big migration journey to Scotland together. Both parents take care of their cygnets when they hatch in the Icelandic summer and come the autumn they all depart together to fly south. The cygnets stay with their parents over winter and start the return migration journey with them in the spring. Whooper swans are very faithful to the sites where they spend winter and often return to the same place over many years. For those chicks that have been blindly following their parents they must be thinking “what is going on?” “Are we ever going to get there”. The north west coastline of Scotland is the first thing thing they will see.

Whooper swan families make the big migration journey to Scotland together.
A whooper swan family with their cygnet preening and stretching…or saying …”and the pike I saw was THIS big ….”

From individual satellite tagged birds we know that Whooper cruise at speed of over 60kph and altitude of 85 m above ground level.

The gloriously named Herald of Winter is a waxcap of pine woodlands

A final herald of the winter is a little waxcap mushroom called exactly that.

Between late summer and early winter, one of nature’s most colourful displays takes place: gem-like fruiting bodies of woodland and grassland fungi peep through the turf across our countryside.They come in a variety of different colours including vibrant pinks, yellows, greens and reds. Keep your eyes peeled as the more you look the more you see!

Some of the smallest are also the most strikingly beautiful like this tiny vermillion waxcap.

vermillion waxcap
A cluster of common puffballs

Just to leave you with a lovely encounter with a toad. This common toad is just chilling by the Vat.

I absolutely love the relaxed attitude!

These wonderful shots were taken by Cairngorms national park Ranger Fiona.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.