Tuesday 27 March 2012

The Plight of the Bumblebee

What a lovely week of weather. Summer really is here. Much of the insect life that we wouldn't normally see for several weeks yet has warmed up and got going. Small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies are flying around as are queen bumblebees. These ladies have been hibernating through the winter and are now looking to start a new colony. But before they can do this they need to feed up enough to lay eggs from where the first worker bees will hatch.

A small tortoiseshell enjoying the sun

A white-tailed bumblebee queen trying to work out where the nectar is!

Although the early good weather is great for us, the bees and butterflies can struggle to find enough nectar to feed, as there aren't many plants flowering yet. Willow trees are really important and their catkins are often shrouded with bumblebees. You can help too by planting some early flowering, nectar rich plants in your garden. Cherry trees, flowering currant bushes, daffodils and rosemary are all great for bumblebees. French marigolds are great for butterflies, and don't mow all your daisies and buttercups - these are good too.

Remember that helping the bumblebees is helping your garden too. We need them as pollinators.

Friday 23 March 2012

Village Litter Pick: 10am, 27th March

We will be holding a litter pick through the village of Blair Atholl this coming Tuesday, the 27th March. If you would like to come along and help clean up in the community, we will be meeting outside the Village Hall at 10am. You can stay and help out for as long or as little as you like and we will provide everyone with gloves, rubbish bags and litter pickers.

With a bit of help from a few willing hands it won't take long to have the village looking clean and neat, ready for the springtime. Any time that you can spare will be greatly appreciated, so come along and join us!

Ranger picking up leaf litter

Red Squirrel Photos

We haven't had much luck capturing any images of wildcats recently and were starting to think that there might be something the matter with our trail cameras. So to check that they were working properly, we put them where there was sure to be some animal action - at one of the 3 squirrel feeders that we have around the castle grounds. As you can see from the pictures below, the trail cameras work fine but it looks like we will have to keep trying before we see some wildcats!

A bushy-tailed red squirrel sitting on our squirrel feeder
You can see that this squirrel has a bald patch on it's back,
perhaps it had a close encounter with a bird of prey or a pine marten?
Red squirrel nibbling a nut!
And this fearsome beastie? An escaped sheep coming to
investigate our wildcat bait!

Thursday 15 March 2012

Red Romance

It's that time of year again! I spent some time this morning watching 2 squirrels at one of our feeders. One, which I presume to be the female, was taking food from the feeder and trying to eat it, while getting constant harassment from the other (I guess the male). Occasionally she would have a wild chase round the trees with him for several minutes, but then went back to her nuts and ignoring him. The male did lots of flirting to try and interest her, which generally didn't work. All very entertaining.

Red squirrels do mate pretty early. This allows them to have a second litter later in the summer if conditions are good. The first litter of kittens are usually born in late April or May up here, but won't be out and about until after mid summer.

Chasing through the trees is common courtship behaviour

We wish the squirrels great success and I hope the female gets more interested in the male's attentions because we have lost a fair number of squirrels here over the winter. Although the weather has been kind, the roads have not, and we also lost 2 squirrels that got blown out of a tree whilst asleep together in their drey.

Friday 9 March 2012


It has been a busy couple of weeks here at AERS!

Last week we went to the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels conference to find out about the conservation effort for this charismatic wee creature. There was a lot of interesting discussion and it was heartening to hear that the control measures that are being implemented though the work of the project and volunteers are having an impact on the numbers of grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and so far preventing them from spreading north to encroach upon and displace red squirrels (Sciurius vulgaris) from their territories. Have a look at the SSRS website to see what's happining in your area!

We also had a trip to Balmoral Estate. The Queen wasn't at home but the Cairngorn National Park Rangers were! This was a chance for all of the Ranger services across the National Park to get together to share information and management practises with each other, as well as learn about the site specific management that goes on at Balmoral and how it might relate to other areas of the park. I think it's safe to say that we were all impressed with the dedication of the Balmoral staff, particularly their efforts at habitat management for Cappercaillie and several rare plants!  These Ranger Gatherings are a brilliant opportunity for rangers to get together and share information and experience with each other, especially when in a place like the Cairngorms National Park we all work with a very diverse and different range of areas.

Today was an important day too. The official start of work on the visitor information centre in Blair Atholl. John Swinney MSP came to cut the first turf for the commencement of work and various dignitaries from the local area came along to celebrate the work of the local Tourist Association, Council, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and more besides. It was fantastic to see the whole of the local primary school out to support the occasion too! We don't have any photos just yet but we may well give another update next week and let you know how the work is progressing when we do.

For now, here's a picture from Tuesday morning when there was snow on the ground. Although it had all melted away by about 11 o'clock. What a contrast to just now, with the bright warm sunlight shining in through the office window!

Tulach Hill seen from the Atholl Estates Rally Park on Tuesday morning