Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A busy weekend (Part.2)...

After Saturday's very successful and enjoyable day over at Beinn Eighe with the BTO it was time to attend the Biodiversity Open Day down at Dundreggan Estate on Sunday (14th) which had been organised by Trees For Life. The day would involve a range of talks, walks and activities on a variety of different topics and was open to anyone who had an interest and again it was free.

Again I headed down with my friend Luke and upon entering the area beside the keepers lodge we were welcomed by Trees For Life staff members and pointed towards the direction of the merchandise tent which was also where we could sign up for the various activities through the day. Unfortunately it wasn't possible to attend them all but picked out the ones we thought would be most interesting.

Free tea / coffee / juice were provided in the morning and throughout the day with various baked goods (also free) and the first event of the day was a walk up to an area of the estate to feed the wild boar which to be honest just sounded like a bit of fun but turned out to be very informative talk from Steve Morris, the operations manager at Dundreggan, on wild boar management on the estate and the effects they have on the natural renegeration of the woodland. Currently using the wild boar is a bit of trial and error but there is much useful information being gained from the project in terms of data and to the woodland itself. Currently they have 7 wild boar in a fenced enclosure of 12 hectares but different areas are used every couple of years to monitor the effects that the animals are having on the vegetation.

Steve Morris talking about wild boar.

After a quick cup of tea and scone in the sun it was time for the wildlife trek with the head stalker at dundreggan. Wildlife was a bit thin on the ground but again the information presented was very good and all aspects of deer management on the estate were discussed although unfortunately when it comes to Trees For Life they seem to attract shall we say a certain type of person with some ridiculous ideas. Present were lot's of Southern English people, hippies, climate change sceptics and some straightforward idiots with some people unfortunately all of the above. But there were also plenty of people with common sense and their heads screwed on so it wasn't all bad.

Talking to us on the walk was also Trees For Life board member Dr David Hetherington who is also an ecologist for the Cairngorms National Park Authority and myself, Luke and David had a very interesting talk on the way back down the hill on Lynx re-introduction in which David has done a lot of research work on and is most likely the leading authority on the subject. As someone who is interested in nature conservation with a background in forest management I would love to see the day but I would say don't hold your breath.

After out trek up to the top of the reserve it was time for lunch and a BBQ was on. Some pretty tasty venison burgers were on the go (£3 this time) and after we finished those we had a look around at some of the stalls with Aigas, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Plantlife present. We also had a look around the tree nursery there and were told about the work Trees For Life had been doing in terms of Aspen propagation and many of the rare montane Willows that are missing from our landscape.

This lead us nicely on to the launch of the Mountain Woodland Project (click for more info) by the executive director of Trees For Life, Alan Watson Featherstone. He explained a bit more about the project, what trees for life were doing and some of the other partners that were involved.

The afternoon session involved a trip to one of new planting schemes on the estate. Two full minibuses made a trip up to the top of the reserve where 400ha of new native woodland had been planted and protected by a deer fence. Scots Pine, Birch, Rowan and some Aspen had been planted as well as Dwarf Birch which was doing extremely well which is confined to mostly above 400 metres above sea level. We exited the minibuses and walked across the site led by Steve Morris again who talked about what they were trying to achieve. After a couple of hours we were back in the minibuses and headed back down to where we started.

All in all in was a pretty good day and I definitely learned a lot of new information. Below are some pictures from the day.

Steve telling us about the planting scheme.
Dwarf Birch (Betula nana) growing well on the reserve.
Northern Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus) caterpillar on B. nana
Oblong-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia)
Heath Fragrant-orchid (Gymnadenia borealis) ???

Monday, 15 July 2013

A busy weekend (Part.1)...

Last week was tough at work with temperatures above 20c all week and I was hoping that the good weather would remain as I had a couple of things lined up for the weekend past.

On Saturday (13th) it was off to Kinlochewe near to Beinn Eighe NNR again for a day of free upland bird training run by the BTO. The weather stayed good and myself and my friend Luke headed to the village hall where the event was to take place. Overall there was about 20+ people which turned out to be a good mix of birders, people with some interest, hillwalkers and representatives from outdoor activity companies.

The morning starting with introductions from Ben Darvill and Anne Cotton from BTO Scotland then Ben gave an introduction to the day ahead and some background to the BTO. We were then provided with some general techniques for bird identification before having a short coffee break. After the break we got stuck into some upland bird ID which took the form of a presentation and group work. It was then time for a half hour lunch and then it was off out for the afternoon.

Once everyone was ready we headed up into one of the valleys near to Beinn Eighe on foot to put some of the stuff we had taught into practice. For the first part of the walk there seemed to be not much around in terms of upland birds apart from numerous Meadow Pipits when all of a sudden a shout went up for "RING OUZEL". I caught sight of the bird off to the right which then flew up and over the group to the other side of the track before we lost it in the bracken. The bird was very brown and everyone was in a agreement that it was a female. A first for me and bit of a bogie bird that I hadn't had much luck seeing in the last 3 years. We carried on further when another shout went up for "GOLDEN EAGLE" and in fact there were 2, soaring high above one of the ridges but they gave good views through the binoculars and they really were unmistakable due to the sheer size. There day was turning out to be superb as this was another first for me even after 25 years in the Highlands. But it was to get even better. An employee from SNH had come out with the group and she pointed out an eyrie belonging to the eagle pair about 300m away high on top of one of the crags. This thing was huge, easily 10 foot across and when someone got a scope on it there was in fact a juvenile bird perched out on the edge. 3 Golden eagles with 10 minutes when before I hadn't seen one ever. Further up the track we enjoyed the rare Azure Hawker dragonfliess near to the stream, another first for me. The group was split into two smaller groups and Luke and I were catching up to the lead group as they had stopped after hearing what they thought was the call of a Peregrine and were trying to locate it. Turns out it was 2 Merlin and they burst out of nowhere and we spent a good 10 mins enjoying an aerial chase between the two of them as they almost grappled in the air. More knowledgeable people in the group agreed that they were 2 young birds.

We then made our way back to the village hall in Kinlochewe where Ben and Anne talked about Birdtrack recording and gave more information about the What's Up? project which is encouraging people to record more of their bird sightings in upland areas where data is currently lacking. There was also some more details on the mountain transect survey which is a more formal approach to recording above 750m. So please click the link and get involved if you can, especially if you enjoy hillwalking.

So in all in all the day turned out to be very beneficial in the morning, some superb birding in the afternoon and best of all it was all free. Thank you very much to BTO Scotland, Ben and Anne for putting on the day.

Year List Additions:
122. Ring Ouzel (Lifer)
123. Golden Eagle (Mega-lifer)
124. Merlin

Saturday, 6 July 2013


Great views of an Osprey that flew over at tree height across the road between Monadh Mor turn off and Tore roundabout yesterday.

Year List Additions:
121. Osprey

Monday, 1 July 2013


Yesterday (29th) myself and my friend Luke hiked up to the top of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve near to Loch Maree. Good day out, weather was reasonable but wildlife was almost non-existant. At the reserve itself all that was seen was several meadow pipits and a robin in the Pine woods, pretty disappointing.

Half way up.
Top of the reserve.
View from the top.
Today (30th) I carried out a rather late WeBS survey. It was dry but extremely windy which didn't make things easy. As usual at Loch Achilty nothing much happening at all just 2 Mallard and plenty of flies and midges. At Loch Kinellan the windy conditions had got even worse and at first glance there didn't seem to be much on loch andi n the end just a handful of the usual suspects.

This time last year whilst completing the WeBS count also I came across a pair of Whinchat at the Western side of the loch and I was hoping they would return again this year. I made my way over to where I saw them last year but things weren't easy with the wind. I stuck it out for half an hour and then finally about 50m away a bird flew out of the rushes and onto a low fence post. It was a male Whinchat and he tried to sing before being blown off his perch and flew into the scrub where I wasn't able to pick it up again. Walking back in between the gusts of wind I picked up a song that I hadn't in quite a while. It was a Sedge Warbler perched on the side of a willow also trying to sing in the wind.

Kinellan Scrape was very busy with plenty of the usual suspects many of which had young in tow. On the path around the scrape the orchids have come through since my last visit adding a nice bit of colour.

Northern Marsh hybrid Orchid

Year List Additions:
119. Whinchat
120. Sedge Warbler