Returning to normality…

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

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Kirkgate Park nice and busy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Butterbur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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