Keeping busy

From what we are seeing on TV at the moment, you’d think it was Christmas already! However, it is not, and there’s plenty going on around the reserve!

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I’ll just get the usual Waxwing bit out of the way as we are committed to bringing you the latest sightings from the past few days!

  • 70, Gallowhill Road, 3 December
  • 35, Kinross School, 4 December
  • 30, Millbridge Hall, 5 December

Do keep an eye out as I have a feeling some have moved in from further north, hence the big flocks of 70 or so that are roaming around.

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Last Wednesday we used the volunteers to get the big boat out of the water for the winter. The rest of us went round to Carsehall to begin cutting down the willows in order to form a sort of bushy hedge along the side of the path.

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Big boat out on the trailer

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To be finished this week…

Unfortunately that’s all I can blog about today as I’ve not been able to take many pictures over the past week. However, I’ll direct you towards the Scottish Natural Heritage Instagram, for those of you who use Instagram. And whilst I’m at it, I’ll point you towards the SNH twitter account as well… And my own Twitter as well.

Just to fill out this post a bit, I’ll post a couple of pictures from Stob Binnein, a munro that I climbed this weekend.

To finish off, I’d like to welcome Neil back to Loch Leven NNR after his year’s absence, and say farewell to Therese who is going back to managing just St Cyrus NNR (I’d recommend visiting!).

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Even more Waxwings!

This weeks Milnathort and Kinross waxwing sightings have included:-

  • 30 at the play park at Springfield Rd, Kinross on the 28th
  • 14 in the trees behind Mavisbank on the 28th
  • 70 at Pier entrance Kinross on the 28th
  • 40 at the Millbridge Hall, Kinross on the 29th
  • 30 Manse Rd,  with 14 over Ba’ Hill and a 6 at Balfour Cresent, Milnathort on the 30th
  • 70 along Springfield Rd, 15 by the High School, 60 in tall trees by the Kirkgate and 40 around the Pier on the 2nd December.

Birds are ranging far and wide around the local area. It was nice to see them at the Pier this afternoon.

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I love getting Whattsapp messages from David Alston like this of the Springfield flock!

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Instead of eating berries, the waxwings were catching flies above the Sycamores at the pier.

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They are very nimble and acrobatic in the air!

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It was fun trying to get photos of them in the bright sunshine.

When they feed on berries they tend to be in quite big flocks for protection. When they are catching flies their food is less concentrated so they were spread right around the Pier car park this afternoon.

 

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A waxwing takes a short break before going off on another flycatching sortie.

This weekend looks good for watching waxwings, Good luck hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

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More Waxwings

I’ve been away for much of November following my beloved Bristol Rovers so I’ve not been out and about looking for Waxwings so much. The national influx continues throughout Scotland gathering some momentum. As I write flocks of 500+ have been seen in Aberdeenshire.

On Sunday 27th I got an excited Whattsapp message from NNR volunteer David Alston saying he had seen 70 Waxwings in Kinross. I set off for Gallowhill Road to search for them. On arrival the air was alive with their familiar tinkling call. Several of trees had birds in them.

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I managed to capture a few shots until the light failed me.

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A few of the locals had already gathered too see this wonderful spectacle. Various folk stopped to ask what we were looking at.

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The most we could count was 88. This is the most I’ve seen locally this year. Hopefully the numbers will build. Part of this group flew over towards the swimming pool. There was a Rowan tree with good numbers of berries on over there but it was being stoically defended by an aggressive Mistle Thrush who eventually saw them off!

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With geese flying around and an unexpected flying over Red-breasted Merganser, it was quite an interesting few minutes bird spotting.

The best bet for seeing Waxwings still seems to be the at the end of the path between Gallowhill road and Lathro Park near the 30mph sign.

Earlier in the week I saw one hapless Waxwing being chased by a Sparrowhark in Ochil view. I never saw what happened to this bird but I hope it got away!

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Wintry water

Loch Leven has certainly been showing off the best things about winter this week.

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This morning was no exception as the loch has finally frozen in some places, plus everything around the loch has a nice crisp coating of ice. The ducks now tend to huddle in the non-frozen areas of the loch, and if you’re lucky you’ll maybe be able to have good views of them.

I was at RSPB Loch Leven today having a look for the White-tailed Eagle that has been seen in recent days. It’s been using the trees on St Serf’s Isle but we don’t think it’s one of the usual visitors from previous years as they tend to sit in the trees on Castle Island and Reed Bower. If you see a huge, dark silhouette sitting in a tree, or see what looks like a barn door defying gravity then do let either us at SNH or RSPB know!

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Islands L>R: Alice’s Bower, Castle Island, Roy’s Folly, Reed Bower

Whilst around at the RSPB section of the loch I took some time to scan through the ducks that were resting on the shore of St Serf’s. If you know what you’re looking for then you might be able to spot a rarity, such as an American Wigeon or Green-winged Teal. I didn’t get quite so lucky but I did spot a Long-tailed Duck as it flew past, showing of it’s long tail. Unfortunately my pictures don’t do it any justice…

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Long-tailed Duck and some of 128 Cormorants

A friend of mine has been round there today and has spotted 3 Long-tailed Ducks and a Red-necked Grebe! Plus there were a couple of Red-throated Divers in the NW corner of the loch. This cold weather really does bring in the birds!

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Pochards and a Goldeneye on cold water

I’ve noticed some other birds that are becoming more obvious in the colder climes. A Dipper was sat singing on the River Leven as a Kingfisher flew upstream, Goldfinches, Redpolls and Siskins are feeding on Alder ‘cones’, and there are huge roving flocks of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests moving through the woods at the moment.

Wednesday, as per usual, was volunteers day. I took a wee group out to clean out some of the nestboxes around at Burleigh and Orwell which is why there was a group of people taking a ladder for a walk if anybody’s wondering!

It’s nice seeing the effort and appreciating the skill of the small birds that manage to build these warm, soft little homes for their eggs. Unfortunately, despite all the effort some birds won’t be successful in raising young, which is why we found a couple of nests with eggs still in them.

The majority of the nests we removed were probably Great Tits or Blue Tits.

We were also blessed with the presence of 2 Red Squirrels that morning. I was quite happy with the image this one gave me by sitting atop a Hawthorn bush eating the berries, giving a nice clear silhouette.

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And here are a couple of shots showing off the lovely warm, red colour of one of our cutest residents…

We also spent a bit of time filling in some of the potholes in the main car park so hopefully you don’t have to drive all over the place to avoid them!

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I’m planning on possibly climbing a nearby hill this weekend to A: see some snow, and B: get some nice views of the loch so I’ll post those next time. In the meantime I’ve had to make do with ground-level photography which hasn’t been too bad really…

 

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Guest Blog: Ostracods!

Today we’re going to look back at some slightly warmer days in August, when Dave Horne of the Queen Mary University of London paid the loch a visit. I’ll let him explain further…


I have been working through some samples I collected in Loch Leven in August, picking out specimens of ostracods, which are tiny crustaceans, typically around one millimetre long that live in all manner of aquatic habitats. Why am I doing this? The fossil remains of ostracods (their calcium carbonate shells) can tell us a great deal about past environments and climates. I use them to reconstruct the winter and summer temperatures experienced by early humans in the British Isles, focusing on archaeological sites spanning the past million years or so. To do this I need to calibrate the temperature ranges of living ostracod species by comparing their geographical distribution with a climate model in a GIS (Geographical Information System). One species of particular interest, Cytherissa lacustris, is widespread in the colder parts North America and Europe, and is often considered to be a cold climate indicator when found in fossil assemblages.

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Distribution of C. lacustris

Until recently I knew of only two British sites where it can be found living, one in northern England and one in NW Scotland. Then, on a visit to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne to study a large archive of ostracods collected by the 19th-Century naturalist George Brady, I came across a microscope slide containing ostracods collected from Loch Leven in June 1890, among which were several specimens of Cytherissa lacustris (on the slide they are listed, in Brady’s handwriting, as “Cytheridea lacustris” which is how it was known at that time); in some I could see appendages protruding from between their shells, a clear indication that they had been alive at the time of collection.

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slide from Discovery Museum in Newcastle

I was keen to find out whether the species still lives in Loch Leven, and after a few email exchanges I found myself on a boat on the loch in the company of three wardens, a shepherd and two sheepdogs, heading for St Serf’s Island on a gorgeous August day.

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Much sunnier weather than today!

While sheep were being rounded up I was able to wade around part of the island’s shoreline, netting ostracods among the submerged plants, sand and mud. A quick look at my samples with a hand lens confirmed that I had collected lots of ostracods – indeed there were some “large” (2mm!) green ones visible to the naked eye – but to find out if they included Cytherissa lacustris would require systematic work back in the laboratory at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Geography where I work.

The freshwater ostracods shown here (Cypris pubera & Herpetocypris reptans) were imaged in a microaquarium, but they are representative of what I found in my Loch Leven samples.

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Now I can report that the expedition was successful, as I have indeed found Cytherissa lacustris alive in Loch Leven – only one specimen so far, but that is sufficient to put a new dot on my distribution map, and I have plenty more material to sort through. Thank you Therese, Jeremy and Gus for making my fieldwork possible. I hope to make some high-magnification Scanning Electron Microscope images of the specimen later this week.


If you want to find out more about ostracods and Dave’s research then see here. So that’s another species we know we have here at Loch Leven NNR, another species that enjoys our clean, nutrient rich waters. Today the ostracods may not be enjoying our water so much as some of it has actually frozen.

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Frozen harbour

Anyway, I’ll post later on in the week with updates on wildlife sightings, what we’ve done throughout the week, and anything else that might be of interest to you!

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Midweek Update

I’m afraid today’s post is going to be short as I’m in the office quite late and it’s dark and I need to pick up some stuff from the shops on the way home!

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Super moon

 

We’ve been out today, the volunteers and I, repairing the hide at Burleigh. It’s currently out of action as the boardwalk still needs to be put back together and needs a lick of paint added but it was a good day of work, despite the rain, hail, wind, cold and mud!

Before the week started, I was out at Tentsmuir NNR having a wee look around and can confirm it is very much worth a visit. Seals, shorebirds, sand, sea… it’s not Loch Leven, but it is very nice so do pop out. It’s one of the closest reserves to us here in Kinross-shire.

Back to Loch Leven on Monday and everything feels very much like late autumn. Few leaves still on some trees but they really are just clinging on, there’s plenty of birds out on the loch, the weather’s been a bit dreich, and there was a Starling murmuration over the office! Check out Scotland’s National Nature Reserves on Facebook as I’ll put the video up there when I get home tonight. About 2700 birds all flying together in a bit flock right over the office! Nobody warned me that they all poo at once just before going to bed though…

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You will want to experience the murmuration, but perhaps not the synchronized pooing!

I was round at Levenmouth having a look at the hide and what need repaired around there and ended up playing about with the fancy settings on my camera that I’ve never used before. Here’s a wee selection of photos I took…

I think I’ll be using that “one colour” setting a little more in the future, it gives quit a nice effect. I’m afraid I only have time to post up a few other photos but I hope they are nice enough to make up for the lack of words in this post. I’ll post again on Friday with updates on Waxwing sightings and any other work and wildlife sightings from around the loch! Cheers for reading!

P.S. If walking around the path between Kirkgate and Burleigh, loom out for a poster I’ve put up pointing out a good spot for Red Squirrels!

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Winter rears it’s pretty head

We’re certainly feeling the colder weather that’s moved in, with our first proper, hard frost this morning and snow on the surrounding hills over the past couple of days. However, you can’t freeze all the action at the loch, even if it did reach -3 degrees C last night!

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Snow on the Ochils with a calm Loch Leven in the foreground

The volunteers were kept warm this week as some finished up baling in front of the Levenmouth Hide, and the rest pulled out a fence that will be replaced after some work has been done. The best part about fence removal is the satisfying job of rolling it all up!

The wildlife continues to act appropriately given it’s winter now. Waxwings are definitely still present. Jeremy found 30 in Springfield Park on the 10th Nov, and I spotted 5+ this morning sat atop a conifer at the end of Mavisbank. Always keep an eye on any Rowan trees! There are some I’ve seen that have plenty of berries still left on them so the Waxwings should stick around.

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Waxwing

 


***STOP PRESS*** I forgot to add the map of all the Waxwing sightings from the past week or so. I’ll keep this updated in future blog posts. To add to these sightings there were 10 or so in trees around Levenmouth the other day. They are very mobile, so you just have to be in the right place at the right time! The pink dots are where they’ve been seen…

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Other birds are showing nicely around the reserve as well. This Grey Heron tends to be sat in the Larch just down river of the sluice gates and if you get there at the right time then the light is perfect for photography. Plus, everyone loves herons…

The light has actually been pretty spectacular over recent days, here’s a wee compilation of images from around the loch…

Lastly, I was out this morning surveying a fence to see what needs repaired and found myself looking at trees. The area I was in was dominated by White Willow, with some of them still clinging on to their last leaves. Willows are one of the most difficult groups of trees to learn to identify and we have several species on the reserve! Next year I’ll try to put together a little blog post on the trees we have at Loch Leven as there are plenty!

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A particularly large White Willow

 

Anyway, in other tree news, the Oaks appear to have won the “who-can-hold-on-to-their-leaves-the-longest competition” as they still have some leaves that are yet to change colour! The Sessile Oaks around Levenmouth are some of the biggest on the reserve so I’d recommend a wee wander down there at this time of year.

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Sessile Oaks at Levenmouth

If you look at the trees enough, you might see things in them! The Red Squirrels and Jays are currently hoarding the acorns from these oaks, and small birds such as tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers are roving through in small flocks in search of insects to build up their layer of fat to keep them going through the winter. Buzzards and Sparrowhawks occasionally upset all the other birds, and I spotted a Stoat running along the path at Carsehall, which then set off a Water Rail that was somewhere in the reedbed.

Basically, get out there and see some wildlife as it prepares for the coming winter. Who knows, the papers might be right about it being the worst in however many years!

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Seed pod of Yellow-flag Iris

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Pintail off the beach at Findatie

 

 

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Seeing Red and Yellow

Well, we had our first wee frost yesterday with puddles frozen along the path through Kirkgate Park. This was clearly taken as a warning by the local squirrels as I saw plenty of them whilst taking the cutter around to Mary’s Knowe in the morning.

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This is definitely the best time of year to be seeing the Red Squirrels on the reserve as they feed up on berries, beech mast, pine seeds and horse chestnuts, whilst cashing even more for the winter ahead. I managed to see 3 Red Squirrels (2 Kinross House grounds, 1 Kirkgate Cemetery) plus a couple of Greys were making a racket as well.

I’ve made a very quick, rough map to show where you stand a good chance of seeing Red Squirrels, just listen for things crashing about in the branches above you. You might be lucky enough to see them leap between trees.

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The reason I was running the cutter round to Mary’s Knowe was that we were continuing with the cutting and baling of the area. However we were doing this with a group of students from SRUC Elmwood Campus as opposed to our usual volunteers. I’m pretty sure they learned plenty about the management of the reserve and the things that we need to deal with throughout the year.

All in all it was a successful day of manual labour, and produced 34 bales to add to the pile that our regular volunteers had made previously.

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And finally, you’re probably wondering why I mentioned the colour yellow in the title. Well, Jeremy and I were fortunate enough to stumble upon some Scandinavian visitors to Kinross. That’s right, we found more Waxwings! They posed very nicely for us on the path between Gallowhill Road and Lathro Park after having had their fill of Rowan berries, which was probably why they were particularly tame as well.

If you want to know more about these birds and where to see them in Kinross then check out Jeremy’s previous post. There were also about 10 of them around at Levenmouth so keep an eye out for them! There’s plenty of Rowan trees around Vane Farm as well so I’d check those if you want a chance of seeing these pretty wee birds.

And the geese, well what can I say other than there’s still loads of them. Around about 8000 landed in front of Jeremy and I this afternoon as the sun was setting!

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Waxwings are here!

Waxwings a bird from north and eastern europe. Birds are seen in varying numbers from year to year. Last winter hardly any were recorded locally. This year looks to be a bumper year for the species. The last big Waxwing winter was in 2012/13.

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A waxwing is Starling size, pastel reddish buff colour with a shaggy crest, yellow-tipped tail and black eye mask and chin. They get their name waxwing from the red waxy nodules on their wing weathers. their song is a pleasant high-pitched tinkling bell sound.

Your best chance of seeing these spectacular birds in Kinross and Milnathort  is keeping an eye on your local rowan trees. The trees have had a good crop of berries locally but other birds like Blackbirds, Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings have all been gorging on the berries after long migration flights from the continent.

There are good number of trees with berries on in Kinross with birds already reported from Sutherland Drive, Lathro Park, Ochil View and Bowton Road from last Thursday onwards. The highest count so far has been 70 from Sutherland Drive.

Keep an eye out on the blog. We’ll keep you posted where the best place to see them is.

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This is the only image I’ve been able to capture this year in tricky windy conditions today. Hopefully there will be many other chances as the winter season progresses.

 

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Can ewe guess who?

Just to really mess with my internal clock, on top of the fact the clocks have gone back I was also at work yesterday so today feels like Tuesday (but it’s Monday)! Nevertheless, it was a nice day to be out on St Serf’s Isle working with some very, very helpful volunteers.

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Grassland on St Serf’s Isle

 

These volunteers have been working tirelessly since the spring, out on St Serf’s Isle every day since they were taken out there on the boat. They’ve worked on the grassland habitat on the island by keeping down any trees that try to take over the grass. This benefits the breeding birds that are out there, such as ducks, throughout spring and summer as their nest sites remain in place so they can continue to breed on the islands.

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We also worked with a couple of farmers who brought a couple of their dogs along to help with the whole process of taking our 117 volunteers off the island. We did this using the boat, and if you haven’t guessed who our volunteers are yet then I’ll explain.

These volunteers have been very helpful as they do the job of managing the grasslands far quicker than we would by grazing the grass down, there’s a flock of 117 of them, and those are sheepdogs.

Yes, it’s come to the time of year when we take the sheep off St Serf’s Isle!

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Scottish Blackface Sheep

The process is quite simple:

  1. Get the tractor and trailer ready on the beach at Findatie, and then take the boat across to St Serf’s to set up the pen and herd the sheep.

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2. Get the first load of 14 or 15 sheep on the boat…

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3. Take them back across to Findatie

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4. Get them in the top deck of the trailer (2 boat loads of sheep in the top, 2 loads in the bottom)

 

5. Get back to the island to get another load on!

In total it took 8 boat trips and 2 tractor trips to get all the sheep to where they needed to be. The process was quite easy really, it just took a bit of time and occasionally the sheep were a tad stubborn.

Being by the water for the whole day, I saw some fishy things. Firstly, the head of a Pike that had clearly been predated by something. This allowed me to see for the first time just how pointy their teeth are, and I can confirm, they are very pointy!

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Also, a huge Brown Trout was lurking in the shallows at the beach at Findatie. It’s getting to the time of year when you are likely to see dead fish washed up on the shores of the loch. This is because the fish have finished spawning, and when they spawn their immune system goes down quite a lot allowing diseases and infections to take hold. It’s completely natural so there’s nothing to worry about! I did feel sorry for this trout though.

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Roughly 60-70cm long, although there are bigger fish about

In other wildlife sightings news, there were a lot of Golden Plovers around the loch over the weekend with around 120 on the spit by St Serf’s. Jeremy also found a Long-tailed Duck hanging out between Vane Farm and St Serf’s Isle. These are usually sea ducks so it’s a good record for the loch!

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Otherwise, it’s another week of life at Loch Leven for me to look forwards to!

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