Sunday, 28 August 2011

Sunday 28th August

Our resident red deer stag has finally shed all the velvet off his antlers now that it is getting close to the rutting season. The velvet supplies oxygen and nutrients to the antler to help it grow and since the antler is the fastest growing mammal bone it needs a lot of nutrients. Once it has reached its full size the velvet is no longer required so it dies and falls off leaving the dead bone. This also means that there are no longer nerves around the antlers so the stags can use them for displays and fights in order to get mates. We have had the same resident stag here at the castle for quite a few years now and he is getting quite old which you can tell from the size of his antlers. You cannot actually tell the age of a stag but counting the number of points on its antlers as size is also determined by the deer’s nutrition and health due to the vast nutrient requirements needed in growing antlers.
The rut itself will start at the end of September and will last until about November at which point the stags will be competing with each other for mates and guarding groups of females called a harem. During this time males will size each other up to assess dominance and will challenge a harem holder by roaring repeatedly for up to 20 minutes. If the stag is out roared he will back down but if there is no clear winner then it will lead onto a battle to determine the dominant male. When this happens the males will walk in parallel with each other until one lowers its head inviting the other to charge. They will fight and push each other until one submits and the winner will gain the breeding rights until challenged again. This can often lead to injuries and fatalities and in some cases their antlers can become locked together and then both will starve to death as they cannot feed or drink like this. Our resident male has a whole harem to himself so will not have to worry about competing to breed but in the hills you should be able to hear the stags roaring at each other in the following month but don’t get too close as they can be very dangerous during this time.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Thursday 25th August

The wet weather we have been having this summer has been very helpful for the salmon as their journey upstream to breed has been made a lot easier with the higher water levels.  The salmon can be seen jumping on the River Tilt as they make their way back to the stream in which they were born.  It is still uncertain how the salmon manage to navigate back to their natal site and many suggestions have been made including rivers having certain smells which the salmon use to find their way back or that they are able to detect the earth’s magnetic fields and use that as a guide.  After they breed the salmon will die leaving their offspring to fend for themselves and start the cycle again. 

Also on the river we have come across some mink tracks on one of our rafts.  These rafts contain a tunnel inside of which there is a basket filled with clay.  When a mink or other water dwelling animal comes to investigate the raft it will leave a footprint impression on the clay which can then be identified.  American mink are a real problem for our native water vole species as they predate heavily on them.  Water voles normally evade predators by diving under water and using submerged entrances to get into their burrows but these strategies do not work with are non-native mink as they are very good, fast swimmers.   This, as well as pollution and habitat change has resulted in a drastic decline in water voles which has led to them being classified as a protected species.  Mink resemble polecats and ferrets but can be distinguished due to them being one colour all over unlike the latter.  There is currently a large scale conservation effort to try and stop the spread of American mink to help save our water voles so if you spot one then please get in touch with either us or your local mink officer. 
American Mink
Water Vole
Tonight we have out batty kids events where we will be playing games to learn about bats and then going on a walk with the bat detectors to see what we can spot and hear.  This event starts at 7:30 and lasts until 9 pm meeting at the Ranger Information Centre and costs £2 per child. 

On Sunday the 28th August we also have a fungi course for beginners where you can come along and learn the basics about fungi and how to identify them. There really is a lot more to fungi than meets the eye so come along and learn about this very interesting kingdom. The following week (4th Sept) we have a more advanced fungi event where you can come out and improve your knowledge of fungi with our expert. These both start at 2 pm at Glen Tilt car park and cost £2 and £4 respectively per person.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Tuesday 16th August

The estate is becoming very active and busy with everyone getting ready for the horse trials. This is a four day event starting on Thursday 18th up to Sunday the 21st of August and takes place in the fields in front of the estate office, just below Blair Castle. There will be many different events taking place including dressage, stallion parades, show jumping and cross country. There will also be a Bruadar country fair arena which will host falconry, vintage tractors, gundogs and canine partners to name but a few. While you at the trials why not also visit some of the many stalls which will be selling anything from wine, food and delicacies to clothing, accessories and things for pets and horses. You don’t have to be a horse lover to go to the trials, there is something for everyone so come along and enjoy a day at the horse trails and country fair.
Despite the clouds and the threat of rain yesterday it was a great day for butterflies and dragonflies. There were large numbers of Scotch Argus butterflies and I was counting up to 25 in any 100m section of the transect, and that was only the ones I spotted. If you actually had time and stopped to look harder you would have been able to find far more as they were all sitting on Scottish thistles and in the heather round about. The heather flies were also out in large swarms and the dragonflies were having a great feast, catching them in mid-air then flying off with their prey. If you have the chance it can be really interesting just to take some time out and watch your local wildlife and it is a great way to relax.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Wednesday 10th August

The heavy rain during today and last night has mean that we have had to cancel our Gala night which was due to take place in Blair Atholl tonight.  We will hopefully be rescheduling for later on in the year so keep posted for information. 
Up on the Glen Banvie trail near Ruichlachrie a male merlin was spotted resting on a rock whilst out on a landrover tour.  The merlin is the smallest bird of prey which inhabits the UK.  They feed mainly on small birds but also on large moths and small mammals.  At Glen Banvie it would probably be feeding mainly on wheatears and meadow pipets.  They have fast flight in order to catch their prey and will sometimes even use vegetation to take them by surprise.  So keep your eyes open whilst up the glens because you could spot the smallest bird of prey, the merlin, or even the largest bird prey in the UK, the sea eagle (also called the white tailed eagle) if you are really lucky. 
Sea Eagle in flight

Friday, 5 August 2011

Friday 5th August

The stalking season has started again and will run until October 20th so to help minimise disturbance we have our hillphone service in place. This allows walkers to call and get information about where stalks are taking place and advice about alternative routes in the area. The hillphone service is updated daily and information about stalking can be found on the notice board at the Glen Tilt car park, by calling 01796 481740 or online at then following the links. Please avoid crossing land where stalking is taking place to avoid disturbance to stalks.

You may have noticed while you have been out and about that there are quite a few purple coloured droppings lying about from many different animals. This is because the blaeberry is fruiting and the fruits are eaten by many different species of birds and animals. Ptarmigan, black and red grouse particularly rely on blaeberry foliage as a food source. In the Caladonian forest insects eat more blaeberry than any other understory plant and these insects are particularly important for capercaillie chicks in their first few weeks of their life.

Blaeberry flowering
There are quite a few different types of fungi out at the moment and one of the ones spotted in Glen Tilt was a stinkhorn. This particular mushroom as you may have guessed by the name smells particularly pungent, like rotten meat. This is to attract flies which will land on its slimy cap and pick up the spores to disperse them. You may come across a stinkhorn as a fruiting body when it is encased in a what appears to be a squidgy white ball. If you are out walking and smell something really bad then take a closer look, it may turn out to be something you do not expect.
Stinkhorn ©Peter A Ferns