Catch up

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It’s been another magical week at Loch Leven with mirror calm water in the mornings.

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We’re seeing the first decent Chironomid hatches around the loch. The insectivorous birds are enjoying this plentiful supply of food.

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Not sure the herons are too keen on the flies though.

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I’m finding a few more of the herons have hatched now. In 2009 they were fledging by the end of May.

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The 20 pairs of Mute Swans nesting around the loch are at different stages of nesting. This bird is sat on eggs, others have nests but no eggs and some pairs have not bothered this year but still stoically defend their territories. This is partly due to the late spring but also the high water levels.

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Yellowhammers are visible in the north side of the loch. The males have a familiar song. Listen to it here.

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The willow buds are in flower right now.

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These are another excellent food source. This is typical early season Bullfinch food but many insects including bumblebees and hoverflies enjoy the feast.

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The odd Wheatear is turning up around the reserve. These birds breed on the surrounding hills. Many of them head much further north with some getting as far as Greenland.

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There are some spectacular clumps of Marsh Marigold brightening the ditches right now.

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Bogbean is just emerging  at Findatie. It has a very short flowering season.

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Botany is still a bit quiet but I’m finding the odd Orchid in it’s early stages.

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I’m finding Flowering Wood-rush out at Burleigh. It’s an indicator of low nutrients. We keep the nutrients low on our meadows by cutting and lifting the cuttings every year.

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We stumble across the odd plant we don’t want to find too. This Giant Hogweed was growing at Burleigh but has now eliminated for safety reasons.

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On areas we don’t mow and lift we use cattle. the first cattle have gone out onto Carsehall. They don’t look very pleased about being out there.

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Carsehall Bog is looking very lush and green right now. We had two pairs of Lapwings on here this spring and one pair laid eggs. This is the first time on the actual bog for years. All the work we have been doing to improve the bogs botanics are benefitting the birds too.

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The swans are enjoying the farmers crops again.

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A few butterflies are on the wing now. Tortoiseshell, Green-veined White and Peacock are on the wing right now.

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Moth of the week is this Red Sword Grass. We catch one of these annually.

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This Goldenrod Pug is certainly one for the purists. I have trapped three of these this week.

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Roe Deer are very obvious around the reserve. This doe fed in front of the Levenmouth hide oblivious to my presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Herons and Moths

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It has has been proper April weather here at Loch Leven NNR with sunny weather interspersed with sharp heavy cooling showers.

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The insect counting volunteers got together for their annual meeting yesterday. They’ve been out counting from the beginning of April. They’ve only really started to find Bees and Butterflies emerging this week. George Guthrie had bought samples from his catch  the previous night. This is a Powdered Quaker. One I’m yet to catch in Kinross.

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Not a Butterfly. This is an Early Thorn.

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This is a Pale Pinion Moth I trapped at Kinross. It’s an interesting moth because it emerges well in the Autumn then over winters as an adult and re-emerges again in the spring.

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The bees and other insects find this Butterbur a good source of food when few flowering plants are out.

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I was out counting the Heron nests this week. We found a total of 35 nests between the two islands. They are very late this year with only one nest appearing to have hatched.

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This gives you an idea of the density of nests in the trees. On the Castle the nests are in only 4 trees.

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Amee was out doing activities with Rosemount Nursery this week. They were looking at birds and leaves round at the Kirkgate.

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That’s the last of the trees planted this winter period. We planted 100 Rowan round at Levenmouth. We were hearing plenty of Swifts overhead. We also heard the first Sedge Warblers of the year too.

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Remember to keep this date free for Discovery Day.

 

 

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24 hours on the Isle of May

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Alan and I were covering for our NNR colleagues on the Isle of May over the weekend.

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A willow warbler admires the interpretation on the Isle of May NNR.

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We were welcomed by rafts of Puffins on the water when we arrived.

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There were a good number of migrant birds around the island when we arrived. Redwings will be heading to Scandinavia and Ring Ouzels to the Scottish Hills. The Black Redstart was singing nicely to a female around the buildings. The Song Thrush could be nesting in a garden somewhere near you soon!

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As lovely as this Sparrowhawk is, when you are looking for migrant birds its presence is not at all helpful. Its diet had included at least 2 Robins and a Song Thrush during its stay.

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The large gulls are a few days away from laying eggs and lined up nicely on the walls.

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A few Kittiwakes are finding courting and nest building.

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Shag are very late this year. Most of these birds should be on eggs by now but have struggled in the winter storms.

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By Sunday morning the cliffs that were empty on the Saturday were full of Auks.

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Razorbills were courting in the sunshine.

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There were lots and lots of Puffins on the Sunday morning. They put on pleasing show for the visitors who arrived on the afternoon boat.

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Fantastic to go back to the island. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

 

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Spring

 

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There’s still snow on the hills but this week we’ve seen the first positive shift away from the cold weather here at Loch Leven NNR.

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The Blue Tits have been collecting cobwebs. Our shed seems to be a decent place to start.

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I’ve had the Moth trap out every night this week. I’ve not been catching too much apart from the early spring moths like Hebrew Character, Common Quaker and Clouded Drab.

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Mallards are coming onshore to breed. This drake is calling to his mate who is laying eggs nearby that there is danger about.

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Loch Leven had it’s first Sand Martins three weeks ago but we’ve had to wait for the next batch. We were seeing 10s on the Monday, hundreds by the Tuesday and well over 1000  Wednesday.

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We also recorded our first Swallows this week and heard the first Willow Warbler singing on Wednesday.

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Bittercress is out on bare ground around the reserve.

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There’s plenty of Frog spawn around the loch. This heap is beginning to hatch and seems to have survuived the really cold weather. We are waiting for the toads now.

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We’ve been steadily planting the large order of trees. These oaks have been planted at Levenmouth where we lost a few large oaks during the winter storms in recent years.

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We find plenty of frogs while we are doing this.

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We’re still catching up with the big winter jobs like clearing ditches and emptying silt traps.

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With just 9 days to go. Please get everyone you know to vote!

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A sure sign of spring – ‘The ants are back Neil!’

 

 

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Bored of writing about snow now

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They say snow laying on the ground is simply waiting for the next lot to arrive. There were still pockets of snow at the start of the week on the surrounding hills but sure enough of the year has passed to see the end of it?

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Unfortunately more arrived. This didn’t stay for long or cause the disruption that the last lot caused but has left everywhere soaking.

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The wintry scenes returned again. Surely that is it now?

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Goosander and Little Grebe in the harbour. Still plenty of sticklebacks for them to catch.

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The first trout anglers have been out on Loch Leven this spring. If you want to keep up with the angling news, keep an eye on Fish Loch Leven website.

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We found evidence Mistle Thrush have hatched young already at Loch Leven. It is likely there is already a Blackbird on eggs near to you too.

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The Woodpeckers are very noisy right now. They are drumming loudly making their presence known to ward off other woodpeckers in their territories. Both Green and this Greater Spotted Woodpeckers were calling and drumming at Levenmouth today.

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I’ve still not had the opportunity to get the moth trap out much but this Satellite was the only moth of last week. They are called Satellites because of the large dot with the two smaller dots underneath them. This is a scarce moth round here. This moth probably emerged last winter and is flying after hibernation. They are a moth of deciduous trees.

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The trees at Sewage Point are now down. the last of the logs will be lifted soon. this machine mulches the brash back into the soil. We’ve also dug out the last of the stumps from Mary’s Knowe. Its transformation from scrub to species rich grassland is nearly complete.

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Lots of Squirrel activity around the loch right now. What better place for a Red Squirrel to eat a pine cone then an upturned bucket.

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It took me 11 years to see my first Barn Owl at Loch Leven and 16 years to see my first red kite at here. Amee has seen both within a few hours in her first 3 days! The Red Kite was migrating north. It gathered height over Burleigh and headed north-west. The Barn Owl was at Levenmouth which is an unlikey place for this species. It’s probably been displaced by the bad weather. It needs to be careful round there. There’s a big angry Tawny Owl which won’t like its presence.

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Keep an eye of for Wood Anemones right now. They are just coming into flower in woodlands.

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Meet Amee….

Loch Leven, NNR

Over the next 6months Amee Hood, a former Reserve Officer for Stirling NNRs (2 Bogs, a swamp and some islands) has taken up her new role to be the new Seasonal Reserve Officer for Loch Leven, NNR.

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I started within SNH in 2016 as a SRUC Student Placement and then blossomed from there. I came into the organization with great enthusiasm and with great mentors within the Stirling, NNR I managed to strengthen my knowledge especially becoming an expert in Fresh Water sponges.

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This specialized niche started at Loch Leven during my first couple of weeks starting with SNH, where I chummed Stephen Longster (former reserve officer) on a visit to this reserve. Ever since that day, whilst working at Loch Lomond, NNR I kept my eyes open to then discover and identify the first Fresh Water Sponge there. I honestly cant wait to get into the water at Loch Leven with my new bathyscope to see if I can find another colony of sponges, increase the records and have a better understanding of their growth.

I am excited to learn how other NNRs are managed, being based on the Stirling, NNRs this involved a lot of traveling to and from the reserves. With Loch Leven I will get to experience what it is like to be based on site with very little travelling.

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The main purpose of my job role this summer is to organize and running event connecting people with nature. I am really looking forward to meeting and greeting the visitors to Loch Leven, NNR over the summer months. So far I have many ideas of events I can organize and lead this summer, so stayed tuned and if you see me around please say Hi. I would love to share my knowledge so far with Fresh Water Sponges.

Many thanks to the Stirling NNR blog for the photos.

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Beast from the east part 2 and a Puffin

Have we seen the end of the winter at Loch Leven NNR? Beast from the east part 2 delivered less snow but still plenty of interest at Loch Leven.

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The ice sculptures were quite impressive along the west shoreline. If you look closely at the bottom pictures you can see the strong wind and ice removed the whole reed bed near to where the hide was. That’s one fewer Mute Swan and Great Crested grebe nesting spot this spring.

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The Goldeneye looked like they enjoyed the surf. The loch saw gusts over 40mph from the east. Stronger than when all the snow fell.

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The days that followed were quite glorious though. This was over the east of the loch.

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More cracking sunsets on the loch

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The sun bought the first Wildflowers. Coltsfoot has been bursting up all round the reserve in the last week.

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This is growing in the bunds at Carsehall. This is where I first found it flowering last year.

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Last week I was helping Steve from Ecoco again with the Softrak. I was helping him at the RSPB site at Black Devon wetlands in the Forth.

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We were cutting reeds down there. I’ve not had that experience before and we managed a lot of cutting.

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We were working west of the Kincardine Bridge. As I was finishing I had a look at the river as the tide was coming in.

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It was clear a lot of seabirds had been bought in with the tide. First bird I spotted was a Razorbill and then a number of Kittiwakes and then I started spotting a lots of Guillemots. It was clear that the bad weather had force a number of these birds right up the estuary. Struggling to feed, these birds become weak. If anyone sees any dead seabirds on beaches please report them to CEH. Guidance on the Isle of May blog.

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There is still a bit of wood chip left over by in the Burleigh car park. Keep taking it away. Two thirds of it has gone. I even overheard someone talking about it in our local pub.

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We managed a bit of cutting and bailing near the factory. Weather stopped us from finishing it in the autumn. The baler worked very well.

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Gus popped by this week. Here he is carping a Conger Eel in the north-east. We enjoyed a bit of birdspotting around the reserve after work.

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Shelduck are already on their well established territories around the reserve.

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In the middle of the picture is a Mediterranean Gull. There are still very few of these gulls recorded  locally.

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Here is a slightly better shot of a Mediterranean Gull I took in Fife the weekend before. It’s the bird with white wing tips in the middle of the shot. It differs from the Black-headed Gulls by being bulkier and having white wing tips and a blood-red thick bill. While we were watching the bird in at Loch Leven another bird flew in. This is the first time more than one have been recorded together at here.

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Another good find at Loch Leven find was a Rock Pipit on St Serfs. It’s still a very uncommon bird here with probably fewer then 10 records. They are reasonably common along the coast of Fife. This is Gus’s best effort.

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Here are the volunteers harvesting Broom around the car park. We are collecting it to plant some of the bare areas around the loch.

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It turned into a fantastic team building exercise. Or was that the tea and cake? We collected and processed over 3000 seeds.

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And finally…..

We recorded our Loch Leven’s first ever Puffin last week. Spotted fishing with Red-breasted Mergansers near St Serfs the bird had probably appeared during the first spell of bad weather. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph it so I got a picture from my time on the Isle of May.

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Loch Leven nominated for prestigious award

Loch Leven nominated for prestigious award

 

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and its partners have been nominated for a prestigious Natura 2000 award for work benefitting Loch Leven, its visitors, and the local community. The loch is one of four Natura sites nominated across Europe in the socio-economic category.

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SNH is encouraging those who enjoy Loch Leven to vote for it to win the coveted European Citizens’ Award, in which the general public vote for their favourite award finalist. Votes may be cast at http://natura2000award-application.eu/

 

Francesca Osowska, SNH’s Chief Executive, said:

“We’re thrilled with this nomination for the Natura 2000 Award, which shows that the work done with all of our partners over many years to improve the water quality, environment, and visitor experience at Loch Leven is top notch. The loch attracts over 200,000 visitors a year to see its wonderful wildlife and to walk or cycle along the circular trail.”

087_5240117 - Loch Leven visitors - SNH Image library (A2565064)

Dr Linda May of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), who has led the Loch Leven monitoring programme for 25 years, added:

“The enormous improvements in water quality at Loch Leven over the last 25 years have provided a better habitat for wildlife and increased its amenity value. The loch is now a world-leading example of the benefits to nature and communities of using scientific evidence to inform restoration and management decisions. We should all be very proud of what we have achieved.”

LochLeven-D3815 signage- SNH image library (A2565075)

Loch Leven has been recognised for its 21-kilometre circular Heritage Trail, which attracts visitors that contribute over £2 million to local businesses and provides significant social benefits. More than 85% of visitors strongly agree that the trail benefits their physical and mental health. The Heritage Trail mobile app and mobility scooters placed at various locations provide opportunities for visitors to access this very popular loch.

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Another significant accomplishment, which impressed the Natura 2000 judges, was the long-term efforts made to improve the water quality of the loch. Historically, nutrient inputs from agricultural, domestic and industrial discharges degraded the lake’s water quality. In 1992, this led to a devastating algal bloom known locally as ‘Scum Saturday’, which resulted in an estimated loss of £1 million to the local economy over the three months that followed. This was a real catalyst for action. Local people and organisations worked together to implement a plan that upgraded waste water treatment works, controlled industrial pollution and reduced agricultural diffuse pollution.

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Partners in the project include The Rural Access Committee for Kinross-Shire (TRACKS), Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Perth & Kinross Council, Kinross Estate Company,

Lockett Agri-Environmental, The James Hutton Institute, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), RSPB Scotland, and local farmers, Robin Niven and Angus Bayne.

 

The Natura 2000 Award ceremony will take place on the 17 May, 2018, in Brussels.

 

The Natura 2000 Award is designed to reward excellence in the 27,000 Natura 2000 sites in Europe and showcase the value of the network for local economies. In total, the Natura sites cover almost a fifth of Europe’s land and are an important part of the surrounding seas, making it the largest coordinated network of conservation areas anywhere in the world. The network of sites helps ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

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The Beast from the East

The Loch Leven NNR landscape was dramatically changed by the Beast from the East.

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It was hard to measure how much snow we had at Loch Leven last week. It was piled high along the road sides, against buildings and in gullies. Last time we had this amount of disruption was in 2010 where I came back from down south to find 10 inches of snow on top of my bin.

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Our office was shut and much of the trail was impassable. The drifts along the Kirkgate were above head height.

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The wind stopped the loch from freezing but a sort of pack ice formed along the west side where snow solidified snow compacted.

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Snowbergs formed at Kirkgate Point. This is the first time I’ve seen this at Loch Leven.

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The gulls used the compacted snow roost on.

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There were plenty of opportunities to photograph the ice forming around the willows.

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The birds were effected by the weather. Many people saw Fieldfares in their gardens. This Snipe was seen in the ditch by the office. Two of the closely related Jack Snipe were also in the ditch.

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It was possible to see the Snipe up close. They were feeding in the ditch but often got into dispute with the local Moorhens.

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The bad weather also pushed a couple scarce birds within the Loch Leven recording area. Snow buntings are reasonably easy to see in winter on the surrounding hills after there has been snow. This bird was seen down at the Kirkgate.

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It blended in quite well with the snowbergs. It was feeding on the Dock seeds along the loch shore. The previous records of Snow Bunting around the loch shore have been last year, 2010 and 1999 before that.

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Another bird that can be seen locally at sea relatively easily is a Kittiwake but they do not visit Loch Leven very often. This bird flew past Darren Hemsley and I as we were watching and photographing the bunting.

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The bird we saw was similar plumage to this bird I photographed in the Forth. It was one of last years birds. This seabird is very rarely recorded at loch Leven. The last record concerned a dead bird after the hurricane in 2012. Prior to that you’ve got to go back to February 1999 to have seen one here. Life at sea would have been very difficult for birds so I hope this bird received some sanctuary here before moving on.

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With the Kinross office shut Neil and I volunteered to get frontline NHS staff to and from Victoria hospital. We used the 4×4 and made journeys getting staff from Edinburgh, Leven, Crossford to Kirkcaldy. It was a great opportunity to put some of our 4×4 driving skills into practice. The roads were quite interesting in places but managed a number of journeys and even made it onto the montage of shots uploaded by the NHS Fife on YouTube.

Hopefully that’s it now for the bad weather. I was down in glorious Gloucestershire last week. Many of their wintering birds have gone and their spring migrants are turning up. Hopefully we won’t be far behind.

 

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Trout in the Classroom 2018

The highlight of the last week at Loch Leven was delivering the second part of our Growing up With Loch Leven Trout in the Classroom Project with three local schools. This year Kinross, Cleish and Portmoak primary schools are participating, and the kids are so enthusiastic about the project and we always have good fun. During the March visit the classes get to release the brown trout they have been nurturing in their classrooms into a local burn within the Loch Leven Catchment. In previous years we’ve been subjected to a bit of rain, even sleet or snow but to have snowdrifts all around is not the norm!!! Thankfully the ground conditions and most importantly the river levels were not anywhere near as bad as we had feared they might be so we were able to go ahead.

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This was the road going out to Cleish to check the safety of the sites on Thursday.

Each of the classes received a delivery of trout eggs in early February – they now know them by the more correct term of ova. They keep them in a refrigerated tank in their classroom and have two important tasks to perform on a daily basis. Firstly to check the water temperature and secondly to keep the water clean and free from any debris and detritus as the trout develop.

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Eyed ova as delivered to each classroom.

Water temperature is a key factor in the development of the ova. The optimum temperature for the water in the tanks is 6oc and in warmer conditions the development is accelerated and vice-versa. The refrigerators we use are not fancy scientific ones so keep temperatures within a degree or two is not at all easy. This year we were able to demonstrate the effect of temperature particularly well. Below are 3 images of the trout all taken on Fridays release and which were at the same stage when taken into the classrooms.

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These were kept at an average temperature of around 8oc by Kinross pupils and show the most development, these are really trout fry. Having utilised all their yolk sac these are ready to start feeding for themselves, and will in time have to leave the safety of the rivers gravel bed to do so. In fact most of this tank was so mobile I couldn’t really get a good photograph of them!!

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These ones were kept at around 6oc you can just about make out the pink of the yolk sac still present however the dark coloration which will camouflage them as they become more active is also there. Thanks to Cleish PS for this great photograph.

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Meanwhile these ones were kept in our workshop without a refrigerator and as such were subject to the outside freezing temperatures of the last month – we had on occasions to break the ice on the aerator and water surface. The lack of development is very evident in these ones, at this stage in development they called alevins and they have the yolk sac which still provides all their sustenance.

The final photo illustrates just how much slower development is at lower temperatures. For all these fry the challenges before them are immense if they are to ever make it to the size of fish that migrated up the burn to spawn last autumn. I was watching fish over 30cm in length in some of smallest burns in our catchment last autumn it is amazing the size of fish that will progress up the smallest of water courses in search of the perfect conditions to spawn in.

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The smallest of burns can provide spawning areas for sizeable trout. This is the Hatton Burn where Portmoak released their fry.

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Discussing the Gairney Burn with the pupils of Cleish PS just before release.

The nature of those perfect conditions is something else we discuss with the kids, we look at water quality, examine the river bed to look at home important a gravelly bed is for spawning and for the safe development of the fry, discuss oxygenation and all those other things that help aid their young trout survive outside of the classroom.

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Willie from the Loch Leven Fishery releases the Kinross PS fry into the big wide world.

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