A new species at Loch Leven NNR!

There has been some excitement at Loch Leven NNR, a new species has been recorded on the reserve for the first time! Most of the time, species that haven’t been recorded on reserves before, tend to be ones that are a bit specialist e.g slime moulds, micromoths and lichens. However, this new species is a cracker! It is in fact a Butterfly and it has been increasing its range in Scotland. It is normally seen on the canopy of old oak trees. Have you got it yet…..?

It’s Purple Hairstreak! and we have lots of them!

Female Purple Hairstreak (c) Chris Stamp
Purple Hairstreak Underwing (c) Chris Stamp

These characteristic butterflies have been expanding their range in Scotland over the last few decades. It’s stronghold in the UK is southern England, and further north, they are much less common. They are entirely dependent on Oak trees where they feed as caterpillars and then lay their eggs as adults. As adults, their main food source is the Honeydew (sugar rich liquid secreted by feeding aphids) that is present on the Oak leaves.

Don’t let the above photos fool you however, the normal views of Purple Hairstreak are as follows;

Find the Purple Hairstreaks! (c) Ian Park
The usual view of Purple Hairstreaks, males having a tussle!
There are 4 in this photo!

They are particularly hard to find as they spend most of their time on the tree tops, probably the main reason they are under-recorded. They are a small butterfly, so they can be hard to spot against a canopy. Sadly, Purple Hairstreaks have been declining in the UK; as much as 30% in the last 30 years.

Purple Hairstreak Range (c) Butterfly Conservation

The colony here at Loch Leven NNR (on the oaks, next to the River Leven at Levenmouth) have probably been here for some time as I counted 30-40 individuals. They are a butterfly that could be easily missed, as they only come out in the evening when people are usually scoffing their tea! After 5pm is recommended if you are out searching for them. The colony was found here last week by some enthusiastic Purple Hairstreak hunters, and who knows how many more Purple Hairstreak sites are around!

Another lucky view of a Male Purple Hairstreak! (c) Chris Stamp

I urge anyone to get out there and have a look for Purple Hairstreak. All you need is a sunny, warm evening in late summer (mid July to late August) and some oak trees (even a single oak tree can support a colony). Have a look at the tree tops and see if you can spot any movement. If you do find any, then please put your records into your local biological records centre or irecord – https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/enter-casual-record. It would be great to raise awareness of this fantastic butterfly and find out more about their range. As always, if you want to get your eye-in, then I would come check out our newly discovered, thriving population here!

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Bugs, Bracken and Baking Heat

It’s been a busy week at the loch for visitors as well as nature – and we now have an impressive 5+ staff around the reserve on Mondays! Despite the weekend tidy-up continuing well into Tuesday, on Monday I still managed to escape into the oppressive sun with the insect volunteers for a look around. As well as spotting a common blue butterfly on the way back, I still never tire of seeing six-spot burnet moths gracefully hovering around like little ballerinas; in flight they look very similar to a floating Fuchsia flower. I’m told that they are having a bumper year on the transect and that their population on it has been gradually rising over the past half-decade or so. I also saw my first Loch Leven little grebe family out and about, as well as the many juvenile black-headed gulls now reaching the moody teenager stage. Speaking of the heat, the predicted 22-23°C has necessitated the cancelling of our Wednesday volunteer group this week – balsam-bashing is hard enough as it is!

Self-heal and a six-spot burnet moth. ©Lorne Gill

On the subject of insects, Neil brought in the moth trap for Julie and I to have a look at at the weekend – what a treat! It’s been 4 years since I got a look in one and there is always more to learn. I got to see my first elephant hawk-moth up close and what a beast they are. One of their primary foodplants is rosebay willowherb which I have mentioned here before; as it is now flowering in all its towering, hot pink glory, it is little surprise that we bagged a couple of them. As well as these I also got to see a brimstone (not to be confused with the brimstone butterfly) – a glaringly chartreuse-coloured, burnt-edged moth which was a species I’d wanted to see for quite a few years. The lovely white ermine and poplar hawk-moth also made an appearance.

Anyone whose done a bit of moth trapping will know that along with the spectacles (like the spectacle moth, Abrostola tripartita, which we had also caught) also comes the trickier ones (I wont say bland). Regardless it is exciting to get the moth book out and try to find out what you’re looking at. Below are some of the moths I’ve seen about the reserve in recent weeks.

Clockwise from 12: Burnished Brass, Barred Straw, Clouded Border and Middle-barred Minor

Some extra bug-related images from recently include two mating Meadow Brown butterflies and a leafhopper – I think Cicadella viridis – there are apparently over 1700 species in the UK so don’t quote me on it! These are the bugs that create ‘cuckoo spit’. In their nymph stage, they eat the xylem (the hard, water-containing part) of plant stems and the resulting water that is released passes through them, turning into foam in the process and encasing them. They aren’t necessarily, as is often though, undergoing metamorphosis when we see the foam. The xylem is so nutrient-deficient that they require the help of two symbiotic bacteria species to aid in nutrition.

In practical news we are beginning our flattening of the bracken at Findatie with the ‘Bracken Bruiser’, borrowed on a trial shift of sorts from the lovely staff at St. Cyrus NNR. The mechanism works almost by sheer weight as it gets towed by the Polaris, with the sharp, horizontal bars creating nodes that cause the bracken to ‘bleed’ along its stem. Simon, Bethia and myself have given the area its first round of treatment but we will be back for more! Hopefully we will see the difference it makes next year and anyway, we all agreed it was very satisfying. I got to escape from the job early but the other two were stuck in the sun all day!

Could do this all day!

It’s been such a scorching week that getting the work done has been trickier than usual, and the office provides little respite! Let’s hope we can power through the coming week with increased invulnerability.

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Off the bog and into the loch

The team just keeps on growing! Meet our newest member of staff, Bethia, who has joined Loch Leven following on from a previous position based across the Stirling NNR’s (Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond NNR, the goings-on of which you can read about here). Bethia is employed as a practical placement within NatureScot’s Programme for Youth Employment, and will be working across Loch Leven for the next 2 years to gain an in-depth understanding of all that managing this nature reserve entails.

Growing up in the Cairngorms National Park, on the doorstep of the Abernethy Forest, I have always felt a connection to nature and a passion for protecting our wild spaces. This led me to study zoology at university, from which I decided I wanted to begin my career in Scottish conservation. After a Covid-caused delay to this, I began working for NatureScot last year acros the Stirling NNR’s- stomping across the moss and exploring islands with a wonderful team.

I have just completed my second week here at Loch Leven, and what a change it has been compared to the bog! Entirely different habitats, the ground is solid and I no longer need fear falling into moss-covered ditches. There are fewer midges, fewer ticks, and I can once again enjoy the sight of a deer without worrying about what damage they may be causing. I have switched out the wellies for walking boots, and cars for bikes. The weather has been glorious, and the wildlife plentiful. A fabulous beginning to my time on this reserve.

Anchored on St Serf’s for a day of balsam bashing. A very muggy day with the occasional shower

Last week’s blog details the majority of what my first week involved – two solid days of balsam bashing, which included a intense session on St Serf’s. Strimmers were vital for the more extensive areas, while myself and Julie took to hand pulling the plants found in denser vegetation. And by dense, I mean chock-a-block full of nettles – ouch! Long sleeves and thick trousers were necessary to avoid leaving with limbs covered in stings, meaning we were all left rather (incredibly) sweaty by the end of the day. And still covered in stings. Sailing back across the crystal calm loch under blue skies made taking a quick, cooling dip in the water highly tempting, but recent reports of blue-green algae mean we would currently advise against this.

Loch Leven looking incredibly inviting after a warm working day

Last Wednesday was a bit of a highlight, as I met many of the volunteer team for the first time while conducting our annual Lesser Butterfly Orchid survey – of we had had record counts!
This week I met several more of the volunteer team for – yep, you guessed it – more baslam bashing. A warm and welcoming bunch, complete with a home-baked cake, I am very much looking forward to getting to know them better, begin assisting with weekly insect surveys, and picking their very knowledgeable brains. I am a little less enthusiastic about the upcoming weeks of balsam bashing ahead, not least because I now get an altered version of ‘the monster mash’ stuck in my head every time we get to it. They did the bash, they did the balsam bash…

A massive Northern Marsh Orchid spotted while surveying for Lesser Butterflies

I’ve spent at least some time nearly every day either walking or cycling sections of the Heritage Trail, to familiarise myself with the reserve while checking up on the more popular areas: wildlife watching, carrying out litter picks, and generally ensuring that people are behaving responsibly. Which, for the most part, they are – and I have already had many lovely encounters with enthusiastic visitors out enjoying the natural space and wildlife, who have wished me well once learning that I am new to the reserve.

A lush view from Burleigh Sands

You can’t start a new job without some mishap or other though! Yesterday morning saw us attempting to wrestle our larger boat out of the water for it’s yearly service. Waders at the ready, we also wear lifejackets when working in deeper water, just to be safe. We all forgot that it doesn’t take much to set these lifejackets off though, and while leaning over to attach the winch to the boat I submerged mine enough that it must have thought I was drowning!

You really can’t move much at all when these things go off!

An all round fun and friendly beginning to my time here at Loch Leven, with some lessons learned already. I’m looking forward to getting settled in over the next few weeks, familiarising myself with my new ‘outdoor office’, and cannot wait for all the opportunities ahead of me.

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Balsam and Butterfly Orchids

It’s that time of year again…mid summer means its Himalayan Balsam season. At Loch Leven NNR, we spend quite a bit of time in the summer months pulling, slashing and strimming Himalayan Balsam.

There is a reason why we do this, we aren’t going mad! Himalayan Balsam was introduced to the UK in the 1830s. Hailing from the Himalayas as the name suggests, it is not a native species and unfortunately it is extremely invasive. As it is such an efficient seed spreader and can grow in a multitude of habitats, it can choke up areas and shade out native plants.

Himalayan Balsam starting to grow through the vegetation
At least it is easy to pull out…

We try and get most of our Balsam work completed in July and early August. Himalayan Balsams scientific name is ‘impatiens glandulifera’ – which basically means impatient seed bearer. This is aptly named as in mid-august, the balsam starts to seed and as soon as you touch it or the plant experiences any movements, the seed pods explode and fires seeds in many different directions. It is truly a master of spreading and colonisation.

Best method of removal is hand pulling (uprooting).

We try and do our best to keep the balsam at bay. As it is present further upstream, this is a constant battle. We try to ensure that the balsam problem isn’t escalating on the NNR. This requires a lot of staff and volunteer time. But, it needs to be done and I guess there are worse ‘offices’ to be in!

The ‘Blackwoods’ – Sadly a bit of a Balsam hotspot but a lovely spot to work in nonetheless

In more positive botanical news! We completed our annual Lesser Butterfly Orchid this week, and what a fantastic count it was! In-fact, not just fantastic – record breaking! We counted 618 Lesser Butterfly Orchids, that’s 129 more than the previous record which was held in 2019.

Beautiful Lesser Butterfly Orchid

Lesser Butterfly Orchids respond well to active management. At Loch Leven NNR, to help keep the habitat suitable for these orchids and generally keep the wet meadow in good condition, we have a grazing regime in place. We have 20-40 Cattle on the bog in the summer and this helps keep the vegetation height suitable for optimum species richness . This also doesn’t allow certain species to become overly dense/high and shade out other species. Alternatively, if there were too much cattle, then we would notice that the ground is becoming poached and the vegetation would be over-grazed; so it is important to strike a balance. We monitor the vegetation to ensure that we are managing the habitat correctly – and with a record breaking orchid year, it looks like its working!

Happy Orchid hunting volunteers!
A fantastic Northern-marsh Orchid specimen!

It was a wonderful experience to see so many healthy looking orchids, and it’s great to see practical conservation in action! There isn’t much things better in life than a bussling, buzzing, colourful, species rich meadow on a summers day, but then again I am quite biased! 🙂

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Happy National Meadow’s Day!

The blog this week is written by our seasonal Julie! This Saturday the 3rd July we are holding our annual free meadows day event to celebrate our wonderful meadows on the reserve and across the UK! With everything coming to a bit of a stand-still over the past year and a half, we are delighted to still be able to contribute to National Meadows Day, albeit a little differently than previous years. We will have a trail around the meadows on Loch Leven with lots of informative signs and illustrations. Make sure to keep an eye out around the meadows at Burleigh, the Pollinator Park at Kirkgate, and Mary’s Knowe to learn about the importance of meadows, the types of flowers you might expect to find there and the wildlife they support!

Bush Vetch, Lady’s Bedstraw, White Dead-Nettle, Mousear, Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Cow wheat, Silverweed and Dandelion – the amazing diversity of meadows!

It is important that we maintain these meadow areas as they are in drastic decline in the UK, with 98% of wildflower meadows that existed in the 1930s being lost, and only 1% of the UK being covered in these important habitats. However, these areas are extremely important to a wide variety of wildlife, including bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, birds and so much more. Therefore, it is important that we conserve the areas of meadow that still exist, in order for these species to thrive, and to prevent further decline.

Buttercup and Forget-me-not with some other beauties dotted around!

Meadows are especially important to pollinators like bees and moths, which are also in serious decline. A well-maintained meadow, such as those around the reserve, will allow a multitude of wildflowers to grow, providing food, in the form of nectar for the pollinators, and allows pollen to spread for continued wildflower growth. (Although this isn’t so nice for my fellow hayfever sufferers, it is important for a species-rich meadow and the overall ecosystem!)

A Meadow Brown butterfly – just one of the endless number of species that rely on wildflower meadows

Here at Loch Leven NNR we have a variety of wildflowers that are visible at the moment, including red campion, ragged robin, yellow flag iris, forget-me-not and yellow rattle. See what you can spot on our trail!

The conspicuous Northern Marsh Orchid!

Providing a habitat like this for pollinators is important to restore these declining insect populations. If you’d like to contribute further to the protection of wildflower meadows, you can make your own meadow with just a few simple steps. These don’t need to be massively large, just nutrient-poor enough for wildflowers to grow (keep those fertilisers away!), and contain a variety of wildflowers. More information can be found on the Magnificent Meadows website here. Yellow rattle is an especially great addition to a meadow as it parasitises overly dominant grass species and increases the diversity of others – look out for this species at the Pollinator Park and Burleigh meadow!

Oxeye Daisy with some Yellow Rattle hiding away

Make sure to stop by on Saturday (3rd July)! We hope to see as many of you as possible on the trail checking out our wonderful, flower-rich meadows and learning about these important habitats!

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Rarities and Great Brown-Backed Bird Hides

It has been quite a mixed week this time around – it was an unbelievable 22°C on Sunday and the week itself had generally decent, dry weather but with some pretty strong winds whirling about. I’ve certainly been layering up far too much. Monday saw Simon, Julie and I back at our WeBS count – wisely, not many birds were braving the (albeit warm) elements, instead tucked away in the Phragmites reedbeds and out of sight from our prying scope lenses. Only a single pair of Goldeneye were of any considerable interest, a species which would normally be well hidden away at this time of year. I’d seen my first Lapwings at the Burleigh side of the reserve at the weekend – good to know they do venture out from Vane Farm when the conditions suit!

At least it’s not raining this time, but look at those white horses!

But I digress; we had beforehand quickly gone to search for Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza trifida). This scarce little plant species had been niggling away at us for a few weeks, especially as it would be a first for myself and Julie and a first on the reserve for Simon. Armed with some questionable co-ordinates and nettle-proof foolhardiness, we scanned high and low for a tiny green stem in a sea of 3-foot, green nettles and reeds. After eventually finding the location that seemed most likely, we eventually stumbled across one. OK, perhaps not the most aesthetic plant out there (it was past its best for the year to give it some credit!) but it is a pretty rare find, especially as its usual habitat is mature woodland (which is not quite where we were). It is the only coralroot orchid outside of North America and is ‘myco-heterotrophic’, meaning that part of its nutrients are taken from a symbiotic relationship with funghi, in this case the genus Tomentella. It is likely that the decomposing reeds where it was found allow for this fungus to grow. It is one of only a few species in the genus which utilizes photosynthesis (to a degree); as a result it does have some green pigmentation from the chlorophyll and isn’t totally yellow like other coralroot orchids. Glad to get it ticked off and left in peace again – another itch scratched!

A diamond in the rough!

Our volunteering back in full swing, we once again loaded up the brown paint to head over to Burleigh for the hide’s well-deserved new coating. A smaller group this week, we had myself and Simon, Francis, Dave, Barbara and Maria. Far from letting our numbers stop us, we made an excellent effort and, despite the lengthy conversations and a go at Pop Master (apparently a Loch Leven staple), finished in good time. The hide really did need it and it’s wonderful to see such enthusiasm from everyone involved. I can’t think of a better way to spend a 25th birthday!

A hard days graft complete
The finished product – no it’s not painted black!

I was required to make myself relatively scarce for a bit on Tuesday morning so had a search about for any tasks to add to the list between the office and Burleigh. I found a nice little secluded spot near sewage point with some very grand old willow – it was nice to see some bay willow (Salix pentandra) mixed in. As well as that, I saw my first evidence of Leven otter near the mouth of the North Queich, a spot nobody would normally end up by accident!

Not quite Hyperion but still impressive
On the scent – anyone ever watched Mantracker?

Last bit of nature of interest was a ladybird I spotted last week at the Levenmouth hide – a first for me as I think it is an eyed ladybird (Anatis ocellata), identified by the yellow rings around its black spots – apologies for the shaky photo (Simon’s ladder safety came first!)

On the move

That’s it for this week but I think with our more stable weather we will be encountering Loch Leven’s earthly delights much more frequently from now on!

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Grasslands and Gulls

The week started off with a little bit of grassland management! The ‘Pollinator Park’ at Kirkgate is now sporting a new pathway through it. This will allow people to walk through the heart of the meadow, enjoying all of the great plants and pollinators that it has to offer.

Freshly raked path through the ‘Pollinator Park’

If you want to improve a meadow, or keep it species-rich. It is important to collect any cuttings that is created by mowing a grassland. If you don’t collect the cuttings, the nutrients from the cut grass will go back into the soil and make it nutrient rich. This means that the grassland won’t support a diversity of species as many wildflowers wont grow in nutrient rich soils.

Ian with his wheelbarrow full of grass cuttings!
Julie and Ian working hard..!

Pollinator park wasn’t the only grassland work done on the reserve this week. It is that time of year when we have to keep parts of the path verge clear to stop cyclists, walkers and other users getting stung by nettles and caught up in long vegetation. It is a lengthy job maintaining 9 miles of path verge, but thanks to our ride on mower we can do it quicker than we used to.

The Ride-on Mower does a great job. Notice we only cut 30cm from each side of the path. The path verges are full of wildflowers!

We only mow what we need to, it’s fantastic to see such an array of species right next to the path. I would urge many of you in your garden to leave a bit for the wildflowers and only cut it in late summer/early autumn (preferably collect the cuttings as well). You will be providing a lovely habitat for pollinators and who knows what species may turn up in your wild patch!

Germander Speedwell and Creeping Buttercup cloak the path verges, just wonderful!
Northern-marsh Orchids have now popped up in the Pollinator Park and elsewhere on the reserve.

This weeks volunteering task was finishing off painting Levenmouth Hide. We got it finished and it’s looking great! Amazing what a lick of paint can do! 🙂

Some of the painting team!
Looking good!
Cracking view from the hide! Go and check it out for yourself

Here at Loch Leven NNR, we have some encouraging news! We took a trip out to St Serfs with our telescope to check some Black-headed Gulls which looked to be interested in nesting. Black-headed Gulls used to nest in great numbers on St Serfs and they were a key part of the whole ecosystem on the island! Sadly, these elegant gulls have been absent on the Island for more than a decade. We’ve had a few ‘false starts’ for the colony in recent years. However this year, we are extremely pleased to confirm nesting. We are hoping to see a few fledglings in a month or so, fingers crossed everything goes well and we get this delightful gull returning to breed on St Serfs Island!

Black-headed Gulls at their colony
Such a welcoming scene!
AA good number of them too! Around 100 individuals – and we saw at least 20 nests.

Black-headed Gulls can be extremely sensitive to disturbance, so as always, it is important that visitors adhere to our Local Access Guidance and refrain from landing on any Islands. Let’s hope that they have a good season, raise some young and continue to nest on St Serfs!

Here’s to the Black-headed Gulls! 🙂

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Summer, is that you?

It’s great to finally have some warm sunshine! The butterflies, bees, dragonflies have all suddenly appeared again after a months hiatus. The extremely wet May will no doubt have adverse affect on the wildlife around the loch. There have been reports of failed birds nests in peoples gardens and people have noted the general lack of insect activity. However, nature can be resilient, lets hope that it bounces back and we have warm, sunny, ‘balanced’ weather in June!

Orange-tip butterfly (male)

It’s been great to see the Orange-tip butterflies on the wing in good numbers. These characteristic butterflies lay their eggs on Cuckooflower & Garlic Mustard. Look out for the colourful males flying by you as you walk around the trail!

The change in air temperature has meant that we have been seeing a lot of mist in the mornings. The loch can look a bit eerie for the first few hours of the day. Although this usually has burnt off by lunch time and gives way to cracking sunshine and ‘scorchio’ temperatures!

Eerie Loch Leven!
The difference a couple of hours make!

We are starting to spot more and more Swan broods! Cygnets are appearing all over the loch with their respective parents. Everybody loves a cygnet, and I can see why, they are adorable. Especially when you hear their light, whistly calls. There are still a lot of swans sitting on nests, so please keep dogs on a lead or close control when near the shoreline.

Awww, wee Cygnets with their mother. Dad was keeping an eye close-by

Interestingly, we are wondering if the cold, wet spring has resulted in a poor breeding season for Mute swans. There have been a group of 400-500 Mute Swans loitering on the loch. We do normally have small groups of failed/non breeders at this time of year, but this is a very high number. Breeding swans would still be in pairs, not in large groups. So, this is quite a concern. As I mentioned before, nature can be resilient, so hopefully this is just a local observation and not a national one!

Cob (Male) Swan giving me a look

Our new seasonal Julie spotted some bugs when out and about. The first is Chrysolina polita, sometimes known as knotgrass leaf beetle. It has a shiny red chestnut elytra (wing case) and dark metallic green pronotum (neck area). They are fairly common in the UK although are thought to be in decline, but are still seen around the reserve if you look closely!

Knotgrass leaf beetle

The second is a two-banded longhorn beetle (Rhagium bifasciatum). It is a large species of longhorn beetle (up to 22mm), known for its two distinctive yellow bands on each elytra. They can be found on tree trunks or low vegetation, and are one of the most common longhorn beetle species in the UK.

Two-banded Longhorn Beetle

It is great to have our volunteers back in action! This week we were out painting the bird hide at Levenmouth. Another days work should see it fully painted, at least it dried quickly in the warm weather!

Volunteers in action!

I sincerely hope that this us now settled into late spring/summer weather. As the sun shines, more and more of our spring and summer wildlife will be blooming, singing and flying around. Make sure to get out and enjoy the glorious weather & wildlife!

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A Midspring Night’s Dream

Well I’m certainly not going to beat the excitement of last week’s duck nest surveys but I do have some interesting finds up my sleeve this week – half of which are from the week before anyway! That said I will begin by attempting not to spam my own images from St. Serf’s below.

It’s too bright – I’m not coming out!

Whoops too late! Well while the sun was shining (and looks to be again, in full high-teens effect, this weekend) our first damselflies and dragonflies were spotted – firstly by our insect survey volunteers and then later on in the day by Louise and myself! About time! We weren’t entirely sure what species we’d seen first as the damselfly was ‘teneral’, a word our volunteer Susan taught us, meaning the initial stage of an insect’s ‘imago’ (another new word meaning the final stage in a metamorphosing insect’s life cycle). Long story short, it had just emerged, and as a result was very accommodating of us shoving phone cameras in it’s face! Below is Louise’s photo of the very damselfly as well as a red damselfly I spotted; with crinkly wings it too was possibly a recent emerger. There was also a big dragonfly about at Levenmouth but definitely no luck on the photo front with that.

First of the year – 15th May!
Large Red Damselfly

New seasonal Julie and I had also come across some quite intimidating critters at the weekend. The first of these is as of yet unidentified but the second is a St. Mark’s fly – I had had an inkling that it could have been one but the separated eyes had put me off. I had forgotten to take into account a little thing called sexual dimorphism (males and females looking different). Simon suggested it was indeed a St. Mark’s fly and a quick google search confirmed it was a female (which has much smaller, separated eyes). As flies go, these are definitely up there with my favourites – pitch black, cumbersome in flight and pretty huge!

Incognito Critter
St. Mark’s Fly (F)

Last of the insects for this week are an exceptionally patient orange tip butterfly as well as a relatively common hoverfly, Helophylus pendulus. If this was all last week and the week before, just imagine what extra insects are out and about now!

Playing ball for the camera!

While having a look about our Pollinator Park (in the works at Kirkgate Park), Simon and Neil were IDing all the leaves of the stunning meadow flowers which will come up in due course, as well as a few which were already blooming. I have been inadvertently accumulating a gallery of emergent new reserve flowers all over the place! Below are the leaves of bird’s foot trefoil (already out over at Classlochie), Simon’s cowslip, a common pansy, bogbean and greater stitchwort. The photo doesn’t do much justice, but the Bogbean over at Findatie in particular is an absolutely stunning plant; a firework of bright filigrees arising from the brown, putrid depths.

Not a bad haul!

In regards to the work we’ve been doing this week, apart from trying to dodge the downpours, we started the week off with our May WeBS. It was a very quiet count due to the partially inclement weather but it did allow Julie and myself to continue to improve our bird surveying experience.

Braving the conditions!

Most excitingly it was our first proper day back with the Wednesday volunteers this week! It is great to have their invaluable help back once again. Neil went out to St. Serf’s with Susan and new volunteer Maria for some extra signage, Alan and Dave constructed a new wood store for future bonfires and Simon, Richard, John and I went out with the Polaris to replace and add some new fencing!

Everything is really starting to pick up again – now just to wait for our heatwave!

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Duck Nest Surveys!

It’s one of my favourite times of year, no not Christmas….duck nesting season!

Loch Leven is an extremely important site for nesting ducks and is one of the main reason it is a National Nature Reserve. Scientific surveys on St Serfs have been undertaken since the 1960s and we have data going back 60 years! The data that we collect is absolutely crucial in letting us understand long-term trends in duck numbers. Particularly important in these times of climate change and concerns regarding our global biodiversity. We were lucky to have been joined by Colin Campbell, who was a warden on Loch Leven from 1965 – 1970. A lot of the work and surveys that he completed on St Serfs was pioneering in terms of duck population and ecology.

Loch Leven is one of the most studied sites in the British Isles and we continue our surveys to add to this longevity of data, all of which will help us greater contribute to the conservation of ducks all over the world!

Tuesday’s NatureScot duck team!

We record each nest we see, what species, how many eggs, the habitat it is located and if it has hatched or been predated. We are extremely careful when walking over the Island and care is taken to ensure that disturbance is kept to a minimum as we only cover a particular area once. It is worth noting that we ask that the public do not land on the islands as they are extremely sensitive areas filled with hundreds of nesting ducks and geese (as you will see from this blog).

Our main nesters on the Island include; Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Gull, Greylag Geese, Barnacle Geese, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Oystercatcher. We do have some particularly rare species, like for example the Shoveler. We only get a handful of these and not every year!

Shoveler nest (pencil for scale)

We were lucky with the weather. You can’t do this survey in the rain as the eggs can chill easily and ethically it is not satisfactory to potentially flush ducks off nests in poor weather. Luckily, we dodged all of the showers, and it was even nice for short spells during the day!

The Big Boat on a flat calm loch
Neil skippering the big boat
Large Gulls settled on the Island

The most frequent nesting duck is the Tufted Duck. Tufted Duck mainly nest in June, but there were some ducks already on eggs. It is this species for which Loch Leven is most important. It is a rare and declining breeding species in the British Isles with Loch Leven being home to a colony numbering hundreds and one of the largest colonies in Western Europe.

Tufted Duck nest
Some of the Gull Chicks have hatched!

We have nesting Geese on the Island! Greylag Geese are our most numerous nester, with around 100 pairs. Interestingly, we have a population of Barnacle Geese breeding on St Serfs as well. Normally Barnacle Geese would be breeding in Greenland and Svalbard but birds have started to nest here at Loch Leven. We are one of only a very small number of breeding barnacle goose sites in Scotland. The barnacle goose population has doubled in the last 10 years from 15 pairs to around 30 pairs. This is one of the changes that we can document from our surveys over the years.

Greylag Goose nest
Barnacle Goose Nest

Thankfully, we managed to get our survey completed just before the rain started! Thanks to all the duck nesters that helped over the last 4 days. We averaged around 16,000 steps a day and it was fantastic to get up and close to the breeding wildfowl of Loch Leven.

As soon as we finished, the heavens opened!
An angry looking sky as we head back…

I am already looking forward to future surveys (although I’ve got all of the data entry from this year to do first!). However, have some people have found out…. it can be a messy job!

Poor Ellie was targeted by the gulls as we were heading back to the boat….

All in a days work! 🙂

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