Update: Spring is still springing

The first couple of days of this week have been great for birding as most birds are gearing up for the coming season; Spring, and this means lots of displaying and singing! Obviously, they display and sing to attract a mate but it also makes them a little more conspicuous, helped by the fact the leaves haven’t come out yet.

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This of course means that woodland birds are particularly easy to see, compared to summer, that is. If you go out into the woodland around the loch, listen out for the calls and songs. Great Tit sounds like it’s saying “tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher”, whilst Song Thrushes will repeat the same phrase 3-5 times before moving on to another phrase. They tend to have favourites and will come back to those now and then.

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Song Thrush, typically singing from the treetops

If you look a little lower down then you may be lucky to catch sight of one of our smallest birds. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in number and noisiness! The Eurasian Wren is our most common breeding bird with a whopping estimate of 7.7 million breeding territories across the UK.

Since it’s such a small bird, many can live in a  relatively small area as they don’t need much to feed on. I’ve seen Wrens in some really remote places, such as the Isle of May, in Coire Ardair at Creag Meagaidh NNR, and 800m up a munro in Wester Ross. It’s diminutive size may also have you thinking it can’t be very loud… listen here to find out just how loud they are!

Sometimes you don’t even need to look very high up, I came across a couple of male Bullfinches and a Song Thrush this morning just feeding by the path at Levenmouth.

If you’re in Levenmouth Woods then I can highly recommend that you pop in to the hide to see what’s there. The pools have filled up recently and the ducks are loving it. I’ve managed to spot 7 species of waterfowl so far, 5 of those being different species of duck. See if you can name all of them by looking at the pictures…

There’s been some other waterfowl about Levenmouth but they are just off the reserve. Swans are feeding on the fields around the Portmoak area. This has meant I’ve been able to check for rings on their legs which would give us an insight into where our Whoopers are visiting from!

But, the only rings I found on the Whoopers were metal rings that are very difficult to read without getting very close to the bird. Frustrating. There was a colour ring on one of the Mute Swans though…

Unfortunately, this isn’t the type of ring that is used to identify the bird in the way we want to. This ring was most likely put on the swan to identify it whilst it was in care at a rescue centre, probably the SSPCA one in Fishcross, Clackmannanshire. So we do know that this bird has been in Fishcross at some point. Not really what we wanted to know but I’ll keep an eye out for proper rings!

One proper ring we have read recently was on a Coot that has been hanging about the pier by Kinross. It has a white ring with the code CF4 on the left leg, and a red and blue ring on the other leg. Turns out this is the first time it’s been seen since it was ringed as a juvenile at Linlithgow Loch on the 17th of February 2015.

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Coot CF4

The only other thing I want to cover in this post is what I found on the trunk of a Goat Willow in Levenmouth Woods. I was actually trying to work out what sort of tree it was at first, thinking it was a very strangely placed Ash (there are no Ash trees in those woods) but it was just a particularly tall and straight willow. Looking closely at the bark I noticed the signs left behind by an animal…

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Could it be a Pine Marten? A particularly arboreal Badger? Perhaps we have a big cat prowling the woods… No, it’s just our friendly local Red Squirrels playing games as they chase each other about looking to pair up for spring.

Here’s a picture to show the scale of the claw marks, just to make sure the big cat conspiracy theorists have nothing to say about the matter! And I’ve thrown in a backlit fly for good measure.

We’re currently trapping Grey Squirrels and aiming to trap American Mink on the reserve in order to protect our native species such as the really ravishing Red Squirrels and the Water Vole. Water Voles haven’t been seen around Loch Leven for a few years now so it’s very important to control the mink population as they are a major factor in the decline of this charismatic species, as well as being a threat to ground-nesting birds.

The RSPB kindly reported a mink on the River Leven giving us even more of a reason to start trapping again. If you have any sightings of American Mink then please do report them to us by calling the office on 01577 864439. The same goes for Grey Squirrels, mainly if you spot them anywhere other than Levenmouth and by Kinross.

If you aren’t sure what to look for then have a wee look on the Wildlife Trust website.

*STOP PRESS* There’s just been a new post on the Scotland’s Nature blog about why we intervene when it comes to non-native species, worth a read!

 

 

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Preparation for the coming season

It’s been a nice week weather-wise with cold, crisp mornings that have warmed up throughout the day giving us some very Spring-like conditions. The wildlife around the loch has certainly felt the beginning of the changing of the season, and we’ve been acting on this and making sure we have everything done that needs done before the breeding season starts and the flowers really start to bloom.

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This morning we were out ringing on the reserve, hoping for a Kingfisher but unfortunately we didn’t catch any (he/she narrowly avoided the net before we had it set up)! We settled for some Reed Buntings, Long-tailed Tits, a Blackbird and some Robins.

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Mrs R. Bunting

Just off the pier, in the nice early morning light the drake ducks were looking their best as the sun highlighted the glossy colouration of their feathers. Mallards are the easiest to see but there’s been a couple of Goldeneye and some Tufted Ducks, as well as two pairs of Great Crested Grebes that appear to be displaying almost every minute.

There’s actually been a bit of an exodus of wildfowl from the loch, Jeremy tells me this usually happens after the water levels rise a lot, which they have. The snow and subsequent run-off from the hills around Loch Leven have filled the loch up and raised the water level by at least a foot.

This means that the Levenmouth Hide is definitely worth visiting! If I’m honest, the only wildfowl I’d seen from that hide in all the time I’ve been here is one Moorhen. I’ve seen a few Snipe in amongst the tall, reedy grass as well. But now, phwoar… Completely different!

There’s proper water in there now, making it great for the four species of duck (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail) that were feeding away at the edges. Take a wander down there and you might spot a Kingfisher on the River Leven on the way to the hide. Hopefully the usual pair of Mute Swans will return soon as well.

Speaking of ducks (it’s all about wildfowl today!), whilst we were out with the volunteers on Wednesday we discovered a deceased drake Goosander on the beach at Burleigh. This gave me the perfect opportunity to look at the amazing adaptations that this species (and Red-breasted Merganser and Smew) have made to their beak in order for them to catch fish.

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No wonder this group of ducks are known as sawbills (aka. mergansers)! The “teeth” are actually just a modified structure of the beak itself. There haven’t been toothed birds about since dinosaurs were here, but this is pretty close. Notice how the teeth tend to face backwards to help pull the fish to the back of the beak where it can then be swallowed. There are even pointed structures on the roof of its mouth.

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Another adaptation of the beak is the hooked tip. This helps the Goosander grab hold of the fish in the first place. Of course, the whole bird is a marvel of natural engineering that allows it to feed on fish, but that beak is quite something.

Wednesday, volunteer day. It was a productive day with three groups out doing various tasks in the morning: Dave and Liz checked all of our kit/machinery, cleaned the cars, tidied up the workshop, and drank tea; Neil, Jane, Jackie and Richard put up a lot of new bird boxes around Burleigh, and drank tea; and Susan and I went around the reserve changing the seasonal signs from autumn to spring, and drank tea.

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A good day for hard graft and tea drinking

In the afternoon, Richard and Jackie stayed ad I joined them to finish making the rest of the nest boxes, leaving us with 26 more to put up; these ones will probably be put up around Levenmouth.

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26 nestboxes, hopefully housing Tree Sparrows in the near future…

Whilst all of this was happening Jeremy was out with the Softrak again, this time at Classlochie, cutting back some thick grasses to allow more wildflowers to take hold in the spring and summer. This will benefit a plethora of species, from bumblebees to Swallows.

Flowers such as Ragged Robin and Bird’s-foot Trefoil will do well here.

Speaking of flowers, we have got a few that are in bloom despite the freezing temperatures. It’s just the usual spring flowers at the moment, such as Colt’s-foot which puts out its flowers before the leaves. Willow catkins are also appearing on some of the willows around Factory Bay, these being one of the most important early sources of nectar for any bumblebees that decide to brave the changeable weather.

I’ve seen at least one report of a bumblebee out in Clackmannanshire at a similar latitude to us so do keep your eyes peeled!

Also pictured above is the minute Common Whitlowgrass. It’s not a grass really, it is a flower but the flower (when open) is no more than 3-6mm across! It grows on bare ground and if you look carefully in the less used areas of the car park by Kinross then you might spot some.

That’ll do for this blog post. I hope that where ever you are, there are signs of spring. If there aren’t then come to Loch Leven NNR and have a walk about, it’s great here (although I may be slightly biased)…

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Why lay a hedge?

As shown in last Friday’s blog, we laid the hedge that runs along the side of the path by Mary’s Gate. I left you with the sight of our finished product; a neat and tidy, laid hedge.

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But, I had to cut the post off before explaining the benefits laying a hedge. Well, you’ve come to the right place to find out why we (Wednesday volunteers, Andrew from St Cyrus, Ruari from Tentsmuir, Torquil the hedge layer, Jeremy, and I) went through the process of laying such a thorny, spiky hedge!

To start off with, why was the hedge so thorny and spiky? The hedge we laid was made up of Hawthorn, Dog-rose, Hazel, and Beech. This mix of species is excellent for increasing the biodiversity of the hedge. Not only do we now have more species of shrub, but we will have more species of invertebrates and fungi, as different bugs and fungi like different plants to feed on and live in.

The provision of food such as the Hawthorn berries and plentiful insects means that animals further up the food chain will find the hedge a good place to live in as well. Birds such as Whitethroats like to nest in hedgerows, whilst Bank Voles will tend to stay at the bottom of the hedge.

Considering where hedgerows are often found (by farmland), they can be a sheltered spot for one of the rarer birds found around Loch Leven, the Grey Partridge. This species has declined significantly due to agricultural intensification and the removal of hedgerows that they use for cover. Funnily enough, when moving material from Torquil’s trailer to the site I flushed a pair of Grey Partridge from that field which is a good sign!

This particular hedge has kindly been given a little strip of land next to it by the farmer that isn’t ploughed or planted on, called a headland. These headlands are great for wildflowers and therefore encourages more wildlife to the area. Pollinators such as bumblebees will enjoy the many flowers that are allowed to flourish as well as the flowers found in the hedgerow itself, and more birds will enjoy the extra insects!

The bumblebee pictured above, a Tree Bumblebee, is one to watch for this year as they are spreading up the east coast at a fast rate. They only arrived in the UK from Europe in 2001 and made it as far as Aberdeen last year! Keep your eyes peeled for its unique ‘orange-black-white’ markings.

The structure of the hedge itself helps to provide habitat for wildlife. Before our hedge was laid, you can see that there are lots of branches at the tops of the plants but very little at the bottom. Laying the hedge means that the branches of the plants are now lower down, and the fact that new growth will come from the exposed wood will mean the hedge will grow back up to a good height, whilst also having a thick structure.

This long stretch of good habitat also acts like a stretch of road as it gives shelter to animals that want to move across the countryside. It’s possible that a Red Squirrel has at some point run along this hedge in search of new territory before they had spread into Kinross. Other species move up and down hedgerows, such as bats that find rich pickings when it comes to their favourite food, moths, that do well on the numerous flowering plants found along hedgerows.

This particular hedgerow has played host to a number of farmland bird species this winter as well, mainly Chaffinches and Yellowhammers but I’ve also picked out Brambling, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Tree Sparrow.

So, hopefully that has explained why hedge laying is such a brilliant habitat management technique, and you now know what to look out for next time you pass a hedgerow! If visiting our laid hedge then I’ll admit, it does loom a little drastic at the moment but come Spring the hedge will be teeming with new growth, full of new life, and have a completely new look.

Come 2-3 years, it will be in it’s prime as it will have reached it’s previous height and will be capable of supporting many, many birds and even more invertebrates and flowers!

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All of this work will have paid off by the time Spring and Summer get here… We just need to wait a wee bit…

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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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