More geese arrive

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I’ve been out enjoying the geese over the weekend. There were over 6000 around. Hopefully the numbers will be even higher by the time we come around to count them the week after next.

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The birds are roosting behind St Serfs. Many are also grazing on the closely cropped grass on the island. The sheep have certainly done a good job this summer.

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When you start to look through the geese carefully you begin to spot interesting things within the flock. To the middle and right of the shot is a Greenland White-fronted Goose. Most years we see the odd one or two of these geese. Their nearest regular wintering site is over at Loch Lomond. They differ from the Pinkfeet by having a large orange bill, are darker overall, have orange feet and have a heavy irregular barring pattern on their breast.

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This Pink-footed Goose has been fitted with a collar with a unique code. I’ve forwarded this to the goose researchers at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. I am looking forward to the finding out the life history of the bird.

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Last week I wondered if I’d see an October Osprey. The answer is still currently ‘no’ but I investigated the strainer to find scales still on it. I presume these are from a trout.

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If you look quite closely you’ll be able to see a Gannet. There were two around the loch yesterday. The ducks and waders don’t know what to do when this large flappy bird flies over! They’re not sure what this alien beast is flying around and are made nervous.

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Just occasionally we se Gannets here as they are better adapted for being at Sea. My theory is birds go right up the Forth and get lost Loch Leven is the first large body of water they find when they try to reorientate themselves. In September 2004 they were all over Loch Leven with 15 counted.

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Here is the flock of Golden Plover flock. They spend the day at Loch Leven and head out onto the fields to feed at night. At dusk they get very flighty and vocal.

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This Stonchat was along the trail in the Gorse last night.

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The Starlings are putting on a good show at the pier. They are roosting in the reedbed. The sparrowhawk likes to investigate  the flock at dusk too but the Jackdaws alert them of its presence.

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We’ve been trapping a few moths recently. Nothing too out of the ordinary. A local trapper bought in this Brindled Green for us to have a look at. They’ll be more moths next blog.

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In the summer I published a picture of the Foxgloves on St Serfs. They still stand but now brown. Many seeds are produced. Hopefully there’ll be a bumper crop again the following summer as Foxgloves are biennials.

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The Red Admirals are still out in force. These butterflies are rather enjoying the Ivy in the graveyard. There are few flowers out right now. Ivy offers a decent food source for insects at this time of year.

 

 

 

 

 

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Harvest time

 

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We’ve had an exceptionally busy week at Loch Leven. So much for the blog but I’ve not been able to upload it as I’ve been away from my desk.

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At the end of last week there was still a couple of Ospreys about. Will this year be the first time I see an osprey at Loch Leven in October? This bird is enjoying the new fence on St Serfs.

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A new unringed Little Egret appeared last week. How long before these birds breed locally? When I moved up here 16 years ago this recent coloniser had just started breeding in my native Gloucestershire.

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Also on last weeks count there were two Little Stints. The birds were too far away to get a photograph so I stole this one from the Birds of Noss Facebook page. The Little Stint is on the right. This high arctic breeding wader is almost annual at Loch Leven but did not feature last year.

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We’ve been bailing  and lifting the grass from around Loch Leven. Like farmers trying to gather crops this year we’ve been beset with problems but we’ve battled through. The weather has been very much against us lifing heavy wet grass.

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The baler has been working well. We made 40 bails on the first day. We didn’t let a puncture stop us!

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I was proved wrong that the unstuckable Polaris can get stuck…..

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But was easily removable with the winch. Kerry demonstrates the size of the hole left behind!

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Working outside has the benefits of not only getting some fresh air but also finding lots of nice wildlife.

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We were quite pleased to find this 10 Spot Ladybird at Mary’s Know.

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This lovely toad was rescued form a pile of grass. A weasel run past us yesterday too.

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For the last few weeks there has been a noticeable southward movement of Red Admiral butterflies. These attractive insects are migrating to find somewhere safe to hibernate. Back in 2003 there was a spectacular migration with many hundreds heading across the loch.

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The leaves have started to turn quickly. There’ll be full Autumn colours soon.

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Many thanks to Richard Smith who with Neil led the Fungi Foray last Sunday. This year appears to be a good year for fungi about the reserve.

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I rescued this young Woodpidgeon from a Carrion Crow at Kirkgate. These birds will  breed all year round at Loch Leven. They feed their young crop milk which is produced from eating grain and seeds and do not rely on invertibrates like other birds.

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A quick reminder that on Sunday 15th October I am leading a walk to look at the Pink-footed Geese at Loch Leven. It starts at 06:45 at the Kirkgate. Pleae phone the officeon 01577 864439 to get yourself booked on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The missing blog

Unfortunately last weeks blog did not publish so I’ve had to rewrite. Here it is!

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The Pink-footed Geese returned on the 13th September. This is a fairly average date.

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I spotted this picture on the internet from WWT researcher Kane Brides. A Pink-footed Goose fitted with a GPS tracking tag that dropped into Loch Leven is marked with a dark green star. The bird had flown from Iceland and had stopped at Loch Leven but had decided not to stay and head for Norfolk. The conditions must have been good for flying. See more about the project here

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Regular birdwatching local David Douglas spotted the  large flock of Sand Martins and Swallows roosting at the Loch. Loch Leven has had large numbers of hurindines from mid August onwards.

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I’ve been watching this Lesser Black Backed Gull for weeks. It’s about a month behind all the other large gulls on St Serfs. Gulls appeared to struggle this summer in the bad weather. Birds that failed at first had a second clutch and a pair actually managed to rear the bird. The last of our breeders for the summer.

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For the last month we had the pleasure of Owen Maxwell working with us. He came from Rural Skills Scotland. He was very good with a chainsaw and helped with cutting and fencing around the reserve. He hopes to become a tree surgeon. We wish him well with his apprenticeship with Fife Council.

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There aren’t many flowers out at the moment.  I was looking at how the Amphibious Bistort and how wonderful it looked and thought I’d get some snaps but a storm came in and decimating it. I still decided to get some photos. The bistort is a good plant to have on the reserve. There are lots of insects in it. My classic summertime mental image is of a brood of Tufted Duck in amongst the pink flowers.

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There are lots of young deer about the reserve. They are quite easy to approach in the Polaris. Please don’t let your dogs chase them.

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There are some huge flocks of Goldfinches around the reserve feeding on the meadowsweet. the sharp-eyed amongst you will spot the odd Redpoll in the picture.

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This Treecreeper narrowly avoided getting it’s picture taken. There was a Red Squirrel just out of view which I was trying to capture an image of.

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And finally…. Fish don’t appear in the blog very much but this one is special. It’s not only one of the world famous Loch Leven brown trout but it’s Neil’s biggest fish to date from the loch. Weighing in at the best part of three pounds the fish was released to fight another day. Tight lines.

 

 

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Home and Away

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Since the last time I blogged I’ve been down to Gloucestershire and up to Shetland. Like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen I’m continually on tour. I’ve even managed to fit in some work in between trips away.

The volunteers have been out cutting with our new toy.  Loch Leven NNR is a partnership between a number of organisations. This includes Perth and Kinross Council. They very kindly lent us a flail mower to test around the trail. This machine will do a more controlled cut and is a less fearsome sight than the teeth of an Allan Scythe.

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PKC kindly sent one of their chaps down to  demonstrate the cutter to our volunteers. So much flourescent that I needed my shades on.

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We also gave a demonstration of our Scythe to our colleagues at the RSPB. They were looking for a lightweight solution to top rushes and cut around the predator fence.

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It’s that time of year everything gets a scalp. The hedge at the Kirkgate viewpoint was cut. We’ve got a new safer and more efficient electrical hedge trimmer.

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Liz and Mary enjoy the view over the recently topped hedge.

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We’ve done hardly any moth trapping because of the weather but this Butterbur moth was a good find. They are a difficult moth to trap as they rarely go a distance from their food plant. This is the 4th we’ve caught in the last 2 years.

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This beautifully marked moth is likely to be a Svensens Copper Underwing. This moth is closely related to the Copper Underwing. the two species are difficult to separate but Svensens is more likely round here. It makes a change from Dark Arches which fill the trap in July.

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The Loch Leven team is part of a larger unit that covers the area of Tayside and Grampian. Every year we meet up for an away day. This year we met at Royal Deeside and met folk from the Invercauld Estate to discuss wildlife management on the estate and members of the Pearls in Peril team and the work they’ve done along the River Dee to help protect Freshwater Pearl Mussels.

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Here is a shot of Craig Nisbet on Noss. I popped up to see him for the weekend. He’s still summering on Shetland and has another fortnight or so left up there.

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The Gannets are still busy in the colony on Noss.

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We enjoyed a bit of birdwatching up there and were lucky enough to between us find the first Pectoral Sandpiper for Noss. This small wader has been blown over the Atlantic in the recent storms.

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Maybe we’ll see an American wader at Loch Leven in the next few weeks with all these storms stateside. We’ve seen a few Pectoral Sandpipers, Bairds Sandpiper and thie White-rumped Sandpiper on St Serfs in October 2011.

 

 

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Skies, Scenery and Birds

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Loch Leven is always picturesque but this is somewhat enhanced by the purple on the surrounding hills.

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There are plenty of birds right now. A close up of the Scart shows there are many hundreds of roosting Lapwing out there. They commute over to the Kirkgate to feed from there.

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When they fly over high they look like twinkling stars.

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There is plenty of visible migration at this time of year. These Grey Herons flew south high over the loch. I also watched a party of 30 Snipe fly over. I’d never seen that at Loch Leven before.

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Looking out behind St Serfs you can certainly see the number of birds building. By mid September duck numbers will be at their highest and there’ll be very little room between St Serfs and Carsehall.

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The weather has been interesting again this week. Owen and I were sheltering between the showers trying to get the fencing done on Friday afternoon.

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We had terrible trouble getting the sheep in last week so we had to call on new recruits. This is Rhum. He’s never been out to St Serfs before. He didn’t seem phased by the boat and we got the sheep into the pen at the second attempt.

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The Sand Martins enjoyed the feast of flies that were pushed up from the grass by the sheep.

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There are two Ospreys in this picture. There are still a good number of Ospreys feeding on the loch. There were seven together on Sunday.

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I was surprised how late into the evening they feed. This bird was still fishing after dark. I don’t know whether it’s night-time hunt was successful.

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A few shots from the last couple of weeks

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We had a great day at the Kinross Show last weekend. We saw lots of familiar faces. We put a lot of effort in with our stand. We decked it out like a woodland scene with a water feature. PC Atholl Spalding popped in for the photo and to make a badge.

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This was the water feature surrounded by Phragmites.

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Volunteer Ivor Mashford was on badge making duty. We had a telescope trained on the crags for much of the day we could see a peregrine falcon.

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Placing fluffy animals around the tent was one of the most satisfying things I’ve EVER done.

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This weekend we assisted Our Portmoak by taking them over to St Serfs on the boat. Out there they were looking at the archeology of St Serfs with David Munroe and Oliver O’Grady. Unfortunately we had to cancel the Saturday voyage but everybody got onto the island safely on the sunday. Our Portmoak are Celebrating 2017’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology across the Portmoak area. This event was one of many events they have been doing thoughout the year.

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For many it was an oppertunity to visit St Serfs for the first time.

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This was a storm chasing me across Loch Leven last Thursday. It caught me.

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The first Ruff I’ve seen of the Autumn was on the Scart last week.

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The Little Egret is in the Heron roost at the Pier. This bird has plastic rings on its legs. It originated from Lincolnshire.

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The pale bird in the middle is a scarce bird at Loch Leven. This is a Sanderling. The species is seen commonly around the coastline locally but only rarely comes in land. This is about the 7th record for Loch Leven. I also saw a Hobby chasing birds around the west shore on Saturday.

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This Emerald Damselfly was resting between the storms. The differing weather has made life difficult for the loch’s Odonata this year.

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This fist size Puffball was out on St Serfs.

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Busy week on and off the loch

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We’ve been busy the last couple of weeks at Loch Leven and other reserves. Last week we were operating our old friend ‘The Softrack’ at Tentsmuir. The plan is to remove willowherb from the sand dunes to help improve plant diversity. It was a fabulous day at the beach. We saw lots of butterflies including Graylings and Dark Green fritillaries.

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The upper side of a Dark Green |Fritillary

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The underside of a Dark Green Fritillary

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The following day the ever-present Gus and I went up to Creag Meagaidh to drop off  our old quadbike. While we were there we couldn’t resist a walk up the hill to look at the woodland regeneration. We also had a good pow wow with the reserve manager Rory about options for grazing the Loch Leven meadows and regenerating our own woodland.

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The path tidying continues around the loch. Most of it has had two cuts. We’ll be back out on Wednesday around Grahamstone.

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Keep an eye out for the warning signs. we’ll stop cutting to let you pass.

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We are just completing our last  brood count surveys of the summer at Loch Leven. This will give us an idea of how our ducks are doing this year. Unfortunately not all broods are as easy to find as the residents in the harbour. This Mallard started off with three and is down to two. This brood is very relaxed and didn’t even wake when I turned the boat next to them.

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The sheep are doing well on St Serfs. There is plenty for them to eat and their feet are good. We round them up every couple of weeks to check them. They have been exploring all over the island.

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We’ll be at Kinross Show this weekend. We’ve got big plans and a brand new exhibit in our tent that we’ve built from recycled materials we’ve found. Please drop by. We’ll be badge making and we’ll have moths in pots amongst other things.

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Osprey Walk Burleigh Sands 17th August 6-8pm

It’s Osprey time of year again folks. Loch Leven has plenty of these magnificent birds visiting at this time of year. Many of these splendid fishing raptors are currently around the Loch. Youngsters have left the nest which bolsters numbers and with the adults are making their way down to Africa where they will spend the winter.

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We a having our annual Osprey Walk on Thursday 17th August at Burleigh Sands from 6 until 8pm.We’ll meet in the car park and make the short walk down to the shoreline to observe these birds.

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Last year we saw over 20 birds with one putting on a magnificent performance with multiple dives before it eventually caught a small Perch.

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Please phone the office on 01577 864439 to book a place.

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Home alone

Over the last couple of weeks with Jeremy being away on leave and Gus having finished his time as a placement with us I’ve had plenty of reasons to escape the desk and to get out onto the reserve. The weather hasn’t been the best over the later part of the summer so we’ve had few opportunities to get out and see how the breeding wildfowl population on the reserve have been fairing. I’d been out doing nest surveys earlier on this year so I knew that things were looking pretty good for this year in terms of the numbers of nests but the weather we have experienced particularly in June hasn’t really been ideal for a duckling dabbling in the vast waters of Loch Leven for the first time.

A lull in the wind and the rain meant heading out bright and early (if a little bleary eyed) to do a brood count. The aim of this is to cover the whole of the loch in a day noting the different waterfowl with young on the loch, how many young and there age. This gives us an idea of productivity and adds to the picture of the fortunes of waterfowl on the site which stretches back to the 60’s.

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This Osprey had got up early too after a breakfast of Loch Leven brown trout and was doubtless more successful than any of my fishing trips are.

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The first of what turned out to be a good number of Little Grebe was feeding on fish fry in front Mill hide.

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There were also a few of the Little Grebes larger cousin; the Great Crested Grebe with young. I always enjoy seeing these birds which for many years were symbolic of human persecution purely for vanity. The crown feathers being particularly valued for lady’s hats  and the pelts being preferred as substitutes for furs in boas and muffs in the late 19th century.

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The youngsters regularly hop onto the parents backs to hitch a ride (just like in humans!!)

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All the common species were out and about. Species like this Mallard with an older brood stay close to the overhanging willows and reeds we encourage to grow all along the loch shore.

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Here a brood of Gadwall feeds excitedly, broods like this can be challenging to count particularly as in areas of prime habitat like this multiple families will feed together. They ‘rub along’ ok but there’s often a wee bit of tension between families and the occasional nip as they pass each other isn’t uncommon. In this small area I counted 4 broods of Gadwall 3 of Mallard with up to 8 young in some broods.

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These shallow bays with overhanging willows and lots of aquatic plants are great brood rearing habitat. Smaller fish love them too which is what this Grey Heron will be hoping for. That is not to say that it wouldn’t pass up the opportunity of a wayward duckling if the opportunity were to arise……..

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In the interests of keeping the blog varied that’s enough about ducks. So what else have I seen on my travels. Now I’m not one for taking my camera out with me but I’ve been trying to get into the way of doing so and I found this wee chap whilst out and about so snapped a photo to check it out back to the office. Its a Larch Ladybird not particularly rare nor my first at Loch Leven but serves as a reminder that not all ladybirds are red with black spots they are like all insects a really diverse group. But ladybirds unlike some other insects are usually easy enough to identify. I went to this website to ID mine there are so many great websites out there to help the modern naturalist with identification and reporting. I’ll perhaps try and point you in the direction of others another time…..

Well its Friday so now I’ve got all my ducks in a line as it were I’m going to head home.

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The Trees of Loch Leven

Hello! I meant to type up this blog post a while ago but never got round to it so I’ve finished it today and am posting it now… the Trees of Loch Leven, definitely a group of plants that can often be overlooked…

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Loch Leven from the Lomond Hills

 

Loch Leven is usually characterized by the massive body of water that takes up a good portion of Kinross-shire, but if you look around the loch you will find a number of habitats that are all important for wildlife.

Many of these habitats can be characterized by the trees that are found there and that’s often the easiest thing to see there. Trees are big, which helps, and they don’t move unlike the birds and bugs.

So, without further a-do, here are a few trees found around Loch Leven…

Scots Pine

Burleigh Pine, Loch Leven NNR

The Scots Pine is not only found in Scotland, but it is a tree that once covered much of Scotland. It also covers a good bit of Loch Leven NNR.

The tree pictured above is probably one that’s familiar to most visitors as it’s the pine at Burleigh Sands. Beyond this pine is the heritage trail leading around to Loch Leven’s Larder, and much of this path is lined with Scots Pine.

The habitat that these trees provide is very important on the reserve as pine trees provide food and shelter for one of the best-loved creatures that is doing pretty well around the loch: the Red Squirrel. Other animals that you may see in the pine trees include many species of finch (including the pine specialist, the Crossbill), pine weevils and pine ladybird.

Red Squirrel - Sciurus vulgaris

Pine trees are also one of my favourite trees, not only due to the Red Squirrels and other wildlife that utilise them, but also because it produces my favourite smell! If you’re ever out on the reserve on a sunny day, I can thoroughly recommend taking a walk in the pines and enjoying the smell of the hot pine needles.

Or you can go for a walk somewhere else…

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Scots Pine “flowers”

Silver Birch

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This is another tree that’s easy to pick out on the reserve, mainly due to the colour of its bark. The Silver Birch is a tree that will grow almost anywhere but in some parts of the reserve it’s the tree that covers most of an area.

It’s also recognisable by the way its branches hang, lending it its latin name of Betula pendula, pendula meaning pendulous. In autumn the birch trees can create a lovely scene as the leaves turn from green to golden and in an autumn evening you can get some really nice pictures of the birch canopy, either from above or below.

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This tree is particularly important as it is one that will often colonise un-forested areas and then allow other trees to take hold as well. We don’t have many areas on the reserve like that, but we do have some well established birch woods such as at Levenmouth and the Black Wood.

In these woods you can find all sorts of wildlife. The birdlife is particularly good in Spring, as they all begin singing to attract a mate for the season ahead. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Wrens, Song Thrushes, Sparrowhawks, Great Spotted Woodpeckers… the list goes on. All of them enjoy life in the birchwoods. Some of the scarcer species you might encounter are Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and the very shy Jay.

Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata

These woodlands are also great for insect life and if you’re the first one on the trail in the morning then you may be aware that they are also great for arachnids! Over night the spiders travel about the woods a good bit and often don’t tidy up after themselves, leaving long trailing bits of silk across the path, usually at the perfect height for my face to go straight through as I cycle round.

Silver Birch - Betula pendula

Willows

Goat Willow - Salix caprea

Willows are very common around the loch, as they tend to like damper areas, and we’ve got plenty of that! They form much of the habitat around the lochside and can be seen pretty much anywhere on the reserve. They are usually small, shrubby trees that don’t grow in the classic tree shape.

We have three main species of willow on the reserve: Goat, Grey & White. We also have one rarer species called the Bay-leaved Willow. The lochside habitat that they provide is often used by the waterbirds that will take shelter under the branches (much to the annoyance of anyone trying to count the broods) and they will sometimes nest underneath them as well.

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Again, willows are good habitat for breeding birds, but there are other birds that usually breed here, the two that are most often encountered (or sometimes only heard) are the Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler. Willows also provide plenty of work for us in the winter as sometimes they start to colonise wet areas that we don’t want getting colonised as it will reduce the amount of open water for the water birds.

Sedge Warbler - Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

See here for one of our days of willow scrub removal…

Rowan

Rowan berries  - Sorbus aucuparia

The sight of these red berries always tells me we’re heading towards autumn. The Rowan is usually quite a small tree, not usually reaching the height of the pines and birches but often growing in amongst them. It can be identified by its leaves which are split into leaflets with the leaflets paired opposite to each other. It’s also a great food source for birds and insects throughout the year.

Rowan - Sorbus aucuparia

The flowers of Rowan trees can be covered in bumblebees and other pollinating insects when they come out, and can offer good opportunities to see these busy insects nice and close up.

However, the berries are what most people think of when they think of a Rowan and they are definitely a great food source for birds, especially thrushes. I’m actually trying to convince mum to replace a Lawson’s Cypress in the garden with a Rowan (it lets in more light, the birds will love it, I’ll sweep up the leaves in autumn, etc.)! Birds such as Fieldfare and Redwing will adorn Rowans come the winter months after they’ve flown across the north sea from Iceland and Scandinavia.

Bohemian Waxwings - Bombycilla garullus

But, as great as winter thrushes are, a Waxwing will always be the star prize for anyone with a Rowan in their garden! We were lucky enough to have hundreds around the reserve and Kinross last winter, see here for details on that…


Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for either trees or blog posts, and hopefully you’ll spot these trees around the reserve and know what you might spot in and around them when you’re out and about.

P.S. I know my previous blog post said it was my last but I’m in volunteering today and the weather’s not terribly good so I decided to type up a wee something for you!

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