Friday 27 January 2012

Friday 27 January

Musical mornings!
Quite suddenly, yesterday, the bird song has started up again in the mornings. Although robins have been singing their doleful song throughout the winter, now the blackbirds have joined in, and spring doesn't seem so far away.

The tawny owls have been 'singing' for quite some time, and a brilliant night-time sound it is for those of us who get to hear it. As one of the earliest birds to breed, they start their courtship before Christmas and the 'keewicks' and 'twoos' of the female and male birds reverberate around the woods and farm.

Tawny owl chick at Home Farm - what all the noise is for!
Cally to Polney Path
This path got hit very hard in the December gales with a huge number of trees, some huge ones, coming down over it. The estate wants to sell the timber from the larger trees, which is why we haven't been and cleared it all. However, we have now been up and cleared away the smaller trees, and taken all the branches off the bigger ones. So it is much easier to get through if you don't mind a bit of ducking and clambering. Otherwise you can use the road to get round.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Saturday 21 January

Life is easy just now for our resident red deer next to the Castle. They get generous rations of hay, and if the ground is feeling a bit chilly, well they can lie on it as well as eating it.

Things are somewhat tougher for the wild herds out in the hills and glens. The wild weather through December has taken its toll and we have some mortalities. The red deer find the wet and windy weather harder to survive than the really cold weather of the last two winters. They have a winter coat with crinkly and hollow guard hairs which trap lots of air for warmth, but this is much less effective when it gets wet.

Our new ranger events programme for 2012 is posted on the website now, with old favourites such as Wet and Wild and Red Squirrel walks together with some new ideas such as a Kite Making Workshop and pond Dipping at Polney Loch.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Thursday 12 January

We are hearing stories from all over the country of plants flowering and insects flying, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's the middle of winter. We too can contribute to this trend. Snowdrops are appearing and have even started to flower up the Castle drive. This doesn't normally happen until February / March, although in 2005 we were seeing snowdrop shoots on 15 January (but no flowers). The extremely mild weather is obviously the cause for this, although the forecast suggests it is going to get much colder over the next week. It's lucky that snowdrops are very tough - in fact their shoots are strengthened with protective sheath covers  to allow them to push up through frozen soil. The sap in their cells also contains extra sugar which acts as an anti-freeze.

Snowdrop shoots. This picture was taken on Monday. Some of these plants are already in flower today.
Blair Castle have a Snowdrop Trail around the Gardens and Grounds which is usually opened in February. However, we are bringing it forward to the 21 January as the snowdrops are already here.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Wed 4 January 2012

It is now official that last year was the wettest year on record in Scotland. This does not come as a surprise to us - when you are working outside a lot, you definitely notice. It has also made our paths and trails wetter and muddier than they should normally be. We are doing what we can to improve things, but if you come for a walk in the area at the moment, wear boots or other good footwear. And if you come for some mountain biking, the landrover tracks are not too muddy, but any singletrack is very very wet - some parts are best avoided just now to prevent long-term damage.

Digging in a new drain (in the rain!)
Some wildlife such as the greylag geese which visit each winter will enjoy the soggy conditions. It also keeps the ground soft for worm-eating birds. Even buzzards will go 'worming' in the winter if they are hungry.