World Wetlands Day 2023

Happy World Wetlands Day everyone! Today (2nd February) is World Wetlands Day, a day dedicated to promoting, appreciating and loving our wetlands. If Loch Leven had it’s own special day of celebration then today would be it!

What a place!

Many organisations around the world, NatureScot included, have been crucial to support, promote, create and sustain our wetlands. Here in Scotland, there are many different places that class as wetland sites including bogs, marshes, swamps, fens, springs and flushes, and wet heaths. If you want to go out and visit a wetland this Wetlands Day, you may chose to visit any number of sites and NNR’s in Scotland, but why not make Loch Leven NNR your chosen destination? Loch Leven NNR is one of Scotland’s (and dare I say, the worlds) most important wetlands, for many reasons including the ample habitat it provides for thousands of wintering and breeding birds.

Geese over Loch Leven skies

Before I dive in to why Loch Leven specifically is a wetland we should all appreciate, today is also a day to appreciate all of our worlds wetlands, no matter how big or far away they may be. Wetlands are important for many reasons – they are some of the most biodiverse places on earth with about 40% of plants and animals depending on these habitats! From birds to butterflies, plants to amphibians, these are incredibly important places to protect if we want to see a wide range of species in the future! As well as this, wetlands are also crucial to manage water levels and prevent floods, store water, filter out pollutants, and store carbon.

Loch Leven NNR is an extremely important wetland site and it has many designations that make it special and give it protection. Firstly, it is a RAMSAR site which designates it as an internationally important wetland. RAMSAR sites are named after the very first wetland convention in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 in which 2331 wetland sites across the world were given special protection of which Loch Leven NNR was one of them – this adds up to about 810,000 square miles of protected wetland! Loch Leven NNR is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) due to it’s importance as a site for wildfowl so this really is an important place!

At peak (around October) Loch Leven NNR can have around 80,000 birds on the loch such as Tufted Duck, Pochard, Coot, Teal, Wigeon and many many more! Migratory species join our large numbers of residents as Loch Leven is an important migration station for birds all over Europe – it’s the perfect stopping off site for birds travelling north or south. As well as migrating birds, our breeding birds are just as important. Loch Leven is the most productive freshwater body in western Europe (it has the highest number of breeding ducks) so it’s important year round!

A snapshot into the wildfowl at Loch Leven

It’s not just Loch Leven’s birds that make it so special – wetlands like Loch Leven are also incredibly important for specialist plants such as Lesser-butterfly Orchid and Grass of Parnassus, and insects such as dragonflies, damselflies, bees, butterflies and more!

Loch Leven is of course a wetland in itself, but the NNR as a whole also encompasses other wetland sites. Wetlands can come in all shapes and sizes, bog sites such as Carsehall Bog on the East side of the loch, and ‘hydromorphological mires’ (say that 3 times fast!) such as Findatie flush are all important wetlands in their own right.

Common spotted x Northern marsh orchid on Carsehall

Unfortunately, despite their importance for biodiversity, as carbon sinks, to alleviate climate change pressures and much more, they are in trouble! 35% of our wetlands have disappeared since 1970, and wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests – that’s quite scary! Development, pollution, climate change and more are all contributing factors to their decline. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to protect our existing wetlands and safeguard them for the future, as well as restoring and expanding our wetlands to protect this crucial habitat!

So today, and as long as we can, we will be supporting, promoting and enjoying our wetlands, across the world and right here at Loch Leven NNR!

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Dodging the Frost

It’s been another hard-working week for the team. The weather has teetered all week with some days feeling really quite warm in the blue sky (up to 9 degrees!) but others approaching freezing. This morning my car gave a reading of -2 so we’re definitely not out of the woods yet! Coupled with this has been a period of quite benign wind and there has been some excellent reflection in the water.

Most of our time has been spent over at Tentsmuir NNR helping out with some more post-Storm Arwen tree clearance. Although sweat-inducing and a bit back-breaking at times, it is extremely rewarding! We have been turning what we can into chip to be used around their reserve, with the rest being piled up and dealt with later. Windblown trees always present a bit of a hazard and have to be dealt with cautiously. Before cross-cutting, trees have to be ‘snedded’ (de-branched) and these moved away so as to not present a trip hazard.

There was some interesting finds like these newts hidden way beneath a buried stump. Muir of Dinnet’s recent blog highlights the state we found them in, known as brumation (similar to hibernation but more akin to metabolic changes rather than a long, deep sleep). They were quickly returned to somewhere safe. They are probably palmate newts (Lissotriton helveticus) going off their size, but we didn’t check at the time!

The volunteers were busy with Jeremy this week making up bird boxes with the hopes that we would get some tree sparrows nesting in them one day. Tree sparrows are a bird that can be seen relatively frequently around the reserve, preferring Cavelstone to the south-west and the Larder to the north. I have only seen one so far, at the Kirkgate Cemetery. The can be identified by looking almost identical to a house sparrow but with an all-brown head rather than it’s grey patch.

We had a quiet WeBS day last week but the conditions provided ample compensation. The highlight was seven red-breasted merganser very far out in the middle of the loch. Julie and I were also treated to a brief spot of the male Hen Harrier again on the Sunday.

The ice has also left some odd artwork for us – for the first (and almost certainly the last) time, I walked on some ice directly above a vole as it scurried between the tussocks during a shoreline AI check.

I will leave you with a couple of photos from a sunrise the other day – what a brilliant view to have 20 seconds from the office. Let’s hope this settled weather can continue!

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Work hard, bird hard

It’s been a busy week at Loch Leven NNR, with various groups and outings, but there’s always time to take in the wonderful winter wildlife and scenery. The sunsets and sunrises have been especially stunning.

Red sky at night, shepherds delight

And from red sky to red squirrels, this individual was posing very nicely for me last week, giving a sort of ‘quintessential Loch Leven’ style picture – a red squirrel foreground with a Lochleven castle background.

This Monday, we had a group of NC Wildlife and Conservation Management students from SRUC Elmwood out on Carsehall for some gorse management. Cutting and burning gorse on this part of the reserve keeps this boggy habitat in good condition for the wildlife that live and breed here. It was a lovely day out in the crisp winter sun, and I hope the students had an equally good time amongst the fresh air and nature – a perfect thing to do on ‘Blue Monday’ (apparently the most depressing day of the year).

In true Loch Leven fashion, our hard work was also rewarded by some great wildlife. The birdlife was especially active that day, such as this gorgeous Kingfisher. The flash of blue on this iconic bird gave us new meaning to ‘Blue Monday’!

Kingfisher posing perfectly – aren’t they the most special birds?

In other news, the recent agenda at Loch Leven has included lots of tree planting, including filling the canopy at Orwell with some fresh new Scots Pine saplings. A very rewarding bit of work!

The Loch Leven team hard at work!

On Wednesday, we went out to Portmoak Moss with our volunteers and staff to help the Portmoak Community Woodland Group with some removal of birch and conifers from the moss. It was amazing to see not only the change from last years trip out there to this years, but also the change throughout the day. It was icy cold but beautiful!

But back to Loch Leven and it’s wildlife, it’s starting to get into Short-eared Owl season on the reserve! If you’re lucky you may spot one quartering about hunting for voles in the late afternoon/evening.

It’s not just the particularly ‘special’ species on the reserve that have caught my eye this week. The winter sun has made common birds such as Goldeneye look amazing recently. Notice how the sun glistens against the bottle green heads of the drakes – proof that you don’t have to go far or look particularly hard to spot gorgeous birds on the reserve!

Water levels have been very high on the reserve lately, and now temperatures have dropped again some of this has frozen over. Here’s a picture of the water level before the frost though – the pier outside our office was almost completely submerged!

Where’s our pier gone?!

And talking of the pier outside our office, this has been great to spot the increase in gull numbers around here, such as Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls.

And it can be worth having a wee scan around these flocks too, because I happened to spot a Black-headed Gull with a ring on its leg this week. Turns out its J7PO, and anyone who is a regular blog reader may recognise that bird as our semi-regular visitor from Norway that has come back and forth from Norway to Loch Leven over the last 10 years! For more information on this bird check out Simon’s blog from 2021 here.

J7PO – our Norwegian visitor!

To finish off, I of course must include some non-bird related wildlife from the reserve!

And finally, the last few photos of birds spotted on the reserve this week! It really is a great time to be at Loch Leven!

Redpoll
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Happy New Year! 2023 off to a ‘flying’ start.

It’s the first blog of the year, so I better wish everyone a Happy New Year! We are now officially on the count down to Spring, this was evident through Shelduck making an appearance on the Loch.

Shelduck on the loch, a sure sign of Spring.

Shelduck are an interesting species, there are only 6 Shelduck species in the world. Our Shelduck, aptly named ‘Common Shelduck’ nest in burrows underground, often using Rabbit burrows. The Male and Female have identical plumages as there is no need for the female to camouflage like other wildfowl species that nest on the ground. They are quite a large bird and can be easily identified by their white plumage, with brown and black stripes, red bill and black head. Keep an eye out for them while travelling around the loch, as spring progresses they can also be heard whistling as they fly over in pairs or small groups.

I was lucky enough to come across this male Hen Harrier on the Reserve, one of the finest birds of prey in the world (bold claim, I know). Hen Harrier move to the coast and wetlands in Winter from their breeding grounds in the hills. Sadly, Hen Harrier have been in decline in the UK for a long time due to a number of factors, most namely illegal persecution, so it was fantastic to see this Male at Loch Leven. Every Winter we usually get a Hen Harrier, most of the time they are females, known as ringtails. Males are a bit rarer here, and they are always a pleasure to see!

Record shots of the Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier

I was also lucky enough to bump into a Twite on the Reserve! This unassuming finch is a rare visitor to Loch Leven with the last record occurring in 2018.

Twite breed in the hills and moors of the west coast and Hebrides. They are a very interesting bird and some of the population undertake a east-west Scottish migration. Birds from as far west as Vatersay are known to winter in Angus and Aberdeenshire. In Winter they are mostly found in coastal arable areas, so I was quite surprised to see one feeding on the path at Levenmouth! This bird was a female as it lacked the pink rumps of the Male. A subtle, but beautiful bird!

A Kestrel has been frequenting Kirkgate Park over the holiday period. Look out for this beautiful Male (identified as a male from their ashy grey head) hovering over the scrubby grasslands of Kirkgate looking for voles and mice. They are truly stunning birds!

Male Kestrel

Plenty of bird action and highlights to start 2023, long may it last! Winter birding can help beat those winter blues, given that it was blue Monday this week (known as the most depressing day of the year) – a bit of birdwatching can do wonders for our mental health! Observing common species such as the Kestrel or watching a group of displaying ducks off Kirkgate/Burleigh is very soothing and I recommend everyone to try it! You don’t have to be an expert and you don’t even need a pair of binoculars, just go out and enjoy the wonders of nature!

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A White Christmas?

I think it’s safe to say the weather over the last couple of weeks has been a major topic of conversation recently, and we are definitely in the depths of winter now, even with the increase in temperatures this week.

Last week we had a full week of temperatures below freezing, causing almost the entire reserve and loch to freeze over and look very beautiful (as shown by Simons blog last week). I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos myself of the frozen stillness of the loch.

Groups of wildfowl were seen in the little pools of the loch that remained unfrozen, specifically around Green Isle at Burleigh and the sluice at Findatie as shown here.

However, some of the birdlife of the loch decided to stick it out and battle the elements, balancing on the ice or trying to break it up themselves, such as these Mute swans and Coot.

But bringing it back to the title of this blog, last weeks icy landscape briefly changed to a snowscape, with a massive downfall of snow hitting the reserve at the weekend. This gives a new kind of beauty to the reserve, as shown by Ian’s photos below. However, as I’m writing this we have had another change as the snow has all gone now, but I’m still hopeful for a White Christmas – as improbable as that may be now!

Winter is a great time for birdwatching, and I’ve been loving how the peaceful stillness of the reserve in the winter means that you can get up close and personal with a selection of birds. The one that stands out to most people would of course be the Robin, a staple of the Christmas season and a bird that is not afraid of people!

Other birds have been coming out to say hi as well though – here’s a selection below. Long tailed tits, Treecreepers, Goldcrest and Fieldfare have all been relatively easy to spot and photograph.

A highlight for me was seeing Stonechat on the reserve, perfectly positioned on a fence post next to the path – they are such pretty birds!

We’ve even had some odd encounters such as this Cormorant at the top of a tree hanging out with a Carrion Crow – quite weird!

And there’s still some colour to be picked out in the fungi world too, such as this Golden Jelly fungus or ‘Witch’s Butter’ at Findatie.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a winter Loch Leven blog without a mention of the geese, and they were still looking and sounding great amongst the ice and snow. Here’s a large group of Greylag Geese looking lovely against a snowy background.

In other reserve news, last week the sheep came off of St Serfs for the winter. Here’s them looking very happy feeding on St Serfs – one for all our sheep fans!

If you want to see more footage of the sheep, check out the video below!

And last but by no means least, last Monday we had our Wreath Making Workshop – we were all amazed by the quality of wreaths produced and we hope everyone had a great time!

I don’t know if it’s the cold crispness of winter, the snow, the wintery wildlife scenes or our Christmas events, but it’s feeling very festive here for our last week here before Christmas! And now as we finish off our last few tasks for the year, I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year from all of us in the Loch Leven Team! See you in 2023!

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Cold Snaps!

It’s been a cold week at Loch Leven NNR. We have seen temperatures dip to -8c at night and not get any warmer than -1c during the day! This has provided a lovely winter-scape to the Reserve. Here are a few photos of the currently cold snap!

Frozen Loch Leven with an icy Bishop hill behind

The Loch froze over 75% on Monday night, the wildfowl all congregate in pools. Makes you appreciate the numbers when they are all tightly packed!

Frozen Sunrise
Congregation of Coot, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Mute Swan and so on!
Feeding Frenzies
A wintery view!

The Ice can create some cool arty shots if you look closely, check out the ice markings on Burleigh Beach.

Frozen Hogweed Heads
Winter light through the trees
Flyover Whooper Swans – could hear them a mile off!
A hard frost
Whoopers on the Ice
Frozen Loch Leven and the Castle
Swan on the Skitey Loch!

As we are approaching Christmas, it would be rude not to share a photo of a Robin. Plenty of them around the trail feeding and defending winter territories.

Here lies a dormant nest, iced up and un-occupied. Although, this will be in full use in 4 months time…..something to keep the warm weather lovers going through this cold snap!

A nest, potentially bullfinch or Goldfinch – not entirely sure!

Isn’t it just a lovely time of year! Make sure you get out and about and enjoy this polar weather event as it looks like it might become a bit more mild next week!

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All ‘Go’ in the Festive Season

We finally got some settled conditions here in Kinross-shire, but it didn’t last long with the first dumping of snow yesterday morning – I wonder if this is a one-off event, or whether we’re destined for a snowy Christmas! Actual night temperatures have been down to about -4°C, but that’s not put a stop to the tasks at hand! The team have been super busy with meetings, liaisons, school and nursery groups, helping out our colleagues at other reserves and practical work.

On Monday we took an afternoon visit to St. Serf’s for an AI survey. After collecting our data, we were treated to a brambling – my first ever – in one of the willows amongst a group of chaffinch as well as nice rafts of duck with teal, wigeon and pintail on top form.

Tuesday saw us do a goose count and WeBS count in one fell swoop. On arrival at Kirkgate cemetery I spotted a barn owl hunting on Kirkgate Point and luckily it stayed around for Julie and Jeremy to grab sight of too. This is the first wild one I’ve definitively seen in Scotland and only my second ever – the last was in 2013 in Cornwall! Julie managed to grab a blurry photo of it, which, given the light, is an achievement in and of itself.

The past 2 WeBS counts have also turned up 3 slavonian grebes at the Burleigh side. These winter visitors can be tricky to differentiate from a great-crested grebe or little grebe if seen from a distance or without a scope or pair of binoculars. Closer inspection reveals that their black head crown extends to just below the eye, which I find to be the easiest identifier. We have been lucky to have very good views of them, with blue winter skies casting good light onto them. On the left, a great-crested; on the right, a slavonian.

There’s still some relic botany to be seen, with the last vestiges of red and white campion, red and white dead-nettle and even some bush vetch hanging on into mid-December. Some fungi are also still present like sulphur tuft and candlesnuff clinging onto this stump at Findatie, and some bulbous individuals on St. Serf’s which I have not yet attempted to ID.

This Wednesday saw the volunteers out off-site at Methven Moss to help clear non-native conifers from the bog habitat. This is to prevent the habitat drying up via the tree roots and ensuring it can attain a good ground condition. Some new faces were to be seen and a few free Christmas trees were definitely nabbed! Here’s volunteer Susan’s photo below. Quite scenic working if I do say so myself!

Simon really hasn’t told me fibs – winter is an incredible time of year at Loch Leven! Do yourself the favour and come for a visit!

We still have spaces on our seasonal events this Sunday and Monday should you be looking:

Family Christmas Craft: (11th, 1-3pm) The Pier, Kinross, KY13 8UF

Wreath-making: (12th, 6-8pm) The Pier, Kinross, KY13 8UF

Give us an e-mail at: LochLeven_NNR@nature.scot and we will book you in!

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Winter is in the air!

It has been a week of brisk winds, and rain. The temperature has been dropping and we had a bit of ice overnight on a couple of occasions. The Sunset and Sunrise can be spectacular, and you don’t need to get up early or stay up late to see them at their best!

Stunning Sunrise
Water level has risen with the rain
Sunset 7 hours later than the sunrise!

With the trees being bare, you can now get a proper look at the birds moving around without them being obscured by foliage. This time of year is a great time to spot Bullfinch, Siskin, Chaffinch, Redpoll and occasionally Brambling while out and about around the trail.

Winter is a fantastic time on the Loch, ducks are looking their best as they moult and prepare for the breeding season ahead. One duck that graces its presence at Loch Leven annually is the Smew. The drakes are probably the best looking duck in the world! Smew arrive here from Scandinavia and Russia and winters in the UK. Around 150-200 birds winter in the UK, and Loch Leven is a Scottish hot spot. The drakes are stunning, are we are lucky to have one here albeit in moult. The photo doesn’t do it justice! It was seen right in the bay at Burleigh beach, very close in on a stormy day.

Moulting Adult Drake Smew! (c) Julie McDonald

We were out with the volunteers on Wednesday, braving the rain and wind. We have been planting Scots Pine to further enhance the woodland understory and increase biodiversity. The Scots Pine around the Loch is all mature and the Reserve will definitely benefit with a new suite of Pines for the next 150 years! Planting trees for the future!

Planting Scots Pine in the rain

A stunning male Kestrel has been hunting around Kirkgate, we know it is a male from its ashy grey head. It can be seen hovering over Kirkgate point looking for voles.

Male Kestrel (c) Julie McDonald

The winter wildfowl is putting on a good show at the moment, the Pink-footed Geese are coming into roost at dusk. The Whooper Swan families are at Burleigh providing a winter soundscape with their whooping calls.

Geese coming into roost at Loch Leven NNR (c) Julie McDonald
Whooper Swans at Burleigh (c) Julie McDonald

It certainly feels like Winter out there! A great time to be out and about around Loch Leven NNR and appreciate all of the winter wildlife that is all around us at the moment!

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So Long, Loch Leven!

I’ll keep it short and simple – I’m leaving, and today is my last day. It’s all happening sooner than I’d like (isn’t that always the way?) but with contract endings in sight it was time to start thinking about the next step. I’m not going far – I’ll still be working for NatureScot and, quite fittingly I think, I’ll be joining another ex-member of the Loch Leven team (Louise!) to carry out all sorts of new and exciting work.

A spectacular double rainbow across the loch – the same day we had our Pallid swift sighting!

It’s been an action-packed final week, starting with a WeBS on Monday. It was nice to get a final cycle in round the loch and conditions were perfect – the flat calm waters and overcast skies created an illusion of the loch stretching out to the horizon. Despite the mild conditions birds are definitely moving elsewhere and numbers are down from our October counts, but there’s still plenty to see! Our coot 1550 and tufty numbers are sitting strong with counts of approximately 1550 and 1600 respectively. Pochard are still a common sight around the loch at 330, and we’re even seeing male goldeneye showing off with some post-moult displays. We’ve got about 40 pintail, along with 340 mute swans which greatly outnumber the hundred or so whoopers that are left. If you’re very lucky, you might also spot one of six Slavonian grebes that are wintering here – most are well into their winter plumage, but a couple still have traces of their summer colours remaining. We had a drake smew very close in at Burleigh beach yesterday too!

Crystal clear waters at Burleigh Sands on Monday

On Wednesday we headed out with the volunteers for some tree planting, creating a hedge along the woodland edge at Burleigh which will increase diversity and improve the understory. A lovely and fullfilling task on a bright and sunny day, I will miss our Wednesday sessions very much (and not just for the biscuits and cake!). The humour and desire for a job well done from our volunteers always had me looking forward to whichever task we had planned. And in the summer, our Monday and Friday insect volunteers too – their knowledge and passion for our plants and pollinators made the insect surveys one of my favourite things to do.

And this morning we rose early to meet the dawn and the geese. I wish I could say it was a spectacular sunrise that left me with some profound feeling of contentment. That I gazed, on my final day, across this space that had come to feel like home and felt truly blessed. But in true Scottish fashion the reality was that it was absolutely pishin’ it doon, and all I could focus on (besides counting) was how cold my hands were and how soon we could retreat for a breakfast Bayne’s! About 3500 pinkies too, so worth it!

This final week really sums up everything I love about reserve work. The variety, the time spent outdoors, the wildlife, and, of course, the people. I am excited for what is to come, but it is in no way easy to say goodbye. The year and a half I have spent working here has been absolutely packed full of learning experiences and oppertunities. I’ve also had the chance to go on adventures beyond the reserve, to equally incredible places where I have met so many interesting, inspiring and knowledgeable people. I have gained so much from different staff across our NNRs, and will particularly miss my fellow placements and apprentices dotted across the country, with whom I’ve made some great memories.

The saddest part of course, is saying goodbye to my team. I have learned so much under the guidance (and patience!) of Simon, Neil and most recently Jeremy, and had a blast working alongside Ian and Julie during the summer. It will be very strange not working with them all every day, but I know the reserve is in safe hands and look forward to keeping up with everything they get up to. And since I still get to have Loch Leven on my doorstep, while it’ll be the last time you’re all hearing from me, I’m sure they won’t really be rid of me quite so easily!

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Seasoned and Left to Cool

As was alluded to last week, it’s hard to prevent yourself from some seasonal reflection at this time of the year. The end of this spring was certainly not as cold as 2021 but as has been mooted by staff, volunteers and the public alike, it has been much windier all year. As I write to you now the sky has a dark, cruel appearance, the whole country is enduring persistent wind speeds of at least 50mph and we have already seen an old willow at Kirkgate block the path. We are always greatly indebted to the Kinross community and Loch Leven visitors who are able to be our eyes and ears in these conditions, often managing to spot things a few hours earlier than we otherwise might be able on our post-gale reserve checks.

Willow is just about the fastest-growing native tree species we have and as a result does not have the strongest root system, often being the first casualties in high wind. Bethia and Julie were on hand to get it safely chopped up and the path cleared again.

Despite the title, we are also seeing very unseasonably warm weather on the reserve at the moment. It has been 16°C for most of today, which, juxtaposed with the very high winds, has left me feeling utterly befuddled. This may seem like a good thing but it can wreak havoc on the body clocks of our native species which can result in things like premature flowering or breeding. With COP27 underway at the minute, it is certainly something to think about.

Peculiar weather aside, this has not put a stop to the wildlife and some great spots are still being had:

  • I saw my first winter shoveler at Findatie a wee while ago, instantly recognisable by its monstrous spatula of a bill, even visible through my “terrific” mobile phone photograph. These birds are not common breeders in Scotland, preferring eastern Europe, and for winter move south, but we still pick up some of them.
  • It is also a brilliant time to spot red squirrels as they cache the last of their nuts for the year before settling down a bit more often; generally snoozing and only waking in order to find said cache and keep full. I saw my first Factor’s Pier red squirrel last weekend, rummaging amongst beech leaf litter.
  • Many of our whooper swans are still here and it has been nice to see their family groups on the west shores of the loch.
  • We are still having success with the moth trap, with Jeremy catching multiple December moths (Poecilocampa populi) this week. This a conspicuous moth which flies at night during the winter months and is common in lowland Scotland.
  • Most fungi have now died off but some lovely specimens still remain. A particular favourite of mine recently is the wood blewit (Clitocybe nuda), spotted at Kinross House and Burleigh. It has a lovely mauve hue.

The main task on the reserve for the past 3 weeks has been the mowing, piling and tipping of grass over at the south-westerly side of the loch between Cavelstone and the Gairney Water at our native plantation – a distance of 1,100m. When combined with rank vegetation on each side of the path measuring 2-3m wide, this quickly becomes quite a herculean job. I must thank passing trail users who have commended us on our efforts. I’m pleased to report we are now finishing up and hope to reap the rewards come springtime. We are doing this to prevent the nutrients from the grass returning to the soil, which gives wildflowers a better chance to seed and flower, ultimately benefitting pollinators of all kinds and add some intrigue to a more repetitive stretch of trail.

A small stretch of the whole section

Now that it’s November, our local access guidance numbers have been tallied up by Julie. Reserve busy-ness didn’t feel like it had significantly changed however after crunching the numbers it seems it has indeed been much busier. Numbers of water-borne access users increased quite dramatically and camping use nearly tripled. This is not an issue by itself, and of course, we love to see people accessing the reserve appropriately, with many in full knowledge that it is a bastion for biodiversity, but it does become an issue when the majority of observed paddleboarders, canoeists, kayakers and campers are not compliant with local or national guidance. This poses a big threat to the wellbeing of the loch’s inhabitants, both aquatic and terrestrial. We must always remember to adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code at all times and keep in mind that national nature reserves are here to represent the absolute very best of Scotland’s natural assets, which can be highly sensitive to all manners of disturbance.

I decided at the start of the season to initiate a binbag tally to see what kind of volume we could expect to pick up. As we cleaned up November-March’s litter in April, as well as historic litter laid bare before the spring vegetation obscured them, our tally was substantial. I alone picked up the equivalent of 14 full binbags. Fortunately this immediately dropped down and hovered around an average of 4pcm (1 per week) for the rest of the season. In total, from April-October, I picked up the equivalent of 37.5 and Julie reckons she picked up approximately 13 but we both missed counting a few, making us at approximately 55 full binbags over an 8 month period, or the equivalent of nearly 7pcm. This also doesn’t include very large abandoned waste like full tents or deflated water craft, which were surprisingly common this season. My guess is that we will have much less to pick up in the future because of the litter-picks we did at the beginning of the season as it constituted a large ‘backlog’. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is only litter on or a few metres off the trail; much more still lurks out there. Still, it is good to know that this will all be waste that is no longer affecting, or never had the chance to affect, the reserve.

I am really looking forward to the coming months and experiencing what Loch Leven is like during the magical winter period. Already I find myself absolutely enthralled. We are hosting mainly weekend events from November-March so do keep an eye out on our social media for what’s in store! This Sunday we are hosting our Pink Sunset from 3-5pm at Kirkgate Cemetery – do come along and see if we can spot the Pinkies return from their feeding grounds to settle down for the night.

Have a great week and I hope the winds don’t keep you up!

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