New things

It was this time two years ago that I started this blog. As is the norm in life, a lot has changed. I’m no longer at school, in fact at the moment I’m not even studying at SRUC. The name of this blog is now slightly out of date given the fact I’ve branched out into all areas of ecology and nature.

(Warning, this post is just me putting my thoughts down, it may be quite boring.)

Anyway, it was Christmas a few days ago and one of my presents was this; Plants and Habitats, An introduction to common plants and their habitats in Britain and Ireland by Ben Averis.

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Newest addition to my growing library

Of course, I’m not in much need of a guide to identifying common plants, however, this book does more than just that! For a while now I’ve been looking at landscapes and trying to understand them; the land use, the organisms living there, the historical use, sometimes even the geology. This book is going to help me understand the habitats that exist and why they exist by using my ability to identify plants (which I have developed over the past year).

Basically, this book does help you identify plants. Identification features are written in green, but I’m more interested in the blue and red text. These are habitats and human-related matters.

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Oak Woodland

So today I decided to take it out for a test run, as I’m going to be looking at habitats a lot at Loch Leven in the coming months. I’ve been tasked with identifying all the habitats around the reserve, looking at the species that are present in those habitats, looking at the current management of those habitats, and then working out if there are species that are being unintentionally removed from the habitat.

For example, gorse removal on Carsehall Bog (it’s a marsh really) to ensure the bog stays as a bog so the Lesser Butterfly Orchids and other bog specialists flourish. However, this isn’t so good for the Linnets and Stonechats as we are removing their perches and nest sites.

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Having been birding at Gladhouse Reservoir yesterday, I thought why not head back. There are some great wee pockets of semi-natural habitat around the reservoir that I found a couple of years ago when traipsing about looking for birds.

I was also trying to re-ignite my bryophyte identification passion so focused on those a bit as well.

So, first stop was a wee patch of raised bog just before Gladhouse that I’d scanned for raptors countless times. Today I actually flushed 4 Red Grouse off it so I guess it’s a healthy enough bit of bog. Anyway, my notes on the habitat:


 

Raised Bog, maybe NVC M19.

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2 clearly different habitats. Above shows more Heather Calluna vulgaris, and other dwarf shrubs such as Crowberry Empetrum nigrum and Blaeberry Vaccinium myrtillus. Also more Sphagnum species and wetter underfoot.

Below shows other habitat with less heather, more obvious Blaeberry Vaccinium myrtillus and a lot more grass (I think it’s predominantly Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea). This habitat joins on to a field that is grazed by sheep and appears to be an acidic field (judging by the species growing there, which included the same grass as on the bog).

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Not that sure what else I can figure out at this moment in time, but I do wonder why the habitat changes from less heather to more heather. Burning? Grazing? Encroachment of grasses from surrounding fields? I dunno. But I did do some bryologising whilst I was on the bog! Here’s what I got…

All of these are fairly typical of raised bog. There was plenty more to see there but I moved on to another couple of areas.

The areas I moved on to are in the north-west corner of the reservoir and draw me in due to the fact they appear to be sort of semi-natural. With some nice Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris and Silver & Downy Birch Betula pendula & pubescens woodland and a good covering of dwarf shrubs, it just feels nice to be in. Of course there are the usual problematic species but they aren’t too bad in this area yet…

The first bit I went into was predominantly Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris and Silver Birch Betula pendula, with a little patch of Downy Birch B. pubescens woodland with an understory of Broad Buckler-fern Dryopteris dilatata. But I moved on into another area as I found this one too depressing, with the Pheasants running about all over the place.

This is actually a field that sheep graze and it’s quite obvious once you look at the Heather C. vulgaris. My new book actually sets aside a few pages to look specifically at Heather condition (i.e. ungrazed, lightly grazed, burnt, etc.) so I got down on my hands and knees and had a look.

Above left shows the Heather C. vulgaris in this area, and above right shows it on that wee patch of raised bog I visited earlier. The Heather in this grazed area is short, at around 10-20cm tall compared with the c60cm tall Heather on the raised bog. I have a feeling this heather may have also been mown at some point as there were very few thick-stemmed plants.

I also had some fun looking at the exclusion zones where the flora has been allowed to grow freely.

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Clearly the trees have been there a while before the fence was put in place, but the Gorse Ulex europaeus has probably emerged recently. I have swithered as to whether it might be Western Gorse U. gallii due to it’s height but, as per Plants and Habitats, gorse is “commonly browsed by animals…” therefore I suspect it’s just been browsed down to this height.

Also notable here was the difference in the Heather C. vulgaris covering the ground. On the right of the fence, there was a fair bit (the dark patches are all heather) and on the left there was little. This makes sense really, I don’t need to explain it. On the other side of the fence there was also a lot more Silver Birch Betula pendula regeneration but I then realised that there were areas that weren’t fenced off where there was equal amounts of birch regeneration. Turns out birch regen is “not very palatable to deer, sheep and cattle.”

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Betula pendula regeneration

I learnt a bunch of other stuff like how to tell B. pendula from B. pubescens in winter and saw plenty Crossbills, but I’ll leave you now with some other mosses that I identified. I was really aiming just for the common ones as I feel once I have those down to a tee then I can start looking at everything else.

Well done if you managed to read through all of that!

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New things

A few things of note…

After deciding to get my camera trap out in some of the birch woods round Loch Leven, I’ve learnt something my field guide didn’t tell me.

It was a successful bit of camera trapping, as it had only been out for 3 nights but I managed to get Roe Deer (difficult not to), Red Fox, Badger and European Hare! The one that perplexed me though was the hare. I knew they were in there as I’d seen them before but hadn’t given them much thought.

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The only European Hare photo I can find on my Flickr page, must try harder

My field guide, Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (Aulagnier, Haffner, Mitchell-Jones, Moutou & Zima, 2009) only mentions the European Hare Lepus europaeus as inhabiting “Open landscapes with bushes or hedges, sparse forests, marshland, steppes, subdesert areas…” etc. This place hardly counts as ‘sparse forest’, it supports Red Squirrel, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and other typical woodland species. So, in my humble opinion, it is not sparse.

That and the fact I couldn’t find where I’d put my camera trap for 15 minutes due to all the trees I could have possibly put it on.

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The birch canopy a little earlier in the year

So I took to trusty, old Twitter and uploaded the 2 second long clip of the hare leaping (lepus = leap? Nope, just = hare) from stage left to stage right. I got plenty responses which was very helpful, and it would appear that these hares regularly use woodland as cover. If they aren’t feeding then why would they stay out in the open? Makes sense really.

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No where to hide

The necessary notes have been added to my field guide now.

The other little thing I’ve learnt came from my visit to St Cyrus NNR on Thursday when I was helping with gorse removal (read about it on the Loch Leven NNR blog). Before getting to all the sawing and hauling of spiky stuff, Ruari (the intern at Tentsmuir NNR, who was also up for a visit) and I paid the bird hide a visit and after peering out the front window for however long, realised there was a Little Egret out the window on the right hand side of the hide.

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Little Egret fishing

This is actually a year tick for me although I haven’t kept my year list up to date since January… and I haven’t been updating my life list very much either. Either way, a nice bird to see on any day. What interested me was the colour of it’s feet: bright yellow, contrasting with the black legs.

After a bit of digging about I found that Little Egrets actually feed differently to Grey Herons which, now I think about it, I have observed in the field. Grey Herons are well known for having more patience than a rock when it comes to catching their next meal.

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Like an orange dagger

Little Egrets, however, go about catching fish differently. They are impatient wee herons and will actively go after fish. But in order to do this they need to find the fish. This is where the yellow feet come in. They wave their feet about in the water which, in theory, scares the fish which naturally swim to the surface to escape.

This makes it a whole lot easier to spot them than stabbing blindly at the mud. That said, it’s still quite a skill to be able to catch a small fish in your mouth as it darts away from you.

So that’s all the wee nuggets of info I felt like sharing. It appears I’ve found a use for my blog so perhaps there’ll be more posts to come…

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Skinny ma linky longlegs, big banana feet
A few things of note…

Clearing things up

Hello? Anyone there? Hopefully you’ve all been following my progress on the Loch Leven NNR blog, and if you haven’t then you can see those on this blog now (I’ve reblogged all my posts for LLNNR).

On that blog, however, there are certain things that I can’t post up due to being either not relevant to Loch Leven or… well that’s the only reason really. Although now that I think about it, I haven’t done much other than enjoy my time at Loch Leven. (I’ll litter this post with some random nice pictures to try and make it a little more readable, also, this isn’t a rant. I’m just trying to make things a little clearer 🙂 )

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One thing I have found is that people don’t appear to know or understand what it is I do, or what Loch Leven NNR is all about. I shall explain…

I secured myself a year-long internship with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), as a Reserve Assistant at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve (NNR). This involves pretty much doing anything I’m asked/told to do around the loch. Everything I do is either on the blog or on the NNR Facebook page.

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Scottish Natural Heritage is the governmental organisation responsible for:

  • promoting, caring for, and improving Scotland’s natural heritage
  • helping people enjoy nature responsibly
  • enabling greater understanding and awareness of nature
  • promoting the sustainable use of Scotland’s natural heritage

At Loch Leven, SNH manages the whole reserve, although RSPB do manage a chunk of it, as can be seen by the map found in the reserve leaflet.

Working for SNH means I don’t work at Vane Farm/RSPB Loch Leven. One of the RSPB lot that I know said someone was asking for me at the cafe? If that was you, then head back round to Kinross where our office is and try in there!

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I think that’s everything that needed clearing up…

So, yesterday I decided to climb Stob Binnein, a munro that isn’t too far from me (I’m staying with my gran in Dollar as it’s free accommodation). Obviously there was more planning than that, I had decided last week that I wanted to bag a munro. Given the current season, I realised my equipment wasn’t really up to a sufficient standard to allow me to climb a munro in winter conditions.

I headed up to Perth to visit Tiso in order to buy myself some proper walking boots that would allow the use of crampons, plus an ice axe. After trying on many boots (I actually have blisters on my thumb and index finger from tying so many laces) I eventually found some that were within my price range and fulfilled the purpose that I needed them for, plus bought crampons and an ice axe.

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Using my ice axe to gauge the size of these bird footprints

The climb up Stob Binnein is hellish at first. Really steep for the first hour or so. However, once you get over the top of Creag Artair it’s pretty easy going and gives brilliant views. I was planning on doing Ben More as well but with daylight hours so few at this time of year, I felt it would be best if I just headed back down to the car.

What next? Who knows, perhaps I’ll do Ben More next, or Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin. But looking forwards, next year I have a few nice excursions planned. The Isle of May NNR for at least a week (maybe two, 1 with SNH and possibly 1 with the bird obs), Creag Meagaidh NNR for a week to experience the management they use on that NNR,  and hopefully Noss NNR for a week. It’s going to be good!

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Isle of May NNR

Otherwise, not much to report I’m afraid! I’ll maybe get back into using this blog, perhaps for any weekend trips that I have. But if I don’t blog here, then check the Loch Leven NNR blog, the NNR Facebook page, my Twitter, AND I now have Instagram so you can follow me there too!

Right, I better go and have dinner, then it’s time for Planet Earth II, the best thing on TV!

 

Clearing things up

Wintry water

Loch Leven National Nature Reserve

Loch Leven has certainly been showing off the best things about winter this week.

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This morning was no exception as the loch has finally frozen in some places, plus everything around the loch has a nice crisp coating of ice. The ducks now tend to huddle in the non-frozen areas of the loch, and if you’re lucky you’ll maybe be able to have good views of them.

I was at RSPB Loch Leven today having a look for the White-tailed Eagle that has been seen in recent days. It’s been using the trees on St Serf’s Isle but we don’t think it’s one of the usual visitors from previous years as they tend to sit in the trees on Castle Island and Reed Bower. If you see a huge, dark silhouette sitting in a tree, or see what looks like a barn door defying gravity then do let either us…

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Guest Blog: Ostracods!

Loch Leven National Nature Reserve

Today we’re going to look back at some slightly warmer days in August, when Dave Horne of the Queen Mary University of London paid the loch a visit. I’ll let him explain further…


I have been working through some samples I collected in Loch Leven in August, picking out specimens of ostracods, which are tiny crustaceans, typically around one millimetre long that live in all manner of aquatic habitats. Why am I doing this? The fossil remains of ostracods (their calcium carbonate shells) can tell us a great deal about past environments and climates. I use them to reconstruct the winter and summer temperatures experienced by early humans in the British Isles, focusing on archaeological sites spanning the past million years or so. To do this I need to calibrate the temperature ranges of living ostracod species by comparing their geographical distribution with a climate model in a GIS (Geographical Information…

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Midweek Update

Loch Leven National Nature Reserve

I’m afraid today’s post is going to be short as I’m in the office quite late and it’s dark and I need to pick up some stuff from the shops on the way home!

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We’ve been out today, the volunteers and I, repairing the hide at Burleigh. It’s currently out of action as the boardwalk still needs to be put back together and needs a lick of paint added but it was a good day of work, despite the rain, hail, wind, cold and mud!

Before the week started, I was out at Tentsmuir NNR having a wee look around and can confirm it is very much worth a visit. Seals, shorebirds, sand, sea… it’s not Loch Leven, but it is very nice so do pop out. It’s one of the closest reserves to us here in Kinross-shire.

Back to Loch Leven on Monday and everything feels very…

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Winter rears it’s pretty head

Loch Leven National Nature Reserve

We’re certainly feeling the colder weather that’s moved in, with our first proper, hard frost this morning and snow on the surrounding hills over the past couple of days. However, you can’t freeze all the action at the loch, even if it did reach -3 degrees C last night!

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The volunteers were kept warm this week as some finished up baling in front of the Levenmouth Hide, and the rest pulled out a fence that will be replaced after some work has been done. The best part about fence removal is the satisfying job of rolling it all up!

The wildlife continues to act appropriately given it’s winter now. Waxwings are definitely still present. Jeremy found 30 in Springfield Park on the 10th Nov, and I spotted 5+ this morning sat atop a conifer at the end of Mavisbank. Always keep an…

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