Sunday 20 May 2012

Bark Britain

We ran our Bark Britain sponsored dog walk today. We couldn't ask for better weather, lovely and sunny, but not too hot for the dogs. Thanks to everyone who took part, we raised more than £500 for Macmillan Cancer and Medical Detection Dogs today. Special congratulations to Cara, a border collie with only 3 legs, who still managed to complete the 10 mile route.

Look carefully - I've only got 3 legs!

Friday 18 May 2012

Black Grouse Count

Last weekend we finished off our black grouse surveying for this season. Black grouse (Tetrao terix) are an upland species, usually found somewhere between 250 to 500 meters altitude on heath and farmland, usually near trees or other forestry which they use for shelter. The males display to compete for the attention of females and gather together on areas of open ground to show off their prowess. The site where the grouse congregate and display is known as a 'lek.' Females also gather at these leks and will select the top male to mate with.
Two Black grouse males lekking on Atholl Estates.
Photo: C. Gilhooley
Although black grouse are not considered to be threatened as a species, numbers of black grouse have declined in the UK and the bird is now completely gone from many of the sites where it would have formerly lived. The decline of the species in the UK is largely due to habitat loss and disturbance as well as predation from foxes and crows, etc. Perthshire and the Cairngorms National Park however remains a stronghold for the black grouse and the numbers are thought to have been increasing in recent years.

The surveying that we carried out meant that we had to be up to observe the lek sites and count the number of males in attendance in the very early morning, at around dawn. The highest number of grouse that we counted at an individual lek site was 30 but leks of 8 to 12 were also common. In Russia, gatherings of 150 are not uncommon - this must be a very noisy congregation as the loud, bubbling call of the male  can carry for up to a kilometer and appear very noisy in the quiet of the early morning. During the display the cock (male bird) crouches down and fans his lyre-shaped tail to display his striking white under-tail feathers while partially spreading his wings and inflating his vivid red wattles (the red protuberances above the eyes).

Our count data will be collected by the Perthshire Black Grouse Study Group and when everyone involved has submitted their figures we will be able to get an accurate picture of how the population is doing this year. The reason that we won't know for sure until all the numbers are in, is because the lek sites and the sites that individuals attend can vary each year.

If you'd like to find out more about the studies of black grouse, or know of black grouse in your area and would like to get involved with counts there's plenty of information available at the Black Grouse UK website.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Songs of Spring

The migrant birds are fast returning from their winter homes. Last weekend willow warblers returned to Blair Atholl. Chiff chaffs have been around for a good while. These 2 birds look very similar, and their song is the easy way to distinguish them. they are both a yellowy, green, brown colour and quite hard to see, but the chiff chaff advertises his presence singing Chiff Chaff, Chiff Chaff, Chiff Chaff... endlessy. The willow warbler manages a lot more of a tune, with a lovely song that slowly descends in tone.

Spot the difference, the chiffchaff is the one on the right!
photo credit: Hans Hillewaert

We are eagerly awaiting the first swallows. They have already been back in Pitlochry for quite a few days so they should be here any day.

The good weather earlier in the spring has also meant that a lot of birds got a good headstart breeding and we have already seen a lot of birds' eggshells on the ground. Hopefully a sign of hatching rather than predation.