Hedge laying!

As promised on the Scotland’s NNRs Facebook page, here’s the blog post you’ve been waiting for! Before getting into the main subject though, here’s what’s about the loch at the moment…

With the ever so slightly changeable weather (understatement), the wildlife around the loch appears to be a little bit in doubt as to whether it should be looking forwards to spring or expecting another dump of snow.

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Curlew enjoying sunlit stubble by the Heritage Trail

I’ve been out and about the loch this week and saw plenty of signs of spring: birds such as Blue Tits have paired up and are now prospecting for nest sites, the flowers on the Goat Willows are just about to burst into flower, and the sun was shining! It’s also nice to be able to hear the signs of spring, with lots of songbirds beginning to warm up their pipes for the season ahead.

And then Thursday arrived… And what made it worse was that the snow wasn’t even nice snow, it was that sort of wet snow that just soaks everything. Mind you, it did make everything look nice so who am I to complain. I didn’t actually take many pictures on Thursday because it was that wet that I couldn’t use my camera.

However, I did get my phone out so I could film Neil felling a tree in Burleigh car park. This is done because some of the trees are potentially hazardous so we remove them in a controlled manner as opposed to letting nature do it unexpectedly.

As you can see, it was very snowy and slushy. It was also quite cold…

Some of you may have realized that I said on Facebook that the blog would show you the progress we made on the hedge laying on Thursday. Well, we made none. The weather was too treacherous to ask Torquil, the hedge laying instructor, and all of our volunteers to make the journey to Loch Leven, so we felled a few trees instead.

But, on Wednesday we made a good start helped by the fact the sun was shining!

The hedge we laid was around by Mary’s Gate and runs between the Heritage Trail and a field, marked here on the map. I’ll take you through the process…

  1. Cut back any branches that may get in the way of the plant lying on it’s side. All of the plants will be laid on the same side. Also cut back any branches that get in the way of reaching the bottom of the stem.
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The gang trimming back branches

2. Using a billhook or a small axe, cut at a steep angle into the side of the stem on the opposite side to the side that is going to be laid on the ground. We don’t cut all the way through the stem though, it’s just split down the middle. New growth will come from the exposed wood and the rest of the plant will continue to use the roots it’s still connected to.

3. Whilst laying the plants, we weaved the branches into each other to help hold the hedge together and to make it look neater. We were also putting stakes into the ground at regular intervals to help with the weaving. Once the whole section of hedge had been laid down, we moved on to the next step…

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Laid hedge with upright stakes

4. To finish off, the hedge needs binding. For this we used Hazel and we weaved long, straight branches of hazel between the upright stakes, along the top of the plants that we had laid. Once we’d bound the whole section of the hedge Torquil used his chainsaw to chop the tops off the stakes and that was us done!

And here is the end product, a very neat but very functional hedge that will help to increase biodiversity by providing a home for all sorts of wildlife. But, you’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out how that happens because this post is getting a little bit long!

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A well laid hedge

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Here, there, everywhere

Hello! Apologies for the lack of posts on the Loch Leven blog, fortunately Jeremy did one whilst I was away. “Where have you been?” I hear you ask, so I’ll tell you…

On Sunday the 5th I headed up north on my way to Creag Meagaidh NNR, which was covered in a brilliant guest blog post by Jo. Whilst I was up there we did a lot of fence removal in order to create an uninterrupted landscape from lochside to mountaintop, and did some non-native tree removal to allow the native upland birch forest to re-establish itself.

We also took part in some of the deer-management practice and fed all the animals each morning. But, whilst doing all of this I couldn’t help but spot some of the wildlife that lives on the reserve and enjoy the spectacular surrounding scenery.

I actually took a little detour on the way up to check out some other NNRs, and stopped off at Glenmore and Craigellachie. Glenmore is an amazing place with its remnant Caledonian Forest supporting some really special species. This pine forest is what would have covered a lot of highland Scotland before man cut it all down.

Craigellachie is also an ancient forest but it is a birch forest. Whilst it perhaps doesn’t look all that full of life at this time of year I can assure you it is brimming with life in Spring and Summer, which aren’t too far away… Plus Craigellachie is right behind Aviemore and makes a perfect place to stop off for a wee walk whilst on a journey further north.

But, why haven’t I blogged earlier this week? I left Creag Meagaidh on Saturday so I’ve had plenty of time. Well, I’ve actually been away at another NNR for the past couple of days. This time it was Tentsmuir NNR, where I was assisting with the planting of a new reedbed. It was a mucky job but we got it done in just a day! It probably helped that there was 10 of us all digging holes and tearing apart the tubers of the reeds for them to be planted across the two areas that we were in.

The reason for planting this reedbed is for it to function in the same way as the reedbed that we have at Carsehall. Ours was planted to act as a filter for run-off from the surrounding agricultural land, which may contain higher levels of nutrients than we want in the water of Loch Leven. Hopefully in a few years I’ll be able to visit again and the reedbed I helped plant will be as well developed as ours, and the water quality of Morton Lochs will be perfect!

Speaking of Carsehall, Jeremy’s been out all week with the Softrak cutting back the thick rushes that are almost choking Carsehall Bog. The cutting and removal of all of this dense vegetation should allow other, less vigorous plants to get a foothold without being shaded out by the rushes. Plants such as the splendid Lesser Butterfly-orchid which you’ll hopefully be able to see from the path when it starts flowering in May-July.

(STOP PRESS: Just seen this on the Scottish Natural Heritage Facebook page, very apt)

We’re also hoping that some of this lot decide it’s now a suitable place for them to breed and raise their young…

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No, not the Golden Plovers. The Lapwings will hopefully spot Carsehall Bog with its abundant insects that enjoy the damp conditions and the sheltered spots where they can hide their nests from predators.

Elsewhere around the loch, there are a few signs of Spring being around the corner. I heard my first singing Skylark of the year on Tuesday, there are a few flowers brightening up the sheltered corners of the reserve, I saw a couple of Kestrels that appeared to have paired up, and the weather hasn’t been all that bad (except today, it’s very foggy today).

I’m keeping busy next week but sticking to my own reserve so I can keep you up to date with everything that’s going on around the reserve for the whole week. We’ve got some hedgelaying, an outing with the volunteers and the usual smorgasbord of tasks around the reserve. Until then, cheers for reading!

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Loch Leven NNR in the Snow

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Loch Leven is looking fine today in the snow. While i was out doing chores I grabbed the opportunity to take a few photos.

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The Lomands were shrouded in mist most of the day. I had a small window to take a photo.

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The sun came out later. It looked like the snow wouldn’t last too long.

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The Gorse flowers shone through the snow.

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You could follow the tracks of the Morehen at the pier.

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I don’t think this firewood will burn too quick like this but I liked the effect.

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Guest Blog: Welcome to Creag Meagaidh!

Third blog this week! We’re spoiling you, but this one is for good reason. As mentioned in previous blog posts, as part of my placement with SNH I get to experience management on other NNRs, other than Loch Leven.

Next week I’ll not be blogging as I’m off to Creag Meagaidh for the whole week, and who better to explain what makes Creag Meagaidh great than Jo, the student placement at Creag Meagaidh!


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Creag Meagaidh NNR, Aberarder near Loch Laggan (Scottish Highlands)

I’m Jo and I’m 7 months into my 1 year student placement at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve (NNR) with Scottish Natural Heritage. I’ve been living and working, along with a number of volunteers, in an old delightful farmhouse in Aberarder (see picture).

Creag Meagaidh is a remote place situated at the southwest of the Cairngorms, surrounded by hills and cliffs covered with rare plants, wet heaths, hummocky blanket bogs, ancient birch woodlands and Loch Laggan, which is fed by many burns.

Creag Meagaidh has been a NNR since 1985 and is well known for its innovative deer management.  Basically, it was one of the first reserves that didn’t opt to erect deer fences to protect and encourage regeneration of upland habitats, eg blanket bog, wet and dry heath. This is achieved through sustainable deer management, given the absence of deer predators in Scotland such as the wolf and lynx. We also have Highland ponies that are being trained to extract the deer carcasses from the hills and Soay sheep and Highland cattle are utilised for grazing.

The NNR is a popular site for teaching Rural Skills to Scottish college and school students, as well as courses for best practice of deer management. Each week pupils from the local school join us to gain practical skills in handling farm animals and site maintenance, and also to learn the skills involved in deer stalking, including butchering techniques.

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Highland/Blaeberry Bumblebee Bombus monticola

Last year we undertook a diverse range of projects on the reserve; black grouse lek monitoring, dotterel breeding survey, tree transects and ATV track impact assessments. One of the most challenging, but rewarding, surveys was walking the Mountain Ringlet (butterfly) transect. Each week we followed the transect coordinates up a very steep slope in search of this very rare small butterfly.

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Mountain Ringlet Erebia melampus (http://www.guypadfield.com/)

In addition to habitat and species monitoring, we all get involved in maintaining the reserve: ensuring paths and trails are maintained, mowing lawns and trimming hedges. The young Highland ponies need to be trained regularly also, the grazing animals require additional feeding during the winter and the non-native trees removed. There’s rarely 2 days the same at Creag Meagaidh, which makes working on this reserve such a joy!

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Volunteers building a wooden bridge to protect the hummocky heathland

My favourite part of the reserve is its remoteness and majestic landscapes, I can spend all day outside here with nature and not come across another soul.

The reserve is rich in wildlife, you can easily spot red deer, golden eagles, ptarmigan and mountain hare. Regular scats on paths and pictures from our motion camera show evidence of pine martens (s. photo below) too. In summertime, you might even spot the illusive dotterel (Charadrius morinellus), which breeds on the mountain plateaux.

Pictured above: top left – dotterel can be found on Creag Meagaidh plateau (RSPB); right – Dwarf Willow Salix herbacea female plant with red fruits, one of the smallest woody plants which grow in harsh upland conditions; bottom left – Pine marten captured on trail camera in alder wood, Aberarder.

If you would like to read more about the management and my time spent at Creag Meagaidh then you can follow my blog by clicking here.

 


Well I’m looking forwards to my week up there even more now! I remember seeing my first blaeberry bumblebee on a wander up into the Coire Arder in the summer, and seeing ptarmigan and parsley fern up on the boulder scree on Carn Liath. I suspect winter will be quite different!

Pictured above: Left – Ptarmigan using expert camouflage on boulder scree; top right – Coire Ardair with the regenerating upland birch woods just visible at the bottom of the picture; bottom right –  Parsley fern is a specialist of the scree slopes found in Coire Ardair.
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World Wetland Day!

 

 

Loch Leven is one of the best places to see wetlands, and since it’s World Wetlands Day I’m going to explain exactly why that is.

The name says it all really, the main feature of Loch Leven National Nature Reserve is Loch Leven itself. This body of water holds the prestigious title of being Scotland’s largest shallow, lowland, naturally eutrophic loch making it big and nutrient-rich, to put it simply.

llIf you look at the lay of the land in this pic taken today, you’ll see that there is a lot of land that slopes down towards the loch. This means that a lot of nutrients from field run-off, including fertillisers, are susceptible to run into the loch. Unfortunately, in the 1800s this, combined with industry upstream of the loch, made the water so nutrient rich that algae began to thrive. The huge areas of water covered by the algae meant that light was blocked out, and as the algae die they take oxygen out of the water. As you can imagine, this was not good for life living in or around the loch.

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Algae in a pond in Edinburgh

The negative effects of the over-eutrophication in the loch had knock-on effects on people, so various organisations and local landowners and businesses changed their ways for the better; stopping the flow of phosphorus into rivers from industry, farmers plowing fields across the way to reduce rainwater run-off, and a lot of monitoring work was carried out.

Nowadays the loch is a haven for wildlife due to the efforts of all involved, and now we hold huge numbers of both wintering and breeding wildfowl, some rare plants, and a rich mosaic of other habitats around the loch.

Loch Leven is designated for a number of reasons, and actually has a number of designations. These include..:

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest: for beetles, breeding birds, wintering birds, the fact it’s eutrophic, mire habitat, and plants.
  • RAMSAR: for reasons mentioned above…
  • Special Protection Area: for 10 species of wintering bird.
  • National Nature Reserve: for all of the above plus the fact that we have so many lovely visitors enjoying the wildlife that is thriving here.

Loch Leven’s multitude of wetland habitats is one of the reasons we have such a huge array of species, one list we have of all species recorded around the loch is just reaching over 2000, but there will certainly be species missed from that and species that haven’t been reliably recorded yet.

The loch itself holds thousands of wildfowl, fish, many plants, invertebrates, mammals, amphibians, and probably even some fungi. In fact, if you’re lucky you might even see people in the loch as pictured above.

Surrounding the loch we have many sections of reedbed. This habitat plays host to a number of specialised species such as reed bunting, sedge warbler, little grebe, some fungi that only grow on reeds, some moth species such as bulrush wainscot, and many more that I’d struggle to list in one blog post.

One species you may see using the reeds, especially at this time of year, are the starlings. They use the reedbeds as somewhere safe to roost overnight.

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Our loch here by Kinross is fed by a few streams and rivers, and is drained by the River Leven down at Findatie. These rivers provide a slightly different habitat with running water. Again, another specific group of animals and plants enjoy these rivers. Birds such as the dipper and kingfisher can be seen zipping up and down, plants such as river-water crowfoot slow the flow and catch sediment, which in turn provides shelter for invertebrates in the river such as stonefly larva.

If you’re really lucky then you may see an otter using the rivers around the loch, showing that our ecosystem in healthy enough to support the highest predator in the foodchain.

Ponds are very important small habitats that can support a surprising number of species. We’ve done lots of pond dipping with various groups around the loch, see here for example.

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Great Diving Beetle larva

Other than the standing water, we also have some wet land that counts as wetlands. If you walk down from Loch Leven’s Larder then between you and the loch is Carsehall Bog. To be honest, it’s more of a wetland mosaic including fen, ditches, a couple of ponds, and mostly rush mire.

This area holds some pretty spectacular plants such as lesser butterfly orchid, a beautiful white flower that loves the habitat that’s provided there along with other orchids and marsh-loving plants. Snipe also enjoy the wet ground for feeding in and jack snipe are also found in there sometimes.

So, since we have so many wetland areas on this NNR, we’d like to wish you a happy World Wetland Day and we hope you visit some time to experience the wonder of wetlands.

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If you go down to the woods today…

The woods around Levenmouth are one of my favourite parts of the reserve, the mixed woodland providing a brilliant bit of semi-natural habitat that then provides for the wildlife that you can see enjoying the birch, pine, oak and willow.

I’ve decided to do this post after having been out to the woods today, and being completely soaked so I’ll type about it instead of lingering in it.

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Doesn’t look as wet in the pic as it was in real life…

The woods are made up of a mix of native tree species, including Scots pine, silver birch, goat willow, and alder. To start with, the Scots pine is Scotland’s National Tree and can be recognized by looking at the needles which should be in pairs and be twisted all the way along the length of them. The younger bark towards the top of the tree will be red-ish in colour, and the older bark will be made up of nice, big flakes.

The Scots pine is a terrific provider of food and habitat for some specialist species that you can find around Levenmouth, of course, the most obvious being the red squirrel. These little acrobats leap through the canopy eating the pine cones which they are capable of reaching due to being lightweight and having very good balance.

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Red squirrel with the reddish bark of a Scots pine behind

Pines also provide feeding for charismatic birds such as the crossbill. This finch’s beak has been specially adapted for splicing open the cones to then extract the pine seeds with it’s tongue. They do visit Levenmouth now and then, but your best bet is to pay nearby Portmoak Moss a visit.

The silver birch is probably the most abundant tree in the woods and is easily recognized by its white bark which sometimes peels off the trunk. The scientific name for the silver birch is Betula pendula. Betula = birch, and pendula = hanging. The reason for this ‘hanging birch’ name is obvious when you see the shapes of the taller trees.

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Some trees are more obvious than others with their drooping branches, such as the one behind and to the right in the picture above. The centre tree, as you can see, has distinctive clumps of dense twigs. You may think these are birds’ nests but they are in fact the result of a parasite in the tree, called witch’s broom. This could be caused by all manner of species including the fungus Taphrina betulina, other fungi, or viruses.

The trees themselves are a habitat for other organisms, and not just animals, but plants as well. Due to the wet conditions in Levenmouth Woods, the bark of the trees provide a suitable place for some plants to take hold and thrive. These include mosses and ferns, some of which do very well indeed.

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The vivid green moss here is called broom fork-moss Dicranum scoparium, and it can be found growing on a lot of the trees, along with the lighter green moss here; heath plait-moss Hypnum jutlandicum. If you’re about in some wet woodland, have a look at the mosses and you’ll notice that there are many species, all with slightly different characteristics.

Bigger plants also manage to grow on the wet bark of the trees. Ferns, such as the broad buckler-fern, will grow where there is slightly more substrate that has built up on the trees, substrate being what the roots of the plant grow into. Typically deadwood is better for producing substrates as the rotting wood makes a substrate like really finely chipped wood. In some places other plants like wood-sorrel will manage to cling on to the wood, especially if helped by a lush carpet of cypress-leaved plait-moss Hypnum cupressiforme.

Also on the deadwood you can find some wonderful fungi. Fungi help with the natural breakdown of the wood, allowing other organisms to benefit from the nutrients held in the wood. One that is particularly common on a lot of wood is stag’s-horn fungus Xylaria hypoxylon, and if you want something a little less mono-chrome then turkeytail Trametes versicolor is for you! Both of these species are well named, don’t you think?

The location of Levenmouth Woods plus the abundance of flora gives the area a very high air quality, as there’s little traffic nearby and the plants all help to take carbon out of the atmosphere, process it through photosynthesis and give out oxygen for us to enjoy.

There is one very good indicator of the good air quality at Levenmouth, and these are the lichens! Lichens are not plants, nor are they fungi. Lichens are formed by two organisms working together, an algal body and a fungal body. The algal body (or photobiont) acts like a plant does in that it makes its own food through photosynthesis which the fungal body can’t do and therefore can’t actually survive on its own.

The fungal body (mycobiont) provides the algal body with the ability to grow in places where the algae wouldn’t be able to grow otherwise. This relationship gives us a wonderful array of lichens to enjoy in our woods. Here is a selection of the ones that can be found in Levenmouth.

On top of everything I’ve already covered, there are many wildflowers, insects, arachnids, molluscs, and a whole manner of other things that I’ll leave for another blog post.

So, if you go down to Levenmouth Woods today, hopefully you’ll know what to look for and will be surprised at the abundance of life to be found in the woods!

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Winterwatch part 4

That’s the BBCs fine Winterwatch season over again. We’ve got a few months to go before we’ll watch Springwatch and we’ll do this all over again.

A lot of the featured wildlife can be seen in and around the Loch Leven area and we’ll tell you how!

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Sadly we rarely get Cranes at Loch Leven. There are just two records from the area. One in 1999 and a small party in 2013. I do however keep looking. I’d be delighted to see some of these large elegant birds in the fields around Loch Leven. If these species continue spreading around the county after successful reintroduction scheme in the south-west of the UK, Loch Leven will be the perfect roosting site for them. Thanks to Martin McGill (who coincidently was the original Winterwatch presenter with Kate Humble) for letting me pilfer his picture off twitter.

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It took me a couple of days to find a picture of a Winter Moth. These little moths do occur locally in fairly large numbers. I snapped this one at Craig’s house in Kinnesswood. While you are driving around the loch at night, you are likely to see this species in your headlights from December to January.

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We have a dry heath at Loch Leven. It’s a small area of only a couple of acres but we are trying to restore it. In recent years we have removed trees and experimented with cutting it.

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The Heather that is present is in poor condition through grazing but we hop to improve it.

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We do remove trees that are growing on it to let plants underneath thrive. No time soon will we be getting a tank to try to churn it up though! We’ve got our more sedate cutter and baler for that and maybe take out the odd tree with a chainsaw….

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There are still Hedgehogs to be found all round Kinross-shire. They are in the urban gardens of Kinross and Milnathort and are also spotted by nightime cyclists and walkers around the trail. The path is a good place for them to snaffle slugs. I cheated with these pictures. This is a Shetland Hedgehog from Bressay. If you are lucky to have a garden Hedgehog, go on the Winterwatch website and see how you can help this declining species.

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For the sake of this blog at lunchtime I climbed into the roof space of the office to look for wintering butterflies. I did however fail but I was surprised at the amount of wasp nests up there. Here is a Peacock from the summer to compensate. Keep an eye out though in your sheds or garages. There is a good chance a tortoiseshell is hibernating in there. By chance I found a number of wintering tortoiseshell Butterflies in the roof space above the toolshed in the Isle of May. If you are very lucky you might be see one of the lovely Herald Moths that we featured earlier this week.

We’ve enjoyed Blogging about winter wildlife this week. There are plenty of early signs of spring out there. Magpies are nest building in the car park today, Blue Tit are collecting moss to line their nests, our first summer breeding birds are back which include Oystercatchers, Shelduck and Herring Gulls, Greylags Geese are looking for nesting sites on St Serfs and a pair of Buzzards were stationed at a nest this afternoon.

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Marsh Marigolds will be in flower in the next few weeks. Their yellow flowers shine through strongly against lasts years rotting vegetation.

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The moths get  more exciting as the summer goes on. This charming creature is called Peach Blossom.

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Winterwatch day 3

Day 3 of BBC’s Winterwatch, and we continue with another blog post comparing the wildlife seen on the TV with what you can see at Loch Leven.

It appears Arne is getting the same sort of weather as Loch Leven today, as we’ve had another hard frost and a foggy morning.

And I was thinking we were seeing the start of Spring, so much for that! Down at Arne they had been noticing that some were thinking the same as me, with even some Honeybees popping out to have a go on the gorse. Jeremy mentioned the gorse in flower in yesterday’s blog, but I managed to find a few other species in flower yesterday.

One of my favourites was the female flower of the hazel. This tiny flower can be seen growing from the buds along the twigs of the hazels, and one of the best places to see hazels is along the hedge after Mary’s Gate, where the town loop path joins the Heritage Trail.

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female flower of Hazel

Hazel trees are one of the trees that have both male and female flowers on the same tree, this makes them ‘monoecious’ as opposed to dioecious like the ash. So you might be wondering what the male flower looks like. The male flower on a hazel is the catkin, which are long and green coloured. If you’re in Kirkgate Park then look at the trees on the right as you drive in, there are both hazel and alder trees there.

Alders have more purple-red coloured catkins compared to the hazel. Here’s a picture of one of the male catkins…

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male catkin of Hazel

Also in flower nearby was some cut-leaved dead-nettle. This plant gets its name from being like the good old stinging nettle in its appearance, but it definitely does not sting! And the flowers are a lot nicer looking. See?

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Cut-leaved dead-nettle

On Winterwatch, they also asked what the mystery animal was, those wee swarms of flies. Turned out they were the winter midge, and we’ve actually had a few of them out ‘lekking’ on the reserve in the path couple of days. If you walk around the Heritage Trail from Kinross towards Burleigh Sands, and when you get to the slow-flowing burn that disappears through a grate under the path, there have been good sized swarms floating about there.

Next up, that wonderful raven roost on Anglesey. I must say I really enjoy the many noises that ravens make, the cronks, the grots, the gurgling croaks… And to have so many in one place is pretty magical. We don’t have so many ravens about Loch Leven, but we certainly have some. This species is recovering in the area and we’re pretty sure there’s at least two nests on the surrounding hills.

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Big beak

Ravens are big birds, the largest member of the crow family, and yet telling them apart from carrion crows can be difficult. They are  the same size as a buzzard in terms of wingspan and overall length (beak to tail).  One of the best things to look at is the tail, a the tail of a raven is diamond/wedge-shaped whereas a crow’s tail is fan-shaped.

Also a raven’s beak is very heavy looking, as can be seen I the silhouette shot above. Finally, listen out for those enchanting calls, listen here to get an idea of what to be listening for.

They fly about all over the reserve but especially around Carsehall, Levenmouth and over the RSPB’s bit of the loch.

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Cronking from a fencepost at Carsehall

From one magical animal to another, the Winterwatch team moved on to their White Hart (white deer) that they have at Arne. At Loch Leven we do try to have everything, but we haven’t quite managed a white hart. Instead we have a semi-white hart but it’s not very local, being seen nearby in Fife.

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Semi-white Hart

Also mentioned was the pale-morph buzzard that they’d had on their ‘carcass cam’. I’ve never seen any particularly pale-morph buzzards around the loch, most of them have been pretty bog-standard dark, although the bog-standard in other places may be something else.

To work out if there’s any regional variation there’s a recording scheme for reporting what colour-morph buzzards you have in your area and I’m sure they’d be grateful for any sightings. They also have a nice, clear display of the various shades that buzzards come in, so check that out.

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Probably fits in the dark-intermediate category best

Water voles… I’d like to say we have water voles at Loch Leven and they almost certainly were present at one time but we’re really not sure so I’ll leave that section alone, but it was a lovely bit of filming, especially seeing the dumpy water voles scaling those willow trees!

Butterflies! How very un-wintery, but these butterflies were thinking the same thing it appeared. They just slept all the time, were quite grumpy telling people to leave them alone, and shivered a lot, much like some people I know!

The moths were far better adapted for winter weather, and we have the same moths around Loch Leven. Unfortunately we haven’t had time to put the moth trap out this winter but Jeremy’s caught Herald moths in previous years. In fact he caught one last year, here’s a pic…

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Herald moth, stunning

The return of the spoonbill, it seems they can’t get enough of their robo-spoonbill and to be fair if I had one I’d be using it as much as possible too. I covered our own spoonbill during Autumnwatch and showed you it’s amazingly, specialized beak, used for filtering out the good particles of food from water.

It was of course the shoveler, a great bird to have about the loch.

Jeremy’s told me there have been 4 records of actual spoonbills at Loch Leven, so you never know what that white blob in the distance might be…

Chris’ section on making your own pond in your garden was exactly what I did in my own garden a few years ago and I now have frogs, damselflies, water skaters and orbshell cockles, which look like this…

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Musculium lacustre

At Loch Leven we’ve got no shortage of water bodies, with the main loch, plenty of rivers feeding into and out of the loch, and many smaller bodies of water dotted about the shoreline. This gives us a huge range of habitats for freshwater wildlife, from the biggest mute swan to the tiniest ostracod, we’ve (almost) got it all!

So why not build your own wee pond, somewhere in your garden or even as part of a community project, to encourage some fantastic underwater life to your wee patch?

Now, I best be off, got a few things to do about the reserve such as checking the camera trap. Fingers firmly crossed for pine marten!

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Winterwatch Day 2

Gus and I have very much been enjoying the fabulous Winterwatch. If you are a fan of the programme you might like to know how to see wildlife featured on the programme locally.

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Loch Leven is a brilliant for fantastic sunrises. As well as the dramatic landscapes you can also get wildlife flying through your view finder. I was lucky to capture these Whooper Swans going out to feed on the fields during the day.

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Goldcrests are fairly common residents around Loch Leven at all times of year. They are regularly seen in all the woodlands. In the winter time they often fly around in loose groups with other bird species such as Long-tailed Tits. The  bench at Levenmouth is a great place to sit and listen out for their piercing high-pitched calls. Unfortunately we don’t get Firecrests in our local woodland. I’m on the look out though!

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The Stonechat can be seen around the trail in small numbers anywhere there is gorse. This little bird is present locally breeding in the hills and dropping down to the loch to spend the winter. Listen out for their call, it sounds like two pebbles being knock together.

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Gorse is flowering at Loch Leven. I spotted some today at the Gairney. This is a library picture however. The yellow flowers do brighten up a winters day and are a useful source of food as they attract wintering insects which birds including Wren and Stonechat will take advantage from.

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Curlew were the featured the  waterbird on Winterwatch last night. If you are out walking on the trail you will see a flock of up to 140 birds feeding on the horse field. These birds are finding earthworms with their curved beaks. They fly over and roost over at the Gairney at night. In late summer there are up to 700 birds moulting on St Serfs after they have finished breeding.

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Sadly we don’t get Purple Sandpipers at Loch Leven. They are however well spread out along the rocky east coast of Scotland. These pictures are some of many that I took while I was on the Isle of May which has numbers of national importance.

An interesting fact that I know about these birds is that a number of them stay throughout the winter in the high arctic where they don’t see daylight for many days and survive in tempretures well below freezing. I’d be delighted if I spotted a Purple Sandpiper at Loch Leven!

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Winterwatch: day 1

As I did for Autumnwatch, this week I’ll be doing some themed blog posts that relate to Winterwatch from the night before. So let’s get right to it…

One of the first segments of the show couldn’t have been better timed. Martin was out lamping for Woodcock, a seldom seen bird that has traded the usual wader lifestyle of life by the water for life in the woodlands. Being so camouflage and secretive, you’re lucky if you come across one.

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Despite this, I came across three yesterday whilst checking part of the reserve that not many people visit. They particularly like the wetter areas of the reserve, where the soil under the trees becomes a little bit waterlogged, as they can poke their long beaks in to find food.

Unfortunately, as you will have seen on Winterwatch, they are very, very flightly and only take off once you get close enough meaning there’s little opportunity for photography! Fortunately the surrounding scenes were quite photogenic.

From woodland waders to ‘normal’ waders that stick about at the edge of the wader. Avocets are a huge conservation success story, as they became extinct in the UK but seeing the numbers in Poole Harbour showed that they’ve done very well to return, all down to the hard work of various people and organisations.

Loch Leven, being as far north as we are, don’t really get Avocet visiting. However, on occasion birds do wander beyond their usual range and that did happen! Jeremy managed to see one that (he says) was present on the 12th of May for just the day. I’ve only seen Avocet once, and that was actually at Forvie NNR, where three were sifting about in the mud on the estuary.

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3 Avocet on the Ythan, 29/04/2017

There seems to be quite a big focus on birds at this point, but then they turned their attention to plants. Berries in particular, with Rowans being the main one they were looking at… and then they reverted back to birds! We had a good berry crop last year, and when the winter thrushes arrived these berry stocks soon became depleted. These winter thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares, are now feeding on the ground and in amongst leaf litter.

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Fieldfare hiding in the top of an Alder

But who could forget the star bird? WAXWINGS! And we had a brilliant year for them here. See previous blog posts for more details on these fantastic wee birds.

Eventually we move on from birds, and on to Carrion Cam. This is something I’ve been tempted to try on the reserve, making use of a roadkill deer and moving it off the road to where animals would be safer having a snack.

I have had my trail camera in the Levenmouth Woods for a few weeks now, and I know I’ve captured one clip of a Fox, but need to download the clips so I can upload them. Along with the Fox, I’ve had Brown Hare, Badgers, Roe Deer and Jays, trail camera are a brilliant way of seeing what mammals are in an area as they tend to be shyer than birds.

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Red Fox from last week

Aaaand back to birds. We are lucky enough to have spectacular Starling murmurations at both ends of the loch, both by the pier and at Carsehall. Neither of our murmurations are quite as massive as the one they featured at RSPB Arne but they are still quite a sight to behold.

The Starlings feed on the surrounding fields, and you can see that they are well adapted for life in short grass. Long legs allow them to walk about without disappearing, and their slightly long beak lets them probe about in the soil for worms and seeds.

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Starling

Also, who needs thousands of Starlings to appreciate them? Look at the sheen on those feathers with the intricate spotted detail. Single Starlings are just as good as thousands of Starlings.

Lastly, Otters. Unfortunately I haven’t seen many Otters around Loch Leven, I saw one 3 years ago on a week of work experience, and saw one last Friday actually, but no opportunities for pictures.

However, Otters leave plenty of signs of their presence. Around the loch and on the burns and rivers that flow into the loch you may be able to spot spraint on the rocks or logs that stick above the surface of the water. These are used to mark out territories as other Otters smell them and can tell there’s another individual present. Humans can also smell them, and if you do then you may be surprised to find they smell a bit like jasmine tea. Unless you get lots of it, in which case it smells of fish, as I learnt.

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Otter spraint

Also, here’s a pawprint from Tentsmuir NNR that I managed to follow when I was there, and actually caught up with the animal itself which was nice. Still no pics though…

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Otter pawprint

So that’s that, I know this post is a day late but I was busy yesterday with various wee jobs and only got halfway through writing this up, so I’ve finished it this morning and Jeremy’s said he’ll do the blog for today! You’re getting two blog posts in a day, how lucky are you!

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