Time with the Puffins!

It’s great to be back at Loch Leven NNR after a week off and a small stint on the Isle of May covering for the Reserve staff. It was great to be amongst the Puffins!

Everyones favourite, the Puffin!
‘Clowns of the sea’

It’s not just Puffins however, the Island was in full seabird swing. Plenty of activity on the cliffs and all around the Island. It is a truly magical place, even with interesting weather!

Female Eider sitting tight on her nest
Guillemots on the cliffs
Razorbill with Guillemots behind
Kittiwakes on the cliffs
Interesting Scottish Spring Seabird Island weather incoming…
A first for me, Hail on the Isle of May – in May!

If you want to find out more about the Isle of May, then Bex and Steely the reserve managers do a regular blog; https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/. Isle of May NNR can be found on Facebook as well. The Island is well worth a visit and boat trips are now running every day!

Now back to Loch Leven NNR! It’s been great to be reacquainted after a short spell away. The Swallows and Martins have arrived in their droves and swifts have been heard screaming over the loch this week, just fantastic!

Swallow Mania!
They’re back!

We have been busy sorting some things on the Reserve this week. A few trailers were needing some TLC and Neil and I carried out some fencing on the NNR as well.

Working Hard, or Hardly Working…?
Repairing fences with Neil

Ian and I also started work on controlling American Skunk Cabbage at Sunnypark in Kinross. This invasive, non-native plant has established on one of the burns that leads into the loch and we are trying to control it before it becomes more of an issue. Ian did sink into the mud up to his thighs, which was amusing and slightly concerning. Of course, safety is paramount and we were all kitted up with the right safety equipment etc.!

Skunk Cabbage – 2018
Skunk Cabbage 2021 – Continued Treatment is having a positive effect!
Ian amongst the Skunk Cabbage

We will continue to work on this in the hopes that we will eradicate it in the near future!

It’s been great to see the array of spring Butterflies that appear for the five minutes when the sun shines intermittently… One of my favourites has been seen around the reserve this week; the humble Orange-tip.

Male Orange-tip butterfly

The male Orange-tips are absolutely stunning (the females don’t have any orange, instead they have black tips, but the dark black spots are indicative of Orange-tip). Look out for them when out and about on the trail, especially where there is Cuckooflower and Garlic Mustard plants.

Happy Hunting! 🙂

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Aquatic Action and Pink Plants!

Much of the delights of spring are still to be seen – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some interesting finds to be had. While we brim with impatience for the first Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), the reserve’s aquatic life is certainly still keeping us entertained. I spotted my first frog of the year the other day over at Burleigh.

Many can struggle with the difference between a frog and a toad initially; indeed in the past when a class of schoolchildren find what they thought was a frog and I have told them it is a toad, they have continued calling it a frog anyway! The easiest way to tell initially is that a frog has no warts but failing that, their skin is shiny (not matte), they’re lighter, have a stripy face and are normally yellowy-green, unlike a toad’s grey or even orange.

One I have become particularly accustomed to as an occasional angler is the caddis fly larva. These creatures are much more exciting than their ‘post-metamorphosis’, flying form. They have intrigued me since I was young and you never get used to the fact that they look like a twig-brought-to-life. In the other day’s case it was a blade of grass, although their most common choice is very small stones – I won’t attempt to check in this instance if it’s always the same species you come across as (according to Wikipedia) there are around 14,500 species of them across the world! They are however very ubiquitous so do rummage carefully around in ponds and water edges!

Lastly on the subject of aquatic life, I have been really enjoying looking at the growths of water horsetail around the reserve. Most people are aware of the horsetails as an irritating (but native) garden weed, which, a lot like bracken, likes to overwhelm everything around it. I’m told the water horsetails are much the same, with some of Loch Leven’s ponds needing occasional vegetation clearance to keep them open for other lovely flowers like the yellow flag iris. Despite this, they are an amazing genus; basically unchanged for over 100 million years, with the first plants of its kind appearing about a third of a billion years ago – for reference, land plants have existed for (only) half a billion years! Something about them, and some species of fern too, seem to just transport you back to a prehistoric age, looking out for dinosaurs or giant spiders! Horsetails reproduce through spores rather than seeds, like funghi, and their growth pattern inspired John Napier to invent logarithms so you can thank them for boring maths lessons too! I was surprised to learn there are quite a few species of horsetail in Scotland so it is definitely worth taking a photo and looking it up later.

I had mentioned last week I had seen my first flowering red campion at Burleigh. Much more is now starting to sprout up, although it’s still a couple of weeks before the blooms burst into life. Below is a photo of the plant of red campion with some young rosebay willowherb dotted about too. The latter is one everyone has seen but less know the name of. Ever been on a motorway and seen those huge, tall, pink flowers releasing their fluffy seeds? That is rosebay willowherb! Maybe even more common are those small, delicate weeds you see in the garden with tiny pink flowers – they are broad-leaved willowherb. Completely different-looking plants, but both in the same genus!

Last of our pink flowers for today is shining cranesbill. This is quite a common one on walls or exposed ground. I saw this one over at the viewing area at the end of Kirkgate Park. In the Geranium family, it is related to herb-Robert, an equally common pink flower which we will all have likely seen. An invasive species over in North America, we are lucky to have it native here in Scotland. In the photo you can just see some dandelion and dog’s mercury creeping in to shot too! There’s a whole world waiting down at our feet!

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Month 1: Done and 2021 Worst Scottish Photographer of the Year

Hello – Ian here again taking over from Simon and Louise during their ‘wee calf’! The eagle-eyed amongst you might be able to notice than I am now able to post from my own blog handle, rather than Simon’s. The setting up of the account was particularly amusing as I was able to sign in using a defunct 2016 university WordPress account I’d used for a single assignment in 2nd year, guessing at an ancient password. Its existence has been niggling away at me all these years, and now it’s finally come in handy!

With my first month now concluded, I can now provide a bit of retro-(rather than intro)-spection. I am very lucky to be able to say I am writing this on the first day of unarguably bad weather Loch Leven has had since I’ve started, although many of us Scots will say there is no such thing as ‘bad weather’ – just inappropriate clothing. The glorious weekends have meant that the reserve has been fit to burst the past 3 weeks, but it has at least provided me the chance to speak to and inform visitors about our Water Borne Access Guidance, as well as bash in a few extra signs! Reading through my notes, Louise and I have had relatively stable Saturdays and Sundays so far: chatting to visitors, car counts, marathon litterpicks and, in my case, the dreaded “onboarding” *spooky ghost noises*! I was on my own the previous weekend, and it was great to see all the tartan-clad walkers, joggers, runners and cyclists out raising money for charity – can’t say I envied them in the scorchio 16°C heat we had on the 24th-25th! That Sunday I went for my first full solo cycle/litterpick around the loch, exploring some wee bits of the Heritage Trail I hadn’t yet had time to visit. First up was the old church ground at Orwell, which had some fascinating, overgrown graves.

Orwell Church

The grave reads: “Here is interred the body of Robert Stirk who died Awgwst 20 1706 and 73 year of his age. Also his wife Ianet Black who died Dec 23(5?) 1718 in the 86 year of her age. This man was inercommwned oyr ° wnder prelacy and he wih his (fa?)mily were forced from his dwelling in this parish Iuly 1683 and durst not retwrn til ther ewolution in 1688″.

I am always in two minds about places like these; on one hand, their dilapidation is part of their appeal, and on the other I’d love to see them restored. That said, I’m sure had it been restored I wouldn’t have encountered my first definitive blackcap singing away in the trees! After this I made my way round to Carsehall, where I decided that, no, I really should try and get myself that title of 2021 Worst Scottish Photographer of the Year this time around. Here is a male reed bunting politely perched on a fence as I cycled past.

Male reed bunting

I got a shot soon after which was really in with a shot at the title of 4 roe deer grazing on the bog.

Stunning, eh?

I lay on the dry grass against a tussock for lunch in the calming sun – I simply could not last any longer than half an hour as the crippling guilt that this was my venue for my lunch break was just too much! I later found out at the end of the day that I had a suntan only on the tops of my hands as a result of wearing sleeves all day – that is a new one! After a pit stop at the hide it was then on to try and spot Simon’s 18 green hairstreak butterflies in Levenmouth Woods. I stumbled across them eventually, and couldn’t believe how confined a space they were inhabiting – it couldn’t have been bigger than 50m2. I had another few shots at getting a 2021 WSPotY place:

Out-of-focus green hairstreaks enjoying the sun

The weekdays I’ve had since the last post on the 8th have been quite varied. I got to experience, for example, my first WeBS count on the 12th (a full count of all the non-breeding waterbirds) – Simon assures me this is one of the largest WeBS in Scotland! I was initially charged with tufted duck, possibly the scariest species to be assigned on Loch Leven due to their numbers. Despite feeling like I was making a complete dog’s dinner out of it, I miraculously got 438 for the first zone, only 11 more than Simon’s 427 (or thereabouts!) I do still have a long way to go before I’m at the speed of a competent surveyor – just one species cost me 20 minutes (and two strained eyes!)

Today I was in a new NNR for me, Tentsmuir, meeting the other seasonals, Maisie and Esther, while we got LANTRA-trained in sit-in ATVs – great fun! It’s astounding how different it is from Loch Leven, and how different the management style must be. I’d love to go back for a full look about.

The past 3 weeks have been excellent as a visualization of the transformation from our extended winter to spring, although the cold winds are still blowing on our overcast days. Many species have been seemingly cropping out of nowhere, including the cute fluffy ducks/geese broods, and I am now up to 5 butterfly species: small tortoiseshell, peacock, green-veined white, green hairstreak and orange tip. If it’s sunny, you can’t miss them!

A green-veined white on the move, after I chased it off a clump of cuckooflower

There’s also been some interesting new vegetation coming up. It was good to see my first flowering red campion of the year from the Burleigh car park! Neil reliably informs me this first photo is pink purslane, but the other two I was rather stumped. We have found out that the second is ground ivy and the third may well be grape hyacinth!

Botany bonanza

I’ll leave you with my final entry for the time being: a great spotted woodpecker. If this can’t win me it, nothing can.

It’s there somewhere!

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Ducks Galore and Green Hairstreaks!

It’s been a week of warm days and chilly nights. Can’t complain though as there has hardly been a breath of wind! It’s made for some fantastic conditions on the loch and just as well as this week we completed our first duck pair count of the season.

An early start for some duck counting!

This count involved us heading out on the loch first thing in the morning. We took our wee boat and headed around the periphery of the Loch and Islands counting any obvious pairs of ducks. In total we had almost 200 pairs of ducks from 8 different species. The most numerous pairs were of Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Duck. A great morning to be out!

Neil looking out for duck pairs!

We have spotted our first ducklings and goslings this week! A couple of mallard broods have been seen around the loch and Greylag goslings are now starting to appear all over. A friendly reminder that when out in the water, we ask that you please keep away from the shoreline and islands. This will allow space for our young ducks and geese to feed and grow undisturbed as well as preventing any nesting wildfowl to abandon their nest – thank you!

Silhouetted Greylag Family! – Spot the Goslings.

An added bonus of doing our pairs count was spotting this Osprey perched on Alice’s Bower. Ospreys are still filtering through from West Africa and arriving on our shores here in the UK. It’s always a joy and a pleasure to spot an Osprey, and no matter how many you see, that feeling never goes away. It’s maybe because the Osprey is such a pioneering conservation success in the UK.

The Osprey – A symbol of successful conservation
If you squint, you may see something resembling an Osprey…!

Ospreys were all but extinct in the UK, with the last breeding pair seen in Scotland in 1916. This changed however, as in 1954 a naturally occurring pair set up the first known territory after a 38 year absence. The breeding pair established a territory at Loch Garten and thanks to careful conservation, nest protection and public engagement, the population has slowly increased over the years. Now Scotland boasts around 250 pairs of these charismatic and symbolic birds, a truly astonishing feat of conservation greatness!

There are flowers now popping up around the reserve. Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis) also known as Lady’s Smock is out in force at the moment. Lovely lilac colours!

Cuckoo Flower

No luck again this week with Damsel and Dragonflies, but boy oh boy I sure made up for it by finding these beauties on the reserve! They have to be one of my favourite butterflies of all time, I mean…look at them!

Phowarrrrrr – Green Hairstreak!
Almost Blending in with its surroundings…!

Not only did I see one of them, I saw 18 of them! Keep your eyes peeled around the Levenmouth area! These little beauties have made my week (at least!). Gorse and Blaeberry are its main foodplants in Scotland and they are usually out between late april – late June. They are surprisingly wee as well, but they are very fiesty! The males were resting on a patch of moss or on a leaf and as soon as another male (presumably) went anywhere near it, they were up in the air spiral fighting! It was amazing to watch.

I have spotted other butterflies on the wing this week including a male Orange Tip (Sadly not quick enough for a photo), Green-veined White, plenty of Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells.

Peacock Butterfly

See what Butterflies you can find in your local patch… I heard another new sub-Saharan migrant this week as well; A singing Whitethroat! Spring is starting to fully blossom, thank goodness! It did take it’s time…

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Finally, it feels like Spring!

Well, it has taken a while…but finally! It has been consistently ‘mild’ for a few days now and what a treat it has been!

Just in time too, as we got our pollinator interpretation installed at Kirkgate Park. This area was once a maze, but has now been taken over as a ‘Pollinator Park’. We plan on enhancing it further, and it’s only a few weeks until it is taken over by flowers and pollinators!

The ‘Pollinator Park’ at Kirkgate Park!
One of the four interpretation panels

Speaking of pollinators, this warm weather has allowed many to emerge and feed. I was amazed and filled with joy watching hundreds of bees feeding on the ‘Pussy Willow’ at Burleigh. There were at least 5 different species feeding on this vital, early nectar source. It really shows how important native trees are for sustaining pollinators, especially early emerging ones!

The Willow Catkins (aka Pussy Willow) were alive with the buzzing of bees!

I saw Buff-tailed, White-tailed, Tree, Red-tailed and lots of Honey Bees feeding in amongst the catkins. There were probably quite a few more species in amongst them, it was a pleasure to watch!

We completed our monthly wetland bird survey on Monday, and what a day to do it! The sun was shining and the wind was still, It made for an enjoyable count. Nothing rare to report, but Tufted Duck numbers were at 1000+ and pairs of ducks were very evident on the count. Great-crested Grebes were seen in their stunning plumage and the number of wintering ducks such as Goldeneye, Wigeon and Teal have dropped. We are starting to see an increase in number of breeding ducks such as Gadwall and Shelduck. Spring is springing in the duck world!

What a day for a count!

I welcomed back some further spring migrants this week with the first singing Blackcap on Monday and first singing Willow Warblers on Wednesday. I have seen Swallows regularly now and it’s only a matter of days until I hear my first Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and see my first House Martin! The easing of the northerly winds will allow many species to filter into the UK now, our long-awaited summer compadres are now with us in good numbers!

Male Blackcap (c) Michael Craig
A windless Loch Leven! A haven for incoming hungry migrants.

I am maybe a bit keen but I was on the look out this week for any Dragonflies and Damselflies. I thought at least one would have emerged in the sunshine but no luck yet! If you are near any waterbodies, it is worth looking out for Large Red Damselfly, Four Spotted Chaser and Common Blue Damselfly as they are often the first ones seen.

No luck at the usual dragonfly spot!
Swan reflections

It was nice to watch a Kestrel hunting over Kirkgate point. This is a favoured spot for Kestrels, I imagine it is an easy grassland to spot any movements of small mammals.

Hovering Kestrel

So the forecast shows that the warmer weather looks like it will be here to stay. Good news for incoming migrants, pollinators, breeding birds and sun worshipers!

Please remember if you are planning to come to Loch Leven NNR and launch a Kayak/Canoe/SUP etc. then we would please ask that you follow our guidance. https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves/loch-leven-nnr/loch-leven-nnr-visiting-reserve

Water Borne Access Guidance

It’s a magic time of year, lets see what the spring weather will bring us next week!

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Seasonal’s Greetings!

Hi there! My name’s Ian – I am the freshly-appointed Seasonal Nature Reserve Officer for the stunning Loch Leven NNR. Hailing from ‘sunny’ Greenock, I am really enjoying acquainting myself with the Perth & Kinross region – an area which is almost entirely new to me (as is majority of eastern Scotland!) With a year’s weekly volunteering under my belt in 2015, I moved to Dumfries to study Environmental Science & Sustainability with the University of Glasgow at their Crichton campus until 2019, beginning a year’s great work at my local Finlaystone Country Estate just after graduation. Itching to get back into a nature reserve again, after a year’s Covid-19 hiatus bagging a few extra tickets, I’ve found myself in this lovely part of the country. Everyone else here seems to enjoy it so much that they say ‘like’ at the end of each sentence!

My first week has been excellent and I cannot thank the NatureScot staff enough for their welcoming nature, approachability and friendliness. Moving into an office of respectable birders has been interesting to say the least, but I think I have understood at least half of what they’re on about and am massively appreciating reacquainting myself with the ‘bins’. I’ve tried to document what I’ve been up to in my first week, but didn’t manage a photo on Day 1. I got to meet Neil and Simon, was introduced to my desk and even got a bit of practical work in, via the Polaris, lopping down willow at Kirkgate Park to be used later on for fencing. Before some afternoon admin, Day 2 saw us preparing and sailing out for St. Serf’s (much to my luck) to do a bit of monitoring, getting to see a Short-eared Owl and Reed Bunting for the first time, as well as the gulls and geese close by above. What a place!

Simon and Neil in their element

Day 3 was my first Saturday and thus I got to meet Louise, whose working weekends at the reserve this year. We were off to Burleigh in no time to hammer in her custom-made Easter Egg Trail, followed by a full, 13-mile, clockwise cycle of the reserve in the baking azure-skied afternoon (in my case burning off some considerable Covid calories in the process). The reserve has so many habitats to choose from, from woodland to meadows to marsh, beach, bog, farmland, scrub…the list goes on! Amongst the expected, we spotted a couple of roe deer and buzzard at Carsehall, long-tailed tit in the Black Woods, as well as shoveler and wigeon hiding away at Levenmouth. I have a lot of space to get accustomed to!

Louise looking out over Carsehall

Day 4, fuelled by some mini chocolate Easter eggs and Percy Pigs from Louise, was a mixed bag of a quick trip to Findatie (which I am still trying to pronounce correctly first try), multiple litter picks, some admin, birdwatching and general reserve checks. It was great to interact with site visitors and see that they appreciate the work NatureScot is doing. I am very much looking forward to next weekend to see what difference the weather makes!

Bankside Broom and Willow at Burleigh

Day 5 saw me back with Simon on a perplexingly freezing day of fast, biting wind and more glorious blue sky. Job numero uno had us repairing and replacing some damaged chicken wire fencing to help keep the nesting birds of the North Queich undisturbed, followed by some fence repair and re-tensioning at Grahamstone. On our way back, Simon’s trained eye spotted our first swallows of the year in amongst a flurry of sand martins, and I chanced upon a sighting of a wheatear at the edge of a ploughed field. After 10 minutes of pelting snow (yes, snow), we lastly stopped by Burleigh and saw the sand martins silently glazing the water and soaring past, barely a foot from our faces.

Spot the Sand Martin (and the passing snow in the background)

What a fantastic first week! As I write this, the snow is now falling heavily outside my new bedroom window in Perth – let’s hope that’s a good omen! For the next 6 months, I will be working Saturday-Wednesday, and already it’s looking like an insightful next week. I’ll be sure to pop back into the blog when I’ve got more stories to report! See you soon!

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Wind, Sun and Rain

Aye, its been rather windy this week! The start of the week was very mild but how that has changed! The warm weather has allowed the chironomids (type of fly, also known as the non-biting midge) to emerge. If you are planning on cycling round the loch this weekend, then your best bet is to wear glasses or goggles! Although, with this cold weather I don’t imagine they will be out in great numbers…

Chironomid flies!

Chironomids are an extremely important part of the wetland ecosystem. These flies will provide food for thousands of birds, amphibians, other insects and fish. Loch Leven even has it own species of Chironomid called cladontanypatrsus donmcbeani (try saying that after a few beers!). More spring migrants are filtering through and it was an absolute pleasure to sit and watch 1000s of Sand Martin flying and feeding over the loch one afternoon.

It’s good to see a large number of Lesser black-backed Gulls around the Loch at the moment. These gulls are much like our resident herring gulls that you see in inner-cities and on ploughed fields. However, many of these gulls will have arrived from Spain and other areas in southern europe (or in some cases southern england as some winter in the UK).

Lesser black-backed Gulls and a Black-headed Gull in the foreground

Lesser Black-backed Gulls can be identified by having a dark back and yellow legs, compared to a herring gull which has a grey back and pink legs. Lessers can be confused with Great black-backed Gulls as well. The Great black-backed gulls tend to look much larger, have an even darker back and pink legs. Lesser Black-backs breed here on St Serfs, along with Herring Gulls. As the Lesser-black backs arrive, the Pink-footed Geese start to leave.

This week has seen lots of ‘pinkies’ heading north to Iceland and eastern Greenland to their breeding grounds. They have taken advantage of the southerly winds and relatively calm seas (on some days) to cross the Atlantic. This sea crossing can take 15-25 hours depending on the winds! Unfortunately some geese don’t make it, but it is survival of the fittest. That’s why just now we are seeing a lot of geese feeding up before they make their over-sea migration!

Hungry geese
Heading Northwards!

The slight reprieve in the wind on Wednesday morning made for a cracking sunrise over the loch. The Loch was like glass, and that has been a rare occurrence over the last couple of weeks!

Stunning!
This view has been more common of recent! Rain & Wind

Our Greylag geese will be nesting on St Serfs now, they are early nesters and they may even have chicks shortly. They nest on the ground and typically lay between 5-7 eggs. It is well known that Greylags can be quite territorial and fierce to each other in nesting grounds. I certainly wouldn’t want to mess with an angry Greylag, they are pretty stout animals!

I was getting sized up by this fella!

The Willow trees are now in flower. We have a number of different Willow species on the reserve, some of which are really hard to identify and tell apart from other species of willow. A classic wetland tree, the humble Willow provides habitat for lots of wildlife at Loch Leven!

Common Osier Willow
Grey Willow

This week saw another spring migrant arrive at Loch Leven; I spotted an Osprey flying over the western side of the Loch! It just glided through heading straight north, so it seemed to have a destination in mind where it has potentially nested before!? Lovely to see, and hopefully we will continue to get regular views in the coming months!

Osprey (c) Gus Routledge

The wind has now switched to the north, so any incoming migrants from the south may be delayed for a week or so. The ones that have already arrived might be questioning their movements from a sunny warm Africa to a freezing cold Scotland…

If you are looking for something to do over the Easter Holidays, then why not come along to Burleigh and follow our Easter Trail? The trail will be going up this weekend. Spot the eggs and see if you can guess who they belong to!

Easter Trail

Good luck! 🙂

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It’s officially spring!

On Saturday the 20th of March at 0937, the northern hemisphere entered the season of spring! I don’t know about you, but it just felt like spring had arrived all at once. There was an aroma of spring in the morning, and it felt warm in the sun. Birds were singing, bees were buzzing and butterflies were fluttering by! Although that has changed a little since the start of the week…

Spring equinox day! Stunning.

From that very view point, I was lucky enough to spot a drake (Male) Smew during our last WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count of the winter! A drake Smew is arguably one of the best looking ducks in Europe, if not the world! (Bold claim, I know). I mean, look at it…

A cracking drake Smew, although I must admit this is not my photo, nor is it from Loch Leven NNR. I did try to get a photo of the Loch Leven Smew, but it was a bit far away! Thanks to Gus Guthrie for sending this photo of a Smew on Kinnordy Loch (c) Gus Guthrie.

Around 150-200 Smew winter in the UK every year. These ducks nest in the taiga forests of Eastern Scandinavia and Russia. They are not a common visitor to Loch Leven, with a bird being recorded every 1-2 years or so. The females are not quite as spectacular as the males, the female has a grey body, with a red/brown head and white cheek.

It has also been a busy week for frogs! I have seen and heard them all around the reserve. Look out for any wetland areas for frogs and frogspawn. They can be fascinating to watch, albeit a bit intrusive with one another….

Frogs!
Frogmagedden

I was lucky enough to spot some mining bees near Sunnyside park at the weekend. I think they are Clarke’s Mining Bee’s (Andrena clarkella). Early-mining bee (A. haemorrhoa) has been ruled out as there is no red in the tail. If there are any mining bee experts out there then feel free to get in touch!

Female Mining Bee
Male Mining Bee
Orange and Black legs are an identification feature of A. Clarkella

I love finding and (trying to) identify mining bees. They are an extremely fascinating group of insects and are very under-recorded. Mining bees are known as ‘solitary bees’ they do not work together and they live and feed alone. Each bee creates a mining hole, and all of the holes together make a cluster of individual holes. Some mining holes can be used as a common hole meaning that numerous females will enter and leave the ground from that hole. However, they will still nest in solitude in their own ‘mine’ and will not interact with the other bees.

Mining Bee mining a hole

Mining bees or Andrenidae are the largest genus of bee in the UK with 67 different species. As the name suggests, they nest in the ground. Some bees can even nest in soft wall cavities and other areas in which they can mine into. Mining bees a have flight period typically between early spring and late summer.

Atmospheric early morning!

At 0700 on Wednesday as I was taking this photo I heard my first spring arrival! A singing chiffchaff was belting its heart out. I always note down in the diary the first arrival and last departures of migratory species that I spot. It’s nice to follow natures calendar!

Many of our spring migrants will be slightly delayed due to the strong northerly winds we were having last week. With winds now switched to the south-west, we should start to see more arriving within the next few days! Daryl, the nature reserve officer at Forvie NNR explained more on this subject on their fantastic Forvie Blog; https://forvienationalnaturereserve.home.blog/2021/03/21/an-unhelpful-headwind/

Hawthorn nearly out in flower!

There has been large movements of Whooper Swans all around the UK this week. Many flocks, with some reaching over 100 have been seen flying north-west in the direction of their breeding grounds in Iceland. Many have stopped over in the north-west highlands and Hebridean islands to wait on a break in the weather to undertake their sea crossing! Migration is extremely fascinating. As the Whooper Swans leave, the Ospreys arrive, or should I say Sand Martins!

Sand Martins! (c) Gus Routledge

I had my first Sand Martins on Thursday morning! 10 were flying over the loch at Factory Bay. I cannot explain the joy of seeing these wonderful birds for the first time at the start of spring. Numbers will now build up steadily over the next month, absolutely magic!

More updates to follow next week I imagine…

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Spring is on its way!

We started the week with our final goose count of the winter season. Our count showed that we had 1534 Pink-footed Geese and 184 Greylag Geese on the loch. This is slightly lower than the last 10 year average, but it seems that a lot of geese in the area are roosting in flooded fields rather than Loch Leven! We can expect numbers to pick up over the next couple weeks as birds from England start to work their way north back to their breeding grounds in Iceland and Eastern Greenland. Loch Leven is a nice stopover to feed up and rest. I mean, look how beautiful it was while we were counting!

Dawn at Loch Leven NNR

While counting I was greeted with a cacophony of bird song. The dawn chorus is starting to liven up now as more and more birds are singing for territory and a potential mate. During my count I heard; Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Grey Partridge, Wren, Skylark, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blue tit and Greenfinch singing!

Other signs of spring that I have seen while wandering around the loch is Frog Spawn. A few areas of standing water around the loch has large quantities of frog spawn in it. If you go to the Reed Bed at Carsehall you can hear the male frogs croaking away. These males are trying to attract females to mate with them. When the female arrives, the male mounts the female and as she spawns her eggs the male fertilises them.

Frog Spawn!

It is also a great time of year to spot Bumblebees! I spotted my first bumblebee of the year; a Tree Bumblebee. Tree Bumblebee was first recorded in the UK in 2001 and was first recorded in Scotland in 2013. It is thought the UK population originated from mainland Europe, where the species had undergone a large expansion. Its fast colonisation is probably due to its readiness to nest in a variety of places, including sheds, bird boxes and attics. They can be identified from their colouring; all Tree Bumblebees have a ginger thorax, black body and a white tail. They can be seen in early spring and are normally flying between April – July. They were only first recorded in NE Scotland in 2019, so they are fairly new colonisers further north.

Apologies for the poor photo but it is a Tree bumble, I promise! (Note the ginger thorax and white tail)
My first ever view of a Tree Bumblebee at St Cyrus NNR in 2019

It has felt warm in that sun! Another un-identified butterfly flew past me at speed this week, probably a Small tortoiseshell. It’s been a privilege to be out and about during the wonderful weather, it’s getting me right in the mood for spring and summer!

A glimpse of months to come! 🙂

It’s getting a bit late now, but if you are near any damp shaded bits then have a look for hibernating herald moths. Herald moths hibernate in culverts, tunnels, outhouses etc. The adults overwinter from autumn to spring and they are gorgeous looking moths! If you do find any be sure to send your sightings into the hibernating heralds facebook page or on iRecord.

Local hibernating herald moths

I am still yet to hear my first chiffchaff singing. This migratory warbler is one of the first arrivals from Africa, although a few do stay all year round in the UK. Listen out for the ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ song. Listen here; https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Phylloscopus-collybita

Chiffchaff (Gus Routledge)

I am awaiting the arrival of the first Loch Leven Osprey, they have arrived in the UK in recent days and have been seen in Scotland. It is also a perfect time of year to spot the first sand martins. Keep your eyes peeled folks, the spring migrants are on their way! Who knows what next week will bring….

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Hide No More…

It was a sad day to see the Mill Hide demolished. Knowing how many people would have entered the hide and been blown away by the amazing natural and historic landscape. A hide in which you could get close views of stunning Goldeneye, Pochard, Heron and much more. It felt like the end of an era, but all going well our new hide will be up within the year!

A reminder that you can donate to our mill hide rebuild here; https://www.mypark.scot/projects/rebuild-the-mill-hide/ or text ‘MILLHIDE‘ to 70450 to donate £5 (costs £5 plus standard rate message), or any amount up to £20 by texting MILLHIDE and a number, for example “MILLHIDE20” to donate £20. Thanks to everyone who has donated! 🙂

Louise has joined us again for the start of her summer season last week, and we were out putting up a willow screen on the South Queich river. The Willow Screen has been put up to slow the erosion of the river banks. One was erected a few years ago and you can see the positive effect that it is having on the river bank, we have just extended the willow screen along the bank further in hopes that this will stop the bank from eroding as fast.

Louise floating some trees down the river (note the willow screen on the right)
Willow Screen in progress

It’s an extremely therapeutic task, much akin to drystone dyking or hedge laying. You almost feel at peace; planting willow as the river flows by, weaving it between posts and checking it all looks even as a Kingfisher flies over you…how idyllic! Jobs like that are hard to beat.

Willow is a great tree to transpose; if you take a cutting from a live tree and stick it in the ground, it will grow! Some of the willow that we planted will grow and stabilize the river bank as well as prevent erosion, it is a win-win!

Some more early Willow Catkins (Pussy Willow)

Out and about on the Loch-side I was greeted by an inquisitive swan. This female was looking very elegant. The male was quietly preening in the reeds behind her.

Hard to make out at this distance but this is the male as his black ‘node’ at the top of his bill is extremely swollen. This happens during the breeding season for reasons not exactly known, but probably related to an indication of sexual maturity.

Yes, further signs of spring are happening. Lesser Celandine is looking good at the moment, see if you can find a patch on a local walk near you. It was once thought that you could use Lesser Celandine to predict the weather as they close their petals before the raindrops come. It is also very high in vitamin C and was once used to treat scurvy!

Lesser Celandine

One of our resident waterfowl species are getting into the spring mood! Great-crested Grebes are looking absolutely fantastic just now. They have an extravagant courtship display which involves the male and female doing some wonderful head shaking! Worth keeping an eye out for at this time of year. They are also very vocal at the moment and their deep croaking calls can be heard from the loch.

Great Crested Grebe
Check out those tufts!

We have 3 different Grebe species that are regular on the loch in winter; Slavonian Grebe, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. Another 2 Species can be seen here very occasionally; Red-necked Grebe and Black-necked Grebe. Only the Little Grebe and the Great Crested Grebe are known to breed here regularly. Black-necked, Slavonian and especially Red-necked Grebe are rare breeding birds in the UK.

Our Herons should be nesting now, but it seems that they are having a bit of a delayed season…maybe the cold snap in mid-February has delayed their breeding, hopefully they start nesting soon! It is only two weeks until the first Sand Martin and Osprey arrive, I can’t wait! I will keep you up to-date with all of our latest spring arrivals!

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