Muir of Dinnet NNR – Snakes and Sunshine

Snakes and sunshine are two things we’ve had plenty of this week. The adders have finally started to shed their skins and are looking freshly minted. I can never get over how vibrant they look, like freshly-enameled jewels.

Lovely blue shed male

Compare this shed male with how he looks earlier in the week. He’s one of these two, the top one we think, and looks a totally different animal.

Sharing warmth

Newly shed male adder

Shed adder skin

The longest skin we’ve found this year -63 cm straightened out.

This male adder hasn’t shed yet- his eye is still cloudy. And, if you look closely, just behind his head, you can see his skin starting to split.

Let’s split. Unshed adder, but look closely- his skin is starting to split.

The male adders will now be on the lookout for females. We’ve only spotted two females so far this year- but we don’t have forked tongues to scent them out!

Male and female adder.

Other reptiles have been enjoying the sun, too. This slow worm was basking on the path- and was most unwilling to move until I gently ushered him into the long grass. Unfortunately, the middle of the path, with walkers, cyclists and dogs isn’t the safest place to bask.

Slow worm on path

The sun is fairly bringing on the new leaves. The birches haven’t burst- yet- but the hawthorns and larches are fairly starting to go green.

Larch bursting into “leaf”…well, needle.

It’s bringing out the flowers, too. We’ve seen our first wood anemones this week.

Wood anemone

The damp mornings, when it’s still dew-soaked, are the best time to spot the toads that are still on the lookout for mates. The number you see on the paths is dropping off a bit now but you do still come across amorous couples making more toads. The females are usually much larger than the males.

mating toads

In fact, everything is getting it on right now! The list of things we’ve seen mating this week include geese, lapwings, chaffinches, dunnocks, toads and robins….all full of the joys of spring.

Lapwing

The migrant birds continue to arrive. We saw, or at least heard, our first willow warbler last week and an osprey was reported fishing on Loch Davan.

Osprey

We’ve also had our first wheatear passing through the reserve. They don’t breed on the reserve but you find loads on the  west coast- look out for a small bird with a white bum flying away from the car!  These are cracking wee birds and the only small passerine bird to cross an ocean on migration…the northern race of wheatear can migrate from Canada to Africa via Greenland and Europe…and some may even take a more direct route across the Atlantic. All bird migration is an amazing story of survival against the odds- and this is one of the best!

Male wheatear

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Warm and Wet

Well, that’s the end of March and a quarter of the year gone. Did anyone else blink and miss it? Surely, now it’s coming into April, it’s safe to take the winter tyres off the car? You’d have thought so on Monday, it was as glorious a spring day as you’ll see anywhere – Loch Kinord looked utterly idyllic, lying flat and still under a blazing blue sky. It even got up to 21 degrees!

Paradise?

Feeling hot hot hot!

The only thing disturbing the peace were the graylag geese. They are still pairing up- noisily- and their honking carries all the way across the loch.

The greylags are pairing off- noisily.

This pair look absolutely placid, sailing serenely through the calm water. Don’t believe it- the second another pair get too close, they turn into hissing, honking, neck-stretching, pecking monsters!

Loch Kinord, looking idyllic

It’s even been so warm and dry we had to put up high fire risk signs early in the week. This is a “rain dance” activity, guaranteed to make the weather break…and it was indeed raining by Friday.

High fire risk at the start of the week….rain by the end.

The adders were lapping up the sun early in the week, with seven males but no females seen on Monday. However, the females appeared by the middle of the week, so skin shedding and mating must be imminent.

Snuggling snakes- sharing warmth

female adder

Spot the adder? There’s one, out in the open, and another you can only see a few inches of. We’ll be dead impressed if you can spot that one!

This adder had decided to sunbathe in a decidedly odd position. The back half of his body is flat on the ground, as you’d expect, but the front half was extended vertically up a rock. He seemed comfy enough though, he was still there, in the same position, when I passed again about an hour later.

Adder “on end”- an unusual basking position

There are still toads everywhere, wandering about in search of a mate and apparently oblivious to danger. The herons and otters (and anything else that eats toads) make a real killing at this time of year – it’s a froggy, toady banquet for them. We’ve seen several herons hunting round the lochs or even  lumbering gracelessly away from woodland pools.

Heron fishing for frogs by Loch Kinord

The leaves aren’t really bursting yet but the willow catkins are ripe now. We think of them as “pussy willows” when they’re at the grey, silky stage but they soon ripen with yellow pollen and the whole tree can look yellowish. Sorry, hay fever sufferers, the willows and the daffs are the start of it.

Willow catkins

The lapwings are well ensconced in the Old Kinord fields. We had at least 14 birds last week, so hopefully that means at least 7 pairs will breed here. Their “peewit” calls as the display and tumble are one of the sounds of spring.

The lapwing are displaying over the Old Kinord fields

We’ve now finished heather burning for the year. We might have tried for another day this week, but the high fire risk put paid to that – it would not be sensible to light up the moor in those conditions! Though it looks devastating, this will, in the long term, benefit the heath and the species that live here by burning off the dense, overly shading heather.

Burnt heather- we’re finished burning for the year.

But the fine weather was good for some other jobs, like getting the viewpoint painted. Not the worst place in the world to work, on a fine day….though it could just have been the varnish fumes making us happy.

Early season jobs

Speaking of being happy – this may make you smile. It’s our “…and finally” article – you know the sort, the kind they bung on at the end of the news to try and convince you that it’s not all depressing. It usually involves pets, like skateboarding spaniels or a cat that meows the national anthem. Well, our is a clearly computer-generated addressing error…and no, the office isn’t all that bad!

Flushed with success….?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The First Migrants are Back!

Yup, the title says it all. The first spring migrants are back, with a pair of sand martins seen zooming over Loch Davan on Monday morning. Admittedly, they probably wished they weren’t as it was blizzarding at that point but at least the sleety squall didn’t last- it blew through quickly, producing lots of rainbows.

Rainbow over Loch Davan

Squalls blowing through on the wind….

…and the same view, 5 minutes later!

Although it has been sunny, it hasn’t been all that warm. The adders are still getting up late in the day, but must be getting closer to shedding their skins- their eyes have started to go cloudy.

This male’s eye is just starting to go cloudy

This adder has a very cloudy eye

The adders aren’t the only reptiles we’ve seen this week. We’ve seen our first slow worms, basking in the sun and living up to their name. I like slow worms- they’re fairly peaceable creatures – but oh my goodness, they’re thick about getting out of the way of danger. We had to evict one off the lawn, where it was determinedly not moving, in spite of nearly being run over by people, the wheely bin and the wheelbarrow. The survival strategy of not moving only works up to the point you get squashed.

Not moving. Not. You can’t see me if I don’t move.

All of the resident birds are singing furiously just now. Among the most strident are the song and mistle thrushes. It takes a bit of getting used to before you can tell them apart by song, but there are a couple of “tricks” you can use. Mistle thrushes sing in a minor key, while song thrushes repeat repeat repeat, everything everything, often in that three-repeats, two- repeats cadence.

Mistles are minor…

 

Song thrushes repeat, repeat, repeat!

The song thrush would happily have made a meal of this newt we found wandering around the  visitor centre on Monday. These have only just emerged and, like the slow worms, freeze in the face of danger. Fortunately, we only wanted to take his photo!

Newt on path at back of visitor centre

There are even more toads and frogs to be seen on the paths on the mild mornings. In fact, there are toads everywhere! We’ve been doing the Dance of the  Toad, swaying around on one leg as you attempt not to tread on a toad you hadn’t spotted until it moved underfoot. So, if you’re out on the reserve this weekend, watch your feet….or practice your dancing!

Spot the toad?

How many toads?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

Spring is Springing

Spring is Springing. It’s been mild but windy this week. But, when spring feels like it is really springing, I always get wary and start asking myself the big questions in life. No, not Brexit or the referendum….if I take the winter tyres off my car, will it  snow?  March has been fine the past few years but April has seen some of the worst snow of the winter. Let’s hope this singing robin doesn’t have cause to be silent by next week!

Sing up- it’s spring!

The adders have been basking in the sun. They don’t seem to like the wind- maybe it makes for weird vibrations they pick up or something, but they always seem jumpier on windy days and more likely to slide off into the wall.

Adder, hidden in the grass

Dark coloured male adder

We’ve been seeing a lot of crossbills around the Burn o Vat this week. They are hard to spot until you learn their “chip, chip” call, then you hear and see them fairly frequently. You usually hear the call when they’re flying but we’ve had a male sitting singing just down the road from the visitor centre. It’s an odd song- fairly quiet, with lots of disjointed phrases and burbles- and not something you hear all that often.

Male crossbill

Not like the song thrush, who has been giving it laldy in the car park. You can hear him even with doors and windows shut.

Song thrush on top of the Douglas firs

This week has really marked the spring entrance of frogs and toads onto the wildlife scene. They’re everywhere! You can hardly walk on the paths without nearly treading on toads and the frogs are being frankly randy in every pool on the reserve.

Frog, on the lookout for a mate

Mating frogs

Toad on the path

All this mating activity leads to the production of what must be gallons of frogspawn across the reserve. This includes in newly-crated pools on Parkin’s Moss, that resulted from the damming work we did over the winter. A lot of work on bogs is long-term…come back in 500 years and it’ll look just great…..so it’s nice to see an immediate seal of approval from the wildlife!

Frogspawn

Frog spawn in pool created by Parkin’s Moss dam

The geese are pairing up on the lochs and starting to set up territories. Of course, being graylag geese, they can’t do this without huge amounts of honking, squawking, bickering and clattering. It’s a right racket! But they are getting so uptight as they are close to breeding- I’d expect some to be on eggs by the end of next week.

Greylag pair

A couple of the odder-looking residents from last year have returned. At least two of the graylag/ barnacle goose hybrids are hanging around the lochs. They may attempt to breed but will probably fail- usually hybrid geese are sterile.

Hybrid barnacle/graylag geese – barlag or greynacle- take your pick!

The hybrids are much smaller than the graylag geese

We’ve had a couple of “firsts”  for the year this week. We had our first bumblebee on Monday- which I didn’t get a picture of- and our first lizard- who did pose for a picture We’re also waiting for the first migrants back- surely the sand martins will show up any day now. So, if you’re out and about this weekend, keep your eyes peeled- you never know what signs of spring may appear!

Basking in the sun

The fist lizard of the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Goldeneyes and Golden Days

It’s been a busy week for us. And the wildlife is getting busier too. You can’t walk down by the lochs just now without hearing the “tsip- dzzzzoo” of the goldeneye displaying. The males are going all out to impress the females right now, with a series of head-flicks, feet-splashing and head-down displays.

Goldeneye display. I can stretch my neck further than him….mate with me memememe!

The head flick is accompanied by a tzzip- zzzzeoo! call

Goldeneye pair, male displaying

They are great entertainment to watch. The head-bob, foot splash is an “I’m showing off” move.

Male goldeneye displaying

But the head-down display is more likely to be a threat to rival males. I’ve never seen two males actually come to blows but you do see a lot of posturing. They have a very good idea of where the invisible lines are on the loch that mark the boundaries of each other’s territories. And there is a lot “sabre-rattling” on these boundaries – getting close enough to annoy the resident male but not close enough so he beats you up. The favoured technique seems to be to dive and try and torpedo your rival from underneath- so, if one goldeneye dives, they both do.

Male goldeneye, head down display

Male goldeneye

Female and diving male

Just surfaced after trying torpedo tactic.

You can see that the females are in prime breeding condition right now by the pale tip to their beak. You only see that in spring in adult females.

Female goldeneye

The mallards are displaying too, with rather more sedate head-bobs than the goldeneye. However, it won’t be long until they get completely carried away, and it’s not uncommon for female mallards to be drowned by over-enthusiastic males trying to mate with them.

The mallard are displaying too

The adders had a slow start to the week, with it being too cold on Monday for them to poke their heads up. But they did get some basking in on Tuesday and Thursday- and on Wednesday, between the heavy showers.

Adder coiled up

Other birds are starting to pair up, too. This pair of oystercatchers were investigating a shingly bit of the loch shore. You tend to know if there are oystercatchers around; their call isn’t exactly subtle and has led to an old country name of “skirlie wirlie”.

Oystercatchers.

Last year’s mute swan cygnets seem to be the only birds that aren’t interested in displaying right now!

One of last year’s cygnets

Bottoms up!

Well, not quite all of them. The cormorants spend most of their time “wing drying” on Castle Island, looking rather reptilian and prehistoric. They spend a fair bit of time perched there, as evidenced by the “whitewash” underneath them!

Cormorant – and cormorant “whitewash”

Many of the willow trees around the lochs are in full catkin now. They are irresistibly soft and strokeable!

Willow catkins

It stayed dry enough for us to get some more heather burning done this week.

Lighting up!

With spring starting to come in, it is easy to forget this can be a really hard time for wildlife. There aren’t many new leaves or insects yet and most of the winter food has run out. The robins soon appear looking for any insects if you as much as kick over a log.

Watching me. Will you hurry up and uncover some worms?

And the deer have been munching on this birch bracket fungus. Usually, these are too high up for deer to reach but this one has grown on a fallen birch. But please don’t be tempted by them…they are useful for stropping razors, or making plasters or even mounting moths….but not for eating!

Mushroom for tea. Something, probably a deer, has eaten this birch bracket

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Frosty Nights, Burning days

Spring is definitely in the air. The snowdrops around old, ruined houses are in full flower and a lot of the birds are in full voice. The snowdrops look striking under the straight, grey trunks of the aspen.

Snowdrops and aspen

Snowdrops and aspen

But the nights are still very cold. It’s been down to minus five a few nights and the adders have been slow to get up in the mornings. They often bask on the bracken rather than the stones of the dyke early in the day. I suppose it’s warmer on the tummy!

Basking adder

Basking adder

Snakes alive! There's two of them!

Snakes alive! There’s two of them!

We had a glorious day for an “away day”, helping to put up the tern fence at Forvie. Forvie has some of the best sand dunes in the country, making for an almost desert-like landscape down by the estuary and the terns love it – they have one of the largest mainland tern colonies in the country there, all tucked within about a mile of electrified fencing. This keeps predators out and has to be put up in early March, about 3 weeks before the terns arrive back. All going to plan, there can be up to 4000+ pairs of birds all tucked safely within the fence. Although it is a lot of work to put up,  it is absolutely vital for the preservation of the tern and gull colony.

Ythan estuary

Ythan estuary

What are they doing? The seals were curious about or fence making!

What are they doing? The seals were curious about our fence making!

Enclosing the shingle area

Enclosing the shingle area

Just upright- still needs guyed up

Just upright- still needs guy-ed up

The terns like the sand and shingle areas in the dune. Tern eggs look like stones so it’s good camouflage for them.

The terns like to nest on shingle and snad

The terns like to nest on shingle and snad

The low sun makes for long shadows in the dunes. Even the crushed mussel shell, regurgitated by eider ducks, casts a shadow on the sand.

Mussel shell fragments

Mussel shell fragments

Occasionally you can spot small pieces of worked flint in among the shingle. There were people here thousands of years ago, making tools from flints found in the shingle and it’s always a thrill to spot these chips of stone that may have last been handled by a person 3000 years ago.

You occasionally find chips of flint among the shingle

You occasionally find chips of flint among the shingle

Back at Dinnet, the breeding action is hotting up down on the lochs. the goldeneye are almost turning themselves inside out in an attempt to impress the females. They look utterly daft to our eyes but it clearly means more if you’re a duck.

More displaying

More displaying

Displaying

Displaying

Goldeneye displaying, with head tucked right back onto body

Goldeneye displaying, with head tucked right back onto body

And the swans are getting stroppier and stroppier. They’re even taking to the air now to see off rivals and chasing each other between the two lochs.

The swans are chasing each other between the lochs

The swans are chasing each other between the lochs

Even the reed buntings are getting in on the act, singing from bushes or dockans down by the loch. Well, for a given value of “singing” – reed buntings have a repetitive, nasal trill which gets marks for persistence, if not singing ability.

Male reed bunting

Male reed bunting

We had yet another glorious day for heather burning. It’s been the first one this year when the heather hasn’t smoked sullenly, then gone out….but that means you need to be extra careful that you can put it out! We burn small patches each year to allow other plants, including bearberry, to grow under the deep heather which would otherwise shade them out.  Many thanks to Daryl and Richard  for their help with the fire- and, more importantly, putting it out.

Lighting up

Lighting up

All going to plan so far...

All going to plan so far…

?????????????

?????????????

Muirburn

Muirburn

Heather burning

Heather burning

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Sun, Showers and Snow

Typical Scotland, typical February. Fourteen degrees and sunny on Monday, very pleasant and spring-like….and then minus two and 4 inches of snow by Friday. It was really warm at the start of the week and the adders were out enjoying the sun. 

Basking time

Basking time

Watching me, watching you.

Watching me, watching you.

They are incredibly hard to spot in the bracken. Even we, who are used to them and look for them, don’t see them sometimes and I nearly trod on this male when I went to retrieve some litter from the bracken. 

Spot the adder? I didn't!

Spot the adder? I didn’t!

Can you see the adder?

Can you see the adder? It’s the dark line at the base of the dyke, 12 o clock in the picture.

 There were quite a few blustery showers early in the week, with the wind whipping short, sharp showers across the reserve. But these combined with the sun made for some spectacular rainbows. 

Blustery showers and pretty rainbows

Blustery showers and pretty rainbows

Rainbow at Old Kinord

Rainbow at Old Kinord

A lot of the birds are thinking breeding thoughts now. Mistle thrushes, song thrushes, great tits, blue tits, treecreepers and chaffinches were all singing in the first half of the week. 

Male chaffinch in his spring finery

Male chaffinch in his spring finery

 

Treecreeper

Treecreeper

The mute swans are getting increasingly aggressive as they push rivals or young birds out of their territories. The last year’s cygnets were not being allowed to settle on Loch Davan and were being repeatedly chased by the resident males. 

Aggressive mute swan chasing cygnets

Aggressive mute swan chasing cygnets

One of last year's cygnets, being chased by an adult swan

One of last year’s cygnets, being chased by an adult swan

A couple of the swans on Loch Kinord just now have probably been pushed off a park  pond or somewhere there are lots of people. They don’t seem wild and wary like the other swans, but are hanging around close to the bank and look like they’re used to being fed. “What have you got in your sandwiches? Go on, give us a bit.” But, unfortunately, bread for a swan is a bit like booze or chocolate for us- it’s so-o awfully fine but not good for you at all. 

You can see right through the swan's beak!

So close you can see right through the swan’s beak!

 Midweek, a suspicious-looking stain on the ceiling sent us into the loft to look for leaks. It seems dry up there but who’s poo is this? We get mouse and bat poo in the loft, both live up there, but this looks like stoat poo. I’ve heard of having bats in the belfry, but stoats in the attic…? 

Who's poo? We think it's stoat poo- in our loft!

Who’s poo? We think it’s stoat poo- in our loft!

It was nice to see one of our rarer and more obscure specialities putting in an appearance this week too. We found a couple of capsules of green shield moss by the Vat Burn. It’s a very rare, very fussy moss which only grows on very rotten wood that stays wet all the time. We don’t see it every year but it’s nice to know it’s still hanging on. 

Green shield moss

Green shield moss – the two green “blobs”.

It’s a good job we found it on Wednesday. It would have been covered with several inches of snow, after “Doris “day on Thursday. The reserve looked a very different place by the end of the week, a winter wonderland of crisp, fresh snow. It’s starting to melt rapidly by now – late Friday -but, if you come to the reserve this weekend, make sure you have good boots- it’ll be wet for a few days to come once this all melts off!

Moven is pure white today

Moven is pure white today

A snow view across the reserve

A snow view across the reserve

The hills are white today

The hills are white today

Even the birch brackets are covered in snow.

Even the birch brackets are covered in snow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Adding Up to Springtime

The cold and grey of last week seems to be giving way to warmer weather. So much so that the adders, absent since last October, have emerged for the spring.

Tasting the air

Tasting the air

On the move

On the move

Male adder crossing track

Male adder crossing track

We first saw them on the  15th Feb, exactly a week later than last year. They may have been out before that, but we weren’t around last week to check. But maybe not- the two adders of Wed 15th had become five adders by the 17th, so they may just be emerging now. They’ll have spent the winter in rabbit burrows on a dry, south-facing bank and are now emerging as the sun warms the ground.

The first adder of the year

The first adder of the year

The second adder of the year

The second adder of the year

There are actually two adders in the "puddle" of snake"

There are actually two adders in this “puddle” of snake.

The adders don’t tend to get up until the middle of the day at this time of year. And who can blame them? It was minus two degrees this morning as the sun came up- and there is still snow on the surrounding hills.

Sunrise over Loch Davan

Sunrise over Loch Davan

Morven with cloud and snow cap

Morven with cloud and snow cap

Meanwhile, other wildlife is also on the move. We’ve had small groups of whooper swans starting to trickle through  the reserve. These lovely birds are on their way north already, starting to move up through the UK to north-west Scotland. It’s the best “jumping off” point if you’re to migrating back to Iceland – the less of the north Atlantic you have to cross, the better!

Super whoopers!

Super whoopers!

Mind you, the local mute swans aren’t all that happy about these northern visitors and the male mutes keep chasing them around. Having said that, the mute swans aren’t that happy about anything right now- the males are getting charged with spring testosterone and are in the mood to fight with practically anything big and white. I’ve even heard of them attacking sheep in extreme cases. At the moment, they’re confining themselves to puffing up their wings and sailing up and down on the edges of their territories – but it won’t be long until some proper wing-beating, water-splashing, neck-pecking down-and-dirty fights start.

Whooper swan being chased by irate mute swan

Whooper swan being chased by irate mute swan

Stroppy swans

Stroppy swans

We’ve also had a couple away days this week, one to a meeting and another, more excitingly, helping clear the Forvie ternery for the return of the black-headed gulls and terns later in the year. We strimmed down a lot of dead nettle and willowherb stems to make it easier for the birds to land. Why? Well, imagine you’re the size of a tern. Now imagine trying to land in a forest of dead, spiky twigs (and that’s after you’ve flown from near the south pole). Not much fun, huh? So we try an make life easier for them by flattening the dead vegetation before the arrive. And it has to be done now, as the black-headed gulls will be on eggs by late March. Spring is definitely in the air!

Summer starts here....clearing the ternery for it's avian visitors later in the year

Summer starts here….clearing the ternery for it’s avian visitors later in the year

ternery

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Is It February Already?

Many thanks to Ewen Cameron, Chair of  the Habitats & Species Group, North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership, for this week’s blog.

There’s lots of wildlife activity now to remind us that 2017 is starting to speed up.   The annual Big Garden Bird Count has passed (I hope you took part) and tree leaf buds are starting to swell.   If you are managing to keep to your New Year resolutions – well done.   Even if not, there are still lots of things that it’s not to late to “start up” for 2017.   One of the easiest and most useful for nature is “wildlife gardening”.

Many gardeners and most gardening programmes would have advised you to get your “tidying up” done in the Autumn to be ready for Spring.   But I always leave my tidying until March.   That way, birds, hedgehogs and lots of other wildlife get the advantage of piles of fallen leaves, dead plants and so on for food and shelter through the Winter.  I particularly like watching the blackbirds and blue tits repeatedly searching through little piles of leaves or dead flowers for something to eat.   And what they are eating will include the sorts of the wee beasties that you don’t want (or at least don’t want lots of) in your garden.

Female blackbird

Blackbird raking around in leaves for insects

 

Coal tit feeding frenzy

Coal tit feeding frenzy

Lots of gardening experts will also tell you that slugs are your enemy number one. Some slugs can certainly damage prize plants, but if your garden is bird and hedgehog friendly, then they will be busy controlling your slugs while you are sitting with your feet up or sound asleep in your bed.   Nature never rests.   And of course there are some slugs, like the leopard slug, which is really the gardener’s friend because it not only eats (and therefore recycles) dead vegetation – it also eats other slugs.   So, like the rest of life, when it comes to the garden, make sure you know who your real friends are.   Very often, the creepy crawlies you don’t like the look of, really will be your best friends.   Remember what your mother told you – looks aren’t everything.

The aptly-named Great Black Slug

The aptly-named Great Black Slug. They eat dead and rotting vegetation- and even eat poo!

Leopard slug

Leopard slug

Sexton beetle

Sexton beetle – they bury and eat dead animals

 I have been gardening here on Deeside for more than 30 years and my slightly untidy wildlife garden also has hostas growing without any damage.   And its years since I used any chemical pesticides.

Wildlife out on the reserve at Dinnet is getting a move on too.   Last week the covering of ice on Loch Kinord, was being broken up into plate sized pieces by the wind and waves.   This also piled them up against the loch shore creating some lovely patterns that had a distinct Art Nouveau look about them.

Ice crystals do abstract art

Ice crystals do abstract art

No straight lines in nature?

No straight lines in nature?

Ice by Loch Kinord

Ice by Loch Kinord

And when the loch is free of ice, the ducks and swans have a much bigger area to feed in.   Two “teenager swans” – probably hatched last year – were quietly swimming round the loch edge and feeding on the newly accessible plants growing just below the water.   The mature swans were occupied elsewhere defending territories, trying to impress females and all the other things that go with the early stages of a new year and a new breeding season.

Mute swans- this year's cygnets

Mute swans- this year’s cygnets

 

Swan fight

Swan fight. Swans defending their territories can be very aggressive

Of course, to get such good views of wildlife you have to be quiet, you have to move carefully and you really do have to leave your dog at home.   If you don’t, wildlife will usually give you a wide berth and you’ll be lucky to see more than their tail end disappearing in the distance.

We had a group of 21 whooper swans pass through the reserve on Thursday.

Swans feeding undisturbed by watcher

As you will have seen in previous blogs from Dinnet, sunlight early and late in the day can give some striking photos, like this male goldeneye which looks as though it’s paddling through golden syrup rather than a chilly Aberdeenshire loch.

A pair of goldeneye displaying on Loch Kinord

A pair of goldeneye displaying on Loch Kinord

Sleepy ducks in the sunrise

Sleepy ducks on pink water

So why don’t you resolve to make 2017 the year that you do some positive things for wildlife in your garden – no matter how big or small it is.   The internet is a great source of information for wildlife gardening tips and ideas.

2017 could also be the year that you and your family resolve to improve your wildlife watching skills.   No doubt some of you will have seen the wildlife photography and sightings on the BBC’s Winterwatch; and indeed on other television programmes.    So when you visit the reserve, or indeed any part of the countryside; keep the noise down and, at least sometimes, leave the dog at home and you will be rewarded with more close up wildlife sightings.   The wildlife will appreciate your efforts – as will the reserve’s other visitors hoping for some wildlife close encounters too.

SNH staff and Board members on a site visit to St.Cyrus NNR, Grampian. ©Lorne Gill/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Frosty Days and Fencing Wire

Hello and apologies for the lack of blog last week. Life gets in the way, sometimes, and so does a ton of fencing wire! That’s how much we took to the tip on Friday, finally getting rid of the huge pile of wire Duncan has accumulated over the past couple of years. It’s a relief to see it gone- these old fences can catch deer and especially owls, which hunt in the dark and are never going to see fencing wire until they fly into it.

The pile of wire is starting to go

The pile of wire is starting to go

The wire pile is almost gone...

The wire pile is almost gone…

All loaded up, strapped down and ready to roll.

All loaded up, strapped down and ready to roll.

The robin was extremely pleased we were moving the wire. As far as we were concerned, we were disturbing the ground for him to root around for insects. We all love to see the robin following us when we garden, and are flattered by their confidence. But we might be less flattered to think we’re fulfilling the same role as wild boar did for robins, long before we put spade to soil!

Oh, go on.....kinck up some vegetation....turn over a few logs!

Oh, go on…..kick up some vegetation….turn over a few logs!

It is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology in 2017, and this week’s blog contains a mere 400 million years of history! We had a day away from the reserve, doing a wee bit of maintenance at Rhynie Chert. Now, this is the least likely-looking protected site you’ll ever see- what’s so special about a field? Well, nothing, on the surface, but a metre underneath the grass lie some of the best- preserved fossils from millions of years ago. Nothing big and dramatic like dinosaurs- they didn’t appear for another 200-ish million years – but rather early land plants and invertebrates. About 410 million years, a volcanic spring covered these plants and animals and preserved them in such fine detail that you can, under a microscope, still see individual cells within the plants. There’s even an extinct genus of plants called Rhynia in honour of the site.

Rhynie Chert

Rhynie Chert

It's SSSI- honest!

It’s SSSI- honest!

Much of last week and early this week was fairly cold- the lochs have been partly frozen for about a week. The ducks don’t mind though, and seem to actively enjoy loafing around on the ice by the edge of the unfrozen patches. It’s often the best time to spot the teal- they usually lurk in the reedbeds and you can hear, but not see, them. When they are standing on the ice, you can really see how much smaller than the mallards they are.

Frozen Kinord

Frozen Kinord

The ducks seem to like standing about on the ice during the day

The ducks seem to like standing about on the ice during the day

Mallard and teal rooting on the ice

Mallard and teal roosting on the ice. The teal are the small ones.

Even a couple of visiting whooper swans were wandering around on the ice. It won’t be long until we start seeing groups of these, moving back north for summer.

A pair of whoopers on the ice

A pair of whoopers on the ice

Speaking of summer, it looks a bit odd to see the gorse coming into flower already. Gorse blooms almost all year round…and there is a saying that when gorse is in flower, kissing is in season!

The gorse is coming into flower

The gorse is coming into flower

Yet again, the frosty mornings have turned the reserve into a winter wonderland for a few hours- until the sun comes up. Perhaps that’s part of what makes it so beautiful, it’s a transient thing, to be enjoyed before it melts away.

frosty birches

frosty birches

Frosty alder catkins

Frosty alder catkins

Frosty Bogingore

Frosty Bogingore

Frosty rosehip

Frosty rosehip

Backlit shrubs look amazing in the frost

Backlit shrubs look amazing in the frost

Late winter is a hard time for wildlife- a lot of the food is gone, but it’s still at least a couple of months until any new growth or new food comes along. The redpoll flocks are growing increasingly bold with hunger, and feeding right over your head if they find a tree with a good crop of birch seeds. Their fine beaks are ideal for winkling the tiny seeds out of the catkins.

Redpoll feeding on birch seeds

Redpoll feeding on birch seeds

Redpolls

Redpolls

Male redpoll

Male redpoll

We also said farewell to a faithful servant this week- the old reserve Land Rover has been replaced. But it served us well- we never got stuck anywhere in 12 years!

Goodbye, faithful servant!

Goodbye, faithful Landy!

We also had a trip into a school this week, talking about ancient Scotland.   Dinnet is a place great to see some archaeology – but the artifacts in the Forestry Commission’s Archaeology resource box are a lot more fun to handle! The children were surprised that flint was genuinely sharp….and just how hard it is to grind barley by hand!

Using a bow drill

Using a bow drill

A selection of artifacts from the Forestry Commission Archaeology Resource box

A selection of artifacts from the Forestry Commission Archaeology Resource box

flint arrowhead

flint arrowhead

Saddle quern

Saddle quern

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,