My last day…

 

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

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

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Loch Leven from Benarty Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Young Roe Deer helping with balsam-bashing

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

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

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

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

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

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Slightly squint horizon…

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

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

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

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Springwatch 2017: Part 3

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

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

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

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Red Admiral on Brambles

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

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

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

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Red Grouse on drystane dyke

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

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Ptarmigan with it’s fluffy snowshoe feet

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

Newts I covered in Autumnwatch last year, see here

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

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

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

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Buff Ermine

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

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

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

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

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

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… a lot!

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

And a couple pics from last week in the sun…

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

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

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

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

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Springwatch 2017: Part 2

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

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

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Yesterday afternoon from the pier

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

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

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

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

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

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Young great tits in a birch tree

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

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Ruby Tiger

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

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

Red Grouse - Lagopus lagopus

Brown Hare, definitely plenty about the loch!

Brown Hare - Lepus europaeus

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

Palmate Newt - Lissotrition helveticus

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

Sorry again!

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Springwatch 2017: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Loch Leven NNR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tawny owl chick

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

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

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

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Chocolate mining-bee

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

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

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Mayfly

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

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

 

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

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Peregrine

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

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

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That tawny owl chick again, because why not?

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

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

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

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

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Did you spot it?

 

 

 

 

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

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I’ll be back again tomorrow!

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How time *flies*

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

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SWARM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also coming up is our biggest event of the year…

DISCOVERY DAY!

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

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

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

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Winter and Spring combined

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

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This dandelion looked cheerful in the sunshine……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter already?

How time flies at Loch Leven NNR… Everything looks and sounds like it should be Easter, it even smells like it should be Easter, but it all came about so fast! It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was walking through Levenmouth Woods with the bare branches blowing about in the wind, with nobody else on the path. That definitely hasn’t been the case this week!

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Volunteer, Jock, at Levenmouth

The sun was shining (most some of the time), the bees were bumbling, the birds are busy, and so were the volunteers! Unfortunately their 2 day trip to the Isle of May to help out with tasks out there was cancelled due to high winds, but fortunately for them we had plenty of work lined up!

The main task of the day was to get some of the grass off Levenmouth as we had cut it a couple of months ago. The reason for cutting the grass is that this area has great potential to be a good example of a dry heath, a very rare habitat in Kinross-shire due to the fact it tends to occur on sandy soils, such as around the coast. The soil around Levenmouth is perfect for this as it was once the bottom of a river so it is very sandy.

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This excavation, either carried out by a badger or a fox, shows you just how sandy it is.

However, in order for it to be a proper dry heath, we need more heather. Therefore, cutting the grass and removing it, and trying to disturb the ground, should encourage some more heather growth. We used Polly (the new Polaris) for this job; it was her first big job and she handled it like a champ despite us already forgetting to plug her in to charge overnight…

Whilst on the dry heath we could clearly see how diverse it was in life. There was one character who wasn’t too pleased with our activity on Wednesday though… In fact there were a few. The grass that had been left in piles for the past few months had attracted toads and frogs as they held plenty of moisture and the heath provided them with plenty to eat!

And here’s a compilation of all of the insects and arachnids that I managed to pluck from the grass, or photograph on the grass.

That last one there, the Common Red Ant, is the favoured food of the Green Woodpecker and I was actually lucky enough to see one fly over this area last weekend. If you’re down at Levenmouth then bare in mind that you might hear the ‘yaffling’ call of the Green Woodpecker, quite a noise!

If you go to nearby Portmoak Moss then you are very likely to hear them. Here is a link to the call of a Green Woodpecker. Pretty unmistakable.

 

Elsewhere on the reserve, the summer migrant birds continue to stream in, with our first Common Sandpiper of the year deciding to pitch up right next to the Mill Hide in Factory Bay whilst I was in there on Friday. Blackcaps have also become a lot more obvious with their slightly disjointed song resounding from every clump of shrubs.

I also spent a fair bit of time trying to get a good shot of a Sand Martin as there were hundreds playing above the fields and the water at Burleigh Sands, but I failed, so you’ll have to come along and watch them yourself! We’re still yet to spot the first House Martin of the year to if you spot any white-rumped martins at Loch Leven, do let us know.

I was round at Burleigh doing some monitoring and had 3 hours on that section of the trail, then another 3 hours around Findatie/Levenmouth. So, I took the opportunity to check out all of the flowers that are out around the loch. Here’s a slideshow of 18 them, you’d be surprised at how much colour there is to be found this early in the year!

We have the Burleigh Botany event again this year so keep an eye out for the events schedule which should be out some time very soon! Posters, Facebook, Twitter, on the blog, MyPark Scotland website, maybe even Instagram! I’ll be surprised if you miss it.

So, to recap, when out at Loch Leven NNR in the coming weeks, keep an eye out for bugs, flowers, nest-building and chick-feeding birds, migrant birds, and us! We’re always happy to have a chat if you bump into us around the Heritage Trail, as are the volunteers.

To finish off, a wee clip from the Facebook page of a pair of Great Crested Grebes that have begun building a nest outside the hide at Burleigh Sands. Hopefully they do alright here but it’s quite an exposed site, best of luck to them is all I can say!

And as an added bonus, I had a nice view of a drake Red-breasted Merganser and a  drake Goosander right next to each other, so you can see the difference between the two. I hope you had a happy Easter weekend where ever you were and that you took some time out to enjoy some of what nature has to offer at this time of year.

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Red-breasted Merganser left, Goosander right

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Returning to normality…

… at Loch Leven NNR for now at least! After a week away on the Isle of May, the changes that have come about due to the increasingly spring-like conditions are even more evident.

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Kirkgate Park nice and busy

Firstly, when I arrived in the car park on Monday morning I had the pleasure of having a Swallow join the Sand Martins above my head. These birds have just made their way from Africa to feed on the plentiful insects that are beginning to emerge around the loch. If cycling around the Heritage Trail you may need to close your mouth so as not to inhale too many flies!

Also, if about on the trail, you may come across the newest vehicle that has been added to our fleet, but you might not hear it. This is because we now have a Polaris Ranger EV, EV standing for Electric Vehicle. This is a great addition to our fleet as it now means we don’t have to either strap spades and hammers to our bikes, or even carry 30 tree guards under one arm whilst cycling, as the Polaris (named Polly, by Jeremy) will be more than capable of carrying all of the kit for us.

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You’ll know it’s us because our name is plastered all over it!

Jeremy, Susan and I were actually on the training course for using a sit-in conventional steer ATV on Tuesday, hence the pic above of the Polaris not at Loch Leven. I took plenty of action shots as well as we took it around an assault course.

Many thanks to Jill at Highland Offroad for taking us, and Neil and 5 more volunteers, through the course. Everyone passed as far as I know!

Back to Spring now, and I’ve managed to find a few more flowers on the reserve (and some off the reserve but they’ll be on the reserve somewhere). Firstly, speedwells. Speedwells are a family of flowers that are typically very small and a lot of people don’t tend to notice them. But, if you take the time to look down amongst the grass and in open areas of soil, you may manage to spot some.

These flowers are only 4mm across and 8mm across!

Around by Factory Bay there are a few flowers to keep an eye out for. One of them being Butterbur. If you think to later in the year you may remember that there is a plant with massive leaves along the sides of the path, these are the leaves of Butterbur. The flower isn’t so large but is very nice looking when in full bloom.

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Butterbur

Above the Butterbur the willow is in flower which is great for attracting the early Spring bumblebees. I’m pretty sure this is Grey Willow, Salix cinerea, as opposed to the usual Goat Willow due to those little black dots which aren’t present on Goat Willow flowers.

Also above the Butterbur is some Cherry Plum, and there are also some nice big Geans (Wild Cherry) which will be in flower some time soon.

Speaking of flowers, George has just come into the office to let us know that he’s doing the first Burleigh insect survey of the year, so fingers crossed he gets some bumbles! I’ve been trying to get some pics of the bumbles that I have seen but they aren’t exactly the most docile of beings.

So you’ll have to settle for the ones I photographed in my garden in Edinburgh.

The orange one here is a Common Carder Bee, and there’s no other bumble that can really be mixed up with this one. The other bee is a Early Bumblebee which is pretty well named given it emerges pretty early, mind you most bumblebees have emerged all at once this year. The Early Bumble has the classic yellow and black markings but it has an orange bum, and is also very small. The queen that I’ve photographed here is about the size of a Carder Bee worker, so the workers are really wee things!

I did a bit of work yesterday trying to get a snapped straining post out of the ground by Orwell. I ended up digging a hole as deep as my waist but still didn’t reach the bottom of the post! But, it did give me an opportunity to look at the soil composition. Give it a chance, it can be quite interesting!

The first layer of soil was the richest, as this is where all the plant material has decayed and created some reasonably rich earth. The worms are also most active in this layer as there’s plenty for them to chow down on.

A bit deeper down the soil became very sandy. This, I suspect, is because the water level in the loch used to be higher, so this bit of land was potentially under water at some point. The soil here was more like the sand at Burleigh, and so wasn’t good for worms.

I also believe I found an iron pan, but unfortunately I can’t remember how they form! It’s the orangey layer.

And lastly, at the bottom of my 3ft deep hole, I came across some larger particles which I suspect are the shingle that you find on the bottom of the loch. This layer was also quite dry I noticed, which is an effect of the iron pan as the water finds it hard to penetrate that layer.

Anyway, perhaps you’ve skipped that bit and to that I say fair enough. It is dirt, but dirt is important, we must remember. So, for those who did skip it and those who didn’t, I’ll leave you with this pic of some lovely Cuckooflower. Hope this slightly longer blog post made up for the lack of blog posts over the past week and a bit! I’ll also leave a few pics from the Isle of May at the bottom here, and a link to the Isle of May blog post that I feature in!

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The happiness continues…

Another week has passed at Loch Leven, and boy has it been nice. Actually, not just nice, it’s been very nice, and it wasn’t just the weather…

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If I’m honest, I’ve found the past few weeks somewhat uninspiring. Obviously I have still found ways to enjoy myself by keeping busy with tasks such as hedgelaying, visiting other reserves (e.g. here and here), and a few bits and pieces about the office. But, what I really like is being able to go out and look at wildlife, whether this is plants or birds or bugs or anything else that take my fancy.

The past few weeks, however, have been that part of the year where it’s still pretty wet and cold outside so the bugs and flowers aren’t really there to be seen, and the wintering birds aren’t so obvious but the spring migrants haven’t arrived yet. Sorry to sound all doom and gloom but I have still been having plenty of fun, I’ve just gotten a bit bored of the lack of flowers, bugs and birds.

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Carsehall Bog at sundown

BUT, things are about to change. This week we have seen some solid signs that spring is here. To start with, for the past few mornings I’ve been greeted to the office by the wondrous sound of a Chiffchaff singing its somewhat simple song. These birds don’t always migrate all the way to Africa, finding Spain suitable enough to spend the winter, and some don’t migrate at all, instead laying low in dense bushes where people are unlikely to see them.

The shorter distance to travel means that they are one of the first summer migrants to return to this area. Ospreys have been arriving back in Scotland at the moment too, such as this pair, but we’re still yet to see our first of the year at Loch Leven.

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Chiffchaffs are leaf warblers, so spend a lot of their time in the canopy.

Another early summer migrant that we have seen about the loch are Sand Martins, there was a group of about 30 of them darting about the Green Isle (island of Burleigh Sands) on Wednesday. Sand Martins are often found darting about over large water bodies as they find plenty to eat flying above the surface of the water.

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There are 5 Sand Martins in this picture…

We actually spotted the Sand Martins whilst we were out with Rosemount Nursery who were visiting Loch Leven to learn the difference between natural and unnatural, looking at pond life and just enjoying the great outdoors! We found a few bits of litter which was good on the one hand as it showed us something unnatural, but bad on the other hand because we’d really rather there was no litter lying about our reserve.

Despite the chilly morning and icy puddles, we all had lots of fun, me included!

After Rosemount had left in the morning, Neil and I joined Jeremy, the volunteers and Torquil the hedgelayer to continue laying that hedge around at Mary’s Gate. We made a fair bit of progress and were out again yesterday. The total length of hedge that we have laid this spring, one metre more than Torquil’s guess, was 88 metres. We’ll have another session of laying in Autumn as we obviously don’t want to be carrying out any activity during the nesting season.

Please do head along to look at our handy-work, and watch as the first Hawthorn leaves pop out and the woven branches begin to grow.

I also decided to do a wee timelapse type thing, taking a picture of my bit of the hedge from the same position every now and then to show how it changes. But, we ran out of Hazel for binding along the top of the hedge so I didn’t get the final two stages. You’ll have to make do with a picture of another section of hedge.

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You may notice some activity behind the hedge, and this is because some sections of the Loch Leven Heritage Trail are undergoing maintenance to get rid of erosion and puddles. Please see this map for information on where the works are being undertaken.

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The section of path that was being re-done by the hedge looks brilliant now, so you can enjoy walking alongside our laid hedge, one of very, very few in Kinross-shire! I’m not even sure there will be any other laid hedges in Kinross-shire to be honest.

Plenty of machinery moving about so please do avoid using the sections that are outlined.

So to conclude, since it is now Spring (as far as I’m concerned) keep and eye out for spring wildflowers such as Lesser Celandine and Colt’s-foot, and have a scan out over the water to see if you can spot any Sand Martins, perhaps you’ll spot the first Swallow of the year… Osprey and Wheatear should be about some time soon as well. Bumblebees are definitely waking up as well, keep an eye out for those Tree Bumbles (remember, thorax to tail is orange black white).

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Lesser Celandine, in the buttercup family

 

So you may think I’ll spend next week enjoying the flowers and migrants birds about the loch, but no, I’m out to the Isle of May with the other student placements (from Tentsmuir, Stirling (covers Blawhorn Moss, Flanders Moss and Loch Lomond), St Cyrus, Caerlaverock, Creag Meagaidh & Beinn Eighe) where we will be helping to prepare the island for all the visitors (there were 12,000 in 2016) that will be coming out to enjoy the brilliantly beaked Puffins, the terns that will have a go at your head, and all the other brilliant seabirds that call the May Isle their home for the breeding season.

For updates on the Isle of May, keep an eye on the Isle of May blog. The first Puffins are returning to the isle at the moment so I’m more than looking forwards to it. You’ll have to rely on Jeremy for next week’s blog post!

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Happiness in Nature

I’m not one for all that airy-fairy sort of stuff, that’s just not me, but I am all for people being happy in nature. However with the weather being pretty grim outside at the minute, I’m quite happy to be inside typing up a blog post on the International Day of Happiness.

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This Goldcrest clearly didn’t get the memo that it’s the International Day of Happiness, although it probably doesn’t help that I was taking pictures of it having a bath. Anyway, what makes you happy when out in nature?

One of the things that makes me happiest is just seeing things, such as the Goldcrest above. It’s those little moments seeing things you either don’t see often or haven’t seen before. Most recently, I was in the right place at the right time to witness a sun halo over Loch Leven, which I had seen once before from the Isle of May (where I’ll be next week so apologies in advance for the lack of blog posts).

These halos form when there are high-level, wispy clouds which causes the light to refract through ice crystals high in the atmosphere, creating a pretty stunning effect.

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Sun halo over Loch Leven

This was what it looked like in real life, it’s not a photographic effect. If you’re lucky and the cloud conditions stay the same overnight then you may get to see a moon halo, which I did for the first time! It also meant I had to fiddle about with settings on my camera but I think this shot came out alright.

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Another aspect of nature that I get happiness from is helping it. That’s a key part of my job at Loch Leven, in fact almost everything I do is for the benefit of nature. From working with the volunteers to put up new nestboxes, to helping educate children in local schools about the life-cycle of a Brown Trout, it all helps the wildlife on the National Nature Reserve.

We’ve managed to put up about 30 new nest boxes around the reserve, if you spot any then taking a few minutes just to stop and watch may reward you with seeing a Great Tit or other small bird taking nesting material into the box.

With regards to trout in the classroom, I’ll do a blog post on that another time. For now though, I can tell you it went swimmingly and all of the trout were released into a couple of burns that lead in to Loch Leven after they had been well looked after by the school children at Arngask Primary and Kinross Primary.

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Happy unfed trout fry, just before release

It has been scientifically proven that nature is good for your health and well-being (see here and here)  and to be honest, I don’t think we need science to tell us this. Having been ill last weekend and for the start of last week, I was finding myself pacing up and down the hall, not feeling any better or any happier.

Then, on Thursday and Friday I was out on Loch Lomond NNR and Flanders Moss NNR  with friends and found myself completely relieved after being locked indoors for 4 days. I, personally, can’t stand being indoors for any more than a full day so I can certainly see that nature is good for me, and I’m sure it’s good for you too.

In my experience, a bad week can be completely turned on its head by a good day out somewhere in the countryside.

And what better place to do that than at Loch Leven NNR?! That’s another thing that makes me happy, being able to work at a place like this for a year is great. It’s valuable experience that will make me more employable, it’s the opportunity to meet people and learn things, it’s the opportunity to see nature every day and it gives me the chance to share those experiences with people, as I am doing right now with you.

Above is a selection of images of Loch Leven at its best, all taken by myself.

So, on this, the International Day of Happiness, I hope that you at least have a happier Monday than usual and can manage to get yourself out into the countryside this weekend (preferably at Loch Leven NNR but anywhere will do) to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

Things to look out for at the moment are amphibians travelling to, arriving at and doing their thing at their spawning grounds, some migrant birds arriving (Sand Martins, Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Ospreys are some of the first summer migrants to arrive), and our wintering birds departing (huge flocks of Whooper Swans have been reported moving north over the weekend).

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Male Adder

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Common Lizard

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Female Adder

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Palmate Newt

If you go to places like Flanders Moss NNR or Muir of Dinnet NNR then keep an eye out for reptiles such as the beautiful Adder, Slow Worm and Common Lizard. I spotted a lizard at Flanders Moss on Saturday, lapping up a short burst of sun before diving in to a bog pool as I wandered past. Palmate Newts were also very showy in the pools by the boardwalk where the lone birch tree stands.

Anyway, I’ll leave you to get on with being happy at the thought of getting outdoors over the weekend, and I hope this blog post has brought some of the feeling of the great outdoors to where ever you are today!

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A cheerie Arctic Tern from the Isle of May last July. They’ll return some time at the start of May.

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