Reflections on Ice – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Well, we’re almost there, and there’s a good chance the year will have turned by the time you read this. Not date-wise, but the shortest day will be happening or over and it will actually be getting a few minutes lighter each day. The sun is late in coming up- it’s gone 9 by the time it peers over the hills at Dinnet – but you get long and beautiful sunrises as the light gradually creeps across the sky.

first light brings some lovely colours

We had one of the best sunrises of the year on Tuesday. It was a goose count day- there had been a lot of goose noise on the lochs so we wanted to check how many were around. Normally, we only have a few hundred graylag geese on the lochs but they had been joined by around 1800 pink – footed geese. These may well have been frozen off another local roost site and were using the small patch of clear water on Loch Kinord. The sight and sound of them taking off against the sunrise is one of the best spectacles in the natural world. With the colours of the sunrise, the morning flight looked just like a Peter Scott painting.

Morning flight

Goose take-off reflected in the loch


The light is changing as it gets nearer dawn

Geese heading off to feed

Goose take-off, less than half the flock. They’re a pain to count when they all get up at once!

It was really icy at the start of the week. Everything, including the paths and car park, was coated on a thick layer of hard ice after it had rained onto frozen ground over the weekend.

Icy rock

The ice coats any hard surface

Even the bog pools were frozen. The sphagnum looked oddly ghostly under the ice.

Sphagnum in the ice.

And the lochs were largely frozen too, with the exception of a couple of small patches of water kept clear by the ducks moving about in them.

Swans upending in the unfrozen bit

We were grateful when, on Tuesday, the ice started to melt rapidly. This was the first day for about 10 days it didn’t feel like the roads were actively trying to kill you and the frost light actually went off on the dash. When you get this sudden melting,  you can get the most amazing reflections on the lochs. The ice melts a bit, and a thin layer of water lies on top of the ice…and the whole things acts like a giant mirror. I have rarely seen such perfect reflections on the lochs. I’ve actually flipped one of these pictures upside-down. See if you can work out which one!

The trees are reflecting in the ice

Loch Davan reflections

Reflections in the ice

Pine tree reflections

Reflections in Loch Davan, pines and reedbed

Reedbeds, Loch Davan – but all of the ducks are frozen out of them

Upside down hill- Morven reflected in the loch

All the birds are crammed in a thin strip of clear water

With the weather getting much warmer ( minus 3 to +10 in one day), the wildlife has become a bit more active. We got fantastic views of a mixed tit flock moving past us in the woods. When birds are hungry they can be remarkably confiding and I almost got landed on by a coal tit at one point. I also saw a bird doing something I’d never seen before too. A long-tailed tit had found a large grub to eat and proceeded to hang from a branch by one foot and use the other foot to manoeuvre its food around, a bit like a parrot.

long-tailed tit finding food

You can just make out the grub it has found

Hanging by one leg and using foot to help deal with food

We got some wonderful views of the long-tailed tits. As I said- they can be quite confiding – but are always on the move and never stay still for long. So you never get a decent photo of them. Well, almost never…

You never get a good photo of a long-tailed tit. They never sit out in the open for long enough.

No, they never sit out…

… never sit for a photo….

…NEVER sit out….

….oh, whatever. Just pose, why don’t you!

That’s the more normal view!

The flock also held a few other birds, including coal tits, great tits, treecreepers and goldcrests. Goldcrests (along with firecrests, which you don’t see up here unless you’re really lucky) are Britain’s smallest bird, only 9cm long and weighing in at around 6 grams – about the same as a 20p coin. And that’s a healthy one. I always marvel at how something so tiny makes it through the winter.

Britain’s smallest bird – the goldcrest


Using wings to keep balance

Given that we’re fast approaching Christmas, I hope you’ve managed to sort out your lords-a leaping from your ladies dancing by now (though, as a naturalist, I feel I must point out that you are unlikely to ever see a partridge in a pear tree, they are a ground-dwelling species). If you are planning a visit to the NNR over the festive break, the paths, toilets (very necessary!) and car park should be open throughout. The visitor centre will be open on 22,23,24 Dec, closed 25,26,27, 28 Dec, open again 29,30,31 Dec, then closed 1,2,3 Jan, reopening on the 4th. All that remains is for me to wish you a very “Merry Christmas” – have a lovely time, wherever you are -and all the best for 2018. See you in the new year!



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Snow and Ice – Muir of Dinnet NNR

It’s been an odd week, weather wise. There was an awful lot of snow on the coast – but not nearly so much at Dinnet. I don’t think I’ve ever know it that way round. It was something of a battle to get to Dinnet through the snowy roads and we were rather stuck for jobs when we got there. Frozen ground rather precludes doing some of the jobs like ditching…but it does make for some good icicles in the Vat. It does NOT make for good conditions underfoot- the paths are dangerously icy right now.

It was cold enough for big icicles to form in the Vat

Ice in the splash zone of the stream

Unfortunately, until late on Friday, we still hadn’t replaced the bench at the viewpoint. We got a hole dug- but everything’s been frozen ever since.

We’re due a bench in here…when the ground defrosts!

But it turned out the bench fitted the holes so well that we managed to get it in, even in the ice!

Finally-the new bench at the viewpoint!

The contractors have been cracking along with the bridge. They got the foundations in just before everything froze, so that allowed them to carry on with building the actual bridge structure. It should be finished by the end of the week, weather permitting.

The work has started- in spite of the weather!

Preparing the ground for the new bridge

The replacement bridge is coming along

And indeed, it was finished on Friday! Bridge and path are reopened, enjoy, just watch out for the ice.

The new bridge, all finished

The lochs have been largely frozen too. There was only one small bit of clear water on Loch Davan, with a LOT of wildfowl crammed into it. There were at least 114 mallard, 40 wigeon, 41 swans, 40 teal and a scatter of coot, goldeneye and whooper swans. There were probably more, but they were difficult to count as everything was hidden behind everything else.

All the swans and geese are crammed into the small unfrozen area of water.

Swans upending in the unfrozen bit

Ice art

The icy roads did result in  me hiding at Forvie one day…and what a day it was! The end of last week into the start of this week saw the most snow that we’d seen on the coast since 2009. Thanks to the fact that most of the snow came down horizontally in the strong north-westerly wind, there were big drifts formed in all the exposed places.

The most snow since 2009!

looking south along the coast at Forvie

Every vertical surface exposed to the wind was plastered in snow…even the telegraph poles were turned white.

The snow drifted against any vertical object

Looking north from Forvie. More snow clouds on the way!

There were some fantastic sunrises and sunsets once the snow clouds cleared.The light in the mornings has been gorgeous, tinting the snow pink in the first rays of sun. Sunrises and sunsets are great opportunities to get out with your camera….and, the beauty of them, is you don’t need to be a brilliant wildlife photographer to capture a really good shot. You don’t have to spend three weeks in a cramped hide, or risk getting eaten by a polar bear…you just need to get out there and point your camera at the pretty colours!

Sunrise over the snowfields

the first rays of sun over the moor

The sun looked bright orange as it rose

Snow in the sunrise

The local village, Collieston, looks like something off a Christmas card in the snow.

Collieston village from the Forvie centre

It has even been cold enough to completely freeze the Sand Loch. It doesn’t normally freeze completely- it’s a bit brackish, with being so close to the sea, and the wind tends to keep it ice-free too. But it has been frozen for nearly a week now.

Pink snow clouds reflecting in Sand Loch

Frozen sand loch. It’s been several years since it froze so hard.

With the fresh water being frozen, the local geese have been pushed onto the estuary to roost. I reckon at least 2500 got up on Tuesday morning, along with everything else, when a raptor went through.

Geese getting off the estuary

When it is snowy, you sometimes see wildlife really well. Animals get desperately hungry in the cold and are forced to be bolder than normal. These roe deer were feeding in the last of the light but weren’t inclined to run away, even once they spotted us.

Roe deer feeding in the snow

Spotted! the roe on the right has spotte dus

Robins are bold at the best of times. This one looks like he is posing for the role of “fat robin on Christmas card” but is only looking so fat because he has his feathers fluffed out for warmth.What he’s really hoping is the a) we’ll chuck out some food, or b) we’ll disturb the ground so he can find insects.

Robin perched on picnic table

Fluffed up robin

House sparrow. Excuse me, but I think you’ll find the peanut feeder is empty….

And sometimes, in the snow, you see something really spectacular. Owls struggle in prolonged snow cover. The rodents they feed on are quite happy in tunnels under the snow but are hard for the owls to hunt- they find it difficult to pinpoint them under the snow. So you sometimes see them forced into hunting in daytime. This time round, a barn owl landed on the office windowsill and peered in at us…but obviously decided we weren’t rodent-like enough and took off again. And I took this picture back in 2009, during the last major snowfall on the coast, of a barn owl on broad daylight. So keep a lookout- the great thing about wildlife is you just never know what you might see!







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Sunrises and Supermoon – Muir of Dinnet NNR

We – and – the rest of the world – started the week with a supermoon. That’s when the moon’s orbit most closely approaches the earth at the same time that there is a full moon. I always remember the moon looking big sometimes but “supermoon” is a word that seems to have become fashionable lately….it even makes the national news (even if it has been happening for the four-and-a-bit billion years or planet has been on the go- must have been a slow news day).The only moderately unusual thing about it was that it wasn’t cloudy so we could see the moon…and it did make for a spectacular moonset over Morven.


The full moon, 4th Dec

Birch tree in front of the full moon

Moonset over Morven

When the moon is full and close, it’s worth looking at it even through just an ordinary set of binoculars.If you’ve never done it, you’ll be surprised how easily you can see some of the asteroid impact craters on the moon. The three big craters – Copernicus, Tycho and Kepler – were caused by asteroids between 70 and 90 km in diameter hitting the moon.  A lump of rock that size hitting your planet would fairly wreck your weekend – or your entire ecosystem – so we better hope none ever come our way!

Full moon, with the craters Tycho, Copernicus and Kepler showing well

With us being right in the heart of winter, getting to and from work has become a journey in the dark (wasn’t that a chapter in Lord of the Rings? In the mines? I tell you, I’d rather have the balrog than the AWPR roadworks). And the sun doesn’t rise until you are at work and sets before you leave. But it does mean you are awake to see some spectacular sunrises- they have been particularly good this week. The very first light is often the pink light reflected off the clouds, before the sun actually comes up, and it can make the woods glow with a rosy light.

Trees, glowing pink in the sunrise.

And the clouds get pinker and pinker as it gets closer to sunrise…almost too pink!

Not a bad view to open the door to!

Quote from Terry Pratchett “Sometimes the gods have no taste at all. They allow sunrises and sunsets in ridiculous pink and blue hues that any professional artist would dismiss as the work of some enthusiastic amateur who’d never looked at a real sunset. This was one of those sunrises. It was the kind of sunrise a man looks at and says, ‘No real sunrise could paint the sky Surgical Appliance Pink.’ Nevertheless, it was beautiful.”

Pink light over Morven

Then the light goes golden as the sun finally peeps over the horizon. If you’re down by the water, you have the added bonus of it reflecting off the water too.


Loch Kinord sunrise

The sunsets haven’t been bad either!

Mind you, although it’s been bonny at both ends of the day, it’s often been grey and nondescript during the day. At least it hasn’t been frosty this week – we’ve managed to get a bit of pathwork done and the bridge replacement works have  started too. It’s a good job it wasn’t as frozen as it was last week or we’d have never got these big rocks dug in to support the edge of the path.

Path fixed

We had to build up the edge of the path where people had eroded it by going into the burn

My plans to go out to Dinnet were then scuppered by the weather on Friday…so at Forvie instead. You’ll see why looking at the photos- a fair bit of snow fell overnight. So I helped out with one of the bird counts on the estuary instead. In this sort of weather, the Ythan Estuary is a real hotspot for birds- the unfrozen mudflats are somewhere they can feed even when the fields are covered in snow. For the likes of curlew, the count was over 700, whereas, if it hadn’t snowed, it would probably have been nearer 250. There was also a lot of “cold weather movement” of geese- probably moving from places even worse than here. So keep your eyes peeled this weekend- you never know what you might see moving!

Snowy sunrise

Sunrise over the Ythan estuary

Snow of the foreshore…and Daryl, off to count birds.

Lots of geese are on the move in the cold weather

The broom is laden down with snow.

Gorse flowering even in the snow

Snowy trees

Snowy trees by fishermen’s car park







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Snow Days

The north wind shall blow and we shall have snow, and what shall the robin do then, poor thing? He’ll hide in a barn to keep himself warm and hide his head under his wing….d’you know, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea right now….tucked up somewhere warm for the winter and not having to worry about driving or falling over on the ice. And it has been VERY icy – early in the week, the paths were all sheet ice, thanks to rain falling on freezing ground. They’d melt a bit during the day, then start freezing again late afternoon, just adding to the half-inch of ice on them. We needed ice grips on out boots all day just to stay upright.

It’s hard to see in the picture, but the path was sheet ice

You really needed ice grips on your shoes to stay upright!

Winter is the time you get on with all the jobs like path repairs you don’t have time to do in the summer. You ideally want to catch repairs early, otherwise a small job can become a big one! A classic example of this was a minor bit of subsidence of the path near the Vat. The path is built up with rocks to support the edge but these occasionally come adrift (often with a little help from people). When they do, the loose path surfacing starts to slip into the burn and a big hole can develop- so you fix it before then. But this relatively minor job – digging out a hole, locking a new support rock in place and refilling the hole – was made rather more interesting by the fact that the top inch of the path surface was frozen solid and we had to chip through it with a crowbar. There were a few comedy “doiiinnnnnnggggg” moments when the bar didn’t break through but we got the hole fixed – eventually. Now all we need is for the ice to melt….

the path was starting to subside by the Vat

Unfortunately, we had to chip through an inch of frozen hardcore to dig the hole!

Digging a hole to set a rock in the side of the path

The hole no longer. Fixed!

Our bridge replacement will have to wait until the weather clears too.

Work will start on the bridge as soon as the weather is suitable….

While the snow is dreadful to drive in, it does make everything very, very beautiful. In some of my more cynical moments, I wonder if this is, in part, because it hides the scars on the land wrought by people. But the snow smooths all these away, leaving a pristine white wonderland.

The way through the woods…

Like the robin, I have had a day “hiding” – at Forvie, rather than in a barn – the weather usually isn’t so harsh on the coast and there is definitely less snow here. Things tend to be wetter and that’s why they are fixing part of the Heath Trail that is prone to flooding.

Heath trail, Forvie

Flooded path at Forvie – due for repair when the weather clears.

It’s a nice walk across the heath but it can look very bleak in the winter months. You need to look closely to see the colours in the lichens and other vegetation.

Crowberry and lichens

Cladonia lichens on Forvie heath

And you can see the sun coming up over the sea. Well, allegedly. It’s been a bit cloudy for that but it is nice to see the light change in the morning.

The view from Forvie centre, first light, around 7am

About 7.30

About 8 am

Sunrise never really happened! Just the odd ray through the clouds.

The sunrise isn’t the only spectacle Forvie can offer. There have been a few good sized flocks of starlings around the reserve this week. They are constantly on the move, from roosting on the power lines, into the fields where they feed.

The starling flock was constantly on the move

I wonder how many starlings are on the lines?

A line full of starlings

While watching the starlings, I suddenly noticed something white in among the pink-footed (pink-feet?) geese feeding in the stubble field. Needless to say, I didn’t have binoculars with me (I usually do, but, in my defence, I was on my way to the dentist at the time!) but, looking at the picture, I think it could be a white snow goose…you can just make out black wing tips and pinkish-orange legs. But I would like a closer took, to check it’s not a leucistuc pink-foot or a dodgy, escaped farm goose. It’s always worth going through the goose flocks- just in case there is a rare one in with them!

What’s that in with the pinkfeet?

Snow goose!

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Wet and Wetter – Muir of Dinnet NNR

What a wet week. I must admit that I’ve not taken many pictures this week, as it’s been so horrible – either because there’s been no wildlife to see, the light has been really poor or I’ve not been carrying the camera for fear of it getting drowned. We’ve had rain or snow every day this week…even a flurry today, which has been nice otherwise.  We rarely see red grouse on the reserve but this bird must have been forced down from the hills onto the edge of the woodland for a bit of shelter.

red grouse in the snow

I think it looks as fed up as I felt this week. I know it’s  a first-world problem, but putting on still-wet-from-the-previous-day waterproofs is deeply unpleasant, and don’t get me started about wet chainsaw gear. We were clearing some scrub from the wetland areas on the reserve this week and, while you don’t technically need a chainsaw ( the biggest stuff is maybe leg thick) it doesn’t half speed up the work. But soaked kevlar trousers weigh several pounds and you kind of fall into the truck at the end of the day, because you can’t quite lift your legs high enough to climb in normally!

Young trees will colonise and dry out wetland areas

Clearing saplings off wetlands

Everything is soaking n the reserve. If you brush against the trees,  you soon get soaked as they are carrying so much water.

Wet trees

Only the ducks seem unaffected – in fact, I think they are rather enjoying the extra feeding areas the puddles give them. The wigeon are looking particularly splendid and their whistling calls are one of the sounds of winter.

Wigeon & juvenile mute swan, Loch Davan

Male wigeon

It’s not just the wigeon who are looking good. All the ducks have more-or-less moulted into their breeding plumage by now. If you’re a duck, winter is the time for looking good and trying to impress the ladies. We even saw the first goldeneye head-toss display this week. They’re only displaying in a half-hearted fashion so far, but that will change as winter moves on…especially if the lochs don’t freeze.

Goldeneye display.

There are still a few whoopers around. I suppose, no matter how miserable it is here, it’s nowhere near as bad as their breeding grounds in Iceland. They can be hard to tell from the mute swans when they’re asleep – you can’t see the straighter neck or yellow beak. You even have to look closely at this one to see it is a whooper – they’re a slightly different shape at the back end from a mute and you can just see a sliver of yellow beak. But the orange staining on the head and neck can be a good clue that this is  a whooper – they often have rust-coloured stains on their neck after feeding on peaty pools on the tundra.

Sleepy whooper swan

The peanut feeder has been a hive of activity in the cold weather, with, loads of coal tits buzzing back and forth for a feed. Or to take peanuts and stash them – I never know how many nuts get eaten right away and how many are hidden for later.

Coal tits

We’re hoping that work will start to replace one of the bridges on the Vat trail this week…but that might depend on the weather as neither excessive rain nor frost are good conditions in which to build a bridge. It’ll mean a short section of the path will be closed for a fortnight, but you WILL still be able to get to the Vat…just by the lower part of the trail only.

The bridge that is being replaced, with the burn in spate last year.

When the rain finally went off, it gave way to snow and it was decidedly unpleasant for some of Thursday. But Friday dawned bright and beautiful, with a clear frosty morning. The light at this time of day is fantastic, a wonderful rose-gold that slowly pours into the valleys and hollows of the reserve. With the sun being low, you often find that your eyes are dazzled but the lower half of your body is freezing because the light just never makes it into some of the places on the reserve. So I’ll leave you with some photos from today- they might inspire you for some early-morning photography of your own!

The sun is orange through the branches first thing in the morning

Looking over to a snowy Morven

Only a very occasional birch tree is still golden and they stand out against the brown trees that have already shed their leaves.

The hills all round the reserve are snow-covered

Frosty heather

Early morning light on the snowy heather

Sunrise through the trees

The heather is all flattened with the snow

The bare birches stand out against the sunrise




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Snow and Swans- Muir of Dinnet NNR

I think I’m going to call this week officially winter. We had our first snow lying on the reserve, albeit above 1000 feet…though nothing to lower levels yet.

The first snow lying on the reserve this year

It was trying to snow lower down on Monday but it never really came to anything. The ice was a different matter- it had rained overnight, then frozen, so the car park surface was as slick as I’d ever seen it. We needed crampons to walk across it with the bucket of salt!

First snow of the year

We’ve had a few frosty mornings. These clear mornings make for glorious sunrises, with the sun coming up in a blaze of gold and pink.


Sunrise over Loch Davan

Sunrise over the hills

The frost looks gorgeous, first thing, before the sun melts it. Every leaf or berry is a frosted jewel, glinting with rainbow colours in the low sun.

frosty rosehip

Frosty pine

The sun through the trees

Frosty birch leaf

We still have a few whoopers feeding on the lochs, allowing me to continue with my wild swan obsession! The numbers have actually gone up, with 15 present this week.

Spot the difference swans – can you tell your mutes from your whoopers?

Whooper swan

Whooper swans

The numbers of mute swans have risen too. We now have 40 swans on Loch Davan  but they can be uneasy neighbours, with fights sometimes breaking out over who owns a particular patch of water. That’s when you tend to see them flying off to Loch Kinord for a chill-out.

Mute swans flying between the lochs

The bird feeder continues to be popular in the cold weather. When you fill it up, it hasn’t even stopped swinging before the birds are back on it. The coal tits are the commonest bird on the feeder by a mile – you can get up to half a dozen on the feeder at one time before they reach critical mass and explode into furious squabbles. But the woodpecker trumps everyone except the squirrel and that’s when a queue forms!

Bird queue at the feeder

You don’t see many fungi after the first frosts. Given that most mushrooms are 99%water, they fairly quickly get frosted and go slimy and horrible. But some sturdier fungi last through the winter. The most obvious of these are the bracket fungi that grow on the birch trees. You don’t have to look far to spot the grey hoof fungus or the pale brown-and-white birch bracket.


A birch polypore or birch bracket

But….and here’s a challenge if you come and visit us this weekend…try and spot this little fungus. It’s called the candle snuff fungus, because it looks like the wick of a snuffed-out candle. It grows on dead wood, so look for old rotting stumps.

Candle snuff fungus

And finally- a heads up for the end of next week. Work to replace the “second bridge” on the Vat trail should be starting soon- basically, the bridge is old, it’s getting knackered and it’s just time to replace it.  Work should start next Friday and part of the path will be shut from 23rd Nov until 8th Dec. You WILL still be able to get to the Vat…but along the lower trail only. And you’ll still be able to walk up to the viewpoint and onto the hill track over to Cambus o May- but the link section with the lower Vat trail will be closed. Hopefully my almost non-existent mapping skills will help make this clearer…but if you have any questions, give the reserve office a bell on 013398 81667.

a rough map of where the bridge works will be.




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Mumruffins and Mavises – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Winter creeps ever closer. We’ve had minus temperatures a few mornings this week and the higher of the local hills are dusted with snow. Food will grow ever harder to find and, having eaten all the rowans, the thrushes are moving on to less-favoured berries. We don’t have  many holly trees on the reserve, but those with berries are being jealously guarded.

Don’t you go looking at MY berries!

Upside down for a berry

This particularly dark redwing might be from Iceland, rather than Scandinavia…the Icelandic race tends to be larger and darker. But you really need to see them more closely and even measure their wings to be sure. What is likely is that this bird was hatched this year, the pointy tail feathers give that away. They’d be broader and blunter in an adult bird.

Redwing, posing beautifully in holly tree

The mistle thrushes have been getting in with the redwings and feeding on the leftover berries. Both song and mistle thrushes are sometimes called “throstles” or “mavises” …but they don’t have the most colourful nicknames- not by a long stretch.

A very grey-looking mistle thrush

So, which name do you think best suits this wee bird?

Which name do you think best suits this bird?

Do you think it looks most like a hedge mumruffin, a silver-throated dasher, a poke-pudding, fuffit, bottle tom, bum barrel, pinpriddle, lollipop tit or a jack-in-the-bottle?  Or do you prefer it’s common name of long-tailed tit? Most of our wildlife would probably have had various regional names at one time, but long-tailed tits seemed to have collected more monikers than most….some of which sound vaguely rude, even if they’re not. I think, if I had to name them, it might be “long-tailed fidget” because they never stay still for more than a handful of seconds.

A long-tailed tit

The tits and various other birds were all feeding furiously on Tuesday afternoon after the very wet morning. Often birds will hunker down and wait out the heavy rain, then feed frantically afterwards. This great tit barely paused to scold at us before continuing to feed.

Great tit

Everything was soaking after the rain and the trees seemed decked with diamonds when the sun finally came out.

Wet woods

Water on birch twig

The rain doesn’t seem to worry the waterfowl. In fact, it may help them as the lochs will rise, or puddles will form in fields and give them new feeding areas. Loch Davan seems to have become Swan Central this year, with 4o mute swans and 13 whoopers all feeding here.

Whoopers, mutes and wigeon, Loch Davan

Whooper swans and wigeon. Note “leg up” swan in background.

Quite often, you’ll see a swan sitting on the water, holding a leg up…in fact, you can see one in the background of one of the above pictures. These sometimes get reported to us as injured or damaged birds, but they’re not. Swans just often sit with one leg up. It may be to do with heat regulation- they may lose less heat to the air through the blood vessels on their featherless feet than the would in the water – so they pull a leg out. But they do it in hot weather too, so maybe it cools them down in the summer. Or maybe we’re overcomplicating it and it’s just a comfy way for a swan to sit!

Young mute swan, lazing in “leg up” position

Mute swan foot. You can clearly see the blood vessels.

In the dull days of winter, once all the leaves are gone, colours can be hard to come by. But not so on the bog surface- here, a complex pattern of reds, yellows, browns greens and greys makes the bog seem to glow. These are mostly different colours of sphagnum moss, and show that the bog is doing well.

Red and green Sphagnum moss

Bog pool on Parkin’s Moss

Colourful mosses

We’re pleased about that as at least some of this is down to our management! Damming ditches has made the bog wetter and suppressed the tall, leggy heather- which is good news for the bog plants like the sphagnums. And we’ve also removed trees over the years too. Unfortunately, trees tend to dry out wetlands so we try to keep them tree-free. Now, if you’re thinking that’s a bit mean to the trees, you’d be right, but they do genuinely damage bog habitats. Think how much water they drink- maybe a gallon a day for a small tree to upwards of 150 gallons per day for a large one. So, in the past, we cut down the scatter of trees on the bog and now, gradually, after about 8 or so years, the bog is slowly starting to swallow the old trunks. You can see the sphagnum starting to grow over this one.

Reflecting trees and drowned heather stems

The bog is gradually swallowing the felled trees

But it’s an ongoing job…trees are coming back all the time. We’re off to do  a bit more tree pulling this week. And, if I don’t post a blog next week, someone send out a search party- some of those pools are deeper than you’d think!

Young pines growing on bog surface



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Cold and Frosty Mornings- Muir of Dinnet NNR

November has arrived…and it’s turned a bit “brrrrrr”. There were a couple of hard frosts this week, especially over Thursday night. I don’t really mind- I’d far rather it was cold and clear than this incessant dampness we’ve had…and the frost is so beautiful in the mornings.

frosty rowans

Frosty hazel leaf

Thick frost coasts the woodrush

Frost nettle

Mind you, it’s not a massive amount of fun to drive in, unless you’re into that whole black ice, car-drifting, I’m-going-to-die feeling. And it’s hard for the wildlife too- the peanut feeder is suddenly a blur of activity as the small birds stock up on calories. They use up massive amounts of energy just keeping warm in this cold.

Coal tit feeding frenzy

Coal tit

It’s not just the small birds- the woodpeckers and the squirrels like an easy feed, too.

Great- spotted woodpecker and coal tit

Two tails. A coal tit has nipped in for a feed right below the squirrel

Even a robin was getting in on the act!

Behaving like a tit…this robin is hungry enough to have a got at hanging on the peanut feeder

There have been small groups of whooper swans on the lochs for nearly a fortnight now. They spend most of their time feeding quietly but can suddenly go into fits of head-bobbing and “whoop whoop-ing” that can mean anything from worry, affection, threat or just general chat. But I guess you have to be a whooper swan to know the difference!

Super whooper. There were 16 whooper swans on Loch Davan

Having a flap.

Whooper swans

There are still quite a few leaves hanging on but it won’t be long til the trees are bare. the wind on Wednesday really stripped them bare.

One of the last golden birches

We were lucky enough to see another otter down on Loch Davan. You’re more likely to spot them at this time of year, when dawn is late and dusk is early. They’re crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk.

Otter. That water must be cold….

We were also back down at Parkin’s Moss this week, doing a bit more management. Now, SNH started managing the bog here back in about 1998 and it wasn’t all that great, as bogs go- it was too dry and trees were starting to grow all over it. Thanks to nearly 20 years of work, the bog is now building up and looking a lot better- there is lots of sphagnum moss and any tree trying to grow on it are suppressed due to the bog being too wet. for them to grow. It’s been a really satisfying project to be involved with. And, given bog management is a long term thing- come back in 500 years and it’ll look even better!

The first ditch damming at Parkin’s Moss

Colourful sphagnums on Parkin’s Moss

Dam fine! A nice, wet bog.

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Autumn Gold- Muir of Dinnet NNR

We’ve finally been getting some sun this week to help bring out the wonderful autumn colours. The birches are just glowing in the sun and the whole reserve seems decked out on a shimmering golden gown. Get out soon, though, if you want to see it…the colours will fade from here on in as the trees lose their leaves.

Autumn birch

The birches are still yellow but are losing their leaves quickly

Aspen leaves

A glimmer of sun

Autumn birch

Elegant autumn birch

Loch Kinord, surrounded by autumn trees.

Mind you, we didn’t think we’d get much sun initially. The week started pretty grey- we were always on the lookout for any possible breaks in the cloud…

A break in the clouds!

There’s such a contrast in the intensity of the colours on grey and sunny days.  Check out these two views over the loch- one sunny, one not.

Autumn trees

And the sunny days have given us a couple of wonderful sunrises this week.

Sunrise, loch Kinord

Red sky behind the pines

Loch Kinord sunrise

One of the big changes we’ve seen on the reserve this week is the clearing out of the redwings -and the rowan berries! There are still flocks of redwings around but they are now numbered in the tens rather than the hundreds. They can be surprisingly difficult to spot, even sitting up the top of a tree- their browns and even the red patch on their side blend right in. As they’ve eaten virtually all the berries here, they will have moved south and west across the UK, looking for more food.

Redwings can be hard to spot in among the rowans

The local blackbirds are frantically defending the only remaining berry trees, the hawthorns. These berries aren’t so popular with the thrushes and are the last to go.

Haws- hawthorn berries

As is often the case in autumn, we’ve had a die-back of rabbits. This can happen from any time late summer onwards, as rabbit numbers and diseases build up in the burrows. Consequently, there are quite a lot of dead rabbits lying around at the moment (often on paths, thanks to helpful dogs bringing their owner back a present). These, in turn, attract the attention of scavengers, like this red kite who was checking out an extremely deceased bunny on the path. You can see it’s a tagged bird but unfortunately it was too back-lit to read them.

Red kite

We had a brief fly-over by an even bigger raptor – in fact, the biggest we get in this country. It was a frustratingly short glimpse through the trees, but there’s no mistaking the huge shape of a sea eagle.

Sea eagle!

If you walk over the hill track, towards Cambus o May, you can’t help but notice the ant hills. I always feel sorry for ants that make their hills right next to the track, as people seem unable to resist poking at them… you seen the hills by the tracks damaged quite often. I wish people wouldn’t- the ants aren’t bothering them, so why do they have to scuff up the hill, poke a stick into it or leave an apple core in the middle of it? If we had really scary ants like they do abroad, no-one would dream of it!

A somewhat dug-up ant hill

Ant hill by top path

I was slightly surprised to see a late dragonfly this week, when this black darter perched on the path in the sun in front of me. They can survive until even early November, given warm days and mild nights…but I hadn’t seen a dragonfly for 3 weeks prior to this. Must just have been too grey and damp for them!

One of the last dragonflies we’ll see this year- a late black darter

A rather sorry-looking black darter

The sun even allowed a late adder a last opportunity for basking. This might be the last one of the year, especially as it’s forecast to turn cold next week…but the latest we’ve ever seen is the 20th November, so maybe not!

The last adder of the year?

A sit’s the school holidays we had an event running this week… “Rocks, rogues, glaciers and Gorges”, celebrating the wonderful geology of the local areas. We also has a little bit of local colour added by the local rogue, Gilderoy MacGregor, famous for wandering off with other people’s livestock, then needing to hide behind the waterfall in the Vat to escape retribution….

Who’s this hiding behind the waterfall?

It’s Gilderoy MacGregor!

And…looking ahead…we even saw out first signs of spring this week. Yes, spring. Now, I know the leaves haven’t even fallen yet and it’s still 59 days to you-know-what (I don’t think, unlike retailers, we should be allowed to mention C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s til at least mid Nov)…but one tree is already preparing for the warmer days of spring. The hazel trees start producing catkins now and they will gradually ripen into golden, pollen producing catkins by Feb/ March- all ready for springtime. That’s being prepared!




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Redwings and Autumn Winds – Muir of Dinnet NNR

The wind thrushes have arrived! The reserve is practically sinking under the weight of redwings this week…I must have see upwards of 2000 on Wednesday alone. The easterly winds have brought them in from Scandinavian in huge numbers, with big “falls” being reported all along the east coast. It’s really exciting time to be out in the field, when birds seem to be raining out of the sky, making landfall, any landfall, as rain and darkness push them ashore. But they’re not hanging around the coast for long and are piling inland to the berry trees in huge numbers.

Redwing. You can just make out the red underwing.

Redwing on the lines

I reckon, on Wednesday, I saw eight flocks of upwards of 200 redwing on the reserve, plus another dozen or so flocks ranging between ten and fifty birds. But what surprised me was how quiet they were being- often, when the thrushes are in, all you can hear is the white noise of bird voices chuckling, creaking, rattling and squabbling. But, bar the odd “tsleeeeep” -and the rush of wings – they’ve been pretty silent. Too hungry to squabble maybe, or maybe it’s because the fieldfares aren’t in yet. These are our other the winter thrushes, larger, greyer, noisier  and just generally bolshier than the redwings.  If they don’t arrive very soon, all the rowan berries will be gone- virtually every tree on the reserve has been stripped this week.

Redwing flock

redwing in rowan tree

We’re still seeing a steady trickle of other migrants. Most days there have been small groups of whooper swans on Loch Davan.

Whoopers bathing

We’ve been getting more mute swans than whoopers on the lochs this week, with nearly 30 mutes uneasily sharing Loch Davan. Mute swans are very territorial – or just grumpy -and often chase each other around the loch. At this time of year, you don’t tend to see any proper fights, it’s all just posturing….a bit like two drunk guys who face off but never throw a punch. It’s all “this is my patch of water, push off or I’ll have you”. “Oh, will, you now? Well, you gotta catch me first. And your mother was a cormorant”. “Yeah? Well I can break a man’s arm with my wing, so I can knock your silly head right off. I’m going to, I am, yes, I am, here I come”…..and so on. It’s hardly surprising that we keep seeing swans flying between the lochs- I think they head over to Kinord for a rest from all the belligerence.

Mute swans flying between the lochs

Flying swans

Mute swans coming in to land at Loch Davan

It’s not just swans on the loch. Sitting quietly can reward you with some lovely sights – like these two mallards, who dabbled quite happily past me, almost at my feet, and never clocked I was there.

Mallards feeding

Or the sight of an unusual bird. This grebe surfaced by the loch shore and I glanced at it, assuming it’d be a little grebe. On the lochs, anything that small, which dives, is going to be a little grebe 99% of the time. But this was the one percent time, and closer inspection revealed a bright red eye and pale tip to the beak, making it a Slavonian grebe!

An unusual visitor- Slavonian grebe

Or the sudden swirl and clop of water that alerts you that there might be something nearby. Something that dives. What is it? Duck? No, otter! He started off well out on the loch but surfaced pretty close by, chewing on something. When you see those formidable teeth, you can understand how one of Gavin Maxwell’s assistants lost a finger to an otter.

Otter- coming closer!

Otter diving

Chewing on something

And the geese are still on the move, with lots passing over the reserve- or even coming in to briefly land and rest on the lochs.

Geese on the move

Geese on approach

The trees are probably wearing their best autumn dress this week. I reckon this is about as good as it’ll get this year in terms of autumn colours – all of the trees are yellow now and will rapidly lose their leaves hereafter (especially with yet more gales forecast). It’s just a shame we’ve had so little sun to bring the colours to life…but they glow even on a dull, grey day.

Autumn birch


Sun through the autumn leaves. Just a glimmer, then it was gone.

Autumn aspen

Castle island

Autumn at Loch Kinord

With all the glorious autumn colours around just now, we don’t think much about the pine trees. We all know that the deciduous trees shed their leaves in autumn, but the pines just go on, dark, evergreen, brooding quietly in the background. But pine trees do shed needles in the autumn too- walk on any path through the pinewood and you’ll be walking over a thick carpet of fallen needles. It’s just they don’t shed them all at once like the birches or rowans. But, if you do go for a walk this weekend, you’ll find them far less satisfying to scuff through than leaves…and much pricklier if they stick in your socks!

Pine needle carpet on the path





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