After a long five months of intermittent attendance on this wonderful reserve, we are very happy to be back into the swing of things this week as myself and Ian have returned for our second season at Loch Leven! And what a first week back it’s been, giving us a taste of all the good (and more challenging) things to look forward to this season. Our main job for the first weekend back was to re-emerge ourselves into life at Loch Leven, while doing a big litter-pick around some of the main areas of the reserve. It’s good to get this done at around this time of the year as most of the vegetation has died back so old litter is easier to spot and it gives us a sort of ‘clean slate’ for the rest of the season. We managed around five full binbags-worth in our first week on the busier western side of the loch. This seems like a lot but a good proportion was ‘historic litter’; mainly bottles and cans which have been lying around for a few years unnoticed, obscured by grass or reeds.
Of course our litter-picks always involve some birdwatching and other nature-spotting along the way. This weekend, the hide overlooking the pools at Levenmouth were an absolute treat to visit, brimming with lots of fantastic birdlife including: sparrowhawk, snipe, little grebe, moorhen, mallard, gadwall, coot, teal, heron and, most impressively, upwards of fifteen shoveler – the most we’ve seen all together! Most of these fantastic looking ducks were drakes but amongst them were at least two females, and one pair were engaging in their courtship display. This is quite an unusual and amazing thing to watch, as they circle around each other, submerging their massive ‘shovel-like’ bill under the water. Courtship displays in ducks is something that continues to amaze!
However, along with some nice wildlife on our first weekend back, we also had our first bit of fire damage – a very large fire scar found on the grass right outside the Burleigh hide. This was upsetting to find, especially given it has only been a couple of years since the Mill Hide was burnt down. The new Phoenix Hide is progressing nicely, thanks to a massive fundraising effort from the community, proving that the majority of the people that visit this wonderful reserve appreciate all the benefits it gives as a nature reserve, not only for the numerous species that call it home, but for visitors to enjoy too! However, when such a small minority of people make such a large impact it’s easy to get disheartened, so please always practice responsible access on the reserve. We went out the next day and, using our best efforts, including some ingenious thinking by Simon, have removed and disguised most of the damage. Regardless, this will take quite a few years to fully return to normal.
After a very computer-based day on Tuesday dealing with various bits and bobs in and around the office, it was good to get out on Wednesday for some practical work with our volunteers! However, as we’re now getting into the time of year where we will unfortunately see more fires and campers on the reserve, our focus for this week was trying to manage the risk of large fires and irresponsible behaviour, rather than specific nature conservation. There were a few trees felled recently, as they were becoming dangerous and there was risk of them falling on the path, so our task for this volunteer day was to move the smaller bits into a pile at Burleigh car park that the public were welcome to take away as firewood. Although as you may have seen from our Facebook post on Wednesday, this was not to be burned on the reserve, though I doubt we had to worry about that as by the next morning it was all gone!
We have also been able to go out with our insect volunteers twice already, one of whom is a new start, with another transect planned for later today. Given the time of year, it has been remarkably successful with three different bee species as well as small tortoiseshell butterflies, surely down to the unseasonally-warm weather, though it does now seem to be cooling down a bit again. It wont be long before the damselflies and dragonflies are hovering about too!
It’s still early in the year for flowering plants but there are some colours to be spotted. Both red and white deadnettle are making a bashful appearance and many of the willow catkins are enveloping along with their increasingly greeny foliage. Lots of early yellow hues are to be found with the ever-yellow gorse, dandelion and, if you find yourself in a wetter woodland like Levenmouth, golden saxifrage. There are two species of this flower in Scotland, opposite and alternate-leaved, with the former being much more common, often forming quite extensive patches. I have always loved their transition from dark green to lime green to yellow (or golden). Fun fact: David Bowie’s surname ultimately comes from the Gaelic for yellow, buidhe, pronounced ‘boo-yeh’, but later also meant fair-haired.
Overall a very productive week, reacquainting ourselves with the reserve and prepping for the rest of the season to come – it’s sure to be a good one!