Yesterday we were really lucky to have great weather for our 15 mile guided walk from Mar Lodge to Forest Lodge. It was a great day and we had a fantastic group of people out with us. We spotted many different bird species including goosanders and ringed ouzels on the way as well as frogs of all ages from legless tadpoles to fully grown adults and about a hundred deer grazing or basking on the top of the hills. There are some fantastic views coming down this route and it is a beautiful walk, especially when you get close to the Falls of Tarf as the valley becomes very narrow but the river looks so refreshing and tantalising.
Earlier in the week we went out looking for small cow wheat, a small plant with yellow flowers which occurs in upland woodlands. It is hemiparasitic and needs to tap into other plants roots to grow. This plant species is listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as its range is declining dramatically due to changes in woodland management, grazing, planting of conifers and fertilizer run off but a huge factor is also the loss of wood ants in forests. Small cow wheat requires wood ants to carry their seeds away into their nest so they can spread and germinate. Here at Atholl Estates we are lucky to have one of the largest populations of small cow wheat in Scotland and considering there are only 18 sites left in Britain which contain small cow (when there used to be over 200) we are pretty lucky. The small cow can be found on the Glen Tilt trail, about a mile below Gilberts Bridge. The area is fenced off to avoid any disturbance and damage to the site and is indicated by a picture of a flower.
Small Cow Wheat
We were also out looking for a few more rare species like the intermediate wintergreen which is distinguished from the common wintergreen by having a longer stigma (about 1 cm compared to about 0.5 cm the common wintergreen) and having flowers which hang further out from the stem, unlike the commons which are tight to the stem. The species has been declining with Scotland now being its Stronghold. We found quite a lot of this species up Glen Tilt which was a nice find. We were also hunting for lesser butterfly orchids as there was a historic record of them being up Glen Tilt but unfortunately we could not find any.
Whilst out sitting across the water from Auchgobhal on the same day I was watching a dragonfly flutter around my head in circles then finally catch a fly then take out down by the pond to eat it. A red squirrel then came sauntering down the hill, stopped in front of me to check me out then dived off into the broadleaved wooded area beside me. So if you sit in the same place long enough the wildlife comes to you.
Our red squirrels are busy again. They are chasing each other all around the tree tops, which is typical mating activity, and brilliant to watch. The good spring has allowed them to produce one litter of kittens and they will now be thinking about a second litter.
Greylag geese are a common sight here in the fields in winter. However, a few have decided not to make the journey north to breed this year, and have stayed here. We now have some fluffy greylag goslings on our ponds at Blairuachdar.
I saw a birdsnest orchid while in the woods in Glen Tilt. Not the prettiest of orchids, they get their nutrients from rotting vegetation and fungi. Because of this they don’t need any green colour for photosynthesis, and are very difficult to spot! These orchids like non-acidic soils - there are outcrops of limestone amongst the schists in Glen Tilt.
Whilst I was out this morning putting up signs to close off the rifle range for a long range shoot which is taking place today, I just happened to look up from the sign in the Glen Tilt car park and there, sitting in the tree just above me was a Goldcrest. They are beautiful little birds with a bright yellow or orange stipe running along the top of their heads and are the smallest songbirds in UK, along with the Firecrest which only occurs in Southern England.
Whilst working at Loch Ordie yesterday a yellowhammer was spotted singing on a gate post. These birds are very impressive looking with the bright colouration which is a stark contrast to the surrounding landscape. There were also loads of sandpipers flying around the lochs and lapwings in the area.
More wildlife was spotted when out doing a butterfly transect a few days ago up at Glen Fender meadow. As I stopped to identify a butterfly basking on a rock another one appeared and they started fluttering around each other off into the sky. They were small tortoiseshells which can be identified by their bright orange colouration and the blue D shapes which run along the edge of their wings. This species of butterfly have been declining over the past few years which may be down to parasitism by the fly Sturmia bella. These flies lay their eggs on the plants near feeding larvae which then eat the eggs whole. The eggs hatch inside the tortoiseshell larvae and start feasting on its insides leaving the vital organs. Once it has fully grown the fly parasite kills the host then emerges and pupates into its adult fly form to continue the life cycle. This occurs before the tortoiseshell larvae has managed to pupate itself. This fly species also infects other butterflies such as the Peacock and Red Admiral but the life cycle of the small tortoiseshell may be more synchronised to the fly making parasitism higher in this species.
Further along the butterfly transect a mouse was spotted sitting as still as possible so as not to be seen by predators. It was only about half a meter from my feet and looked really cute sitting in the wildflower meadow. There were also loads of curlews calling and flying around, hares hopping about and a roe deer grazing higher up on the slopes so all in all a good day for wildlife watching.
When I was walking around one of the sites in Dunkeld last week I came across a blackbird alarm calling.If you ever hear a bird alarm calling then it is wise to have a look around because it could be something really exciting that it is warning off (or it could just be that you are too close to the nest).In this instance on closer inspection of the site I found a juvenile owl sitting not far above me in a young pine tree.It appeared to be a tawny owl and must have only been a few weeks old.It was still present on the following days but had moved to a different tree where it sat taking in its surroundings and waiting for its mother to come back to feed it.An adult tawny owl was also spotted the following day hunting in the morning so it could well have been its mother.Tawny owls usually lay two or three eggs so it may have had brothers and sisters in the area as well but they were not seen on these occasions.
Before owlets can fly at around 5 weeks old they start exploring the area outside the nest.This is known as branching and it is at this time of year when owlets may be found on the ground. This is usually the result of them falling out of the trees but these owlets are exceptional climbers and will climb back into the tree, usually at night.The mother will also come down and feed the owlet on the ground but not in the presence of people.This is why it is essential to leave a juvenile owl where you have found it if it is not any danger and is not injured.The owlet will be cared for by its mother for two or three months before it will take off and start life on its own.
The gamekeepers, Highland Game and the rangers had a fantastic day yesterday working with children from five local schools during our Deer Day event.As you have guessed it was all about deer and gave the children a real insight into not just the lives of deer but also their control.We had five different work stations each teaching the children about a different aspect of deer.The first, deer are fab, was looking at live deer, antlers and skin.The second was all about tools and equipment and took the kids on a pretend deer stalk.The third focused on deer and their habitat, why the deer move downhill in winter for shelter and why we don’t have the vast forests we once had hundreds of years ago.We also had a deer management activity which focussed on their natural predators and lack of predators nowadays and did some population counts, and finally the children looked at deer as venison, how it is processed and where the meat gets sold.The children got a great insight into not only deer but also about the work which takes place on the estate in which many of them live.To top of the day they even got a free venison burger to try at lunch time.
On the subject of deer it is that time of year when we should soon be starting to see fawns in the area.After the mother gives birth the fawn will hide in the undergrowth until it is old enough to follow its mum but until then it is vulnerable to predation.The mother will come back to feed it regularly but will run off if any predators are close by to try and lead them away and not give away her offspring’s location.This is why you may come across a baby deer lying in tall vegetation.If you do then do not panic, it is unlikely to be an orphan and its mother will be close by waiting until the area is safe to return to her young.Don’t be tempted to touch the fawn as you will leave a scent which the mother is unaccustomed to and this will affect how the mother reacts with her offspring.Keep your distance and keep dogs on leads and you should cause as minimal disturbance as possible.