Muir of Dinnet NNR – guest blog

Friday the 22nd of September and it’s the Autumn equinox – how did that happen!   I guess people take it easier during the summer months, unlike wildlife that knows Summer is just a short respite for having new families and, if you can, stashing away some reserves for the Winter.   With the wet weather last week, I wasn’t able to get on with my latest wildlife gardening projects, so used some of the time to catch up on my reading.   And I was pleased to pick up some “good news” Nature stories.

First of all and fairly close to home, my wife was out walking at Crathes and popped into the walled garden to see if there were any new gardening ideas worth pinching.   She did see a slightly unusual butterfly and thought it might just be an end of year one getting bit raggedy.   Very sensibly, she took a picture of it and lo and behold it is in fact a Comma, which is always naturally “raggedy” looking.

Comma

Comma butterfly taking advantage of nectar from a Crathes sunflower

It’s always worth taking a pic of anything you see that looks a bit unusual.   Checking on the North East Scotland Biological Record Centre website, I discovered they only have 14 records of this species in NE Scotland.   If you see something unusual and get a picture of it, send it to your Local Wildlife Record Centre and they will almost certainly be able to identify it for you.   The more wildlife records we have, the better for all sorts of people and projects.   Most wildlife recorders are not professional scientists or anything like that; just people who are interested in what they see.   Give it a go – but be warned, it is addictive as well as useful.

It was also good to read about the ongoing success of the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project around Aberdeen.   More people are aware today of the dangers of bringing in non-native plants and animals, but I still find it a bit hard to believe that the North American Grey Squirrel was only introduced to Aberdeen as recently as the 1960s.

SSRSs is a Partnership led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust which has been working for several years to control grey squirrel numbers and advise on managing more woodlands to benefit reds, which amongst other things suffer from a fatal disease carried by greys.   Monitoring work by one of the partners, Forest Enterprise Scotland, has shown no greys and more and more reds over the last couple of years at Countesswells and Foggieton.   A friend in Cults is delighted to have reds back in her garden for the first time in 30 years and the James Hutton Institute in Craigiebuckler have just had their first ever red recorded in their grounds.   Well done to all involved.

Turriff squirrel

Happy north east red squirrel at the Turriff Show.

A couple of years ago, the North East Scotland Local Biodiversity Partnership ran a small camera trapping project for local primary schools.   The results were great and Scottish Natural Heritage were persuaded to fund the rolling out of the project across Scotland.   I was lucky enough to be invited to preview the latest videos, from both rural and urban schools; and they were absolutely fantastic.   A pupil at one school said she thought pine martens were fictitious animals like unicorns until she saw one on their camera trap.   And of course the pupils learn about maths, team working, co-operation and loads of other things as well as wildlife.   Many people now want to know about camera trapping and some of the participating schools travelled to the Royal Highland Show to tell Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Secretary, about the project.  A few days ago we heard that the project has been short listed for the 2017 Nature of Scotland Awards.

Rose Toney, the Local Biodiversity Partnership’s Co-ordinator has been the moving force behind camera trapping in Scotland and along with her husband Nick Littlewood has developed the small mammal cam (which now enables small animals to be recorded) and they are currently working on a floating version!!   Have a look at their Facebook page and you’ll soon see what all the excitement is about.   These cameras can take stills or video; daytime and night-time.   The camera trap kit is fairly inexpensive (mine cost less than £100) – and it’s only 100 days until Chr*s***s !!

Hedghog

Hedgehog foraging around the compost bins in my garden.

This week the Press & Journal carried an interesting article about a “wildlife bridge” being built across Aberdeen’s new City Bypass. I’m sure you have seen lots of dead wildlife on the roads – hedgehogs, roe deer, red squirrels, badgers and lots more.   Individual wild animals die all the time, but that’s usually when they are killed by a predator that will eat it or feed it to it’s own family.   Wildlife killed on the roads are often females out foraging and if they are still feeding young, those youngsters will starve to death too.   Of course, wildlife killed on our roads rarely “go to waste” as a fox or other scavenging animal will usually eat them fairly quickly – even although the scavenger runs the risk of being killed too.   These bridges are already common in Europe and the United States.

Green bridge

Green bridge on the Weymouth relief road in Dorset

Green walls are an increasingly common feature around the world, especially in cities where the growing plants help to reduce levels of pollutants in the air.   They also add a bit of green to brighten up the urban environment and can provide a little bit of habitat for wildlife, especially insects.   In some places they even have them in school grounds and use them to grow fruit to improve the pupils’ diet, but they can be quite expensive to install and often need complicated watering systems or daily watering by hand.

The SEPA Office by the harbour in Aberdeen have kindly agreed to let me experiment with installing a low-cost, low-maintenance green wall in their car park and Aberdeen City Council are already interested in seeing how it works out, as some parts of the city suffer from quite serious air pollution.   SEPA’s office car park has a retaining wall of stone filled gabion baskets; a fairly common construction technique.   For the experiment, I’m planting up some of the gaps (with a little peat free compost, of course) in the stones with the sorts of native wild plants you would find growing on coastal cliffs and just above the high water mark.   These plants have to cope naturally with salt spray, poor soils and very dry conditions – just the sort of conditions you would find on the average stone filled, gabion basket wall.   I collect a small amount of wild plant seed in the autumn, sow it in my garden and then move the young seedlings to their new home in Aberdeen.   So far sea campion, thrift, roseroot and wild thyme have proved the most robust, but I plan to add some white stonecrop soon and hopefully some sea rocket and even wild strawberry next year.

Stone wall

Part of the functional stone wall I hope to turn green.

 

Catriona will be back with her blog next week, but I hope you enjoyed this different view of managing for wildlife.   As Nature continues to face growing pressure, we need to be imaginative and come up with new ideas to give it a helping hand.   Nature reserves and green spaces in our towns, cities, gardens, farms and parks are all important.   Making things better requires a little effort and a bold imagination – so go to it.

Ewen Cameron

Chair: Habitats & Species Group and Awareness & Involvement Group

North East Scotland Local Biodiversity Partnership

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Guest blog Muir of Dinnet NNR

Catriona the Dinnet Reserve Manager is away on a well deserved holiday and, as I live in a village quite close to the reserve, she asked if I would like to keep the blog going.   Although I recently retired from SNH after 40 years, I’m still very much involved in nature conservation.   National Nature Reserves are very important for Scotland, but now I am much more focussed on what we all do for Nature on our farms, school grounds, local parks and individual gardens.   Management for wildlife is needed in all these places – nature reserves aren’t enough on their own.   A farmer once asked me for one thing he could do that would help wildlife and I suggested he didn’t “tidy up” so much.   No need to let things turn into a jungle, just no need for obsessive tidying up either.   This small bundle of clippings in my garden will provide shelter for all sorts of smaller wildlife.   Many people seem to worry unduly about rats and mice making a beeline for any food or shelter we make available.   A wee bit of shelter like this won’t have you over run by them!

ShelterA small pile of clippings provides shelter for all sorts of our smaller wildlife.

Although I’ve heard many groups claim to be the “real custodians of the countryside”, the truth is that none of us have done a very good job since the 1950s.   Many native plants and animals that I regularly saw as a boy have become rarer and rarer over that time.   As a farmer’s son, the greatest tragedy I’ve seen is the continuing decline of the bumblebees and other insects that are still so vital for pollinating many of our food crops – and just for the sake of a little suitable habitat.  If you keep your eyes and ears open when you are out and about at Dinnet or elsewhere you can see and hear where bumblebees are foraging for food and if you are patient you will often see them disappearing into small burrows, woodpiles, compost heaps and other dry places where they might have their nest or their “winter quarters”.   The Internet has plenty examples of bee hotels you can build and place in your garden – I mainly have wee piles of rocks and bits of wood in the corners of the garden.   I have some native plants in my garden and I choose garden varieties which have lots of nectar and pollen.   Some modern varieties of garden plants are bred to have little pollen, which isn’t much use to bees as they need it to feed to their growing youngsters.

Bee

Native plants and wee shelters sustain bumblebees until next year’s crops are ready for pollination.

For many years now, I have managed parts of my own garden to benefit wildlife and encourage as many others as I can get to listen to me to do the same.   And if they have control of parks and other public green spaces, gardens, forestry plantations, farms and so on; I encourage them to do the same.   My wee green space is not going to save nature on its own, but along with the thousands and thousands of others in Scotland it certainly can help – and it really will help if everyone does just a little too.

The first Spring after I dug my garden pond 5 frogs visited and laid one clump of frog spawn.   Now I get over 30 frogs and several clumps of frog spawn.   Some frogs spend the Winter at the bottom of the pond and frogs of all ages turn up elsewhere in the garden throughout the year where they kindly eat insects, slugs, snails and so on.   And the pond is now home to newts, damselflies, pond skaters and loads of other wee beasties.   In more than 60 years I have never lost my fascination for the wildlife that occupies our ponds.   While a big pond is good, I know of many ponds no more than a metre square in folks gardens that are stuffed with wildlife.   When I started my pond, I took a bucketful of water and mud from someone else’s pond and the beasties and their eggs in that bucketful got mine off to a flying start.   I remember putting out my daughters’ paddling pool on the lawn many years ago and within a few hours a Great Diving Beetle had taken up residence!   If you are anxious about young children and ponds, have a bog or pebble and water garden until they are older.   If you provide the facilities, nature will take it from there.

Frog

Frog taking advantage of the food and shelter provided by a garden pond.

Great diving beetle larva

The spectacular Great Diving Beetle larva which grows to 6 cms long.

And do get the truth about wildlife in your garden,   I have heard so many times on gardening programmes and read in magazines about slugs being the gardener’s enemy.   Some certainly are, but others really are your friend.   The Leopard slug is definitely your friend as it eats rotting vegetation, recycling the nutrients back into the soil – and it eats other slugs too.   So learn to recognise it and welcome it with open arms as well as a few bits of wood to give it shelter.

Slug

Leopard slug stalking the garden’s gravel paths by night.

If you enjoy the wildlife of Dinnet or any other nature reserve, wildlife gardening is a way of getting that enjoyment right outside your window every day.   Children are endlessly fascinated by Nature (and so are pensioners!!) and it gets them outside; but still where you can keep an eye on them.   The Internet is a great source of information and there are lots of groups across Scotland, like allotment associations and schools who are taking this on board.

We have come to the stage where we think Nature is something nice to have but not essential.   Sadly we have forgot the vital role it plays in pollinating our food crops and if managed properly how it can reduce soil erosion and flood risk.   None of us are doing enough for Nature, so go on and do something more on your farm, garden, school grounds etc. – you know it makes sense.

Ewen Cameron

Chair: Habitats & Species Group and Awareness & Involvement Group, North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR- Turning Seasons

As soon as September hit this year, it suddenly feels like the year has turned. The nights especially, have been cold, and the frost light has come on a couple of mornings. This nip in the air will make the leaves go yellow faster…the cold, and the shortening day length, are their triggers to shut down for the year.

Bird cherry leaves revealing yellow carotenoid pigments

How long will it be until we see geese back? The winds are supposed to turn northerly this weekend and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first few geese ride these south, fleeing the coming Arctic winter.

Geese flying over

The other migrants, those that come here for the summer, are fairly thinning out now. There are still a few swallows around and the odd willow warbler- but I haven’t heard or seen any of the others for over a week now.

Willow warbler

There are still plenty of fungi on the reserve. Look out for the orange birch boletes, these have an orange cap and (as the name suggests) you can only find them where there are birch trees.

Orange birch bolete

I continue to despair of a tiny fraction of our visitors. Why, having lugged full beer cans and bottles onto the reserve, can’t you take away the almost-no-weight empties? It’s not even like the people’d be full of beer- as everyone knows, beer is only ever rented!

Funny how it’s much heavier to carry out empty, than in when it’s full, isn’t it?

The red squirrels have started visiting the feeder again. They, like everything else in the  woods, are stocking up for winter…and some high fat, easily accessible peanuts are a real bonus!

Feeding up

We’ve not actually been at Dinnet a great deal this week, a staff meeting has taken us west and south for a couple of days. While I’m not generally a fan of meetings  (do they get in the way of real work? Discuss…) it’s a great opportunity to see and catch up with the others in the Tayside and Grampian team- who we otherwise don’t see for most of the year. There was an interesting programme of events, starting with a talk from Invercauld estate on moorland and grouse management. While there’s no doubt that conservationists and grouse moor managers don’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues, we sometimes forget that we do have the common ground of an enthusiasm for the outdoors and countryside….that’s why we do the jobs we do.

A rainbow in the Dee valley

Listening to a talk on “Pearls in Peril”

Tree planting to stabilize banks

We also had a go at spotting beavers at Loch of the Lowes. These animals are now well established in Tayside and you can clearly see the trees they felled from the hide. Unfortunately, the beast itself remained absent- possibly due to the hilarity resulting from an attempt to upload a picture from the hide on social media….apparently, large tree-felling rodents aren’t the first thing that shows up under “beaver”. It was worth it for the full moon reflecting over the water, though.

The view from the hide at loch of the Lowes. Sadly no beavers.

Full moon over one of the Lunan Lochs

We also had a very informative session on what are catchily known as “INNS” – Invasive Non-Native Species. This includes stuff like Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed, piri-piri burr, signal crayfish….and various other plants, animals, molluscs and event sea squirts. As someone who has done battle with a few of these, it was reassuring to hear what can be done- and that other dislike these things as much as we do!.

Himalayan balsalm

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Officially Autumn

September’s here. The golden, changing month when summer slides into autumn, when the first frosts nip the air and when the wild geese arrive on rushing wings from the north. In myth, it was the month of Hermes, god of going, who guarded gateways and crossroads. There was a time the god wayposts-the herma- stood at all crossroads showing travelers the way (though they weren’t quite fingerposts, featuring an entirely different part of his anatomy all together). And the wildlife could certainly use some guidance – so many of our birds will be heading south with only their in-built natural guidance systems to see them all the way to Africa. All of these birds will be gone soon. Good luck, little bids- we hope you make it.

Willow Warbler

redstart

Tree pipit

“…and gathering swallows twitter in the skies”.

Other changes are afoot too. The numbers of geese and ducks on the lochs are picking up as winter roosts start to form. These aren’t Icelandic geese, rather the local area greylag flock congregating on Loch Davan for the winter.

The geese are gathering

They are shedding their feathers just now, as are the ducks, and the waterline is thick with wildfowl feathers.

The edges of the lochs are covered in feathers

Moulting geese produce a LOT of feathers!

Goose feather

Also shedding are plants with wind-blown seeds. We used to call these “hairy witchies” when we were kids and try and catch them. Most of these will be seeds of rosebay willowherb.

“Hairy witchies”- mostly willowherb seeds blown on the wind.

The heather is still in bloom. There are still lots of people leaping out of cars to take pictures Scotland’s bonny purple hills, as pictured in all the literature- even though they are really brown for 3/4 of the year!

Purple heather, with Kinord in the background

The bees love the heather. This late-summer nectar source is vital for insects- a real bonanza as the days shorten.

Bee feeding on heather

Mind you, it’s not just the flowers the insects love. This gorgeous small copper butterfly seemed to be interested in a patch of bare ground. Perhaps it was after some salts or minerals it couldn’t get from plants.

Small copper butterfly

Small copper butterfly

The scotch argus are still around in quite good numbers but are really looking on their last legs now. This ragged specimen was by no means the worst of the bunch!

Scotch argus, looking ragged

Other animals have been tucking in. too. While you don’t often see a red squirrel, the remains of squirrel-chewed cones are a constant presence underfoot.

Squirrel-chewed cones

And any low-growing birch bracket fungus may well be munched by a roe deer.

Birch brackets low down often get munched by deer

And the mornings get colder, we’re starting to see adders again…but they’ve eluded the camera so far! Much more obliging were these common lizards. I always think the way their mouths turn up slightly always gives them a slightly pleased-with-themselves look!

Common lizard

Lizard, basking in the sun- and looking a bit self-satisfied

This one both did and didn’t have something to be pleased about. It’s growing a new tail and must have had a nasty surprise that caused it to lose the old one – maybe a fight with another lizard, or a strike by an adder or bird attack. And, let’s face it, you don’t shed bits of yourself unless you have to. But losing a tail isn’t fatal to a lizard- they can contract muscles around arteries and veins to stop bleeding and will grow a new tail over time. Much better to be a lizard with a stubby second tail than dinner.

Lizard, growing a new tail

We’ve been out with the trail camera again and Willow has managed to get some good shots. It’s nice to know that even if you don’t see it, all this wildlife is out there…and you never know your luck, you might just see one of these creatures on the reserve!

Pigeon drinking- the pigeons and doves are the only birds that don’t need to tilt their heads back when drinking

Ducks after dark

Mallard ducks

Blackbirds

Otter sprainting

Do you think this is my best side?

Or is this side better?

Yes, definitely this one!

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Showers and Sunshine

What a mixed week we’ve had. The weather has been terribly unsettled, with sun, rain wind all competing for our attention. It’s making the grass grow- but it’s never dry to cut it! And the winds are knocking the first leaves off the trees – you’re starting to notice yellow birch leaves on the ground now.

The leaves are falling…

The heavy rain showers can block up ditches and drains and gravel washes into them. So it’s a constant job for us, clearing these out…and, theoretically at least, keeping the water off the paths.

The unglamorous side of reserve work!

On the warms days, Scotch arguses are your constant companions as you walk through the grassland. But they’re starting to look a little worn now, fading from their new velvety-black colour to a more russet brown.

Scotch argus

In contrast, this peacock butterfly must be freshly emerged. We often see these early in the year but then don’t see again until late summer, when a new generation have hatched.

Peacock butterfly

The woods have been quiet this week, with the (largely) damp weather silencing the birds.  It won’t be long until even more of them, like this willow warbler, depart for Africa. The cuckoos are long gone already and I haven’t seen a swift for a fortnight…they have headed south too.  Mind you, if the wind turns northerly, we could have geese back inside two weeks…

A young and yellowish-coloured willow warbler

In spite of the grey dampness this week, you don’t have to look far to find colour. The heather is still in full bloom, turning the hills purple.  And there are red berries, above you in the rowans and below your feet on the cowberries. The juice of these was traditionally used (like cranberries) for the treatment of urinary tract infections. They are also called lingonberries and you see jam or meat jellies made from them. You may even have seen some in the food section of a well-known Swedish flat-pack-furniture shop!

They are very similar in appearance to bearberries. As their name suggests, they are eaten by bears in places you still get bears. Here, a rustle in the bushes is just a roe deer or blackbird. But, if you ever walk on the continent or in the States, where these big predators are still found,  the woods feel a very different place. Even if your chance of just seeing these creatures is very low, let alone being attacked by them, there’s a certain frisson of wariness you just don’t feel here. I sometimes wonder if being the top of the food chain has made us lose some respect for the countryside in the UK.

Also providing a splash of autumn colour are the fungi. They are just everywhere just now, from round puffballs to colourful fly agarics. They are hugely important in any woodland, helping trees gather water and nutrients and providing food for various animals and insects. It’s a myth that all fungi are bad for trees -only a tiny fraction of them are parasitic and kill trees, most actually help the tree to grow. So, if you see these growing beside the path, please don’t kick them over because “all toadstools are poisonous” (they’re not, but you do need to know how to safely ID the good ones) – even if you can’t eat them, they are helping the woods and providing homes and food for lots of different creatures!

Fly agaric

Puffball mushroom

fly agarics

Orange birch bolete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR -Flocks and Fungi

Now that August is half done and the schools are –finally- going back next week, I think we have to admit it’s getting into autumn now. In the past couple of weeks, the trees have really started to look tired and worn, and some are yellowing at the tips of the branches.

And August is the month of the heather. All of the ling, or Calluna heather is in bloom now and, even on the greyest of days, turns the hills purple. It’s really popular with the tourists- lots of people are jumping out of cars at the side of the road to take pictures of it. And we’ve even seen the quite a few bunches tucked on the front of cars in the car park!

The rowans continue to redden and the trees are starting to look quite spectacular. They almost look like a child’s drawing of a tree- green, with bright red fruit.

August is also the month where, on fine days, there is the constant drone of the glider tow plane over the reserve. We’re often asked about the gliders from the nearby strip at Aboyne and people find it hard to credit the distance and height these unpowered aircraft can reach. The “Wave”, an airmass off the cairngorms in August, can carry them to the height of a commercial jet or, with lucky thermals, they can make as far as central England.

Mind you, the drone of the tow plane wasn’t the only mechanical noise on the reserve this week. We were getting trained up in the new ATV, with fire fogging unit. Hopefully this will prove a lot safer than towing the old tender across the moor.

The late summer flowers are a real bonus for the bees. The knapweed, which is at its best just now, is often mistaken for a thistle. But, although they look superficially alike, the knapweed lacks the thistles’ spikes…and is occasionally picked as a souvenir “Scottish Thistle” because it doesn’t bite back.

Bird flock together at this time of year. It’s one of the earliest signs of autumn, when breeding is done and birds start to gather together for safety. The starlings are usually the first of these, and often form small flocks by late June. They’re also one the most obvious flocks- starlings don’t do things quietly or subtly. So you see big gangs of them in the fields, all squeaking, rustling and bickering, as they probe for insects like leatherjackets.

You start seeing the adders- well, sort of- in autumn. They’re more likely to be seen basking again at this time of year as the mornings get later and cooler. This tail sticking out of the wall was the first adder I’d seen since May.

Also beside the Old Kinord fields were not one, not two but three blond bunnies all together. It was a foul day, and, it might be my imagination, but I think this one looks pretty fed up with the weather too.

We are seeing lots of fungi at this time of year. This is a wooly milkcap- look out for a salmon-pink mushroom, with concentric rings on the top and shaggy edges. They’re not edible- most milkcaps aren’t- and produce a white milky liquid when broken open (hence the name). But, if you touched that liquid to your tongue (and I’m not recommending for a second you do), it would be burningly, painfully bitter…and you’d soon realise why eating it was a bad idea!

We do see lots of edible mushrooms on the reserve…but their ID is not always straightforward and, unless you are 100% sure, don’t pick them…you only need to make a mistake once. I’d recommend just enjoying looking at them-they come in all shapes, colours and sizes- so have some fun fungi spotting this weekend!

Yellow russula or yellow brittlegill

A red Russula or brittlegill mushroom. These mushrooms can be hard to tell apart.

A pink Russula or birittlegill

Grass green russula

A purple russula

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Muir of Dinnet NNR- The Season of Plenty

Now we’re well into August, we have to start thinking about autumn rather than summer. I’m sure some of you must have noticed how cool and dewy the mornings are getting and they just feel….well, autumn-y. But autumn is a time of plenty for the wildlife- and for us if we choose to tap into the bounty of fruit that is available. We held a wild food walk this week to show people some of the things that our ancestors would have eaten.

Wild raspberry pancakes – a great way to get children to try wild berries

Wool dyed with natural dyes

Pollen

Wild rasps, strawberries and candied angelica

Mushrooms and blaeberries

Edible fungi- Cep, chanterelle and orange birch bolete

Tasting wild foods

We always emphasise  the importance of safety and sustainability when talking about wild food. Always, be sure 100% what you’re eating…and try a little first, everyone’s system is different. I often wonder if our ancestors tried out foods on less useful members of society…? Sustainability is important too. Our ancestors probably did it without thinking- you used too much of something, you starved. But we have the luxury of going to the supermarket, so we have to be responsible and not take all of a fruit or fungus – the chances are that you won’t need it all anyway, or that at least some will already be home to various insects- so leave plenty to re-grow or for the other wildlife. If you are interested in wild foods, you can find out more here http://scotlandsnaturallarder.co.uk , including some recipes for you to try out at home.

Helen reading from Scots’ Herbal

Smelling wood sage

Saffron milk cap, cut open to demonstrate how our ancestors got added protein- all of the wee holes are made by maggots.

And the wildlife is all taking advantage of all the wild food on offer too. The rowans are now red enough to appeal to the blackbirds, who are scoffing them down like there’s no tomorrow. But, for a wild creature, if they don’t eat enough, there won’t be.

Male blackbird scoffing rowan berries

The late flowers are providing a good nectar source for the butterflies. The devil’s bit scabious is hugely popular and is covered in insects. The most obvious of these are the Scotch arguses, which are just everywhere right now. These are a late-emerging butterfly and don’t seem to have been as badly affected by the cool, wet springs as some other species. They are really enjoying the warm, sunny days we’ve had this week.

Scotch argus

Scotch argus

Unfortunately, so have some people. As we’ve said many times, probably 99% of our visitors are lovely- but there’s always that 1%. Who, this week, had decided to take petrol with them to start a fire. In a can with a broken cap. With a plastic bag to try and keep it from leaking. Now, while in some ways, I have to give them credit for ingenuity, in terms of safety, stupidity and illegality….sorry folks, that’s a Darwin Award waiting to happen.

A novel and not-advised way to carry petrol….and we’d have called the police if we’d caught someone lighting fires with it.

The teasels are late-flowering as well and are much visited by bees and other insects. Come late autumn, their seeds will be a great source of food for finches.

Teasels

The damselflies are furiously egg-laying around the loch. They only live for a few weeks in the summer and the first frosts will probably spell the end for these vibrant insects.

Common blue damselfly

As the summer moves on, you start to see thousands of “toadlets”. These are this year’s tadpoles, (toadpoles?) now metamorphosed into tiny toads. You can see how tiny this one is, perched on Willow’s hand.

A tiny toadlet

We also got some more footage from a trail camera this week. The best shot (thanks Stephen) was this action shot of a heron, tripping the camera as it flew past. You never know what you might encounter at Muir of Dinnet NNR!

Heron – action shot

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Bringing History to Life

Well, that’s August here. Where is the year going? You always know the summer is wearing on when you start to see devil’s bit scabious in flower. I always think it’s a horrible-sounding name for a very pretty plant, but it comes from an old legend. The plant was used to treat scabies – a horrible, itchy skin disease (I can guarantee, if you Wikipedia it, you’ll be scratching by the end of the article) and the devil was so angry with the flower for the relief it gave, he came up through the earth and bit its roots off!

Devil’s bit scabious

The grass is still high and you can just see something the size of an adult roe deer in it. The long grass is also ideal for concealing any youngsters which will only be a couple of months old at this time of year.

Roe deer in tall grass

Some birds are just fledging new young just now. We were lucky to spot this fairly new garden warbler fledgie round the loch. These warblers have been in short supply this year and, like many African migrants, are in decline as a species.

Young garden warbler

All of the graylag goslings are looking quite grown-up now. They are still noticeably smaller than their parents but have fully-grown feathers. They are fun to watch when they have congregated in the water lily bays as they can’t swim through the lilies easily and form long lines to follow narrow channels of clear water.

A procession of greylags

Less fun are the clegs, or horseflies. These form part of the unholy trinity of Things That Bite, along with midgies and mozzies….but cleg bites are the worst of all. This insect is the reason why we are frequently found doing hot, heavy work in entirely unsuitable thick clothing. They can easily bite you through a light cotton shirt and (if you’re sensitive) can leave you with a huge itchy, oozy lump for a fortnight. And the only reason there’s a picture of it is that it’s on the other side of the window…I’d splat it if it were anywhere near me.

Cleg or horsefly.

I also saw something I’d never seen before this week- a toad eating an earthworm. We were moving the tarp over the trailer to shake some water off it and disturbed a toad and some worms that were under it. The toad instantly inflated- I’m a big, scary toad, don’t come near me – but pretty much instantly forgot about us when it spotted a large worm about a foot away. It crawled after it and, in fairly short order, scoffed it – a bit like spaghetti but with more wriggling. And we even managed to grab a quick video of it-though the shakiness was due to trying to get rid of the aforementioned cleg which landed on my hand at that precise moment!

Inflated toad, trying to look scary

 

 

We also  celebrated the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology at the reserve this week. Muir of Dinnet NNR is covered in archaeology, but it can be hard to excite people with what may just be a line of rocks on the ground. But seeing how people lived, what they ate, and what they had to do to survive is a bit different and we brought the past to life with the Rhynie Wifies. They created an Iron Age camp and showed off traditional foods and skills, which seemed to give people a new respect for how long everything took when you didn’t have shops or electricity…do you think you could survive without them?

Backing bannocks on a hot stone

Two “Celtic princesses” admiring themselves in a bronze mirror

Making a hole for a stone pendant with a bow drill

Willow demonstrating how flint arrowheads were attached, using roots and pitch to secure them.

Spindles for spinning wool

Iron age feast- bread, cured meat, smoked fish, mushrooms, goat’s cheese, nuts, beans and samphire.

The reverse of the bronze mirror. these were high status items and were often beautifully decorated.

Iron spearhead

Iron age washing line!

Quern stone

Making butter with “Tiny Rhynie”.

Totemic skulls- all real except for the one on the right.  It wasn’t someone who tied bags of dog poo onto a tree, honestly….

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Muir of Dinnet NNR- Moths and Mallards

It’s been another fairly mixed week on the reserve and I’ll be glad when this blasted humidity breaks- very warm and sticky all week. Still, that’s great weather for the moths and they have been out in force when a trap has been set. Last week’s count was 45 species and over 200 individual moths…in one night, in one trap.

Gold spot moth

Spectacle moth

The bell heather is out and almost going over- but the ling heather is almost out to replace it. We can expect purple hill for the next few weeks.

Bell heather in close-up

Late summer is also the time the bluebells come out. I grew up calling these “bluebells” or “Scottish bluebells” but an alternative name is harebell. It may even occasionally be called “witch’s bells”, possibly because of the belief that witches could turn into hares – or vice versa.

Bluebells

Bluebell flowers

The harebells aren’t the only thing coming out. Fungi are popping up everywhere in the warm, humid weather. The red and white fly agarics are the classic fairytale mushroom…but it wouldn’t be a case of “happily ever after” for the flies. The mushrooms were soaked in saucers of milk to poison flies.

Fly agaric

In spite of it still being July – just- signs of autumn are creeping in everywhere. The numbers of ducks, especially mallards, are starting to go up on the lochs. They mallards all look pretty sorry for themselves right now,  what with being in “eclipse”- their dull, dowdy non-breeding plumage. Compare these spring males with how they look just now.

Male mallards in breeding plumage

In eclipse

And, this week, we’ve seen the very first signs of the trees turning. A few trees in drier places are just starting to yellow slightly at the tips. Unlike this rowan, which has one branch already showing spectacular autumn reds- even if the rest of the tree is green, with not-yet-ripe berries.

Some tree leaves on the tips of branches are just starting to turn autumnal- especially if the tree is in a dry place and drought-stressed

The rest of the tree is still green, with as-yet unripe rowans.

Willow’s also been out with the camera trap again. This time, she set it up on a fallen tree over a burn. These are often good spots, because wildlife doesn’t like to get its feet wet either….it may be a fallen tree to us, but to them it’s a bridge.  And there’s been quite a bit of success! Even if you come and see us, you’d do well to spot all of the things on the camera…but give it a go!

Mallard duck

Dipper

blackbird

Mystery beast after dark…badger? Looks the right shape.

Young water rail. These birds are rarely seen but often heard. If you ever hear a squeal that sounds like a pig being killed in a reedbed, it’ll be a water rail.

Song thrush

Wood pigeon

The prize shot- pine marten! The first one we’ve ever captured on camera here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muir of Dinnet NNR – Sunny Days and Moth-y Nights

What a cracking start we had to the week. Four nice days in a row- must be summer. In fact, in Scotland, that could have been summer -but we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a bit more sunshine still to come. We started the week with a visit to St Cyrus, partly to see off Andrew the student placement (who will be much missed) and partly to help out with other jobs. Now, you never know what you’ll be doing on your “own” NNR from day to day, let alone a different one, and it wasn’t long before I was scribing for Therese and Andrew as they took samples from a newly-washed-up dead porpoise calf. It’s a bit gruesome (but fascinating at the same time) – you need to take skin, blubber and muscle samples from the animal. And, while it’s heartbreakingly sad to see a young animal like this beyond help, the samples will tell us something about the health of the sea- did the porpoise get enough food, how much plastic is in its body and so on.

A sad sight- a young porpoise washed up at St Cyrus

Back at Dinnet, the loos blocked again, that that was Tuesday gone. Nuff said, let’s move on to a nicer subject. Like moths. We set up the moth trap on the Wednesday, with the light on a timer to attract the moths once it got dark.

Moth trap, set up for night-time

And, in the morning, we come back to see what we’ve got. What we had got was a lot….of toads, that is. There were eight, ringing the trap, waiting to catch any moths that had landed on the ground.

Free meal for the toads!

Unfortunately, the toad hopped off the sign just as I took the picture!

And the moth trap itself was crammed with moths. Helen, from Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service, is still sitting identifying moths as I write this, several hours later. She’s a great lepidopterist (moth and butterfly enthusiast) and can tell her engrailed clays from  small square spots- which is the point I give up and put the kettle on. The final scores aren’t in just yet but we  had over 40 species of moth and at over 200 individual moths in the trap. Here are just a few of them…

A snout moth. You can see how it came by its name.

Moth collection – true lover’s knot (top), antler moth (bottom right) and two grass moths (the small ones). They’re on an egg box- that’s not 151 calories per moth.

Two lesser swallow prominent moths, resting in a rather curious position.

Burnished brass moth. It is iridescent and the colours only show as you turn it to the light.

Light emerald moth

Away from the moths, the last of the fun day clearing up was completed. This involved stitching the gazebo canvas back together where it had parted company along the seams. Told you we never know what we’ll have to turn our hands to!

Fixing the tents after the fun day

With July galloping towards the end of the month, more autumn signs are starting to creep onto the reserve. One of the most obvious of these is the steadily-ripening fruit. It won’t be long before these rasps are edible – and some in sunny spots are already sweet enough to eat.

Ripening rasps

And the rowan berries are gradually changing from green to orange.

Ripening rowans

The rain later in the week has made some fungi pop their heads up. It’s actually been too dry for a lot of these mushrooms to form- but not for much longer, by the looks of the forecast. These chanterelle are still quite small after the dry weather.

Over at Old Kinord, there are a few very pale sandy-coloured rabbits going about. These stick out like a sore thumb and I’m always amazed nothing’s eaten them yet. Still, gotta catch them  first and if there’s one thing rabbits do well (apart from breed), it’s run fast!

Sandy coloured rabbit

And another heads-up. Last time it was for our Fun Day. This time it’s for the Rhynie Wifies on the 1st August. Step back in time with them and celebrate the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology…and see if you’d have made a good Celt!

 

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