Thursday 21 November 2013

Our Wildlife is Ready for Winter

The hills have had their second full carpetting of snow here after a wild stormy day on Wednesday with proper blizzards. If you want to come out to the hills now, full winter gear is recommended - ice-axe, crampons and winter boots. Many of the tracks are icy - so you need to take care on bikes too.

White hills on Thursday morning from the estate office

However, the wildlife is ready. Our red deer have grown their thick winter coats, with hollow, duvet-like hairs and the mountain hares have moulted to their winter coat. This white coat is perfect camouflage for conditions like we have now, but it's a disaster if we have a mild winter. When there's no snow, their white coat makes them obvious for miles around, and a hungry golden eagle can follow them very easily, before swooping down and helping themselves to a good meal. Winter is a hungry time for eagles and mountain hares can be an important part of their diet. If they can't find hares, they often survive on carrion.

Too obvious when there's no snow!
Ptarmigan (Mountain grouse) and some stoats also go white in winter for camouflage.

Friday 1 November 2013


Winter suddenly seems to have arrived in Blair Atholl. Torrential rain, hugely swollen rivers and snow on the hills added to the long dark evenings have definitely made it feel like winter is upon us.

River Tilt in spate
The Witches Rock - not such a good place for swimming today! The river is running behind it too.

Up until now the wildlife has had an easy autumn with mild weather and an abundant autumn harvest to feed up on to prepare for winter. This week hedgehogs, bats and amphibians will be heading into hibernation. Our red squirrels have been stashing food furiously over the last few weeks, so that on bad days like we are having just now they can stay warm and cosy in their dreys for most of the day.
The red deer have pretty much finished rutting, but the stags will be exhausted and need to feed up frantically before the winter gets really bad.

Swollen rivers can be very dangerous for any hillwalkers or trekkers out in the heart of the Cairngorms where there are no bridges. Red deer and other animals can also get swept away. The rivers here do rise and fall very quickly.
The River Tilt at Marble Lodge. See how quickly the water levels rise.

Cold, wet and windy weather is the most testing for the animals and birds that stay here in the winter. They can cope well with very cold, crisp weather, and snow is not too bad so long as it's not very deep. But cold, rainy or sleety days are worst because the wet penetrates down to the skin and get the creatures really cold. The only way they can combat this is to eat a lot to keep up their energy levels, but if there's not enough food around then it get very bad. We shall soon see what the winter has in store this year.