Thursday 29 November 2012

Treecreepers Exposed

The leaves are now definitely gone from all the trees here, and autumn is slipping into winter. Much of our wildlife has left to go warmer places, though some birds from the arctic have arrived too. The treecreeper is here all year round. It's an insect feeder and so struggles to find food in the winter. Its favourite feeding technique is to fly to the bottom of a tree and then slowly spiral its way up the tree trunk looking for insects in all the crevices and nooks in the bark.

Lime tree avenue to Blair Castle. Planted in 1737.

A closer look at one of the lime trees. Lots of crevices and
hollows where insect food might be hiding

The lime trees on the Castle drive are full of wee nooks and crannies, and now with the leaves gone, treecreepers are regularly seen foraging here.

photo credit - Pawel Kuzniar

A close look shows you its curved bill - great for plucking insects out, and stiff tail used for balance. Many of the insects it finds at this time of year will be hibernating, tucked away in holes and hollows. If it can't find enough insects it has to resort to eating seeds, but these are not nearly as nutritious.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Fair-Weather Fowl

The cold was fairly bitter last night after getting used to the milder, damp weather of late and we woke up to a light covering of snow on the fields and a frost that turned getting into vehicles the first fun challenge of the day! But it was bright, sunny and clear - perfect weather for admiring the snowfall on the higher tops. And also perfect weather for investigating the local waterbirds as part of the BTO's wetland bird survey.

The view North-East to Carn Liath (the grey hill), first summit of Beinn a' Ghlo,
and a stand of Scots Pine jutting out into Loch Moraig in the foreground.

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) monitors the populations of non-breeding waterbirds in the British Isles and provides important information about population numbers and trends. It has been going on since the late 1940's and over 3,000 volunteers now take part in the survey each year, all going out once a month on a designated date to record the species' on 'their' site. Co-ordinating the day on which the count takes place means that the BTO can obtain a relatively complete picture of the waterbird population across the whole of the British Isles. Not bad for a scheme that started out only on the wetlands around London and Birmingham.

 We recently took on several of these surveys on some of the lochs down at the Dunkeld end of the Estate. Although Loch Moraig isn't on Atholl Estates, we are 'caretaking' the WeBS count here for a while, until a new counter can be found as the dedicated recorder for this site has retired after an impressive twelve years (at least!) on the case. It's a lovely site too, which was looking stunning this morning. If you are reading this and thinking that you would be interested in volunteering to carry out monthly counts on Loch Moraig please get in touch with us through the ranger service website and we will do our best to help you out. You don't have to be an expert at bird identification to do one of these surveys and it's a great motivator to get out and brush up on your skills.

Here's hoping next month is as pleasant as it was today!

Looking South-East across Loch Moraig towards Ben Vrackie

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Small Cow-Wheat in Glen Tilt

Last week the ranger service and the rare plants officer for the Cairngorms National Park went out to protect some trees from the grazing teeth of sheep and deer. If the trees can grow, they should help the very rare small cow-wheat to spread a little bit wider in this area. The small cow-wheat seems to grow best under the shade of broadleaf trees, so we put tubes around some small hazel and birch trees - these trees are small in size but are actually older than you think, they just cannot grow taller because they get continually chewed down. The tubes should protect the trees until they are big enough to be out of danger.

Small cow-wheat is only found in 18 sites in Britain, and only in 2 sites within the National Park. It is closely related to common cow-wheat, which looks similar and is widespread.

small cow-wheat