Dragonflies and Daisies – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, we hope you’re feeling inspired to go and look for some moths after Karen’s blog earlier in the week…there are some cracking ones out there. There are also some lovely butterflies on the go, too …we’ve seen our first commas (yes, that’s a butterfly, not just a punctuation mark) and orange-tips.

Comma butterfly


Orange tip butterfly

Just to confuse matters, the female orange-tip doesn’t have orange tips. But she does have a lovely green pattern under her wings. You tend to see them emerge round about the time the cuckoo flower (or lady’s smock, or milkmaids- choose your name for them!) comes out as their caterpillars feed on the cuckoo flower plants. But the females will only lay one egg per plant as the caterpillars are cannibalistic – they tend to deal with any competition, even by brothers or sisters, in a fair terminal and hungry way.

Female orange tip butterfly

Another newly-emerged insect this week is the four-spotted chaser dragonfly. They look a really vibrant golden colour when they have just emerged. And they’re hungry! This one was making brief forays across the heather to snap up smaller insects, including, I’m not at all sorry to say, a mosquito. Anything that eats mozzies is fine by me!

The first dragonfly of the year

In close up

Four spotted chaser dragonfly. It’s eating a mosquito- you can see the mozzie legs sticking out of its mouth.

A less welcome emergence is the bracken. Yes, I know the adders like it, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s one of its few redeeming features.  I know I’ll spend good chunks of the summer slashing it back and probably getting ticks off it. That does rather put you off a plant.

It’s emerging….

Bracken. Or, “the enemy” for much of the summer.

Speaking of adders, they’ve been pretty thin on the ground this week. Now that mating and shedding have taken place, they’re off hunting. We did see one of last year’s youngsters though, having a bask in the grass and doing the classic eye-shading thing with a blade of grass. See how the shadow passes right over the pupil of her eye? Adder sunshades!

Young female adder

The warm days have really brought the leaves out and the dominant colour of the woods is now definitely green. The birches look fantastic, with the bright spring green against the blue sky.

green trees, blue sky

The warm weather has also helped our path repair from last week. Now that it’s dried out properly, we could finish resurfacing the path…and hopefully it’ll stay dry in the long-term.

The path looks a lot better now we’ve topped up the surfacing and it’s dried out a bit.

And all the spring flowers are coming out too. Two of the commonest are almost the easiest to overlook, probably because we see them so much. But daisies and dandelions are great for the bees and other insects, just because there’s so many of them. I bet, if you’re a gardener, you’ve cursed dandelions…pernicious, long roots and hard to get rid of.  And yes, they are a pain in your patio…but you can enjoy them in the countryside!



We’ve also had our first chicks on the reserve this week. There are at least seven fluffballs running around the lapwing fields at Old Kinord.  Birds this age are really vulnerable to predators, so a plea on behalf of the wildlife – if you come to visit us this weekend, please keep your dog at heel or on a lead. Even if he or she wouldn’t harm something, they might scare off the parents and let other predators or the weather get the babies. So, please…dogs under control….and look out for the cute fluffballs!

Fluffballs! lapwing chicks.

Protective parent, yelling at us.



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Too Moth Information – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Apologies to our readers….that was a terrible pun. I’ll try better next time. Going on from Cat’s last blog we have more moth action from the weekend! We were out on the heath walking slowly and looking for small fluttery or wriggly things and as it was a gorgeous day, we had some luck! Firstly we discovered another of the caterpillars that Cat shared a picture of previously, this new one was a bit more visible. You can see them side by side below; these are Large Emerald moth caterpillars. Our expert Helen from the Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service kindly helped me with that one. The main food plants of the large emeralds are birches, which means they have plenty to keep them going at Muir of Dinnet.

Large Emerald moth

What the caterpillar will grow into- large emerald moth.

The things we were really hoping to see were the elusive Kentish Glory Moths. As the name suggests they used to be found all across southern England, including Kent. But are now classed as nationally scarce and are restricted to central and eastern Scotland. They are quite picky about their habitats and stubbornly (I think) refuse to lay eggs on anything at Muir of Dinnet besides head height Silver Birch trees with some open space around them*eye-roll*. You can see below some fresh eggs on the left which start of a bright green when laid and then become this wine purple colour. On the right are empty egg cases from last year.


The caterpillars will soon be appearing and feeding on the birch leaves and will then overwinter in a webbed cocoon to emerge as a beautiful moth between April and May next year. Here is a male Kentish glory adult found early in the day. You can see the feathery antennae used to find the females.


Kentish Glory adult

I love moths and learning about them but it does seem to me like quite a scary hill to start climbing when you see how many moths are out there. Over 2500 species of moths have been recorded in the British Isles…yeah that put me off picking up a moth ID book for a while. But this does become a much smaller number depending on region and time of year. Then you can also ignore the micro-moths (moths with a wing-span of less than 20mm) until you get a bit more confident. You’re left with a few easy to identify gorgeous moths…and what feels like three times that many brown/ beige or worn moths that seem to blur into each other. I am very much a beginner but if I find any more through my season here I’ll try to ID them and maybe write another blog about triumph against adversity (the adversity being my brain). If you do see any moths have a go sneaking slowly close enough to get a picture as they usually don’t notice you if you go slowly enough. We have a Moth ID book in the main visitor center here if you want to have a go. We’ll also be having a look at our local moths on 17th of July with the Moths in the Morning event, hosted by Butterfly Conservation. Then again on 13th of July at the Muir of Dinnet NNR Fun Day!






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Muddy Paths and Moth Hunting – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Hello folks and we hope you enjoyed your extra blog this week. Karen is our Reserve Assistant for the summer and she’ll be writing extra blogs….so hopefully you’ll be even more up-to-date with what’s happening at Dinnet! As you probably saw in her blog, the trees are really starting to burst into leaf by now….you can really see hints of green as you look out across the reserve.

New green

Birches with new green

The leaves haven’t come out quite as quickly as expected, probably as it’s been so cold overnight. I’ve had to scrape the car three times this week …but have been working in a t-shirt by 10am! Mind you, you soon warm up with the work we were doing. We had a section of the “top path” up to Cambus o May that just seemed to be getting progressively muddier.

Chronically wet bit of path

Yep, that’s squelchy.

So why was it getting muddy? Well, that’s always the first question to ask when you’re trying to fix this sort of thing. In this case, it was because water was oozing down the hill in a gap between drains. So we needed another drain.

New drainpipe

That’s easier said than done at Dinnet! We’re on pretty rocky ground here so digging isn’t a massive amount of fun (I really envy my colleagues at Forvie the soft sand they have to dig into). And all the stuff we dug up was wet, so trying to tread it down around the new pipe was like jumping on gritty soup. But we got there in the end….it just needs to dry out now.

Fixed, but still muddy…needs to dry out now!

There were still a couple of adders around but the rest seem to have disappeared. These two were fairly interested in one another but I think the cold was putting them off. It wasn’t until it really warmed up at lunchtime that they started to move and the male was trying to seduce the female by flicking his tongue over her scales.

Male “tongue flicking” female

Amorous adders

male adder in dappled shade

We’ve also been spending a bit of time this week looking for Kentish glory moths. They are one of the target species in the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/rare-invertebrates-in-the-cairngorms/

These rare moths have a real stronghold around the Dinnet and Aboyne area…but aren’t always easy to spot. We didn’t have much luck – just one brief sighting – but a local moth enthusiast, following up on one of our sightings, found a new site for them on the NNR- so that at least was good news.

Male Kentish glory moth

And we were lucky enough to see some of their eggs on a birch tree. Kentish glory caterpillars are pretty fussy eaters- they only like birch under 3m tall as the leaves seem to be too tough or tannin -rich for them after the tree gets any bigger than that.

Kentish glory eggs

Speaking of caterpillars, we found this beautifully camouflaged one. I don’t know what it is, so, if anyone can tell us, we’d love to know!

The birch bud on the left isn’t a bud, it’s a caterpillar.

We also found this orange underwing moth perched on the heather…at least we were spotting something, even a common moth like this!

Orange underwing

We think of moths as only coming out at night but these, like the Kentish glories, fly during the day. So always keep your eyes peeled…it may not just be a butterfly like you think, it may even be a  really rare moth!

Male kentish glory moth





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Leaves on Trees – Muir of Dinnet NNR

The spring is in full swing at Muir of Dinnet! Walking around Loch Kinord is extra beautiful at the moment as the leaves start to appear, still oddly small and miniature compared to the vast trees they grow on.  It’s definitely a good time to brush up on tree ID.


Tiny Birch Leaves

The Silver Birch trees are hard to miss around the reserve! They have glowing white-silver bark and seem to have taken over the place! They are a colonizing species, meaning that they are often the first trees to grow (and grow quickly) in an open area. They allow enough light through to the woodland floor for grasses and flowers like wood anemone and violets to grow. They also have deep root systems which bring up nutrients and improves the soil quality for other plant species!

The seeds are important as a winter food for small birds such as Siskins, and the leaves are food for countless insect larvae. If you look closely at our silver birches you will see many have fungi growing on them. Some of these species of fungi grow almost exclusively on Silver Birch trees.


Delicate Hazel Catkins

Scattered among the Birch trees are a number of similar looking Hazel trees. The bark is a smooth grey-brown color and they are easy to identify at the moment as they are covered in these long, yellow Catkins. These catkins are male and appear before the leaves come out. They produce pollen that is caught by tiny red female “flowers” on the tips of the bud…and, in a good year, go on to produce lots of nice Hazel nuts.

Hazel leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths and Hazel nuts are eaten by woodpeckers, wood pigeons, jays, tits and a number of small mammals. Hazel flowers also provide early pollen as a food for bees. Although interestingly, bees find it difficult to collect hazel pollen and can only carry small amounts at a time. This is because hazel pollen isn’t sticky and each grain actually repels against the others!


Bizarre Larch Needles

The Larch needles are my favorite this time of year. Larches are conifers (they produce cones) but they are also deciduous (meaning the leaves are lost each year). This is unusual for a tree that has needles, and the sight of these soft green tufts growing from the tree always blows my mind! The reason larches lose their needles? Larches grow where heavy snow fall occurs and whole branches are less likely to break when they aren’t covered in leaves. Being deciduous and having thick bark also makes larches better able to survive fire as they can more easily grow back leaves the following year.

If you are a beginner at tree identification or would just like a handy guide in your pocket why not download the free British Trees App created by the Woodland Trust. Simply follow a key looking at the main features of a tree to find out what tree it is or type in the name of a tree to find out more information about it. Follow the link below for more information.


Come out to Muir of Dinnet this weekend and see how many trees you can identify!

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Snakes and Spring Migrants – Muir of Dinnet NNR

We’ve had a fairly typical April week on the reserve, with sun, showers, snakes and spring migrants all putting in an appearance. The adders have been showing their socks off (which isn’t a bad achievement for something with no feet) and many thanks to photographer Alan for these intimate shots of them. I love the close-up of the small female. If you look closely you can see a strand of cobweb just above her eye.

Female adder, newly emerged from hibernation. You can see sand around her eye and nostrils.

Adder skin shedding

One of last year’s baby adders

Young female adder – look for the cobweb!

The really young adders look almost velvety because they’re so tiny. They are born with the same number of scales they’ll have as a adult….just really, really tiny. So, when you think that a scale might be 3mm across in an adult, it’s less than a millimeter in the youngsters – which is why they look velvety.

One of last year’s baby adders

And the males are looking spectacular just now. Some of them have shed their skins and are on the lookout for females. They are pretty single-minded about this and, provided you stay absolutely still, tend to ignore you. I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote “As far as animals are concerned, things fall into 4 categories. A) Things you can eat; b) things to run away from; c) things to have sex with, and d) rocks.” I actually had a male adder glide between my boots in his search for a female. He paused, tested my boot with his tongue, recoiled a bit (rubber wellies clearly not his thing), seemed to give the reptile equivalent of a shrug, and just kept going. I fairly obviously fell into the “rocks” category. I hasten to add, that while this was an amazing, albeit unnerving experience, it wasn’t one I sought…we respect the adders and keep our distance so as not to disturb them…it’s just his quest took him between my feet.

This one went between my boots!

Newly-shed male basking

Male looking for a female

They do have a disconcertingly penetrating stare when they’re trying to decide if you’re scary or not.

This male has found a female. That’s been something of an achievement this year,  as, for whatever reason, there haven’t been many females around. Or maybe we dull humans just haven’t spotted them, given we don’t have a forked tongue to scent them out.

Courting couple

Male “mate guarding” female

Away from the adders-and yes, it has been hard to tear myself away, we won’t see them much over the summer – a lot of the spring migrants have returned. This week has produced common sandpiper, cuckoo, redstart and tree pipit, all returned from west Africa.

Male redstart

Cuckoo near Old Kinord

Tree pipit. Small bird, big voice.

The willow warblers were back last week and their slightly wistful descant is now one of the commonest songs heard on the reserve.

Willow warbler

Willow warbler in birch

They’re not the only ones singing and holding territory. The song thrushes repeat, repeat, repeat everything, everything and the great spotted woodpeckers “tchik”-ing petulantly from the tops of trees.

Song thrush

Surveying his territory- not wood pecking!

They should all be all right for insects, timing-wise. The tree leaves seem to be  bursting daily in the sun and soon there will be plenty of insects on them to eat. And to eat us….the midgies won’t be long til they start either, unfortunately….

New green coming on birch tree

The spring flowers are bursting into bloom, too. The dog violets are just newly out.

Violet. These have really come out this week with the warm weather

And you can’t miss the wood anemones over by New Kinord. They are just coming out and will be at their best over the next fortnight. If you are visiting the reserve in the next wee while, it’s well worth walking the Little Ord route to see them…and there’s some interesting archaeology to see, too, before the bracken all comes up and hides it!

The same patch of anemones a couple of hours later.

Celtic cross








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Spring Arrivals -Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s definitely and belatedly spring. The frost light’s only come on once in the car this week and I even didn’t need a jacket on Monday!  We’ve also had a few more migrants back and the duck count on Monday was interrupted by a cry of “willow warbler!” when the first one of the year started singing beside us. And there must have been a major arrival of them, too – we heard the first one on Monday and by Thursday I’d stopped bothering to count how many I was hearing.

Willow warbler…warbling.

A chittering and call of “vit-vit-vit” alerted us to another migrant on Wednesday- the first swallow of the spring.


While watching the swallow, an entirely different bird lumbered past. There’s such a contrast between the quick, agile, graceful flight of a swallow and the seemingly prehistoric flap of a cormorant!

Cormorant in flight

And we’ve had our first peacock butterfly of the year, too. They overwinter as adults in all sorts of nooks and crannies, and you may even find them in a shed or garage if it’s not heated. They do well to make it through the winter -warming temperatures will wake them too early and then they freeze, or lots get found and eaten by birds, rodents or spiders.  Ever found just a sad set of butterfly wings in your shed window? I know I have.  This one was probably the tattiest specimen I’d ever seen and did indeed look like something had tried to eat it, judging by all the missing bits of wing.

The world’s tattiest peacock butterfly?

The reptiles are liking the heat. There have been adders in the bracken most days.

It’s either one very big snake- or two together!

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched …

Adder sunshades… classic use of blade of grass to shade eyes.

One of the males is showing a cloudy eye, indicating he’s coming up for skin-shedding time.

Adder with cloudy eye

But some of the other males still have nice clear eyes. Maybe they won’t all skin-shed at the same time this year …they did emerge at different times due to the weather…and it’ll be interesting to see if the late or early males do the best with the females. Not that we’ve seen many of them yet though…

No cloudy eye on this male yet

A brave or stupid common lizard was basking right next to the adders. The book say that he should be safe enough, adders don’t eat until they’ve shed their skins and mated…but I’m not totally convinced the adders have read that chapter!

Common lizard

The frogs and toads will have to look out too. They’re also a potential adder food. But this one should be safe enough. He was pottering gently around Loch Davan (Davan. DAVAN! …the automatic spell-check thinks it should be “divan” and keeps changing it- agh!) and we only spotted him because it was flat-calm and we wondered where the ripples were coming from.

What’s that in the water? It’s the Toad!

resting on a rock

Also making ripples are the goldeneye. At least some will be mated and on eggs by now, but the females that aren’t are the objects of much male desire and posturing. They’ve been displaying since at least February and we’re now into April…so it’s getting close to last-chance saloon for  the males if they are to mate this year. Any lone female will soon be chased by half a dozen males, almost turning themselves inside out to impress her.

Displaying to the female

Goldeneye in full display.

Goldeneye displaying, with head tucked right back onto body

Male goldeneye responding to rival. about to dive and try torpedo tactic.

It won’t be long until the trees are in leaf, especially if it stays warm. You can imagine you can just see the first hints of green on the birch and, if you look closely, it may not be your imagination – the buds are just starting to burst.

New green! the birch will soon be in leaf.

But they’re not quite open yet and the greenest thing in the wood is a fungus! if you come and visit us this weekend, see if you can spot some. It just looks like bright blue-green wood but it’s caused by a fungus called green elf cup (or Chlorociboria aeruginascens if you fancy trying to get your tongue round the scientific name!). It was mentioned as far back as the 15th century by the name “green oak” as the green wood was used in decorative panels- naturally dyed, I suppose. It’s not uncommon, especially in damp areas…so see if you can spot some!

Green elf cup or Chlorociboria aeruginascens – the fungus that gives the wood it’s green colour






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Springtime and Snakes- Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s officially spring. I’ve taken the winter tyres off the car (which usually provokes a week of snow) and we’ve had the first migrants back, with an osprey and a sand martin on Thursday. Once you start seeing  these, you really feel like spring has arrived…and the fact that it’s been fairly warm a couple of days has helped, too.

The first osprey we’ve seem this year- though there was one reported back on 6th March.

There are still a few migrants with even further north to go. We saw a handful of fieldfares on Wednesday, doubtless on their way north to their summering grounds in Scandinavia.

Fieldfares yawning in pine tree

The sunny days have brought the adders out in force. I still haven’t seen a female yet (the girls have the right idea and sleep for a month longer than the males) but they should be around any day now. Still no sign of the males’ eyes going cloudy yet…so we’re still at least 10 days or more off skin-shedding.

Can you spot the adder?

Brown male in close-up

How many? count the heads!

One head….

…and two.

The adders attract a fair bit of attention- people are either fascinated or horrified by them. We have a long and fraught relationship with snakes, even in the UK, where the not-very venomous adder is our only poisonous snake. Back in the 1800’s, it’s thought that one specialist snake-catcher killed 30,000 snakes, including harmless grass snakes,  in the New Forest alone…and, for years, your average countryman’s reaction to a snake would be to chop it in half with a spade. So I’d reckon the snakes have come off worst in this relationship – as, sadly, most things do when encountering  Homo sapiens – but it’s the adders that have the bad reputation. Now, fortunately, they’re protected under law and more people are likely to take a picture than heave a rock at one (don’t- illegal, remember?). People even find it sort of exciting to see them, even if they don’t actually like them. For those who do like them, it’s a great opportunity to see an often shy animal and we’re lucky that people will often share their pictures with us. These were taken by Edward Flann -and many thanks for the photos.

A pile of snakes!

In close-up

Coiled up

The warm days have seen even more spawning activity from the frogs and toads. You could hear the frog chorus down by the loch on Thursday morning and you had to really watch your feet so’s not to step on a toad. They’re not easy to spot til they move!

Spot the toad? (Just up from dead centre).

It’s the Toad!

At this  time of year, the toads are as single-minded as only a sex-obsessed amphibian can be. Unfortunately, this gives them all the survival instincts of a snowflake in a blast furnace and they’re easy prey for…well, everything. Birds of prey, herons, crows, pine martens, foxes, pike and otters will all join in the toad banquet and we found ample evidence of that down by Loch Davan. Unfortunately, the rock that is just the right place to sit to do bird surveys is also just the right place to mark your territory if you’re an otter…so, needless to say, we didn’t sit on it. But the spraint was full of frog bones and unfertilized spawn, and the funny-looking thing in the water turned out to be a skinned toad-or- frog’s leg. Otters will often shake a frog or toad until it’s skinned as the skin has nasty-tasting chemicals in it.

Otter spraint

Anyone for frog’s legs for dinner?

The great crested grebes are back on Loch Davan. There were two displaying last week and one, in and out of the reeds, on Thursday. Wonder if they’re nest building?

Great crested grebe

We were being “serenaded” by a reed bunting while we were watching the grebes.  Well, I say serenaded but they have on the of the dullest songs going, a repetitive rattling trill that can actually get on your nerves after a while.

Singing reed bunting

Much better singers are the mistle thrushes. These are one of the main voices on the reserve at the moment, singing of love in a minor key with a slightly melancholy voice.

A mavis or mistle thrush

Mind you, we’re still getting our share of grey days, with Monday, Wednesday and Friday all being pretty dull and wet. We were out on Black Moss on Monday, getting training in downloading the water loggers. The blue tube in the picture measures the water depth and temperature (2 degrees –  cold enough when you’re standing in it) so we can see if the bog is staying wet.

Water level monitoring on the bog, in the rain!

And the answer is yes, it does generally seem to be wet. It’s also reassuring to see how the trees we felled 3 years ago are now, gradually, starting to be swallowed by the bog. Trees on bogs tend to dry out the bog, which we don’t want, as bogs are important for mitigating climate change and support lots of specialized plants and animals. But managing them is a long-term thing-  we’re just seeing the start of the process. Come back in 500 years and (hopefully) it’ll look great!

Gradually “eating” the trees

The bog is starting to absorb the trees we chopped down 4 years ago

Black Moss on a rainy day








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Snow Joke- Muir of Dinnet NNR

I’m really failing to seen a funny side to the weather now. Just give over with the snow, why don’t you? Our event on Friday had to be transferred inside, thanks to the cold. And the sleet. And the snow. Still, I think our young bushcrafters enjoyed themselves.

Ancient skills, modern tools!

Monday and Tuesday weren’t much better, but we were delighted that over 50 people turned out for our Easter egg hunt on the Monday and 4o came to the bird box making event (run with Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service ) on Tuesday. I know Easter is early this year, but it’s not often you can hunt for your Easter eggs, then build a snowman immediately afterwards…but Monday was that day.

Snowy trees

Snowy pines

The car park is under snow

Snowy trees on Monday

Great spotted woodpecker. A black-and-white bird looking out over a black-and-white world….

Much respect to all those hardy souls who braved the elements to come on both days! Even better, I think we all managed to avoid getting our fingers whacked during the box-making…that doesn’t always happen.

One of 40 boxes we made at our event on Tuesday

Bird boxes

The weather did eventually improve on Wednesday but you can see how snowy it has been. The hills around the reserve were dazzlingly white in the much-needed sun.

Dazzlingly white Morven

Snowy hills in the distance

The swans are getting extra-stroppy with the youngsters on the lochs just now. Adult swans will always chase off last year’s youngsters and the adult birds are pretty much “pre-programmed” to chase off young, still grey-coloured swans. So any grey-ish youngsters are in for a kicking if they hang about and the adult male mute swans make it very obvious that it’s time to move on, kids.

Male mute swan chasing young swans

There was even enough sun on Wednesday to allow the adders get a bit of basking in. We saw three males, all making the best of the sun.

Adder, curled up in the sun

Shading its eyes under the bracken

But we didn’t time our adder visit very well. Alan, a local photographer, had been taking macro pictures of the adders when an almighty commotion among the geese made him look up. The geese were right to be alarmed- a young white-tailed eagle was doing it’s best to catch one for lunch. Thanks to Alan for these pictures- gripping stuff!- but we were 10 minutes too late!

White-tailed eagle

Eagle against a snowy backdrop

Gull after the WT eagle

Even when they’re not about to be eaten, the geese make a right racket. You will almost certainly hear them if you walk past Castle Island. And they may even sail over to have a look (and a honk) at you… they think you’re a predator so it’s their way of saying “we’ve spotted you so don’t try and eat us!”.

Honk! It’s the greylags!

It was lovely meeting all the folk at the events, and getting some sun and seeing the adders…but we had a less pleasant end to the week. Some complete (replace word I’m thinking with symbols from top row of keyboard) dumped 36 tyres on the NNR. We’ve contacted the council about getting these removed but please bear with us til we do. And, if you see anyone doing anything like this- please, get pictures and report them to the police right away. It’s a pretty low thing to do, to tip on a National Nature Reserve, and costs us all, as taxpayers, to clear up. Let’s try and spot these people and prevent this happening again.

Tyres. Fly-tipped on the NNR. Not happy.



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Springing Up..and Down – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been yet another week when the weather can’t quite decide what it’s doing. One day sunny, the next raining solidly. Spring is starting but not quite getting there yet…not that the mistle thrushes have been admitting that. Even on the rainy days, they keep on singing, which has earned them the old name of “stormcock”.

Mistle thrush

The great tits and robins are singing too, and the woodpeckers have been drumming incessantly. There have been three woodpeckers around the visitor centre and you get the impression none of them like the others very much. It’s getting to the point where breeding is much more interesting than the peanut feeder! You’d think it would always be that way, but in the cold weather, hostilities are at least partially suspended as everything gets on with the business of just surviving.

Great spotted woodpecker, on the lookout for rivals.

We’ve managed to dodge some of the worst of the weather this week by having school visits or being at meetings. Monday was a show-and-tell at an Aberdeen primary school, looking at ancient Scotland and using the brilliant Forestry Commission archaeology resource box.

Copper and tin ingots. These were traded across Europe to make bronze

Using a bow drill

A selection of artefacts from the Forestry Commission Archaeology Resource box

We also attended a meeting about saving Scotland’s native flora by controlling the rather un-snappily named invasive non-native species. There are lots of these in the Scotland, from ring-necked parakeets to the much-despised giant hogweed. Three of the worst plant species are the unholy trinity of giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam. Hogweed is well-known for being dangerous to people as its sap burns, but all of them pose a real threat to our native plants. They out-compete them and result in a real loss in the diversity of other plants, insects, birds and mammals. It was nice to attend a meeting about this which could highlight some success stories (like the mink removal from much of northern Scotland) because I’ve controlled non-natives before and, frankly,it often feels like spitting into the wind…they always come back from neighbouring land and it’s an ongoing job. So it was reassuring to hear of cases where it’s really working.

Himalayan balsalm. We’ll be pulling it up come June.

Unlike some of the species we were talking about on Wednesday, the snowdrops are always a pleasure to see. They are late this year- they are often over by now – and provide a much-needed patch of brightness on a soggy day.

Soggy snowdrops

The snowdrops are out late this year

The rain has flooded lots of hollows on the reserve, which will make for good frog and toad spawning grounds. Spawn is starting to appear, as are mating toads…you really have to watch you don’t tread on them on the paths, as they are utterly absorbed with other business and don’t pay any attention to their surroundings.

Toad-ally absorbed with one another!

I just hope the pools don’t dry up too soon. We don’t want a repeat of The Great Spawn Rescue of a few years back, when myself and a volunteer shifted over 60 litres of spawn from a drying pool.


There was even frog spawn in the drains!

The adders have been out on the warmer days again….which, so far, has only been Monday. There were at least a couple, soaking up the rays on the bracken. No signs of the female adders yet, but with April just days away, it won’t be long until the lazy ladies start to emerge too.

Basking adder

We’ve popped up a couple of signs waning folk about adders. People are unlikely to get bitten but dogs running around off the path are at risk.

When spring comes around, I always think it’s easy to spot the new stuff…the first buds, the first migrant birds, the first adder…but one of the signs of the turning year is the disappearance of species we’ve grown used to over the winter. I haven’t seen a whooper swan this week and suspect they have all moved on. The pink-footed geese are on the move too, with flocks passing northward over the reserve, bound for northern Scotland and thence the long jump to Iceland.

Geese flying north

But, while the pink-feet are heading north, our resident greylags are setting up territories around the loch. You’re left in no doubt about that fact, as they have a tremendous honking and clattering as they compete for the best spots. Although everything is late this year with the cold weather, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are on eggs by now.

A pair of greylag geese

Speaking of birds being on eggs, we’d like to politely remind our visitors that, from 1st April all dogs should be kept on a lead or at heel across the nature reserve. Actually, when a dog is attempting to eat some of the wildlife, we’d occasionally like to impolitely remind the owner of that, but that sort of approach isn’t acceptable and doesn’t help things in the long run. Rather, we explain that a lot of birds do nest on the ground here and keeping your dog close is one of the ways you can really help the birds. It’s not the dog’s fault- they’re just being a dog- but we humans  know better and we genuinely appreciate the folk who do keep their hound at heel. Thanks, folks-nature is being squeezed out all over the place, so respecting the reserve really helps.

Image result for dog on lead sign

But, even though it should be spring and the birds should be nesting, the snow hasn’t quite gone yet. There’s still quite a bit up the Vat gorge and on high, shady ground.

There are still patches of snow on the high, shady parts of the reserve

It was even getting topped up on Thursday! And Friday was just as bad. In fact, I think it was worse. It only stopped raining to snow, so massive respect to those folk who made it to the bushcraft event. It was so could outside we wound up inside- but I think most folk enjoyed themselves and learned some new skills.

Okay, I like a proper winter and don’t mind snow…but, by the end of March, I’m really looking for spring and kind of object to getting soaked through with wet snow by now. Let hope the forecast “mini Beast” doesn’t materialise over the Easter Weekend…and we may even see you at one of our events next week…details are below if you fancy it!

Snow. At the end of March. It just not funny any more…


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All Weather Week – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a week it’s been, weather-wise. It’s done the classic Scottish thing of presenting us with as many different weather types as possible within the course of a week. It started cold – very cold- with an overnight chill of minus 6 on Monday. This made for some wonderful ice sculptures  at the Vat. Where the water had splashed up onto branches, it had frozen into amazing ice “chandeliers”.

Chandeliers of ice at the Vat

Ice art

Splash zone ice

There were icicles beside the waterfall too.

Icicles at the waterfall

Vat waterfall

And even some of the trees had icicles on them!

You know it’s cold when there’s icicles on trees!

But as the day wore on, it turned a lot warmer and, by lunchtime, it was even warm enough for not one, not two, but three adders to be out basking. They took a bit of spotting – you have to get your eye in again after a snake-free winter. They are really only starting to get going after the late cold spell and have some warming up to do before a busy summer season.

Spot the adder?

Having a bask

Basking adder, flattened to increase surface area. You can see how they can’t flatten so much when the ribs run out near the tail…the last few inches aren’t flattened.

They’re not the only ones getting ready for the summer. Our busy visitor season really kicks off about Easter, so we’re also getting set-up – planning events, painting picnic benches, sorting paths etc. This also includes the less glamorous jobs like getting the septic tank emptied, and you know it was a busy year last year when they have to send for a bigger lorry to remove all the, let’s call it waste, and pump 20 tonnes out of the tank!

We’re gonna need a bigger lorry….

Although most of the snow has gone from the lower ground, the Vat burn has risen dramatically since Wednesday. It’s been largely dry but the snow on the hills is still melting and it’s that which is fuelling the spate. You couldn’t get into the Vat by Wednesday and still couldn’t on Friday.

The entrance to the Vat

Waterfall in the Vat. Too much water to get in!

We had to make sure our side drains were kept clear. You can lose your path surface surprisingly quickly of one of these blocks and the water starts running down the path. Mind you, it’s not helpful when a mole surfaces in just the right place to block the drain!

The moles do pick their places to surface!

Duncan the volunteer clearing drains

It’s not surprise that it is melting so quickly. The temperature got up to a balmy and lovely 14 degrees (that’s 19 degrees warmer than it was when I arrived on Monday morning) and we were up to six adders soaking up the sun.

A bask of adders

The warmth was also bringing out the frogs and toads. I have been looking for frogspawn but haven’t seen any – yet – but I’m sure there will be by now. We stepped over several beautifully-marked common female frogs who all looked full of spawn – they were almost spherical.

Frog, well hidden in the bracken

A  female frog, ready to spawn

The lapwings are back in the fields in numbers, too. The one pair of last week has become 8 pairs this week, tumbling and “peewit-ing” as they display.

Lapwing in the foreground

The year seems to be whizzing by and somehow we’re only a week from Easter. The schools will break up next Thursday evening for a fortnight (only ever got a week in my day, mutter, grumble, just jealous, I’d have loved two weeks off school!). So, if you’re looking for something to do in the holidays, our first event is on Good Friday 30th March. Details are in the poster here but the 11-12 session is already booked up…so get in quick if you want to come!








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