Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tuesday 22 November

We have had the pleasure of a rare dry day today, giving us a chance to see what's out and about instead of hiding inside hoods and waterproofs!
Beinn Dearg in the November sunshine

Out on the hills it looks like winter. I saw some viviparous fescue (Festuca vivipara) grass which is well adapted to poor weather and short seasons. Viviparous means giving birth to live young, not something you would usually associate with grass. What the grass actually does is to produce lots of little grass plants instead of seeds. These are ready to grow as soon as they fall off and bed into the ground. Genetically they are the same as the parent plant, but on the hills soemtimes the season is too short or inclement to have time for all the pollination and seed production. Sheeps fescue and red fescue grasses also grow on the hills, but they produce seeds normally.
Viviparous fescue - there are lots of little 'grasslets' at the end of each stem.

Roe deer are becoming a common sight again in the woods around the Castle. Now that most of the human and canine visitors have gone home, the woods are quiet, and the deer usually spend the winter here before disappearing again in the spring

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Saturday 5th November

The winter weather is starting to kick in and the mornings are becoming frosty. There is a fog settled over the River Gary and Tummel every morning which looks quite nice and strange when the rest of the landscape is really clear. It is becoming that time of year where you will have to spend some extra time in the morning defrosting your car and allowing more time to travel to take account of the ice on the roads.

Today we will be doing one of our monthly nature club events which will be all about pine martens and what better way to start the day than spotting a pine marten whilst out walking the dog. The ranger was just in the right place at the right time to spot the pine marten and it was great to see. Pine martens are about the size of a small cat and live mainly in wooded areas. They are the only mustelid to have semi retractable claws allowing them to climb trees and live in hallowed out trees, squirrel dreys and can even be found living in bird nests. Pine martens tend to be active at night and at dusk so are seldom seen during the day. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat a wide variety of food including small mammals, squirrels, birds and bird eggs, fish, insects, frogs and even carrion. A grey heron and a roe deer was also spotted whilst out for a walk so it was a good morning for wildlife spotting.

Pine marten at the Highland Wildlife park
Whilst in the visitor centre yesterday, which is now closed to the public for the winter, I came across something surprising. A wren was circling around the visitor centre trying to find a way to get back outside. It must have flown in the day before without anyone noticing then could not find a way back outside. After a bit of perseverance I managed to get the little bird back outside but it was understandably panicked by the ordeal and landed in the grass. I placed in a shaded tree out of reach of predators and passing dogs so it would have peace to calm down before it was able to fly properly again and start hunting for food. You never know what you are going to come across when you are out and about so keep your eyes and ears open, you could come across something really interesting. 
Wren from the ranger information centre
As it is Guy Fawkes night I thought I would take this opportunity to remind you to check your bonfires before you light them as hedgehogs or other wildlife may be using them as a place to start hibernating. Please also be aware of where you place your bonfire i.e. not too close to roosting sights or bird boxes as boxes will still be used for shelter during the winter. Please be safe, sensible and enjoy bonfire night.