Sunday, 29 July 2007

All was Silent

It's gotten very quiet at Cullaloe very quickly. The number of birds seen or heard on the reserve have reduced sharply in the past week or so. There seems to be very few warblers about now, with only the occasional sedge or willow warbler to be seen. Even these are becoming less frequent than previously. Swallow numbers have reduced considerably, too. Previously there had been over 20 seen on any single trip, where as now I'm lucky if i see 5 or 6.
It really is surprising how quickly the migrant species seem to vanish. I was hoping we'd have a few more weeks of them, but it seems not to be. I suppose it is possible the inclement weather has just driven them into hiding for a while, though. We should, however start seeing some more passage birds stopping off at the reserve on their migration routes. In the autumn we've got a fair chance of getting some interesting wader species arriving on passage as the water level will be lowered to assist with the growth of the mudwort plant, too.
It isn't all doom and gloom, though. There's still a large number of tits and finches about, a long with the resident waterfowl. There's still deer to be seen on the reserve, and I've seen my first grey squirrel on the peanut feeders. I have to confess, I'm not overly excited by that latest addition to the population. I'd far rather it wasn't there, but i guess it's the price to pay for supplying free food to all and sundry.
Speaking of free food, my father works for a local supermarket and they had coconuts reduced recently. We've put 4 of them up on the reserve (8 coconut halves) near the seed feeders. I have to admit, i was a little skeptical about whether these would be used or not, since whenever we've tried them at home they've been largely ignored. I was somewhat surprised to find that within the space of a week, almost all of them are half gone. I'm now considering getting some suet mix and filling them up as fat blocks once they're gone. I'll probably wait until Autumn for this, though, since there's still a chance of nice, hot weather this summer and dripping, melting fat doesn't strike me as too appealing!

Monday, 16 July 2007

Unbelievable Day!

Have you ever had one of those 'WOW' days, when absolutely everything just seems to be there at the right time? I've just had one of those days at Cullaloe. I went along with my mother, who was determined she wanted to get some shots of some butterflies (particularly the dark green fritillaries found on the reserve) It was still a bit overcast after heavy rain overnight and this morning, so i was doubtful she'd have much luck
We got there to hear the sound of the little stream sounding like a torrent as it ran through the three pools and out the other side. A rather dull, plain day to start us off with only a couple of sedge warblers, a blackbird flying past, swallows overhead and a lone dunnock near the gorse.
We walked up the steps to the meadow bit at the top so that me mum could try for her butterflies. How wrong i was with those! Up on the initial piece of meadow there was meadow brown, ringlet, 6 spot burnet moth, 1 dark green fritillary and the first common blue butterfly we've seen on the reserve!
On the path to the willow screen we managed to see a male blackcap flitting in and out of one of the willows, whitethroat all over beside the path and in the trees, my first wood warblers on the reserve (No.1 new species for the visit) As we were getting closer to the little conifer plantation, the warblers were darting about all around us, they were everywhere! Even heard us a chiffchaff. As i entered the conifers, i was struck by the sheer volume of tits that could be seen. There was great tit, blue tit and coal tit in large numbers all over the place. Also saw a treecreeper a little more than half way up one of the pine trees (No.2 new species to the reserve seen this visit). We got to the screen to see the usual suspects on the loch. There was coot, moorhen, the swan family, a lone grey heron and a couple of mallards. There were also sand martins and swallows swooping about. My mum disappeared to go see if she could spot more butterflies while i stayed at the hide/screen
The feeders were crowded with blue tit, great tit, chaffinch and a juvenile great spotted woodpecker. I heard a big splash on the loch and saw a male dabchick had just arrived (No.3 new species for the reserve) It's just a shame i didn't see it flying. I've never seen a grebe in flight before!
As i turned back to the feeder, i noticed there was now a male siskin on the feeders (No.4 new species for the reserve) I didn't think they were big fans of peanut feeders, but i'm not complaining at the visit! Might have to consider a nyjer feeder for the finches, though.
I went to join my mum looking around another part of meadow to find yet more great tits on my large seed feeder. It's pretty unusual for me to see anything using this feeder. I normally just fill it up without knowing what is using it. There were also a couple of willow warbler flitting around the trees and singing away.
When i went back to the screen, the juvenile woodpecker had been replaced with an adult male and the siskin had gone (much to my disappointment - very colourful, pretty bird!)
I stayed there for a bit while my mother decided to go back to the original meadow in search of more photos.
When i decided to move along and catch up, again, wood warblers seen around the trees on the way back (How could i not see them for 2 months then see 4 or 5 in a single visit?!), a male reed bunting was sitting at the top of one of the bushes, singing his little heart out and 4 swifts were flying overhead.
Back at the car park, there were another couple of sedge warblers, a pair of goldfinch flew past and a good 4 or 5 linnet could be seen on the hill behind the reserve.
All in all, it was a spectacular visit - and to have 4 new species sightings for the reserve was great. Admittedly, i'd always thought most, if not all of the species would be about, but i hadn't actually seen them.

Some of my mother's photos are shown below

'Common Blue' Butterfly

'Meadow Brown' Butterfly

'Ringlet' Butterfly

I went back to the reserve this evening, to see if i could repeat the success, but it was not to be. I did however get another new bird added to the list (5 in one day!). On the way back, a pair of Bullfinches flew right in front of me!
The real highlight of the evening was when i was writing a text to my girlfriend. As i was motionless, i guess i wasn't as obvious.. and a bank vole ran across the path about 5 foot away from me! Brilliant!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Local group outing

Today was the day of the local SWT group outing to the reserve and i was surprised just how high the attendance was! I've never seen the car park as full as it was today!
I decided to turn up about an hour before the outing just to get a spot of birding in before it started. I'm quite happy i did. I got probably the best view of a male blackcap i've had all season on the reserve. Normally when i've seen them they've been partially concealed and hopping about. This one was showing himself off really well!
The outing itself was very good and very informative, although i did have to leave early to go to work. Bearing in mind the weather was overcast, there was still a fair amount of butterflies to be found. While i was there there was Ringlet, Meadow Brown. six-spot burnet moth, a couple of other moth species which i can't remember and a whole host of toads to be found. There was also plenty of flowers and plants which i hadn't noticed or had overlooked previously (most of which i've completely forgotten the names of, unfortunately!).
I had moved on ahead of the group just before leaving, just to see if there were any woodpeckers on the feeders (which there was - one juvenile) and i bumped into a man clearly carrying a fishing rod. I suggested he might want to take a different route as he was heading straight for the main group, including Alistair the new reserve manager and Ross the convener for the reserve (whom I had been discussing the problem of illegal fishing on the reserve with). The guy seemed to ignore me, but when i went back to the group he was nowhere to be seen and hadn't returned back the way i was. He'd obviously done a runner!
Apparently the rest of the outing after i had left was quite interesting with dragonflies, caddis flies and devil's coachmen being just some of the things that were seen. Hopefully i'll get an update on what was seen and I'll update this post if and when I do.
My parents had apparently gone to the reserve this evening (at least i assume so, since my dad sent me a picture which i've posted below - he has a habit of over-sharpening images, so it's not as nice as i'd like) and had a few insect encounters of their own.
It was a very informative outing and i wish i had been able to stay for the whole thing. A big thank you to the organisers and to those leading the outing. It's certainly given me food for thought and i think i might have to invest in some field guides so i can get a better understading of the insects on the reserve.
Photo of a pair of mating beetles, taken by my father

As an additional note, i was speaking to Biddy, one of the group leaders who had gone to the reserve to do some reconnaissance of the reserve the day before, and she mentioned she had seen a bird which she thinks may have been a Ring Ouzel. She saw a bird of a similar size to a blackbird flying across, but had white on it. It certainly is a possibility. Migrant birds tend to be seen about this time of year on the east coast. If so, it was a pretty great sighting! Very interesting, and you can be sure i'll be keeping an eye out for potential sightings myself! She wasn't sure, though and suggested it may also have been a dipper, which would also be great, since I haven't sighted those on the reserve since i started recording, either!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007


Just a quick note. The photos you see throughout this blog have all been taken by myself on the reserve itself. These are the real deal. I'm not copying them from anyone or taking them at a different location.
The camera i use for this is a Fuji Finepix S9600. It can even manage semi-decent shots of small birds, if you can get close enough. If you aren't close enough, it involves a fair amount of cropping and the pictures can be a bit grainy. Take the example of the whitethroat shown below (which was taken on the reserve)

As you can see, the picture is a little grainy and a lot of the bird's details have sadly been lost. At the same time, take a look at the Dunnock shown below. I was a lot closer to this bird and there is a lot more detail evident as a result.

One day i'd love to have a proper DSLR to take photos, but right now the camera i have does the job. A new scope is higher up my list than a new camera!

Butterflies and Bees

This weekend, the local Scottish Wildlife Trust member's centre is having an outing to Cullaloe with the title 'Butterflies and Bees'. It's on Saturday 14th July at 2pm and anyone is welcome.
There are several butterfly species found on the reserve ranging from the ever-common Meadow Brown to the bright orange Fritillaries. I'm going to be going along on Saturday for the first bit (before i have to go to work) but will definitely be a learning experience for me. It's always nice to see what other people think of the reserve and it's a chance for me to learn more about the butterflies and insects on the reserve from those with a bit more knowledge than myself. You can be sure i'll be giving a full report on the day!
To potentially tempt you, here's a photo of a bee taken at the reserve this afternoon.

I haven't had much chance to visit the reserve in the past week. The weather has been horribly changeable again, so I've been avoiding it to an extent. The feeders are still in regular use, and I've finally seen something on the larger seed feeder! Admittedly, it was a lone female chaffinch. It's good to get an indication of what's there, though. The woodpeckers are nearly a constant addition to the peanut feeders these days and it's looking like we're gonna need to fill them more than once a week!
New additions in the past week have been the Tawny Owl (read the previous entry) and Grey wagtails, which were seen on the weir from the loch.
Notable species this week were the return of the Ruddy Duck today and also today, the Sparrowhawk being chased off and mobbed by a group of swallows. There's always plenty to see on the reserve and it would be impossible to describe it all!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

When darkness falls...

I decided to see what the reserve was like at dusk. I wanted to see how quiet it would be and what creatures would be seen. I arrived at the reserve at about 9:15pm last night and the first interesting thing was the buzzard. It had been resting right next to the road to the car park and swooped off as i arrived. It's not very often that you get a chance to see a buzzard flying six feet in front of you while you're driving!
I hoped this was a good sign of interesting things to come, and it was. The bird noise was significantly reduced on the reserve, which actually made it easier to track down the individual birds making the noise. On the path to the loch, i saw a family of whitethroat. Four birds in total, including at least one which still had some downy feathers. This was great for me, as normally i only ever see one or two individuals of a visit. To see four at once was pretty special for me!
The swallows were all over the place, obviously getting their last feed in before heading to roost. They were ducking and diving everywhere, and more than once i thought one was going to hit me! The skill of these birds is pretty amazing when seen like that.
The loch itself was pretty quiet. the swans were on their little homemade platform, obviously settling down for the night. There was a heron at the edge of the reeds, getting it's last feed in and several coots could be seen. I stayed at the loch itself till just after the sun had gone down, to see if there was a significant difference on the return journey. And there most certainly was!
Hardly a bird could be heard on the return journey. There were a few gulls flying overhead and a thrush or two singing from the willow, but that's about it. The swallows had gone from overhead. Just before we reached the house next to the reserve, I scared off a female roe deer. I must have been no more than four foot away from it when it bolted! And interestingly enough, i'm sure it was in the same area where the whitethroats were on the outward journey. Kinda makes me assume that it wasn't there the first time round.
Just after that the bats started appearing. They were flying all over round the trees, hunting for moths. At the same time, a Tawny owl could be heard hooting from the woods opposite the reserve. What a lovely sound! (added to the bird list) There were at least two different species of bat present (based purely on size - i don't have the luxury of a bat monitor, although it might be an idea for the future). They were flying just over my head all the way back to the car, where another deer was seen.
All in all, it's a very different experience at dusk, but it is just as fascinating, if not more than during the day!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Poor Weather

It's been a pretty awful week this past week. The weather hasn't known what it wanted to do. One minute it's raining, the next it's sunny... i just wish it would make up it's mind!
It's been pretty quiet on the reserve this past week as a result. Very few people about. In fact, i think the only time I've really seen anyone was last night when two random guys asked me if i thought anyone would object to them camping there. I have to admit... i don't get that. Why on earth would someone think it'd be ok to camp on a nature reserve designated as an SSSI for it's rare plants and it's diverse birdlife?!
Anyway, the birds themselves have been pretty busy, with plenty to be seen on the reserve for those willing to look. The sedge warblers appear to have fledged. There was definitely one begging food from a parent when i went down there this morning. The young coot is beginning to look more and more like an adult, so i don't think it'll be long before it goes either. It looks as though a couple of other coots are having second attempts, too. There was at least one nest building this evening and there's definitely another one sitting on a nest. The cygnets seem to be growing larger pretty much every day and i suspect it's only going to be a couple of weeks till they're gone, too.
It's been a relatively good week for warblers as a whole this week. On a single night there has been willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, blackcap and whitethroat sightings. Not bad going for a small reserve!
After mentioning the return of the ruddy duck last week, i haven't seen him at all this week. Typical, really. We have seen a heron again, though. Haven't seen any of those for a week or two, so i guess it all balances out.
The new additions to the bird list this week are greenfinch and linnet. The greenfinch were seen on the path towards the loch and the linnet were on the fence at the car park.
The feeders are still going down at a ludicrous rate... i don't know if i'll be able to keep up with them the way this is going!

That's all for now, though. I'm sure there will be plenty more to come (although don't expect new bird species to appear every week!)