Busy week on and off the loch

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We’ve been busy the last couple of weeks at Loch Leven and other reserves. Last week we were operating our old friend ‘The Softrack’ at Tentsmuir. The plan is to remove willowherb from the sand dunes to help improve plant diversity. It was a fabulous day at the beach. We saw lots of butterflies including Graylings and Dark Green fritillaries.

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The upper side of a Dark Green |Fritillary

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The underside of a Dark Green Fritillary

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The following day the ever-present Gus and I went up to Creag Meagaidh to drop off  our old quadbike. While we were there we couldn’t resist a walk up the hill to look at the woodland regeneration. We also had a good pow wow with the reserve manager Rory about options for grazing the Loch Leven meadows and regenerating our own woodland.

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The path tidying continues around the loch. Most of it has had two cuts. We’ll be back out on Wednesday around Grahamstone.

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Keep an eye out for the warning signs. we’ll stop cutting to let you pass.

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We are just completing our last  brood count surveys of the summer at Loch Leven. This will give us an idea of how our ducks are doing this year. Unfortunately not all broods are as easy to find as the residents in the harbour. This Mallard started off with three and is down to two. This brood is very relaxed and didn’t even wake when I turned the boat next to them.

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The sheep are doing well on St Serfs. There is plenty for them to eat and their feet are good. We round them up every couple of weeks to check them. They have been exploring all over the island.

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We’ll be at Kinross Show this weekend. We’ve got big plans and a brand new exhibit in our tent that we’ve built from recycled materials we’ve found. Please drop by. We’ll be badge making and we’ll have moths in pots amongst other things.

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Osprey Walk Burleigh Sands 17th August 6-8pm

It’s Osprey time of year again folks. Loch Leven has plenty of these magnificent birds visiting at this time of year. Many of these splendid fishing raptors are currently around the Loch. Youngsters have left the nest which bolsters numbers and with the adults are making their way down to Africa where they will spend the winter.

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We a having our annual Osprey Walk on Thursday 17th August at Burleigh Sands from 6 until 8pm.We’ll meet in the car park and make the short walk down to the shoreline to observe these birds.

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Last year we saw over 20 birds with one putting on a magnificent performance with multiple dives before it eventually caught a small Perch.

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Please phone the office on 01577 864439 to book a place.

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Home alone

Over the last couple of weeks with Jeremy being away on leave and Gus having finished his time as a placement with us I’ve had plenty of reasons to escape the desk and to get out onto the reserve. The weather hasn’t been the best over the later part of the summer so we’ve had few opportunities to get out and see how the breeding wildfowl population on the reserve have been fairing. I’d been out doing nest surveys earlier on this year so I knew that things were looking pretty good for this year in terms of the numbers of nests but the weather we have experienced particularly in June hasn’t really been ideal for a duckling dabbling in the vast waters of Loch Leven for the first time.

A lull in the wind and the rain meant heading out bright and early (if a little bleary eyed) to do a brood count. The aim of this is to cover the whole of the loch in a day noting the different waterfowl with young on the loch, how many young and there age. This gives us an idea of productivity and adds to the picture of the fortunes of waterfowl on the site which stretches back to the 60’s.

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This Osprey had got up early too after a breakfast of Loch Leven brown trout and was doubtless more successful than any of my fishing trips are.

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The first of what turned out to be a good number of Little Grebe was feeding on fish fry in front Mill hide.

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There were also a few of the Little Grebes larger cousin; the Great Crested Grebe with young. I always enjoy seeing these birds which for many years were symbolic of human persecution purely for vanity. The crown feathers being particularly valued for lady’s hats  and the pelts being preferred as substitutes for furs in boas and muffs in the late 19th century.

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The youngsters regularly hop onto the parents backs to hitch a ride (just like in humans!!)

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All the common species were out and about. Species like this Mallard with an older brood stay close to the overhanging willows and reeds we encourage to grow all along the loch shore.

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Here a brood of Gadwall feeds excitedly, broods like this can be challenging to count particularly as in areas of prime habitat like this multiple families will feed together. They ‘rub along’ ok but there’s often a wee bit of tension between families and the occasional nip as they pass each other isn’t uncommon. In this small area I counted 4 broods of Gadwall 3 of Mallard with up to 8 young in some broods.

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These shallow bays with overhanging willows and lots of aquatic plants are great brood rearing habitat. Smaller fish love them too which is what this Grey Heron will be hoping for. That is not to say that it wouldn’t pass up the opportunity of a wayward duckling if the opportunity were to arise……..

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In the interests of keeping the blog varied that’s enough about ducks. So what else have I seen on my travels. Now I’m not one for taking my camera out with me but I’ve been trying to get into the way of doing so and I found this wee chap whilst out and about so snapped a photo to check it out back to the office. Its a Larch Ladybird not particularly rare nor my first at Loch Leven but serves as a reminder that not all ladybirds are red with black spots they are like all insects a really diverse group. But ladybirds unlike some other insects are usually easy enough to identify. I went to this website to ID mine there are so many great websites out there to help the modern naturalist with identification and reporting. I’ll perhaps try and point you in the direction of others another time…..

Well its Friday so now I’ve got all my ducks in a line as it were I’m going to head home.

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The Trees of Loch Leven

Hello! I meant to type up this blog post a while ago but never got round to it so I’ve finished it today and am posting it now… the Trees of Loch Leven, definitely a group of plants that can often be overlooked…

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Loch Leven from the Lomond Hills

 

Loch Leven is usually characterized by the massive body of water that takes up a good portion of Kinross-shire, but if you look around the loch you will find a number of habitats that are all important for wildlife.

Many of these habitats can be characterized by the trees that are found there and that’s often the easiest thing to see there. Trees are big, which helps, and they don’t move unlike the birds and bugs.

So, without further a-do, here are a few trees found around Loch Leven…

Scots Pine

Burleigh Pine, Loch Leven NNR

The Scots Pine is not only found in Scotland, but it is a tree that once covered much of Scotland. It also covers a good bit of Loch Leven NNR.

The tree pictured above is probably one that’s familiar to most visitors as it’s the pine at Burleigh Sands. Beyond this pine is the heritage trail leading around to Loch Leven’s Larder, and much of this path is lined with Scots Pine.

The habitat that these trees provide is very important on the reserve as pine trees provide food and shelter for one of the best-loved creatures that is doing pretty well around the loch: the Red Squirrel. Other animals that you may see in the pine trees include many species of finch (including the pine specialist, the Crossbill), pine weevils and pine ladybird.

Red Squirrel - Sciurus vulgaris

Pine trees are also one of my favourite trees, not only due to the Red Squirrels and other wildlife that utilise them, but also because it produces my favourite smell! If you’re ever out on the reserve on a sunny day, I can thoroughly recommend taking a walk in the pines and enjoying the smell of the hot pine needles.

Or you can go for a walk somewhere else…

Scots Pine - Pinus sylvestris

Scots Pine “flowers”

Silver Birch

Silver Birch - Betula pendula

This is another tree that’s easy to pick out on the reserve, mainly due to the colour of its bark. The Silver Birch is a tree that will grow almost anywhere but in some parts of the reserve it’s the tree that covers most of an area.

It’s also recognisable by the way its branches hang, lending it its latin name of Betula pendula, pendula meaning pendulous. In autumn the birch trees can create a lovely scene as the leaves turn from green to golden and in an autumn evening you can get some really nice pictures of the birch canopy, either from above or below.

Silver Birches turning golden

This tree is particularly important as it is one that will often colonise un-forested areas and then allow other trees to take hold as well. We don’t have many areas on the reserve like that, but we do have some well established birch woods such as at Levenmouth and the Black Wood.

In these woods you can find all sorts of wildlife. The birdlife is particularly good in Spring, as they all begin singing to attract a mate for the season ahead. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Wrens, Song Thrushes, Sparrowhawks, Great Spotted Woodpeckers… the list goes on. All of them enjoy life in the birchwoods. Some of the scarcer species you might encounter are Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and the very shy Jay.

Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata

These woodlands are also great for insect life and if you’re the first one on the trail in the morning then you may be aware that they are also great for arachnids! Over night the spiders travel about the woods a good bit and often don’t tidy up after themselves, leaving long trailing bits of silk across the path, usually at the perfect height for my face to go straight through as I cycle round.

Silver Birch - Betula pendula

Willows

Goat Willow - Salix caprea

Willows are very common around the loch, as they tend to like damper areas, and we’ve got plenty of that! They form much of the habitat around the lochside and can be seen pretty much anywhere on the reserve. They are usually small, shrubby trees that don’t grow in the classic tree shape.

We have three main species of willow on the reserve: Goat, Grey & White. We also have one rarer species called the Bay-leaved Willow. The lochside habitat that they provide is often used by the waterbirds that will take shelter under the branches (much to the annoyance of anyone trying to count the broods) and they will sometimes nest underneath them as well.

Loch Leven NNR

Again, willows are good habitat for breeding birds, but there are other birds that usually breed here, the two that are most often encountered (or sometimes only heard) are the Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler. Willows also provide plenty of work for us in the winter as sometimes they start to colonise wet areas that we don’t want getting colonised as it will reduce the amount of open water for the water birds.

Sedge Warbler - Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

See here for one of our days of willow scrub removal…

Rowan

Rowan berries  - Sorbus aucuparia

The sight of these red berries always tells me we’re heading towards autumn. The Rowan is usually quite a small tree, not usually reaching the height of the pines and birches but often growing in amongst them. It can be identified by its leaves which are split into leaflets with the leaflets paired opposite to each other. It’s also a great food source for birds and insects throughout the year.

Rowan - Sorbus aucuparia

The flowers of Rowan trees can be covered in bumblebees and other pollinating insects when they come out, and can offer good opportunities to see these busy insects nice and close up.

However, the berries are what most people think of when they think of a Rowan and they are definitely a great food source for birds, especially thrushes. I’m actually trying to convince mum to replace a Lawson’s Cypress in the garden with a Rowan (it lets in more light, the birds will love it, I’ll sweep up the leaves in autumn, etc.)! Birds such as Fieldfare and Redwing will adorn Rowans come the winter months after they’ve flown across the north sea from Iceland and Scandinavia.

Bohemian Waxwings - Bombycilla garullus

But, as great as winter thrushes are, a Waxwing will always be the star prize for anyone with a Rowan in their garden! We were lucky enough to have hundreds around the reserve and Kinross last winter, see here for details on that…


Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for either trees or blog posts, and hopefully you’ll spot these trees around the reserve and know what you might spot in and around them when you’re out and about.

P.S. I know my previous blog post said it was my last but I’m in volunteering today and the weather’s not terribly good so I decided to type up a wee something for you!

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My last day…

 

This blog post is unfortunately going to be a hello… and goodbye. The reason for the lack of posts over the past few weeks is that I was in Shetland for 3 weeks and then when I returned it was summer, and everything got quite busy! Also, Jeremy said his computer didn’t let him upload his post… (excuses excuses…)

And it’s goodbye because this is my second last day, tomorrow being the last, of being the student placement at Loch Leven. After this I’ve got a few adventures planned over the summer and then I will return to Scotland’s Rural College (Aberdeen campus) to finish my degree in Countryside Management. After that… we’ll see where life takes me.

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Loch Leven from Benarty Hill

Instead of reminiscing over my entire year at Loch Leven, I’ll just stick to a normal blog post which, in a way, will reflect on my time at the loch as a normal day is what each day has been… sort of.

On Monday we had our Wetland Bird Survey to get done, and the birds are starting to change their ways already. The breeding season is coming to an end and duck broods are making their way around the edges of the loch with their parents leading the way. Non-breeding Greylag Geese are flying about quite a lot, from fields to loch to fields to loch. We’ve also seen a bit of wader passage as the post breeders make their way down through Scotland after breeding in Scandinavia and Iceland.

We’ve also got the Ospreys back to being pretty easy to see. If you pop along to Burleigh Sands and have a look out from there, there can be as many as three birds all fishing at once. These numbers will build as birds from further afield and also this year’s youngsters join in with the Loch Leven fishing.

I actually took that photo on the evening of our Burleigh botany walk, which was a very nice evening! We sauntered about for a couple of hours just admiring and identifying the flowers that were out on the grassland, by the path and around the ponds. It always helps when the weather’s nice! One of the highlights of the walk was the Common Spotted-orchid which is pictured below.

By shear coincidence, our next event is the Osprey walk which will be held on the 17th August from 6-8pm.

Speaking of orchids, after being in Shetland for a few weeks I had missed out on a few things, but one thing I really didn’t want to miss out on was the Lesser Butterfly Orchids. Fortunately I just caught them before they started looking rubbish!

With all of these beautiful plants out it’s unfortunate that there’s one plant in particular that really causes us a bit of bother. This plant is Himalayan Balsam. I suspect it’s been discussed on this blog before, but if you wish to find out more about why we dislike it so much then see here.

In order to control the spread of this non-native, invasive plant, we head out with our volunteers armed to the teeth with brushcutters, weed slashers and good old fashioned leather gloves. The brushcutter comes in handy for large areas that have been completely overwhelmed by balsam. In areas where there are fewer plants we tend to just pull them out of the ground, but in order to stop the pulled plants from growing again once we put them on the ground we either hang them in branches or put them on the path and stamp on them.

So, sorry about the mess, but it’s for the good of the wildlife that we all enjoy around the loch!

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Young Roe Deer helping with balsam-bashing

I had quite a nice first day back with the volunteers last week as we were treating them to a trip to the Isle of May. I know the Isle of May definitely isn’t Loch Leven, but I’ll just post a few pics from that day anyway… (check out the Isle of May NNR blog)

Insect life appears to have picked up a lot over the 3 weeks I was away, with loads of Ringlet butterflies in the grassland, damselflies hunting about around ponds and at the lochside, and bumblebees keeping themselves busy. We haven’t had any dragonflies at the loch yet (as far as I know) but I’ve included a pic of a Golden-ringed Dragonfly from a wee trip to Perthshire, just because it’s a stunner!

Well… I guess I should wrap it up there. But before leaving you with my last blog post for Loch Leven NNR, I’d just like to say a huge thank you to a lot of people, including..:

  • Jeremy, Neil and Lesley, the Loch Leven team who have kept me busy and learning throughout my time here, as well as Therese who was here for the first 5 months of my placement.
  • All of the volunteers; Wednesday vols, insect surveyors, and groups who have come for just a day or two. It’s been great working with you all and I suspect I’ll still be working with you as I’ll return to the loch from time to time. (And special mention to Dave as he washed my car yesterday as a farewell present)
  • Everybody I’ve worked with within SNH, from other reserve staff to the people behind the scenes in the various offices across Scotland to the people who’ve worked in the office with me in Kinross.
  • Everybody I’ve worked with outside of SNH; RSPB, Historic Scotland, CEH, Kinross Estate, and many other organisations!
  • The other student placements from Tentsmuir, Stirling, Dumfries, St Cyrus, Creag Meagaidh and Beinn Eighe. It’s been a brilliant year with you guys and I’m sure we’ll all keep in touch!
  • All of the visitors to Loch Leven who made my year interesting, rewarding and more than worthwhile!

Click here for a big compilation of photos I’ve taken of Loch Leven.

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Slightly squint horizon…

Thank you goes to you as well, the reader, for reading my blog posts. Hopefully my inconsistency in posting hasn’t been an issue. I’ll maybe manage to convince Jeremy to let me guest blog after I’ve left as I’m going to become a Wednesday volunteer.

Of course, it’s not just people that made my time here great, the wildlife is absolutely spectacular at Loch Leven. I know I said I wouldn’t reminisce… but it’s difficult not to after having worked at this incredible place. Below are a few of my favourite bits from my year with SNH at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve.

That doesn’t sum it all up but I’ll leave it there anyway. All that’s left to do now is say cheers one more time. So without further ado, cheers!

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Springwatch 2017: Part 3

Loch Leven NNR: Apologies again for yesterday’s abrupt end to the blog. Car fixed, MOT and service sorted. Back to blogging…

STOP PRESS: Before I begin, I’d like to ask that you watch Springwatch Unsprung on the 15th of June as Loch Leven will be starring!

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Where did I end with yesterday’s blog before rushing off? Ah yes, that Ruby Tiger moth. Of other recent lepitoptera (moths and butteflies) news is the first Red Admiral of the year on the wing yesterday by bridge over the Gairney Burn.

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Red Admiral on Brambles

I’ll just re-cover those last few pics as well because I really didn’t give them the mention they deserved.

So, that capercaillie. As I mentioned in the last blog post, they haven’t been present in Kinross-shire for a long time, I suspect they may have been present around Portmoak Moss but that’s really just a guess.

The grouse species we do still (just) have in Kinross-shire is the red grouse. There are a few of them still up Benarty Hill above RSPB Loch Leven as I found out a few weeks ago whilst looking for orchids.

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Red Grouse on drystane dyke

One of my favourite things about red grouse is their scientific name. Lagopus lagopus. This translates, roughly, to “rough-leg rough-leg” and that’s pretty fitting as they do have reasonably fluffy feet. I don’t actually have any pictures of red grouse feet but I do have a shot of one of their close relatives’ feet; the ptarmigan. Its scientific name is Lagopus muta, which means “quiet rough-leg” and I personally don’t think that’s a very fitting name as they make one of the best bird sounds I can think of.

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Ptarmigan with it’s fluffy snowshoe feet

Brown Hares, I’ve covered them a few times so I’ll leave those out for this post…

Newts I covered in Autumnwatch last year, see here

Now we’re back on track, so I’ll look at what they focused on last night at Sherborne Park Estate…

Those ermine moth silk bushes are pretty amazing aren’t they? Imagine seeing that happening in a wild place near you? Well (whilst not on the same scale) it happens at Loch Leven too! We have white and buff ermine moths that have this behaviour as well. As pointed out by Springwatch, these caterpillars use this as a defence against predators so the caterpillars are perhaps not so good as a food source for birds, bats and other invertebrates.

However, once they reach the adult stage, pictured below, they don’t have this defence tactic but can fly so they are that bit more difficult to catch.

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Buff Ermine

Muck. I must agree with Chris, I really do love a good bit of muck and so does the wildlife. Being a national nature reserve, we don’t really dump many piles of muck all over the place. However that doesn’t mean there are no farmland birds to be seen around the reserve! Yellowhammers, sometimes called the ‘Scottish Canary’ (although that only works in Scotland), are present all around the reserve but I’d say the best place to spot them is around Loch Leven’s Larder, and in the scrub around the fields there.

Another farmland bird that is unfortunately declining is the tree sparrow, but we have a few populations of them around Loch Leven. RSPB Loch Leven is definitely the easiest place to see them as there are nestboxes up specifically for them, although we have nestboxes up around Classlochie and Levenmouth that are also used by tree sparrows.

A tree sparrow, in case you were wondering, has a black rectangular mark on its cheek and a brown cap, unlike the house sparrow which has no black mark and a grey cap. The other species that some people get confused with is the dunnock as it is also called a hedge sparrow sometimes.

To finish off, I know I covered tawny owls in the first blog post but who could resist another pic of those fluffballs. This one was watching me whilst I carried out some Wetland Bird Surveys…

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As mentioned yesterday, we had the volunteers in yesterday, some of whom had been in on Sunday helping out with Discovery Day, here’s a pic to give you an idea of how much they enjoyed themselves….

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… a lot!

Yesterday we had several sub-groups all over the reserve. I was out with the brushcutter clearing the sides of the path; Alan, Mary and Francis were out with our big mower doing the same thing; Dave and Calum were round fixing some fencing at Classlochie; and Neil and Richard were making sure the pine that was burnt down at Burleigh Sands is safe and secure.

And a couple pics from last week in the sun…

In the afternoon we had a lovely trip out to Castle Island to see what the situation is with the Himalayan balsam. Fortunately the past 2 years of effort have paid off and there is very little left out there, which left us with a bit of time to wander about the island…

It was a perfect day for it, I can highly recommend! If you pop down to the pier in Kinross then find Historic Scotland you can buy tickets there and head out for a bit. it’s lovely out there.

One of the unexpected finds for me was an orchid that I’d never seen before: common twayblade. The name ‘twayblade’ comes from the fact the plant has two very obvious leaves (or blades). It’s sometimes called the Eggleaf Twayblade because its leaves are quite egg-shaped as well.

I feel that’s a good way to finish off today’s blog, keep an eye out for tomorrow’s blog!

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Springwatch 2017: Part 2

Loch Leven NNR: Another day, another episode of Springwatch. Once again we are going to delve into the wildlife around Loch Leven to help you find out what there is to see around the reserve and where to see it!

First, rain. Well, fortunately we wouldn’t know much about that because we’ve had such glorious weather! It’s been so dry that I was getting a bit worried for some of the animals around the reserve. As a great man once said, nothing works without rain, and this is true. The flowers, fish, birds, bugs, trees and many others will not do so well if there is such low rainfall, either because their homes dry up or because they find it difficult to find water to drink.

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Yesterday afternoon from the pier

One of the species I didn’t mention in yesterday’s blog that did sort of become one of the stars of the show was the jay. Hopefully that wee one that fell out of the nest will clamber back up a bit higher into the branches to join its recently fledged siblings.

The jay is a pretty difficult species to see really, but we do have a few pairs around Loch Leven. Again, I’m going to point you towards Levenmouth Woods as that’s where I hear them most often. There’s a pair around at Mary’s Knowe as well but I don’t hear them so often.

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My best pic of a jay, they’re very shy

The best way to locate a jay is to listen for them. They make quite a racket when people are nearby, with loud screechy calls from up in the canopy resonating through the woods when you stumble across them. If you’re lucky then you may catch a glimpse of one. They’re quite big, about magpie sized, and if you see them flying out in the open they look a bit like a huge butterfly.

One fact that always amazes me is that a blue tit chick needs to be fed about 100 caterpillars each day! To make that fact even more interesting, the slightly yellow tinge that young blue and great tits have is due to the shear number of caterpillars that they eat.

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Young great tits in a birch tree

In terms of caterpillars, I’ve seen a few about the reserve recently, if you keep an eye out on nettles in particular you are likely to find some butterfly caterpillars (small tortoiseshell and peacock probably). One species I was quite happy to find recently was a ruby tiger moth. I’ve seen lots of ruby tiger caterpillars but no adults, until recently.

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Ruby Tiger

I’m afraid I’ve just gotten back from balsam bashing and I need to pick my car up from its MOT so I’ll have to cut the blog here. However, I’ll bulletpoint a few species that you can see around Loch Leven that are somewhat similar to the Springwatch highlights from last night…

No Capercaillie unfortunately, not since the early 1900s. Red Grouse can be found up Benarty Hill though.

Red Grouse - Lagopus lagopus

Brown Hare, definitely plenty about the loch!

Brown Hare - Lepus europaeus

Newts: a few of those about the loch but no Great Crested Dragons!

Palmate Newt - Lissotrition helveticus

Really sorry for the rush but I’ll have time to do a really good post tomorrow, full of Springwatch and with a few extra bits and pieces from what I did today with the volunteers!

Sorry again!

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Springwatch 2017: Part 1

Loch Leven NNR: Aaand we’re back again. Sorry for the long wait folks, it’s a busy time of year and unfortunately the blog has been off my mind recently, plus I’ve been elsewhere other than the reserve.

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But I’m back now (until next week when I head off to Shetland for 3 weeks!) and Springwatch is here, so once again Jeremy and I will aim to bring you the best of what we have to offer at Loch Leven NNR, relating to what’s been happening on Springwatch the previous night.

Something that occurred to me recently is that they start Springwatch with an intro to the presenters but I never really gave myself an introduction when I started at Loch Leven last year so I’ll do a quick one now (as I am sort of the presenter of this blog post).

So, if you didn’t know already, I’m Gus and I’m the student placement/reserve assistant at Loch Leven with SNH. I completed my first year of my Countryside Management degree at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in 2015/16 and now I’m on a year out whilst I work at Loch Leven, gaining masses of experience and enjoying life! I’ll be finishing up at Loch Leven on the 17th July and then back to SRUC at the end of September.

My interests lie in birds, botany, bugs, mammals, fungi, lichens… pretty much anything that isn’t too small to look at with the naked eye. This includes habitats as well, I do love a good pine forest! Of course, it’s not all about nature as I love encouraging people to go out and enjoy nature as much as possible as well.

Enough about me though, lets get on to what you came here for…

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Loch Leven NNR

This Springwatch, as always, we are based at the stunning Loch Leven National Nature Reserve, filled to the brim with brilliant wildlife for everyone to come and see! From the thousands of wintering wildfowl to the rare flowering plants found around the loch to the array of dazzling insects, we’ve got enough wildlife to keep any naturalist occupied for ages.

Loch Leven itself covers 1300 hectares of land, reaching a maximum depth of only 26m, with the NNR covering a further 625 hectares of land around the loch.

As is the case at Sherborne Park Estate, we also have loads of nesting birds around the reserve. Blue tits, we certainly have plenty of those plus many other song birds. This year we’ve put up another 40+ nestboxes for small songbirds such as Blue Tits all around the reserve.

Swallows also nest around the reserve, one of the best places to watch them is around at RSPB Loch Leven where they nest in the tunnel under the road and in the rafters of the visitor centre. Who knows where these swallows have come from or what they’ve seen on their travels, all I know is I’m grateful for their return each year!

Like Sherborne, Loch Leven is a pretty good place to look for mammals, we in fact have about 25 species on the reserve (I say ‘about’ because I can’t think how many bat species we have). From the enigmatic red squirrel which is managing to repopulate areas it once lived in, to the very shy water shrew.

One of the best places for mammal spotting is around Levenmouth Woods. Here you have a mix of habitats: woodland for roe deer, red squirrel, and badger; the open area of dry heath is good for listening out for the rustling of small mammals in the low vegetation; and Levenmouth pools can be a good bet for otter if you’re there early enough in the morning.

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Tawny owl chick

Whilst we do have barn owls at Loch Leven, they are remarkably difficult to see given how white they are, you’d have thought they’d stand out a lot! Recently I was involved with another of our owl species, the tawny owl. This is the owl that makes the classic ‘owl noise’ that we learnt as children.

We were putting rings on the legs of a couple of broods of tawnies so that they can be identified if anybody else has a chance to look at the ring on their leg, letting us build up an understanding of the life history of the bird, and also to look at survival rates and movement patterns.

At the time of ringing the chick didn’t look like it was even considering going anywhere though…

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Chocolate mining-bee

That Hairy-footed Flower Bee was quite the charmer, eh? Funny wee thing. It’s amazing being able to see that sort of bee-haviour up close like that, but you can do so too! In fact there’s the perfect opportunity to do so at our event this Saturday, the 3rd June. We’ll be looking at all sorts of fantastic beasts from 2-4pm, meeting at the Burleigh Sands car park.

We might even come across some solitary bees such as the one above, which I believe is a chocolate mining-bee (that’s its name, not what it tastes of)!

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Mayfly

Given the amount of water on the reserve, you’d expect there to be mayflies here, wouldn’t you? Well, fortunately, there are. Watching them spawn is amazing, although it takes a wee while. I haven’t noticed any big mayfly emergences around the loch yet this year but there have been some about.

The trout and swallows here enjoy feeding on them as they dance about above the water’s surface as well. It’s amazing the contrast between watching a trout feed (quite relaxing and easy to watch) and watching a swallow feed (frantic and difficult to keep up with).

 

From the dainty dancing mayfly to this, the worlds fastest animal and one of the most impressive birds in Britain…

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Peregrine

Yes, the peregrine falcon. This bird is capable of reaching blisteringly fast speeds: up to 240mph! It’s the extremes like this that make nature even more interesting. Of course, they don’t just do this for fun, it is so that they can catch their prey in the air, hitting it before it knows what it’s being hit by.

Prey for a peregrine can include pigeons, waders and ducks, of which there are plenty at Loch Leven NNR meaning that there is at least one pair nearby using a natural nest site as opposed to the tall skyscrapers in the metropolis that is Kinross…

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That tawny owl chick again, because why not?

Sooooo that’s it for this post, tune in again tomorrow when I’ll be going over what happens tonight on Springwatch which I hope you’ll all be watching!

In terms of what’s happening on the reserve now, we’ve got the volunteers in tomorrow so we’ll be tidying up things from Discovery Day which happened yesterday and was a HUGE success so thank you to everyone who came along; organisers, organisations and general public.

One thing that I don’t look forward to at this time of year is the Himalayan balsam, an invasive plant that shades out our native plants and can take over large areas if not controlled. However, sometimes amongst the balsam lurks a wee jewel in Loch Leven’s crown; the coralroot orchid.

This is a very rare plant, and is very difficult to find mainly due to the habitat you find it in and the fact that it hides so well. See if you can spot it in the picture below, it’s light green and about 9cm tall…

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Did you spot it?

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t look very impressive from there but I assure you, after searching for 2 hours, getting prodded in the face by low branches, stung around the ankles by nettles and snared by brambles, spotting this wee orchid made my day. Here’s a slightly closer photo.

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I’ll be back again tomorrow!

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How time *flies*

The Loch Leven NNR blog has been somewhat inactive over the past few weeks and for that I apologise. There are a whole manner of excuses I could come up with but I won’t bore you with those. Instead, lets marvel at the marvelous wildlife that has been making itself known in recent weeks…

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SWARM

One of the most abundant bits of wildlife around Loch Leven at the moment are these. I suspect that if you’ve visited the reserve recently then you definitely saw them. They are non-biting midges, also called Chironomids, which is good news because the place would be inhospitable if they were bloodsuckers!

I’m going to put up a few signs that explain some things about them around the reserve. Basically, they are of no harm to you or I other than occasionally getting in you eye or ear, but they are a huge help to many of the animals around Loch Leven. Today whilst I was out planning a wee job, some screaming above my head alerted me to the presence of lots of Swifts.

These Swifts have only recently arrived having made their way back from their wintering grounds in southern Africa. They were going crazy with the number of flies that were out, crazy with happiness I should say. It was like watching a cat with some catnip.

Another recent returner to the reserve was the above Large Red Damselfly, which will also enjoy snacking on the abundance of Chironomids that are to be found almost all the way around the Heritage Trail.

There have been plenty of other beautiful insects out and about on the reserve, the butterflies in particular have been enjoying this warm, dry spell. My favourite was the wee Small Copper that was out amongst the Sheep’s Sorel (the red flowers in the picture with the butterfly itself) which is the foodplant of the Small Copper caterpillars.

Bumblebees haven’t bee quite so common but there’s few workers out and about. Whilst I was looking for Green Hairstreak butterflies on the Blaeberry at Levenmouth I was treated to some nice views of a Red Squirrel.

At this time of year the squirrels sometimes struggle a little as the food they stocked up in the Autumn is running out but the acorns, berries and other tree nuts haven’t come out yet. Fortunately the Scots Pines keep them satisfied and you can often hear them nibbling apart the cones, and sometimes you even get cones dropped on the path in front of you.

Non-animal wildlife included some very nice looking things as well. Flowers in particular are becoming more obvious. Here’s this blog post’s compilation…

If you sift through those pictures you’ll find Holy-grass which is a very rare plant. You only really get it in a few localities in southern Scotland, the Hebrides and Orkney. It’s called Holy-grass because the monks used to use it on the floors of churches because it smells quite nice, like vanilla I’ve read.

The last thing I’ll post a picture of is this cute wee Lapwing chick from our friends over at RSPB, taken by me but at RSPB. It’s nice to see them running about in the grass as a parent stays nearby. The chicks of waders, ducks, geese and swans are often precocial meaning that they are capable of fending for themselves as soon as they leave the confines of their egg.

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So, we’ve had our bat walk, and we have our History Walk coming up this Sunday, meeting at the Loch Leven’s Larder car park at 1pm with the walk around the east side of the loch lasting until about 4pm. David Munro will be leading and Jeremy will be there as well.

Also coming up is our biggest event of the year…

DISCOVERY DAY!

This will be taking place on Sunday the 28th of May, in a couple of weeks. There will be lots of organisations there holding activities for all of the family, cake, lots of information on all aspects of Loch Leven, and of course we’ll be there!

I hope to see you then, and perhaps I’ll bump into you on the Heritage Trail before then as we wade through the non-biting midges! Also, enjoy the weather whilst it lasts, I think it’s going to get a bit damper next week, which is good news for a lot of the plants which have been struggling a little bit.

P.S. I meant to mention that Loch Leven has many species of non-biting midge, but one in particular is very special as it is only found at Loch Leven. It’s name? It’s name is Cladontanytarsus donmcbeani… not terribly catchy but perhaps we could call it McBean’s Non-biting Midge? These flies are pretty difficult to identify to species level though so I’m afraid I can’t find this one for you. Although, I guess there’s enough of the usual ones out there for you to appreciate without seeing this particular species.

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Winter and Spring combined

The weather has been all over the place over the weekend here at Loch Leven NNR. It’s been warm during the day but quite cold at night. Today there has been blasts of snow and sleet with prolonged sunshine in-between.

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This dandelion looked cheerful in the sunshine……

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I was trying to capture this picture of a Carder Bumblebee but it had flown off before I got the shot but I liked the cheerful picture

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Around 4000 Sand Martins have been around Burleigh Sands this morning. These birds northward passage has been halted by the winds.

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I stood to watch them a while. At first glance they appeared to look tired and taking a rest in the recently sown field but on closer inspection they were enjoying the opportunity to take a dust bath.

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They would occasionally fly up in waves shaking the sand out of their feathers

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There were plenty of white horses on Loch Leven today. This pair of swans have not started making their nest yet but there are seven swan nests built in the Phragmites reeds behind the gabion baskets on the east shore of Loch Leven.

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there has been quite a sandstorm at loch Leven. Unlucky for the folks who cleaned their windows at the weekend.

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Prolonged dry conditions and cultivated fields means we occasionally see sandstorms like this.

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A sleet shower comes in from the west behind the sandstorm on the right hand side of the picture. It was very similar to this last year in April.

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The Orwell Stones were barely visible at 100 yards. Traffic was forced to slow down.

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Many birds are nesting now and this lovely hen Blackbird is collecting food to take back to feed her chicks. I’ve also seen Song Thrush carrying food and Robins sat on nest. Many of our boxes we put up for tree nesting ducks have commandeered over by Stock Doves. There are at least 5 Tawny Owls nesting around the reserve. Migrant birds are slowly appearing with my first House Martin and Sedge Warber spotted today. Swallows are on territory now too.

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This flock of 25 Black-tailed Godwits were off the Kirkgate on Thursday. These birds stopped off at Loch Leven en-route to their breeding grounds in Iceland.

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Neil informs me there are 137 Greylag Goose nests on St Serfs Island. They’ve been hatching young since the 6th April. There are lots of goslings to be seen at Vane Farm on the fields.

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Night time cyclists have reported to me blood curdling cries from Levenmouth and the Blackwood. This is not a beast but the loud echoing barking of Roe Deer. The males are becoming territorial.

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