Week 10 of lockdown or is it 11? I’ve lost count! Sometimes the days go by so quickly and the weeks just merge into one; other times the days drag on and I find myself missing normal life.
As we wait to move forward into our new normal I thought it would be a nice opportunity to look back into the past and see what, if we had been on the reserve, we would be getting up to.
From April until the end of September our insect volunteers would normally have been out and about busy surveying bees and butterflies on the reserve.
Our Wednesday volunteers would have been out and about cutting back the verges of the path and trimming back overhanging vegetation to make sure the trail is safe for visitors. We would have also been busy tidying up the gateways and updating the notices to keep you up to date with everything that would have been happening on the reserve.
We would normally be along at Findatie just now bashing bracken. We knock the bracken back to help the meadow plants grow and spread. The meadow provides a great habitat for a variety of different insects.
On top of all the regular tasks, this time last year the volunteers were very busy building a brand new shed!
April and May are nest survey time at Loch Leven. We all enjoy a little trip out on the boat to St Serfs where we count the ducks or gulls. In May 2014 we were out surveying nesting ducks. While we were out we flushed a Short Eared Owl nest. Neil and I, along with an RSPB volunteer went back to ring the chicks. The chicks were ringed with both a metal BTO ring and a plastic Darvic ring. Short-eared owls are nomadic and breed where there are plenty of small mammals to eat. They normally disperse away from areas where they hatch undertaking long-distance movements. Unfortunately we have not had any reports of our chicks being seen, but we hope that they were successful. If you are interested in finding out more on the Short-eared Owl tracking project, there is meant be a small feature on Springwatch tonight (Friday) or have a look on the BTO’s webpage.
Five years ago in May 2015 we were busy installing the pond dipping platform at Burleigh. I was a volunteer at the time and remember watching to see how far in Neil would go and if his waders would fill up with water! Our volunteers Susan and Sophie were putting the new pond dipping platform to good use during the Mini Bioblitz in 2015. If you are round at Burleigh have a look for damselflies and dragonflies in and around the pond.
Hopefully it won’t be much longer until we can get back onto the reserve but in the meantime please stay safe.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week; with the theme for us is of kindness. Spending time in nature can greatly improve both our physical and mental health and wellbeing. We should not only be kind to ourselves and to others but, we should also think of ways in which we can be kind to nature.
I always find that being outside in nature improves my mental health and wellbeing. I feel happier and less stressed when I am outdoors and surrounded by nature.
We have had pretty good weather recently and I’ve been taking advantage of it during my daily exercise. I took a day off last week and walked down to the nearby river, hoping to see a Kingfisher, Osprey or maybe even an Otter; unfortunately I didn’t see any. There was however plenty of other wildlife to keep my eyes and ears busy.
Chiffchaff, Wren and Blue Tit were all calling in the trees on the way down to the river. I spotted a Treecreeper close to the path looking for insects in the bark of the trees. The woodland floor had the strong scent of wild garlic which reminded me of warm summer evenings when I was younger and used to walk this way with my Grandad.
When I reached the river there was a young family skimming stones in the place where I used to do the same thing with my Mum, Brother and Grandad. The black headed gulls were watching and were in their full breeding plumage. This Mute Swan was also paddling close by; Swans will often swim with one leg stretched out or tucked on their back to help regulate their body temperature.
The riverbank was in full bloom with Stitchwort and Wood Anemone in flower. Bluebell, White Dead Nettle and Crosswort were also dotted along the path.
I stopped close to a Hawthorn to watch the Sand Martins and Swifts flying over the river collecting insects. I didn’t stay too long as the Hawthorn had attracted a lot of insects especially St Mark’s flies. To keep my distance from oncoming walkers I walked over to the edge of the burn which flows into the river. The Mallards were sleeping on the muddy bank and a Spotted Flycatcher was perched on the tree opposite me. I spent so long watching it, I never noticed the other walkers passing me. On my way back home, I took a detour through the ‘ditches’ where I heard a Long-tailed tit and Blackcap singing.
If you are unable to get outside and are looking for other ways to be kind to yourself have a look on our activities page. Although designed for children a few of the adults I have spoken to have enjoyed them too. This week we have been making dreamcatchers. We hope you are all keeping safe and well and take some time to be kind to yourselves.
This month the conservation charity Plantlife are inviting the nation to take part in ‘No Mow May’. All you need to do is leave the mower in the shed, sit back, and watch the grass and wildflowers grow. It’s one of the easiest and simplest things you can do for nature: it really is something for nothing. In the last week of the month you can also take part in their ‘Every Flower Counts‘ survey and count all the flowers that have grown in a single square metre of your lawn.
The results from last year have just been released and are truly eye-opening. In total 203 different species of wildflowers were counted in lawns across the country, with the most common species being daisy, white clover, selfheal and bird’s-foot-trefoil. What’s more, the results showed that making simple changes to your mowing habits can increase nectar production enough to support ten times the number of pollinators like hoverflies, bees and butterflies. Interestingly, the lawns with the highest number of flowers and nectar production were those cut every four weeks, allowing low-lying plants like daisies and white clover to flower in abundance. However, unmown areas with long grass had a more diverse range of flowers. This can extend the period that nectar is available into late summer and provide important habitat for specialist insects that rely on particular plant species.
These findings suggest that you can maximise the wildlife value of your garden by leaving some areas unmown throughout the spring and summer to support a broad range of plants, but cutting the rest of the lawn on a high setting once a month to really boost nectar production. This approach with contrasting grass lengths in different parts of your garden can also look really attractive. Rather than looking unkempt and neglected, a patch of taller vegetation around a tree or a mown path through an area of long grass can add real interest to your garden.
This idea of using different management in different places to encourage a diversity of habitats and maximise the benefits for widlife is something we do at Loch Leven NNR on a larger scale. I touched on this before in an earlier post about tree felling on the reserve. As such,we ensure that Loch Leven continues to have the great range of habitats that makes it so special, from meadows to wetland and open loch to mature woodland. If you are fortunate enough to have garden, then consider it your own mini nature reserve and make it work for both you and wildlife. So join me in taking part in #NoMowMay and leave those lawns alone! Hopefully I’ll have some interesting results to share with you here or on social media at the end of the month.
Did you happen to see the full moon last night? May’s full moon is known as the Flower Moon; celebrating the abundance of flowers and blossoms in gardens and the countryside.
Our hedgerows are becoming full of life with the vibrant green of the hawthorn leaves blooming; providing a good habitat for nesting birds. There is an old saying that my grandad often said – “ne’er cast a cloot a’fore the May is oot”. Meaning don’t put away your winter clothes until the May flower is out. The May flower being the flowers of the hawthorn. Around where I live the hawthorn is not yet in flower so I’ll be holding onto my jumpers for a little while longer! I have noticed some blackthorn flowering. I find a good way to tell them apart is that if there are flowers before leaves then it is blackthorn. If there are leaves when it flowers then it is hawthorn. I found this blackthorn flowering between some hawthorn just to confuse me!
In the woods the understory is becoming bright and colourful. The bluebells are beginning to flower and it has been nice to see the purple-blue hue get more vibrant each day. Red campion, pink purslane and speedwell have also provided a nice splash of colour on my daily walk.
There has been plenty of butterflies around with the warm weather we have been having recently. On my daily walk I’ve spotted Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green-veined Whites and Orange Tips. The female Orange Tip butterfly lack the orange on the wingtip but both male and female have the green mottling on the underwing. Around the Loch our volunteers have spotted Green Hairstreak and Comma too!
I was really happy on Wednesday while on my walk as I saw not just one but three Nuthatch in the woods. I had just spent the previous 5 minutes watching the Treecreeper fluttering between trees collecting a bill full of insects when I heard the Nuthatch calling.
Treecreepers have a curved bill which helps them pick insects out of the bark as they work their way up the tree in a spiral around the trunk. Unlike Nuthatch, Treecreepers can’t climb down trees so have to fly to get to the bottom of the next tree trunk. If you spot a bird climbing down a tree then it is almost always a Nuthatch. I really enjoy watching both species.
There have been plenty of other birds around too. I watched a Jay chasing off a Sparrowhawk earlier in the week. The woodland has been full of calls from Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff. The Song Thrush and Chaffinch have been waking me up far too early most mornings although it is a nice way to start my day. I’ve had regular sightings of Bullfinch and Goldfinch on my daily walk and on days where I have really needed cheering up the Long-tailed Tits always found time to make an appearance. I saw Grey Partridge and this Swallow on my way home yesterday.
If you are looking for things to do please keep checking our website where we have been adding different activities to keep the kids busy during lockdown, with more coming very soon! I’m off to do some baking for our VE Day afternoon tea.
Today is International Dawn Chorus Day, a worldwide celebration of the wonder of bird song. Every year the day is honoured up and down the country with guided walks which focus attention on the dawn chorus and immerse people in this natural spectacle. We were looking forward to leading one such walk at Loch Leven, but sadly such things have to be left for another time. Instead, we’re going to take a virtual walk together along the Heritage Trail. We’ll pause along the way to listen to a range of common birds and I’ll try to give you some helpful pointers to recognise their songs. If you want to test yourself, scroll down slowly and listen to each recording before revealing the paragraph below!
Learning to recognise birds by sound can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying. It makes it so much easier to identify the birds around you, which can be heard to see once there is a flush of vegetation growth in the spring. If you’re not familiar with any of the birds, click on their names for a link to more information. All the recordings come from Xeno Canto which is a fantastic citizen science project which collects bird song from all around the world. Now, let’s set off…
We’re heading off from Kinross Pier, but before we even start walking we hear a song from a nearby tree. The bird doesn’t seem scared and hops down on top of the stone wall, coming quite close to us.
It’s a Robin. A delicate, sweet warbling, but also a touch mournful. His song can be quite variable, but listen how each phrase starts with a few squeaky high-pitched notes, before becoming more confident. It helps to pick out characteristic features of a bird’s song like this.
We start moving on slowly down the boardwalk. Here you often see common garden birds flitting among the shrubby vegetation and foraging for food. A clear song rings out.
This one is a blue tit. It has a short song, that ends almost as soon as it’s started. It begins with one or two more hesitant notes before letting out a cheerful trill. Nearby, its cousin can be heard as well.
This time it’s a great tit. Again, it’s quite a simple song. It repeats two clear, whistling notes, like a seesaw, and is often described as “teacher”. Tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher.
We soon reach Kirkgate Park. From the nearby gardens, we hear two similar songs.
The first is familiar to most in the group. It’s the soothing, repetitive cooing of a woodpigeon. I’ve heard many phrases told to represent the five syllable pattern, but for some reason the one that always sticks in my head is “steal two cows, Taffy”. Another one I like is, “a proud woodpigeon”.
This similar song comes from the elegant collared dove. It’s more strident than the woodpigeon and for me conjures up a ridiculous mental image of a bunch of them at a sporting event chanting their names, “CO-LLARED-DOVE, CO-LLARED-DOVE, CO-LLARED-DOVE!”. It can help to create a memory aid like this, however strange.
A moment later, another bird starts up in a hedgerow.
This is a dunnock. Its song is a quick jumble of notes, but listen how it’s quite monotonous. It’s rather flat without changing much in pitch or volume. It breaks off suddenly and pauses for some time, before kicking off again where it left. It’s like someone keeps lifting the needle off a record then setting it back down.
We focus our attention elsewhere. From high up in a tree, we hear a rich, melodic song that carries quite some distance.
What a lovely song, doesn’t it make you think of warm summer evenings? It’s a blackbird. It lets out similar, but changing phrases, with pauses in between. A distinguishing feature which helps you to tell it apart from similar species, is that although each phrases starts out bright and flutey, it always ends in a strange abrupt flourish, speeding up and becoming much higher pitched.
To make things confusing, it’s relative is also singing from another tree top. It too is blessed with that gorgeous tone.
A similar voice, but quite a different tune. It repeats a phrase two or three times, pauses, then starts up again with a different repeating phrase. It keeps going in this pattern, cycling through a huge repertoire. I’ve heard it described as, “Pretty Dick, pretty Dick, pretty Dick” or, “Did he do it? Did he do it? Did he do it? Yes he did. Yes he did. Yes he did”. It’s a song thrush.
Over in the reedbeds along the shore, we hear a strange and complex song. This is a common sound around Loch Leven through the late spring and summer.
This is a sedge warbler. Its song is hard to describe but consists of long sequences of short squeaky or clicky notes, interspersed with whistles and trills. Its also known to mimic other birds and incorporate their sounds into its song. It’s pretty avant-garde really.
We walk on for some time, past Kirkgate Point and over a series of bridges, before entering broadleaf woodland. We hear a new sound from up in the trees.
It’s a chaffinch. This bird always sings the same stereotyped phrase. It’s a series of descending notes, ending with a quick, somewhat harsh, flourish. It usually pauses for a good length of time before repeating it again.
From another tree comes a very different song.
It’s series of short, sharp notes repeated regularly, ticking like a metronome. Unmistakeable, this is a chiffchaff calling out its name, “chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chiff-chaff”.
Now, more music bursts forth from low down in a thick patch of brambles.
It’s surprising that such a loud song can come from such a tiny owner: the wren. It’s quite complex, but listen out for the machine gun like trills, interspersed amongst the more melodic notes.
Our next song comes from just above head height in some thick bushes.
Another complex song, it’s a blackcap. Note how it starts off hesistant and scratchy before becoming more confident; rightly so because it has a beautiful voice, a bit like a blackbird but sped up. It could be confused with a garden warbler, but their song is more squeaky and does not have the same hesitant start.
We carry on round the Heritage Trail, passing Mary’s Knowe, then crossing the bridge over the North Queich. The landscape opens up, with farmland on our left and the Burleigh meadow on our right. From a tiny speck high in the sky above the fields, we hear song pour out endlessly.
This could only be a skylark, a classic sound of the countryside. It sings without pause for minutes at a time, a virtuoso performance full of liquid trills. A real treat.
Perched in a hawthorn tree in the meadow, another bird tries to compete.
It’s usually described as saying, “a little bit of bread and no cheese”, but I’ve never been totally convinced. I’ll give you the cheese though, and that’s the key feature to look out for. However, the song starts, it builds up in pitch before letting out a lower, drawn out whistle. It’s a yellowhammer.
In the willow scrub at Burleigh Sands, we hear the sweet song of a summer migrant.
This is a willow warbler. Despite the name, they’re not only found in willows, but like young, open woodland. In some ways, the song is a bit like that of the chaffinch; a descending series of notes before a final flourish. However, it’s more of a cheerful whistle in tone and clearly descends in a series of steps: 123-123-123-123.
Our final stop is the woodland near Burleigh car park, which has lots of Scot’s pine. It’s useful to consider the habitat you’re in when identifying birds and certain species are particularly attracted to coniferous trees. One of them is Britain’s smallest bird, which has a fittingly high-pitched song.
It’s a delightful goldcrest. It sounds like a tiny train zooming towards you, reaching a crescendo as it rushes past. You’ll hear the sound coming from high up in the canopy, but will rarely see the singer. Once you know its song, you’ll find they’re much more common than you might have realised. I’ve found it a good one to learn because many people tell me they’ve never seen a goldcrest and this helps you hunt one down for them.
Now there’s another song. It’s confusing, because it’s very similar to the great tit we heard near the start of the walk.
This is its smaller relative, the coal tit. Like the great tit, it repeats two notes over and over. Listen closely and you’ll hear it’s less crisp, with the two notes slurring together: “squidgy – squidgy – squidgy – squidgy”.
We hear one final species. This one sings a rapid fire, jabbing trill, broken up by long drawn in wheezes.
It’s a greenfinch. Learn to recognise that wheeze and you’ll be able to pick them out.
Our walk ends here and it’s time for a nice cup of coffee after our early start. I hope you’ve learned something and that you feel inspired to set your alarms and listen to the dawn chorus around you in the coming weeks.
They say a swallow doesn’t make a summer, so luckily for me I saw my first two swallows of the year this morning which surely means summer can’t be too far away.
Just because our lives are temporarily on hold it doesn’t mean that nature has stopped. It has been nice to spend some time each day in the garden and watch the subtle daily changes. The fruit trees are starting to blossom. Our apple tree had been given some hard pruning this year so we were happy to see the buds developing. The ornamental cherry has been in bloom for a week or so now bringing a nice splash of colour.
The wild strawberries have just started flowering and it shouldn’t be too long before they begin to fruit. We have a mouse in the garden who has been munching on our crocus and hyacinths so I don’t think the strawberries will last long when they do arrive!
The blackbird has been busy taking food into its nest in our hedge, much to the annoyance of the collard dove who seems to share the same hole in the hedge. It has been really interesting watching their behaviour; collard doves don’t normally seem aggressive but this one is not happy! The male blackbird brings food but is chased away by the dove. The female blackbird then comes out to distract the dove and the male flies into the nest from the other side of the hedge. At least they still have a way to keep bringing food into their chicks.
I was really happy to see a pair of bullfinch in my garden this week as they are one of my favourite birds. For the past two years they have nested in our hedge but I hadn’t seen them at all this year until now. I think they were just moving through looking for food but it was still really nice to see. They like to feed on tree buds at this time of year but will feed insects to their young.
Another of my favourite bird species is the long-tailed tit. They have been doing a good job of cleaning the spider webs from outside my living room window! Long-tailed tits build an oval shaped nest made up from moss, lichens and spider webs. I once heard that they use spider webs so the nest can expand as the chicks grow giving them more room in the nest.
If you have a look on our website you might have noticed we have come up with a few ideas to keep the kids entertained during lockdown. These are activities you can do in your home, garden or local greenspace while out on your daily exercise. We will be adding to these in the coming weeks, please feel free to share your ideas with us too. We had fun coming up with these crafts and it provided a much needed break.
As I spend my evenings listening to 1970’s soft rock and watching the beautiful sunsets I find myself appreciating the little things in life. I am hopeful for the day when we can all go back out and visit the people and places that we love.
Until then please #StaySafe and #StayHomeSaveLives
It’s now 4 weeks since I last set foot in Loch Leven NNR and it’s strange to think just how much it must have changed in that time. The first signs of spring were starting to appear when I was last there, but things are sure to have ramped up in the meantime and I imagine it feels like there is an explosion of life right now. It’s comforting to know that the season continues to proceed in a predictable fashion, even though I’m not able to experience spring on the nature reserve. Like some of you, my experience of Loch Leven comes through our online content and communication from colleagues and volunteers who are lucky enough to live in walking distance of the site.
Instead, my direct experience of nature comes from spending time in the garden or venturing outside for my daily exercise. I’m fortunate to live a short walk from a remnant patch of ancient woodland and I took a stroll there yesterday evening. I’m really appreciating the warm weather and long evenings, making a walk outside the perfect antidote to a day working from home at a desk. In the past few weeks the woodland has come alive with wildflowers and I thought I’d share some of my sightings with you. I’ve not experienced Loch Leven in the spring so I can’t be certain which of these flowers will be there too . I’d love to hear what you’ve seen at Loch Leven or your local green space in the comments below.
I started to notice wildflowers as soon as I left the house. There were forget-me-nots and bittercress eeking out an existence on the smallest gaps in the pavement, while I found a clump of violets under a hedgerow. On the steps leading down to the wooded dell, the bright yellow of dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) jumped out in the dappled light. Dandelions are everywhere at the moment and I find them lovely cheerful flowers that don’t deserve their bad reputation. They’re a really important early food source for pollinators and its great if you can leave them to flower before doing any weeding.
As I entered the woodland, I was surrounded by the aroma of the next flower, which carpeted the woodland in great expanses. It was, of course, ramsons or wild garlic (Allium ursinum). This is one of the best plants to forage at this time of year and a few leaves made a tasty addition to the butternut squash risotto I cooked when I got home. Just make sure to only take a few leaves from each plant from each plant and don’t remove the bulbs or flowering stems. As always when picking wild food, be sure of identification, wash your pickings thoroughly, and be responsible. You can find a guide to foraging in Scotland here.
I soon found another edible plant called garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which was just beginning to flower. If you rub the leaves between your fingers you can smell its mild garlicky aroma. Of course, dandelions are edible too and can be consumed in numerous ways depending on if you use the roots, leaves or flowers.
It wasn’t long until I came across some large patches of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna). This is one plant I am certain is out at Loch Leven, as it was already coming into flower when I was last there. Its sunny yellow flowers are one of the early harbingers of spring.
As well as being present under hedgerows in the street, I also found common dog violets (Viola riviana) in the woodland. The ‘dog’ in the name refers to its lack of scent compared to the related sweet violet.
Entering deeper into the woodland, I started to notice some plants particularly associated with the habitat. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) were just beginning to flower and I’m looking forward to seeing them put on a full display in the coming weeks.
I also found wood speedwell (Veronica montana), which could be easily overlooked and has dainty little flowers which you need to get up close to in order to fully appreciate.
Further along, another patch of yellow heralded the Goldilocks buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus), the buttercup species most associated with ancient woodland.
Next to it, another bright yellow flower was just beginning to open. I think this is Leopard’s bane (Doronicum pardalianches), which is native to western Europe but was introduced to Britain in the 17th century.
It’s not just brightly coloured flowers that were looking spectacular, I also love the fiddlehead appearance of unfurling fern fronds. In New Zealand, the indigenous Māori people use a symbol called the koru which is based on the unfurling fern frond to signify new life and growth.
This is just a small selection of the plant life I saw in less than an hour on a short walk from my house. At this time of year change is rapid and you will regularly find new discoveries even when taking the same route day after day. Let me know what you’ve seen on your exercise.
It looks like we will be staying local for the foreseeable future so the only options we have right now are sticking close to our homes. I’ve been out getting my 15 minutes of exercise and taking the camera or litter picker out with me.
These Stock Doves are tree hole-nesters have become less frequent in recent times but have taken a liking to the owl and duck boxes we’ve put up so we’ve feel we’ve done our bit for them. What a handsome dove they really are!
Yellowhammers have a distinctive song. There are many pairs breeding around the reserve. At the moment there are some quite brutal territorial disputes going on.
If you look closely there is a bird with a white head in the middle of the photo. This is an aberrant plumage Meadow Pipit. There are many Meadow Pipits heading north through Loch Leven right now. Some of these birds breed here but others might get as far north as Greenland. When the wind turned to the north many of these birds found their journeys halted and landed on recently cultivated fields to feed and get their strength back.
I normally have a close look for Holy Grass at the end of April but I found loads out already at Mary’s Knowe. My spies also tell me about a huge area on the loch shore at Findatie. Holy Grass is one of the rare plants we see around the reserve with only a handful of sites around Scotland that have it growing.
I have a lot of fun photographing the Wood anemones. I like the shadow of the stamen on the petals.
Primroses grow in small numbers around the loch. Some might be garden escapes but with so few wildflowers out at this time of year, they give a splash of colour.
Here is the annual reminder to leave you Dandelions. They are an incredibly important nectar source for the early emerging bees and other invertebrates.
Coltsfoot is good putting on a good show around the reserve. The flowers come first and the leaves later.
Butterbur is also out. Another plant where the flower emerges first. The big leaves will cover large areas of ground shading out other plants.
A close look at some of the coppiced willows are showing signs of springing back into life with green shoots appearing.
The first Wood Sorrel is coming into flower around the reserve.
We’ve all been leading a very sedentary existence at the moment. My wildlife hunting is restricted to anywhere within a short bike ride. I’ve been working at home for the last 3 weeks with nothing but Fraiser, Wheeler Dealers, Antiques Roadtrip and BBC6 Music for company.
Gorse is putting on a god show right now. On a warm windless day you can smell the subtle coconut smell.
More yellow flowers in the shape of Marsh Marigold. This early plant brightens up wet ditches throughout the reserve.
Wood Anemones are in flower around the loch in wooded areas.
Time is running out for me to do the Heron nest count at Loch Leven. Our colony has slowly been on the increase in recent years. The UK Heronaries census has been going on since 1928. Loch Leven wardens have been feeding into this for many years. Read more here.
Loch Leven is full of toads right now. There are hundreds in the ditches right now. Their chorus is loud.
There is still snow in the distant Ochils. Cold nights are stopping it form melting and also stopping from putting the moth trap out.
A walk up a local hill found me bumping into a Ring Ouzel. These birds stop on the local hills en route to breeding grounds further north.
I found this tame Redpoll in a small local plantation. Nothing appeared wrong with it as it fed at my feet.