Thursday 29 September 2011

Thursday 29 September

We are in the process of replacing all the waymarkers on our waymarked trails. Many of the posts are originals from when the trails were set up in 1996, so have done well to last 15 years. Today pupils from Pitlochry High School Rural Skills class gave us a hand on the Red Squirrel Trail. They realised it can be quite hard work digging a hole!

Thursday 22 September 2011

Thursday 22 September

Autumn colours in Glen Tilt

The equinox has been, nights are now longer than days, and autumn has definitely arrived in Blair Atholl. Although many people might suggest that we haven't had a summer anyway, the trees have now started to turn, leaves are falling, and the nights are definitely getting chilly. Give it a couple more weeks and the autumn colours should be looking really spectacular.

The squirrels definitely think it's autumn too, collecting and stashing food for the winter. Although they don't hibernate, they spend a lot more time in their dreys in the winter and don't go out at all on bad weather days. They stash food now so that in the middle of winter it's easy and quick to gather it and then they can quickly get back to the warmth of the drey.

Off to get the next nut
Stashing nuts amongst the vegetation
Sitting in the wildlife hide this morning, I watched a busy squirrel at work. It collected a nut, bit the top off - perhaps to give it a scent for finding it later, and then buried it amongst the vegetation. This went on for about 20 minutes before the squirrel decided maybe it could have a reward and ate one of the nuts. Meanwhile the coal tits were busy taking sunflower seeds that had been spilled by the squirrel.

Friday 16 September 2011

Friday 16 September

Busy squirrels.

Our resident red squirrels always love the peanut/ hazelnut / sunflower seed mix we put in our squirrel feeders out in the woods. However, they are emptying them slightly less quickly than usual just now, as the beech trees are providing an alternative feast. Standing under some of the big mature trees it is very difficult to see the squirrels because there are so many beech leaves, but you can hear the pop of the nuts being opened by the squirrel and then the rustles and plops as the husks are tossed away. Beech trees only have good 'mast ' years every few years, but when they do it's a great time for the squirrels to feed up.

Young squirrel enjoying one of our feeders.

Beech nut shells discarded by squirrels.
 The only downside is that it benefits the grey squirrels a lot too, and makes them more likely to spread out into this area. In fact one was recently spotted by a resident at Fenderbridge. If you see a grey squirrel in the Blair Atholl / Calvine / Struan area then please let us know as soon as possible.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Thursday 8th September

We have recently made improvements to one of our access points on the Glen Banvie trail. Where there used to be a boardwalk and steps over the deer fence (in the middle on the trail) we have now installed a gate to make access much easier, especially with bikes. On the way back from removing the boardwalk we spotted a black grouse standing on the moorland relaxing in the sun. It was a nice sight watching it in the middle of purple heather. 
New gate on the right
The Scottish thistles have begun to set seed now on the path to Loch Ordie with only a few flowering plants still about which are still a good source of food for insects, including this peacock butterfly. The thistle was taken on as the Scottish emblem during the reign of Alexander III because, as the legend goes, King Hakton of Norway ordered his army of men to invade Scotland, landing in Coast of Largs. They intended on taking the Scots by surprise by removing their shoes so they didn’t make a sound and creeping up on them during the night. Unfortunately one of the men stood on a thistle, yelped out and alerted the Scottish helmsmen of the invasion which led to the Scots winning the battle.
Peacock butterfly on a Scottish thistle
We have found yet another mink footprint but this time at Cally Loch so we are doing the best we can to try and trap it in an effort to protect and save our native water voles and stop the spread of American mink.

We recently had our advanced fungi day and saw over thirty species of fungi on a very small section of the red squirrel trail. There were loads of orange birch boletes and russulas but we also found a fly agaric and honey fungus, also called bootlace fungus. Honey fungus is a gardeners and foresters nightmare. There are seven different species in the UK and they are all parasitic, killing trees quickly by attacking tree roots and decaying dead wood. You may see honey coloured mushrooms on the tree or at its base for short periods in the year but it can also be distinguished by black coloured ‘bootlaces’ which are found growing under the bark. Not all fungi are bad though and only a small number are actually parasitic. Many have a symbiotic relationship with their plant counterparts helping both parties to grow and survive and some fungi are very important for recycling dead material. It is a great time of year to go out and have a look at them so see how many species you can find. You will be surprised at how many you can get in a small area.
Fly Agaric
Honey Fungus
Honey Fungus on birch