Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Hey there folks,

Just a quick one to wish everybody who reads this blog a merry Christmas. I hope it was a good one for you all, and i hope 2009 is an eventful year for wildlife.

2009 will definitely be an eventful year for Cullaloe. You may remember me mentioning a couple of months ago that we'd put in for funding for various bits and pieces on the reserve. I'm happy to announce that the funding has been approved. As a result, there will be plenty of improvements happening on the reserve over the next two years.
In particular, in 2009, look out for a replacement viewing screen at the loch (very much needed, i'm sure any visitor to the reserve will agree) and a pond dipping platform at the filter beds.
There will also be events on the reserve throughout the year, from moth trapping evenings to guided walks and then to the open day in August. Once dates for these are confirmed, i will be sure to add them to the calendar.

I look forward to seeing you all on the reserve in 2009.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Blooming Campion, it's cold!

Hello Blog-watchers and welcome to a chilly day on the Cullaloe Blog. Grahame and I headed over to the Reserve earlier this week to catch up on a bit of survey and seed maintainance, so I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts on what we, and nature, were up to! :-)

It was with some intrepidation that Grahame and I first descended the access slope into the Reserve as the roads leading to Cullaloe itself had not exactly been pleasant following the recent cold snap Fife had been plunged into. However, about half-way down we noticed that the crisp white snow had been broken by tracks of some kind - and tracks always get our interest levels rising! ;-) I admit that we were actually a little disappointed that at 10.30am on a Sunday, we were the first visitors to the Reserve of the day... we would really love to have found tyre tracks leading to the disabled parking bay (situated outside the Reserve gate) and human footprints disappearing off towards the Loch, but alas on this particular morning it was not meant to be... :-( You do come to the Reserve sometimes... don't you Blog-watchers...? Drop us a comment and let us know! :-)

Where was I... Oh, yes! Tracks! :-) They ran down the middle of the access road, and around the bottom corner, before disappearing over towards the far back corner of the car park. Grahame and I parked up and took a look. To begin with we wondered whether perhaps the Lodge's resident German Shepherd had taken itself on an early morning walk, but we quickly established that our track-maker had in fact been a fox! :-) As we crossed the car park we encountered another set of tracks, belonging to a bird this time. They were pretty big - about 8cm long, and we noticed that every once in a while they were joined by another set of tracks that were similar in size. We didn't have any identification books with us, but can be reasonably sure that the tracks belonged to a couple of pheasants. The really interesting part was that the fox tracks seemed to mirror the location of the pheasant tracks - almost as if we were seeing the memory of the fox slinking along behind them, thinking about lunch! ;-) This was backed up by the fact that in some places, the fox's tail had also made contact with the snow as it walked, perhaps as it hunkered down to get a good old nostril full of the pheasant's scent! ;-)

Both the fox and pheasant tracks ran up the slope and along the pathway to the Loch, and this is the way that we walked as we undertook the most recent Birdcount Survey (details posted on the survey results section of the blog). There were two birds that particularly stood out for me in terms of their numbers and "stage" presence - the Robin and the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. We saw around 4 Robins and 2 Woodpeckers. Both birds are extremely beautiful in their own way. First the Robin, regularly assuming that well-loved Christmas Card Pose of perching on the top of fence-posts, his brilliant orangey-red chest puffed out as far as it will go and his beady eyes shining as he monitors with chirps of encouragement your progression along the path towards the Loch. Then the Woodpecker with his black and white striped plummage, chevron style on the wings, thicker strokes across his back, and a bold splash of scarlet across the back of his head and lower abdomen, who clings with effortless ease to the most precarious of tree trunks and branches while he decides which direction to go darting off in next! :-) I know - I get a bit poetetic over nature - but it really is beautiful guys! ;-)

The whole Reserve was blanketed in about an inch depth of snow which sparkled in the comparatively bright sunshine of the morning, making everything look very pretty and at peace. Here and there tufts of grass penetrated with touches of green, reminding us that winter is just a passing fancy and Spring would be coming around the corner before we knew it. Around about half-way towards the Loch, a long line of deer tracks joined that of the fox and pheasant. These were interesting as they progressed towards the Loch steadily for a while then abruptly stopped - and started up again a good 4 feet further forward and around a foot and a half to the left of the original track-line! I have often heard of animals such as deer, hares, etc making a flying leap to one side in an effort to evade a predator, and it was lovely to see tracks that suggested such a move had taken place. The Loch itself was partially frozen, although not to any great depth. There were the usual selection of Teal, Widgen and Swan with one or two Moorhen and Mallard popping in and out. Grahame and I re-filled the seed and peanut feeders (having to put the peanut feeders back on their hooks while we were at it - thanks Mr Squirrel!) and took down the empty coconut halves that had been filled to the brim with a tasty mixture of lamb-fat and seeds just a couple of days before! Grahame and his mum have been making the fat cakes themselves and I will be adding a separate blog entry with the recipe for anyone who would like to put a tasty treat in their own garden for their winter visitors. We are hoping to make a deal with a kindly butcher to receive regular donations of fat to help keep the cost of feeding the Reserve birds down. As Grahame and I pay for most of the seeds and peanuts, and all of the feeding equipment, ourselves, this is a very necessary consideration! But we know that it is appreciated by visitors :-)

As we continued down the slope towards the spillway, we saw the first of a few Reed Buntings we recorded on our Birdcount, which was a pleasure as they are not often seen on the Reserve at this time of year. The spillway itself was covered with snow the same as everything else and the water was crystal clear as it flowed through the pipes embedded within the concrete bridge. This is about the only time you could expect Grahame and I to say that actually we would prefer it if the water was significantly more silty. If you take a look at the spillway, you will see the water tumbling down the concrete run-off slope, then disappearing BETWEEN the stones forming the gabion mattress that replaces the previous black liner we all disliked, and then running out of the bottom again to meet with the Dour Burn further across the Reserve. Its the "between" part that is the problem - but one which will be naturally overcome by the gradual building up of layers of silt, swept downslope by the water. This is Scotland - it won't take long for a few healthy downpours to do the work that is required! ;-)

We continued on along the Reserve path towards the sheep-field and beyond, noting as we did so that Dave Blair and the Conservation Team have been doing an absolutely sterling job of taking down the more mature willow that occupies a large proportion of the area to the right of the path. Grahame mentioned, from reading past survey records, that this area of the Reserve was often found to contain significantly large numbers of Jack Snipe (smaller than Snipe, slightly shorter beak, makes a bobbing motion when feeding). It is hoped that this bird may make a return if the correct conditions are made available. We will certainly be keeping an eye out for them!

The path leading along-side the sheep field presented us with more tracks. This time the track-makers were rabbits, leaving little pockets of 4 prints, followed by a gap, 4 more prints, gap... and so on :-) It was thought for a while that perhaps rabbits didn't appreciate the goods on offer on the Reserve as we had never spotted any - but the tracks have put paid to that! Obviously they are just very good at hiding in the undergrowth! ;-)

Once you get beyond the end of the sheep-field, the vegetation starts to take over a bit, and as the path is on a downward camber to the right, it can get a little awkward for walking along. The ground itself was quite wet where the watery sunshine hadn't quite managed to penetrate. It was along here that we found a little gem of a flower, still turning its face to the sky, and bringing a touch of pink to the never-ending green and brown canvass - Red Campion. This delicate little flower can be found from one end of the Reserve to the other during the summer months, but it seems to have found a lovely sheltered winter foothold at the far end of the Reserve. Well worth the walk to get there on a cold, bright morning like the one we had! :-)

Well, that's my round-up from our most recent trip to the Reserve. We will be dropping in a bit more frequently over the next few months to keep the bird food topped up. We will do our best to keep blog-watchers topped up while we are at it! Don't forget to say Hi" if you see us around. Take care all! :-)

Janie

Monday, 3 November 2008

Whoop-di-do!

I thought I'd drop in and post about some of the changes that have taken place now that Autumn has started to spread it's multi-coloured cloak over Cullaloe :-)

The trees are looking resplendent in shades of green, gold, crimson and amber - well worth bringing your camera with you to the reserve to capture a few shots of mother nature at her creative best! And with the crunch of newly scattered leaves underfoot and the crisp, fresh (and admittedly cold) air rejuvenating puffed-out lungs, the whole experience is like a re-birth into the world of nature! Watch out for the slippy wet leaves though - they can plant the unwary walker on their behind faster than you can say "Whooper Swan"! ;-)

And talking of Whooper Swans... guess which reserve has been playing host to a group of 5 of the birds for the last few days?! Yes, that would be our own Loch at Cullaloe! :-) As you know, we regularly have Mute Swans on the Loch, but for the last few days there have been a few battles of the bands as our 2 resident Mutes have attempted to scare off the 5 interlopers. They don't seem to have been successful yet though, so if you hop to it you might get to see them before they head off elsewhere. Mute Swans and Whopper Swans look quite different, so spotting who-is-who is fairly easy. As a quick guide, the Mute Swans have an Orange bill, whereas the Whooper's bill is Yellow with a Black tip. The way the birds hold their neck is also different, with the Mute Swan having the very graceful, and typical, S-shaped neck, whereas the Whooper holds its neck much more upright and straight.

One more thing - both the Mute Swans AND the Whooper Swans will bark loudly at each other in an attempt to frighten each other away - so don't be fooled by the Mute Swan's name and think that the only noisy ones are the Whoopers! ;-)

While you are at the Loch, take time to scan around the muddy edges. We have been treated to visits by a Redshank for the last few days. Grahame has now "put the plug back in" at the screen end of the Loch to allow the water level to rise again, so the mud will not stay exposed for much longer, but hopefully long enough for a few visitors to catch sight of the odd wading bird. If you do spy anything that we haven't mentioned, please feel free to use the "Comment" facility at the end of the blog to let us know :-)

Now that the year is gradually slipping towards winter, we have started filling up the seed and peanut feeders again. They are attracting a good amount of use already and have encouraged a few old friends to come back out into the open, such as the great spotted woodpecker. For those visitors who are new to the reserve, or for those who might have forgotten since summer, the peanut feeders are located on the dead tree to the left of the screen as you stand facing the Loch, and the seed feeders are on a dedicated stand to your right as you walk down the slope towards the spillway.

One last thing to draw to your attention is that the cadets from 859 Air Cadet Sqdn (Dalgety Bay) will be donning their clumpy boots, working gloves and hard hats, and grabbing their branch lopers all over again to help with the willow scrub clearing in the Snipe Bog! Work re-commences on 23 November 2008, so we'd like to say a big shout out to the Cadets for offering their help again this year! Thanks guys - we are looking forward to getting stuck in! :-)

Hope to see you down at the reserve whenever you take the notion. Take care all! Janie

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Update and winter plans

Hey folks,

Sorry it's been a while since I've posted. I've been really rather busy of late. I've just started my second year of my college course and I've recently changed shifts at work, so things have been a bit hectic.

Quite a lot has been happening on the reserve over the past few weeks, though. The mess that was the paths appears to have cleared up now. The paths are certainly more accessible than they have been for a while. There's even been some regrowth... we've got grass growing where a few weeks ago there was just mud!

As i'm pretty sure Janie mentioned on her last mammoth blog post, the water level has been lowered on the loch. This exposes mud at the loch edges, giving various plants and animals all sorts of opportunities. Just last week, we had our first Redshank visiting the reserve. An excellent sighting! We've hopeful that over the next couple of weeks, as the autumn migration continues, we'll maybe get a few more interesting sights.
The valve is due to be sealed at the end of this month, to allow the water levels to come back up.

Now, onto the plans for the winter months.
It's going to be a busy period from now till March. This is when most of the maintenance work is carried out on the reserve, when there is no chance of disturbing nesting birds, etc.
We will be having the local Air Cadets on site again this year to assist with several tasks. The main task, like last year will be the clearing of the willow scrub at the Snipe Bog.
This is done to try and bring the area back to boggy conditions, which are more favourable for the Snipe and some other bird species.
The cadets will also be helping clear out the weeds on the spillway.
The other task they will be performing is not a fun one for them, or for us. They will be helping us clear the litter from the reserve, in particular from the pool that is used by illegal fishermen.
I can confirm now that 6 fishermen have been charged for illegally fishing on the reserve by the police. As a result, i can only assume as an act of reprisal, the fishermen have cut down the 'No Fishing' sign at the entrance to the pool. Unfortunately, the wildlife trust does not have the funds to replace it at this time.
In honesty, it was probably the most stupid thing they could have done. The lack of sign does not prevent them from being charged when fishing on the reserve. In fact, after discussions with the local police, it will now be the case that all of their fishing tackle will be confiscated if they are caught fishing - if any fishermen are reading this - You've been warned!

The SWT conservation team will also be working on the reserve over the course of the winter on various tasks. They will also be taking part in coppicing and willow scrub clearance, but more importantly, SWT have managed to secure funding to replace the viewing screen at the loch.
The conservation team will be erecting the new screen at some point during the winter (It's still in the design stages, but as soon as we know exactly how it'll look, you can be sure we'll pass the information along here!)

Dates have yet to be confirmed for most of the work being carried out this winter, but once they are, they'll be added to the calendar (link to the right).

Friday, 22 August 2008

Walking in Mudfields (to the tune of Walking in Memphis)

I put on my walking boots, and
Drove to Cullaloe today.
The view of the car park gave me the Blues,
In the middle of the pouring rain!

Water and mud and puddles,
crowding all around me,
Yeah, I wanted a new spillway lining,
But I`m as blue as a butterfly can be.

Chorus
Then I`m walking in Mudfields…
Walking with my feet slipping, sliding away.
Walking in Mudfields…
So is there anything else to say?

Saw the tracks disappearing,
Along the reserve path.
Followed them up to the screen at lochside,
Then I watched them start on past.
Now the heron he did not see me,
He just fixed his eye on fish.
But there`s a fine flock of coots.
Waiting for the brave.
Down on the loch today!

Chorus
Then I`m walking in Mudfields…
Walking with my feet slipping, sliding away.
Walking in Mudfields…
So is there anything else to say?

We’ve got bees on the flowers!
We’ve got bird-song in the air!
And Grahame and Janie’d, be glad to see you…
If you’re willing to take care!

So, please, take care in our Mudfields!

Now, workers will be at the spillway,
Every day at this till they’re done.
And I’ll pop in occasionally,
Coz Grahame asked me if I would…

Do a bit of recording?
And I said I’d do my best.
But I’m thinking,
“Tell me, am I a miracle worker? What will I...
Spot in this mess?!”

Chorus
Then I`m walking in Mudfields…
Walking with my feet slipping, sliding away.
Walking in Mudfields…
So is there anything else to say?

I’ll put on my walking boots, and I’ll
Head for the reserve.
But I’d suggest to the populace,
That they give the place the swerve.

Or you’ll be Walking in Mudfields!



Ok – I’ve had my fun now! :-)

As you can tell from the above - even if you are struggling to fit the words into the song music - the situation at Cullaloe is looking a little muddy right now. Ok – I’ll rephrase – a LOT muddy right now! :-(

The contractors appeared on-site yesterday (Thursday 21 August 2008) to begin working on the new and improved lower spillway – and boy have they made an impression! Sadly we all knew that it would be virtually impossible for the reserve to remain unaffected while this work was being carried out but even Grahame and I were a little dismayed at what we found on arrival today.

The car park is getting to be a real concern with flooding problems after all the wet weather we have been “enjoying” recently, but the arrival of the necessary heavy machinery has brought the extra worry of mud on the entrance road. We would normally ask reserve visitors to exercise a certain degree of caution when driving down the slope to the car park in case they disturb unsuspecting wildlife, but we are reiterating that caution warning for your own safety this time. The mixture of water and dirt from the soft verges is turning into a truly awful paste on the road and traction is a bit of a distant memory if you are travelling at any great speed. Once you reach the car park, please navigate carefully around the hardcore deposited by the contractors. This is unsightly, but essential to the works being carried out.

It is only when you start walking along the pathway to the loch that the real problems begin to leap out at you. Grahame is quite concerned about how the butterfly transect results are going to fair following the obliteration of a couple of feet of grass verge on either side of the path by the to-ing and fro-ing of the mini-digger :-( And as you crest the slope leading down to the spillway, the path peeters out after 20-or-so feet into what can only be described as a soup of vegetation and mud. Grahame and I strongly advise any visitors to consider turning back after they have checked out what is on the loch, because the terrain down the slope is virtually impassable at the moment.

I would just like to say at this point that I am not at all criticising the contractors for their contribution to the changed landscape at Cullaloe. In fact, to give credit where credit is due, they appear to be keeping a very tidy ship as far as their machinery and building materials are concerned. It is clear that they have tried as far as possible to keep within their own tracks along the paths to minimise damage and allow some hope of being able to take a walk to the screen. There is also evidence of them trying their best to counteract the effects of the torrential rain by packing some of the hardcore intended for the spillway into the mud soup at the bottom of the slope to ensure a more stable surface for their vehicles. These are measures that are greatly appreciated by those of us who volunteer on the reserve and are to be applauded.

Now as I’ve said, parts of the reserve are just not negotiable at the moment, but I will be braving the slippery slopes to take a few photographs of progress being made and plan to post these to the blog as soon as possible. The eagle-eyed of you will notice that I have posted the blog all by myself this time and that is because Grahame is taking a well-earned break in Cumbria to catch up on some spotting of his own. So I’ll just ask everyone for a bit of patience to let me work out what I need to do to load on photos! ;-)

Ok – enough doom and gloom! It isn’t all bad news on the reserve! We are nearly at the end of August now and as I said in the last post we have opened the sluice-gate for the lowering of the loch. All the water gushed out… and the water fowl were flushed out of their cozy reeds and grasses to sit all exposed on the open water! :-) Who knew that there were so many coot and moorhen hidden in all the nooks and crannies?! And Grahame spotted a female Teal out on the water on Sunday, so the loch will soon be a very busy place with Widgeon also expected to return shortly! There were also a couple of swans sunning themselves on the bank during a very brief sunny spell!

I know I mentioned concern about the butterfly transect earlier, but we have already seen the Common Blue, Large White, Green-Veined White and a Red Admiral, so we know they are out and about and just waiting to be spotted! :-)

One good outcome to the mess that’s been made, I guess, is the possibility of getting the Scottish Wildlife Trust Conservation Team, and our brilliant volunteers from Air Training Corps 859 (Dalgety Bay) Squadron back on board to help tidy things up again and recommence essential maintenance works in mid-September! You always have to focus on the positives! ;-)

Being realistic, it is going to be a while before the reserve regains its air of peace and tranquillity, and for now Grahame and I are verging on suggesting people might like to consider alternative wildlife spotting locations. But, I know that sometimes it can be interesting to see change as it happens and monitor for yourself the effects of them, so the reserve will remain open throughout the spillway works. All we ask is that everyone takes safety precautions in terms of wearing sturdy food-wear, even if you plan on sticking to the paths, and staying well back from the edges of the lower spillway.

Thank you for your kind attention on these matters – and I’ll update you with gorey photos soon! ;-)

Monday, 11 August 2008

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes…!

Good morning blog-watchers and welcome to a wet and wild day at Cullaloe! There are mini-rivers running down every pathway and the spillway is full to the brim!

As some of you may know, the Convener is required to lower the water level in August to allow areas of mud to be exposed. This exposed mud is the perfect seeding ground for the Mudwort plant. This plant is special to Cullaloe because it is the reason the Site of Special Scientific Interest was granted to the Reserve and the, therefore, reason Grahame and I have such a fulfilling volunteering experience today! :-)

Now I am supposed to be the plant person for Cullaloe, although I am still very much a learner at this. I am in the process of constructing a large database of all those plants that can be found on the Reserve and I would very much like to add Mudwort as a definite this year! :-) I have been very busy with other things though, so a big shout goes out to Grahame’s parents, particular his mum, for filling in the plants that are currently listed on the on-site database! :-)

Now you may have spotted that the weather has been particularly grotty in the last couple of weeks and, as I have already said, the spillway is full to bursting right now! But in the next few days, regular visitors should notice a difference around the loch and spillway as the big plug-pulling event has just taken place! ;-) A couple of days ago, Grahame popped along to the Reserve with his special key to open the sluice gate and allow the water level to drop down around 2ft across the surface of the loch. Now that is a WHOLE lot of water, people, so be aware that there will be additional noise around the loch from the water emptying into the Dour Burn which runs under the path leading down from the viewing screen to the spillway! Last year, this mad gushing of water continued for about 3 days until the loch was at the desired depth, and then the sluice gate was closed once again. However, this year Mother Nature appears to be keeping us guessing as to when the gate should be closed because the changeable weather patterns over the weekend have sent the water levels in the spillway yo-yo-ing from completely empty to over-flowing!

This is a bit of a concern this year because we are due to make a dramatic change to the landscape of the spillway area. Grahame and I have never been fans of the truly awful looking black plastic liner that covers the lower half of the spillway. At the time of installation, it was thought that the liner would gradually become covered with a layer of mud and vegetation as this was swept down from the loch, however, the dream has never quite been realised, and instead we have been left with a bit of an eye-sore that is not doing a particularly good job of preventing erosion of the lower spillway either! But that is set to change – and I’m afraid it does mean a little bit of upheaval for our wildlife and visitors too!

We have recently been granted funding to install a series of gabion mattresses, which are wire baskets with stones in, but on a large scale. These are going to replace the black plastic liner as the newest defence in Cullaloe’s ongoing battle with water erosion. There will be heavy machinery and workers on site so the chances of seeing wildlife in and undisturbed state are going to be remote this week. We anticipate that the works will take approximately 1 weeks, but with the weather being the way it is, this timescale is subject to change. Once the works have been completed, though, we should have a slightly prettier, and certainly more stable, foundation to our lower spillway area.

Now, to get back to the plug-pulling, the period of time immediately after the plug-pulling tends to be a bit more interesting than the period of time leading up to it. :-) Last year, Grahame kept a note of the types and numbers of birds he was seeing on the loch around the time of lowering the water. Before the water level was dropped he was seeing approximately 30 or so birds of 4 different types – but after the water level dropped, he was seeing upwards of 200 birds, with about 8 different types being found at any given time! That is a very big jump indeed! :-) The exposed mud tends to bring wading birds flocking in to feed at the edges of the loch, as well as providing that essential growing space for the Mudwort, so that means we get to see a little more than the usual ducks and coots – lovely though they are :-) This year, however, seems to have been a tough one for Cullaloe-based water fowl, so really we will be happy to spot whatever we can!

Volunteers and visitors alike have been a little concerned about the lack of fledglings on the water, especially as last year appears to have been a bit of bumper harvest in comparison. Yesterday, Grahame and I identified a possible cause for some of the decline – and I would like to say at this point that the following is not for the faint-hearted… As we neared the screen, Grahame had his binoculars trained on a heron on the far side of the loch – and it had something black in its mouth. The first thing you’d think would be that it had caught a sizable fish and was having a bit of trouble getting it down – but no fish living in Cullaloe has feathers and a beak! :-( Judging by the racket being raised by the resident coots on the water, the heron had captured a coot chick and was trying every possible angle to get it to go down its throat! In one of those typical slow-motion movie type moments, Grahame and I watched with morbid fascination as the heron first manoeuvred, and then swallowed the chick whole! I have to say, I am not good with the more beastly aspects of nature watching – but it was quite literally amazing to see – if not more than a little sad. Grahame was just blown away by the whole experience! I don’t think either of us will forget the sight in a hurry!

Now I have spoken about the plug pulling, and now it is time for another, totally shameless, plug – of the Reserve itself this time! :-)

As you may know, Grahame and I hosted an Open Day on 07 June this year, ably assisted by colleagues from the Scottish Wildlife Trust Fife Members Centre, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust Rangers and the Air Training Corps 859 Sqdn (Dalgety Bay). Before the Open Day took place, the Dunfermline Press popped along to have a wee word with Grahame, and our boss, Alistair Whyte, who is the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Reserves Manager for Central East. The man from the Press was treated to a tour around the Reserve and a few photos were taken, much to Alistair and Grahame’s disgust! ;-)

We have waited a fair while for the article to be printed, however, I am proud to announce that Cullaloe features in this week’s Dunfermline Press (dated 07 August 2008) and we have very kindly been given a tag-line on the front page, and a third of a page spread on page 6! :-) The article gives some interesting background information on the Reserve and our esteemed Convener as well as providing a couple of photos which will allow any future visitors to recognise Grahame and Alistair if they are spotted on the Reserve!

Those of you who are plant lovers like me, I apologise now for Grahame’s obvious disdain for them! Rest assured, you and the plants still have a champion! ;-) However, as the article says, Grahame is a bird man at heart, and his commitment to them ensures that he is equally happy to help the bugs and plants they survive on thrive on the Reserve! :-)


Well, as they say at the end of all good Loony Tunes… That’s All Folks! I hope you take a moment with a cuppa to read our article in the Press, and if you fancy ignoring the bad weather and want to take a look at the newly lowered Reserve, perhaps we will see you there!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Changeable Weather and Butterflies!

With the weather being so changeable recently, we’ve not had nearly as many opportunities to visit the reserve as we would have liked. As a result, I’ve not really had too much to report about, I’m afraid.

I run a butterfly transect as part of my duties, which I report on to Butterfly Conservation. I’m supposed to walk the reserve counting the butterflies present each week, but as a result of this year’s weather, there has been five weeks so far where I’ve simply not been able to get onto the reserve for an hour to do this. It’s either been too wet, too cold or too windy. Still, on the occasions I have been able to do the transect, it’s shown that the butterflies are not nearly as bothered by the weather as us humans are. It’s proving to be a bit of a bumper year for them!

Just last week, whilst walking the transect I recorded over 70 butterflies throughout the reserve in just a single hour.

The species recorded on the reserve so far this year are:


Small White

Large White

Green-Veined White

Orange-Tip

Small Copper

Small Tortoiseshell

Peacock

Common Blue

Dark Green Fritillary

Ringlet

Meadow Brown


That’s 11 of the 56 species found in the UK, just on one site! There's also another 2 more to come, i suspect - the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady. Ok, to some, that might not sound very impressive, but if you consider how many different species the average person gets in their garden, it’s almost a totally different world.

The reason we have so many butterflies on the reserve is partly due to the way the reserve is managed. I‘ve mentioned before that we have the Flying Flock graze part of the reserve, and this helps to keep certain invasive species under control. We also have a management program in place for the flower meadows, where we cut these just once a year at the end of summer. This allows a good spread of flowers to come up the following year, which in turn provides a great source of food for the butterflies on the reserve. One of the best examples of this is the bird's-foot trefoil (shown below) which can be seen throughout the reserve at this time of year.



This year has been particularly good for the plant, which has in turn resulted in a bumper year for the Common Blue butterfly. This plant is the main food plant for the caterpillar of this species, so having more of it, means a greater opportunity for the species to breed. Last year, the most I saw of the Common Blue was 3 or 4 butterflies of a day, where as this year it’s not uncommon to see at least a dozen of them!

I’ve included photos below of one of the butterfly species which can be found on the reserve just now, so that people can get an understanding of what they’re looking at when they’re on the reserve.


Dark Green Fritillary




Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Damselflies of Cullaloe

First of all, I'm going to have to apologise. I know that I've promised an update on the open day, but both me and Janie have been incredibly busy over the past couple of weeks and neither of us has had a chance to do it. Hopefully Janie will be able to provide a full update on the open day in the next few days. Rest assured that a good day was had by all!
I'd also like to apologise for the lack of updates on the species list (It should be huge by now, since there's so much going on!), but again, I've not really had the time to do it.

In the meantime, I figured I would show everyone pictures of the three damselfly species we currently have on the reserve.

The first one I'd like to show you, and the one that you're most likely to see on the reserve is the Common Blue Damselfly. When you see males flying around (like the one in the picture) it's like a big flash of blue that's passing you by!


The second damselfly we have on offer (I sound like I'm trying to sell something here!) is the Blue-Tailed Damselfly. This one isn't quite as striking as the Common Blue, but is a beautiful damselfly, all the same. You're more likely to see this species either at the Filter Beds or near the Spillway.


And finally, we have the Large Red Damselfly. This one is rather special for me, since as far as I'm aware, it has not been recorded on the reserve before. The only place i have seen these is at the Filter Beds, just off from the car park.


It's definitely a great site to see these wonderful creatures hovering over the water or the surrounding plants, looking for prey (They feed on other insects... midges are a favourite of theirs, so they're double good to see!) and I don't think it will be long now till we get the full blown Dragonflies out on the reserve. I know that when they were pond dipping during the open day a few dragonfly nymphs were captured, so it's a relatively safe bet that we'll get a decent hatching soon.

Speaking of hatchings. If anyone is planning on visiting the reserve in the next week or two, please watch where you put your feet!
This year's batch of frogs and toads are on the loose, and there are hundreds of them jumping around along the path, particularly near the loch. Please keep an eye out for them while you're walking about.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Open Day Update!

Janie mentioned in her previous post that we would update you with details of what is going to be happening during the reserve open day. We've both actually been really busy over the past few days planning and organising things, but it's all starting to come together now. The open day will definitely be going ahead this Saturday, 7th June from 11:00 to 15:00. So, what's going to be happening, I hear you ask - the wait is over. The (almost complete) list of activities are listed below!


Guided Walks:- We will be hosting guided walks for anyone interested at 11:30am and 1:30pm. These will be led jointly by myself and Alistair Whyte, the Reserves Manager for East Central Scotland (AKA: The boss). Each walk should last approximately an hour and a half and we'll be covering the wildlife you can see on the reserve and covering some of the reserve management techniques we use.

Pond Dipping:- Stewart Bonar of Fife Ranger Service will be providing entertainment for young and old alike in the form of pond dipping at the filter beds, just next to the car park. There is a whole lot of pond life out at this time of year. Who knows, there may be some aquatic monster lurking in the depths!

Bark Rubbing:-
Janie will be providing further entertainment for the children in the form of bark rubbing. I think you'd be surprised how entertaining it can be to rub a crayon onto a piece of paper up against a tree! It can be a whole lot of fun, and it gives kids their own self-made souvenir of their day.

Treasure Trail:- Follow the list of clues, answer the questions and receive a reward. Yet another great one for the kids!

Stalls:- The local Member's Centre will be providing a stall, highlighting the work of the SWT locally and providing an opportunity for visitors to purchase various SWT branded and nature related items.
859 Squadron of the Air Training Corps will have a stall to advertise themselves and the work they do to enrich teenagers lives and the work they have done on the reserve.


That's the main events and activities that will be happening on the day. There may be some slight changes, modifications or additions, but the main activities are unlikely to change at this late stage.

I would ask that if you plan on visiting the reserve and you know others who would like to come along, share a car where possible! For those who know the reserve, they'll understand that parking can be a bit limited, so hopefully if everyone does their bit for the environment by reducing car numbers, it will also help us out with a potential parking nightmare.

If you do come along, we hope you have an enjoyable, memorable visit. You can be sure we'll update with behind the scenes action as soon as the open day is over!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Notices and a bit of fun!

I was going to blog this at the end of my last entry, but as Grahame says mine are very long I thought I’d best do a new one! :-) There are a couple of things we’d like to let you know about.

Open to All!

First, the fun bit! We are very pleased to say that Scottish Wildlife Trust has agreed to Cullaloe Local Nature Reserve having an Open Day during the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife Week :-) Grahame and I are VERY excited about this as we are understandably proud of the reserve and would love to show it off to as many people as possible! :-)

As this blog entry goes to press the details are still being finalised but there is talk of guided walks, pond-dipping and maybe even a treasure-hunt to take part in, so it would be really great to see some of our blog-readers joining in and helping to make the day a success! :-) The details are as follows:

Place: Cullaloe Local Nature Reserve!

Time: 11am – 3pm

Date: Saturday 07 June 2008

We will post further details as they become available! :-)

And now for something a little different…

Dusk till Dawn

Many of our visitors may have noticed that there is a gate near the top of the slope, just after the disabled parking bay. You may also have spied the sign there which lets you know that the car park gate will be locked at dusk or 9pm. It has been quite some time since this sign has been accurate, however, following a recent meeting at the reserve the decision has been taken to begin locking the gate over-night. This is to try to prevent much of the littering in the car-park which has become a bit of an issue.

Anyone who wishes to visit the reserve once the gate has been lock is still more than welcome to do so. We are very happy to encourage genuine wildlife watchers to park their cars in the disabled bay if they wish to take a walk along to the lochside and listen out for nocturnal manoeuvres in the dark! Please do take care if you are visiting the reserve at night as it can be quite easy to wander off the path and there are many ruts and bumps in the ground that are well-hidden by grass.

Thanks for your attention!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Dew-covered grass means wet feet!

Something possessed Grahame and I on Saturday night and made us think it would be a great idea to go to the reserve at 7.30am on Sunday morning – and you know something – it was worth it! :-) I’m serious – it really was! Don’t believe me? Then read on…

It was a truly beautiful morning and we pulled into the reserve (doing the usual 1 mile an hour!) wondering what we might see. Well, how about a couple of roe deer grazing at the end of the dam to kick us off? :-) I have to admit – much as I love my birds, I truly enjoy catching out the larger mammals we have around the reserve – and deer are my absolute favourites! I love the way they can be standing stock still one moment, and the next they leap sideways and take off into the undergrowth – sometimes so fast that you can’t really be sure you saw them at all! :-)

Once I’d calmed myself down – and Grahame had taken his hands down from his ears – we sat in the car quietly for a minute or two and were amazed to see a fox slinking along the back of the filter beds! It came from the direction of the dam and headed towards the right hand side of the car park. What really tickled us, though, was the fact that it appeared to be carrying a hedgehog in its mouth! I have no idea whether the amount of eating in a hedgehog warrants the danger of dealing with the prickles – but I suppose the fox knows what he is doing! It did remind me of hedgehog flavour crisps that were on sale for a limited time when I was a kid at high school circa 1990 though! ;-)

After we finally exited the car, disturbing the nesting moorhen on the filter beds as we did, we heading on up the steps to the top of the dam where we were hit by the cacophony of songs from the various warblers (garden warbler, another LBJ, now added to the species list! ;-)) along with our resident song thrush singing his heart out at the very top of the highest tree and the swallows zipping around playing tag in the sky. It is nice to stand at the top of the steps and take a deep breath of the sweet smelling fresh air – not least because the steps are quite steep and can take it out of you a bit - but also because you get a great view looking easterly over the reserve with a fair spread of the mature willow trees, younger trees of various types and the boggy grasslands being so successfully reclaimed by the work of the Conservation Team and local Air Cadets.

The daffodils have now almost entirely disappeared, but are gradually being replaced with violets, pink campion and other meadow varieties. This is going to help Grahame in increasing species numbers when completing the butterfly transects as we are seeing more butterflies every day. Sunday marked the appearance of the Orange Tip Butterfly (see photo below) – although I am quite sure when Grahame goes out to do his timed walk, the Orange Tip will be very well hidden along with the rest of our flying beauties! ;-) I am noticing all the different types of bees a bit more this year though! I have to say the most involvement I usually have with a buzzing insect is standing still and hoping it doesn’t want to sting me – but I am trying to take a greater interest. I am quite taken with a smallish variety that has an orange bottom and a single orangey-yellow stripe across its back! :-) I’m afraid I haven’t managed to identify it… answers on a postcard! ;-) I spent a good couple of minutes just watching as he moved in a zig-zag from one flower head to the next, gathering up pollen as went. Bees are quite pretty really and I’m glad I’m not as scared of them as I used to be… although my hands are still firmly rooted in my pockets while I’m watching! ;-)

We reached the loch side and were pleased to see 3 different little grebes, 2 of whom seemed to be a pair and the other appeared to be nesting in the rushes. A single swan was gliding about in the centre of the loch and the mallard and tufted ducks were keeping to their usual corner – towards the back left. We didn’t see the mallard chicks this time but I’m sure they will still be around! :-)

We left the waterfowl to their foraging and walked down the slope towards the spillway with the usual tits and finches flitting about in the trees. There are plenty of them but they don’t seem to be using the feeding station as much now. Fresh bugs probably taste much better than dried seed! ;-) When we reached the spillway, we glanced down at the water – then did a double take at the hundreds, if not thousands, of tadpoles we could see!! Little black dots swimming this way and that – big black groups of them in some places – so thick you couldn’t make out individuals! They are on both sides of the spillway bridge so I can only assume that some have even tumbled down the stream to the pool at the bottom of the spillway!! No wonder a female and juvenile heron were taking such an interest in our loch earlier in the week!! There are very easy pickings just now.

We carried on up to the sheep field and saw that our cheeky lambs were inside the field boundary this time… Trust me – this is become a rare occurrence – despite the efforts of our shepherd, Tim, to make the fence escape-proof! ;-) Even though they are growing quickly now, I still love to see them skipping about. However, there was one very large (and at the same time, very small) distraction for Grahame and I this time… A lizard! :-) Grahame spied it sitting on the path and very quietly crept up alongside it. As it was still very early in the morning, the lizard (Grahame identified it as a common lizard) hadn’t yet been out in the sun long enough to warm up properly, so Grahame was able to get close enough to touch it! :-) I doubt very much I would have seen it but our Convenor has eagle-eyed vision sometimes! :-)

We walked to the end of the sheep field and then turned to walk back – and surprise, surprise the lambs were on our side of the fence this time! Man – I wish I could stay annoyed at them for it – but I can’t resist their cute wee faces and wagging tails! :-) We walked very slowly towards them and they obliged us by scrambling back under the fence and running to their mama! If you should see the lambs outside the fence – and you need to walk past them – please walk slowly and make as little noise as possible. They should run back into the field without any trouble. I will just ask dog-owners to keep their dogs on leads in this part of the reserve again at this point though – I’m sure you can appreciate our concerns.

Have to laugh at Grahame at this point… We had obviously walked through a fair amount of grass in getting beyond the sheep field – and it was as we reached the slope beside the loch that he looked miserably down at his trainer-clad feet and said “yuck!” ;-) I myself had worn walking boots because dew-covered grass and trainers invariably mean wet feet! ;-) You’d think that with all his experience of the outdoors, Grahame would know that, wouldn’t you? ;-)

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Butterflies, Ducklings and Electronic Alarms!

I have been inspired by nature to write the blog again today! :-) After the torrential rain of Monday, its lovely to get some sunshine and, reminiscent of Sunday’s visit to the reserve, the air smells fresh and fragrant with the spring blooms bursting into life all around and its making my fingers twitch!

As Grahame and I drove down the slope to the car park, the daffodils were still waving their heads in the slightly more gentle than normal breeze blowing across the top of the old dam, but their pale beauty is becoming more and more eclipsed by the wealth of deep golden yellow offered by the gorse which surrounds you as you pull up into the car park.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the entry road and car park have a whole lot of interest to offer in their own right, and so I’d like to make a small suggestion here… When you turn onto the reserve, slow your car, wind down the windows, turn off your music – and just enjoy! :-) On recent trips to the reserve Grahame has spooked 2 heron off the filter beds, and a moorhen is regularly to be found floating in and around the edges, so it is worth taking your time to make your approach as quiet as possible :-) Who knows what you might see… Grahame has even seen a stoat slinking off into the tall grass!

As we parked up, a buzzard swooped lazily down from one of the telegraph poles up the hill to the right and made a leisurely circuit of the area, while on the filter beds the moor hen poked about in the vegetation for the choicest nest-building materials. Having brought lunch we decided to eat it right there and take in the sights and sounds for a while – and the noise was incredible! :-) In direct contrast to the lazy meanderings of the buzzard, the blue tits were in full voice, and at full speed, darting through the trees before rising into the sky to give an amazing aerobatics display! There were at least two pairs involved and plenty of chattering back and forth as they criss-crossed the air. They were so caught up in their game that one of them nearly ploughed straight into Grahame – missing him by about a foot! There were also a few Reed Bunting in the area, occasionally living up to their names by hanging on to the stalks of the tall grasses leading up to the slope of the old dam!

The main reason for visiting the reserve on Sunday was to take advantage of the lovely weather and walk the route of the Butterfly Transect Grahame set up as part of the Butterfly Conservation Society’s UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. This is basically one of a series of 26 visits, undertaken on a weekly basis between April and September, where butterflies are recorded within 5m of a set route. I am pleased to say that after 3 weeks of zero, we have finally logged our first two butterflies for this year! They were both Peacock Butterflies and were found at the opposite ends of the reserve, so we can be sure they were not the same one twice!


The trip was by no means wasted even though these were our only two sightings! :-) Grahame has always been a lover of the LBJ’s (little brown jobs!) such as the warblers, chiffchaffs, whitethroat and buntings, and they have not been disappointing him so far! The melodic song of the willow warbler accompanied us on every step of the route, with the birds themselves being content to sit among the catkins of the willow trees. It was easy to see where they might have taken their name, given that the pastel shades of their plumage are perfectly reflected in the colours of the willow tree itself! The more sharp bark of the chiffchaff was also prominent, and the loud croak of the pheasant added to the music :-)

The loch is becoming more interesting as each day passes and Sunday provided its own little surprise! Grahame and I were just scanning around the edges looking for the dabchick (little grebe) when both of us happened upon something small and dark towards the far bank… Following a small adjustment of the binoculars and a couple of gasps, we were delighted to see 7 little mallard ducklings paddling like crazy after their mum! :-) Neither of us had really expected to see chicks just yet – although granted we are nearly at the end of April now. I suspect the dodgy weather has been fooling us into thinking that its still winter!

Just a small apology here for anyone who likes nipping to the loch-side to check out the birds at the peanut feeders… We have gotten a little lax in filling the feeders just recently due to a number of other personal commitments, however, now that the lighter evenings are rolling in normal service will be resumed. One of the peanut feeders does need a bit of repair work, so it may be just two of them being filled for a little while… a bushy tailed visitor has been a bit impatient about getting his hands on our peanuts!

Sadly, there was a little bit of disappointment as we neared the sheep field. We were really hoping that there might be more than two bouncy lambs for us to see – but it is common practice for ewes to be taken indoors during the lambing season these days and the flying flock are no exception so the field is looking very empty :-( However, the mother with the two lambs that have already been born are still in residence, so please do check on their progress if you are at the reserve – they are getting bigger very quickly but are still very cute with their wagging tails :-)

As we continued the Butterfly Transect beyond the sheep field, Grahame suddenly stopped and put his finger to his lips. It was the unmistakable call of the Grasshopper Warbler! Another item to be added to the species list for the reserve! :-) We tried very, very hard to spot the singer, but he was far too well hidden in the trees. As we had stopped to look and listen, we were treated to a fist fight by two male bullfinches who showed amazing agility in chasing each other through the winding branches of the willow trees! I don’t know how they were able to avoid them all, although there were a couple of close calls!

The remainder of the Transect, which basically ends at the point where the Dour Burn crosses the path at the east-most end of the reserve, was pretty quiet with the occasional chaffinch call and the bleeting of the sheep belonging to the farm east of the reserve. However, as we crossed the last open grassland area, I startled a hare (and myself!) out of the grass! I was amazed as I’d just walked past it and hadn’t seen a thing! Wildlife really is the master of disguise sometimes – which is why you should always walk slowly and talk quietly when you are out and about! :-) Grahame was happy as he’d just spotted a lapwing taking to the skies. They really are beautiful birds – but with a song that frankly sounds like an electronic alarm! :-)

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, but still a lovely walk from one end of the reserve to the other all the same :-) We jumped back into the car with 2 butterfly sightings and a couple more amazing wildlife experiences under our belts and the feeling that we’d had a good day - and isn’t that really all that matters sometimes? :-)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

More arrivals, plus outings

First of all, apologies for the slow update to the blog. Janie and I have been away up north for a few days for a spot of R & R. We're back now, though, so I promise I'll keep it up to date, particularly with all of the new arrivals we're getting.

On April 12th we had an outing to the reserve from the Edinburgh Natural History Society. It was a relativley pleasant day, though the wind was bitingly cold. Despite the late spring we've been having this year, plenty was to be seen. The highlights were the Roe Deer up on the hills, the Hares in the neighbouring field and the Snipe which were flushed from the Snipe Bog. Several different plant and fungi species were identified on the reserve, and I'd like to express a big thank you to everyone who came along and particularly those who helped me understand and identify the various plants on the reserve.
I have to admit, plants really are not my strong point (I normally leave those to Janie) so it was good to get an insight from such knowledgeable people.

Recently we've had the arrival of Willow Warblers on the reserve. We had our first sighting on Sunday 13th April and they've been there ever since. When i went along yesterday evening, i counted at least 10 singing birds, along with 4 or 5 singing Chiffchaffs. We've recently had an increase in Reed Buntings to the reserve, with 4 males and 2 females sighted this morning.
The most interesting new sighting on the reserve over the past little while was a Common Lizard found on Sunday. I found it in the early morning near the field where the flying flock are resident.

Janie and I have also invested in some pond dipping kits, which we've taken out for a little outing to the reserve. It's still early yet for a lot of the pond life, but there were still plenty of water boatmen, beetle larvae, beetles, snails and flatworms to be found. We'll definitely be doing that more regularly. Who knows, i may even be able to persuade Janie to update the blog again with some of our findings!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Ringing in the Trees

Hey all! :-)

Firstly, a quick apology for the lack of update on what is becoming quite a busy and exciting time for the reserve! Grahame, who is the primary writer of blog updates, has been very busy recently as we are involved with conducting a few surveys and building our species lists as quickly as we can with new items are appearing all the time. On the reserve, homes are being built, mating songs are being sung, and new arrivals are popping in for the day or even being born on site so plenty of jostling for position can be seen at the feeding stations! So, given that there is a fair bit to be said, I thought I’d do the update again this time and share a bit about what has been going on! :-)

Spring has sprung at Cullaloe and every day there is something new to see, hear or smell. It is quite a feast for the senses and, on Sunday, the Dunfermline RSPB Wildlife Explorers came along to see what all the fuss was about for themselves! Just as a bit of background, RSPB Wildlife Explorers is a membership of the RSPB that is open to children aged 4 – 19 years old. Mark, our local bird-ringing expert, very kindly agreed to come along and show the Explorers what ringing is all about, which was brilliant news as this is definitely something that appeals to wildlife devotees of all ages! ;-)

Now you may have noticed that the weather has been rather changeable of late and the drive to the reserve was a little hairy in the blizzard-like conditions! I have to admit, I did wonder whether the snow might put a dent in the day by persuading the Explorers to stay indoors, so it was great to see so many people starting the trek up the hill from the car park (and yes – I’m afraid I was late again – but there was snow… and no grit yet… and… *blush*). Luckily Grahame and Mark had both arrived in plenty of time and the group were well buttoned and booted up against the chill of the morning air :-)



We started by taking a walk along the top of the old dam to the viewing point that overlooks the willow scrub on the one side and the filter beds on the other. Grahame took a moment to explain some of the history of the reserve and its previous life as a water refinery. The weather had dampened the level of bird activity around us and the only accompaniment we had on the first part of our tour was the beautiful sound of a song thrush, singing from the very top of one of the tallest trees on the reserve… or so we thought! As we all made our way back to the path leading to the Loch, we were amazed to see a chain of bird-prints running along the path where only moments before the crisp new snow had only been broken by an occasional human footprint! After a bit of consideration it was suggested that the culprit may have been a Snipe, and sure enough as we walked along towards the Loch, a group of 4 Snipe rose into the air from the willow scrub area. I have to admit I was pleased to see that many together as it suggests that all the hard work we and the local cadets have put into clearing some of the scrub for the benefit of Snipe may just be paying off! :-)

Just on the subject of the Loch, regular visitors may have noticed that the bamboo section of the screen overlooking the Loch has been removed. This is due to damage caused over a period of years which was finally brought to a head by the recent high winds. We are currently seeking funding for timber to erect a permanent replacement for the screen in the hope that this will stand up to the pressures of time, weather and the occasional enterprising visitor! If anyone thinks they may be able to help, please get in touch.

Mark met our group as we entered the trees beside the Loch and gave a bit of background on bird-ringing, the equipment used, the purpose behind ringing, and the qualifications required. Then, once the mist net had been set, we went to take a look at the Loch to let the birds come and settle around the feeders again.

There were a few birds to be seen on and around the Loch, most notably the first sighting of a swallow for this year – thanks to Matthew for spotting it skimming over the Loch! Our resident male swan from last year has returned but this time with a different female as this one features a ring. I was surprised at this as I had thought that swans mated for life, however, I read up on it a bit and, where it is necessary, they are not adverse to taking up with a new partner. They seem to be getting on very well and have already established their nest in a spot close to where last year’s was sited. Also to be seen were coots, tufted ducks and a dabchick (little grebe).

It wasn’t long, though, before our attention was taken by one of the young Explorers who had been keeping an eye on the mist net and spotted that some birds had already become caught up in it. Sure enough, when we all went to take a look, some blue tits and great tits had gotten tangled in the very fine mesh of the net. Mark carefully untangled each bird (a task that required great skill and patience!) and popped them into individual cloth bags ready for ringing. Once he was ready to start, you could feel the anticipation as Mark gently brought the first bird out of its bag, with children and adults alike leaning forward to see as much as possible. It was definitely one of those “I love my job” moments for Grahame and I as everyone’s faces as Mark carefully measured the bird’s wing, noted its age and weighed it in what one visitor described as a “piping bag” were full of amazement and interest :-) We even found that one blue tit had been ringed at Cullaloe by Mark before – 5 and a half years earlier! That amazed even Grahame who didn’t think that blue tits lived that long. He was equally impressed that it was happy to still be living at Cullaloe after all that time! :-)

Although we only captured blue tits and great tits in our net this time around (no woodpeckers much to Grahame’s disappointment!), bird numbers appear to be on the increase on the reserve with more species being recorded all the time. We have well over 40 different birds on the species list now and it should be noted that this is the best source for the latest information on the species on the reserve. Although we try to update the blog on a weekly basis, the species list is updated immediately after any visit during which a new species is recorded, so be sure to take a look.

There are some other new additions to the reserve this week but who are not from the world of birds. Cullaloe is currently host to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s flying flock (in the field beyond the Loch) and some of the ewes have begun to give birth. If you happen to be visiting the reserve and would like to see how our bouncy spring lambs are doing, please feel free to take a look. We would ask that you be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb the sheep too much, and would appreciate it if dogs were not walked beyond the spillway for the moment.

And finally, just to advise, the Edinburgh Natural History Society will be making a visit to the reserve tomorrow (Saturday 12 April 2008) and will likely be on site for the best part of the day. Grahame will be present to act as a guide and to share his knowledge of the reserve where he can.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The return of the migrants

It seems that the first of our migrants have finally returned to the reserve. I went to the reserve on Monday, as it was such a lovely day. As i was walking along the path, just past the screen, i could hear the tell tale call of the Chiffchaff. It only took a couple of minutes from there to see it.
Hopefully, this will mean that the rest of our African summer visitors will be arriving within the next few weeks. I suspected we will see swallows or sand martins next.
The lone Little Grebe on the loch has been joined by a partner, so I'm getting quite hopeful that we might have some breeding success for them this year. We also had a pair of Shelduck stop over on Monday for the day, but they didn't stay long. From reports, they have attempted to breed on the reserve in the past, but it doesn't look like this year will be another attempt.

Just to advise, we have the RSPB Wildlife Explorers visiting the reserve this Sunday. They'll be getting a guided tour and a bit of a ringing demonstration from Mark.

Keep an eye on the species list. It gets updated more regularly than the blog does, and right now it's constantly changing

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

New Arrivals

The migrants from abroad have not yet arrived on the reserve, but there are several reports of them arriving in the south of England now, so it shouldn't be more than a week or two till they are here.
We have, however had some new bird species arrive on the reserve in the past week or so. There has been a pair of Bullfinches on the reserve, which I've seen a couple of times. I've also had sightings of Pied Wagtail. The most interesting addition was the arrival of a Little Grebe to the reserve today. They have been reported as breeding on the reserve for quite a few years, but did not appear to be last year. Hopefully this new arrival will be followed by a partner and we'll get a successful breeding year for them!
Although in saying that, the pair of Mute Swans have now returned to the loch, so once they become territorial, they may scare off some of the smaller birds that might nest on the loch. I guess time will tell on that front.
Some of you may have already noticed that there is a mound of clay and rubble on the reserve at the car park right now. I know it isn't the prettiest sight in the world, but it shouldn't be there for all that long and hopefully it will be put to good use by SWT, either at Cullaloe or on the other reserves in the area. Cullaloe was chosen as the place to store this as it has what is probably the best access for large vehicles of all the reserves in the area.
In an additional note, i saw a mammal species today which i have not seen on the reserve before. There was a Stoat roaming around the car park this morning, which was really good to see!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Showing signs of spring

I'm away for the weekend, and i suspect as a result i'll miss some interesting arrivals to the reserve.
I went down today and the daffodils have started to bloom. I also saw my first red-tailed Bumblebee of the year. A sure sign that Spring is edging ever closer! I suspect it won't be long now till we hear the familiar 'chiff chaff, chiff chaff' of the first warbler arrivals to the reserve.
Our male mute swan has returned to the reserve as well. Here's hoping he's soon joined by a female and we get another successful year.
The most interesting sighting today was just as i was about to get into the car and drive off. I heard a very loud croaking noise and when i looked up, there was the familiar diamond tail of a Raven! They're not particularly common in this area, so it was good to see. I only saw ravens once last year at Cullaloe, so if i see it again, i'll have improved on the record!Anyway, i'm now off on a trip to Ayr for the weekend for College. If anyone is planning on visiting the reserve this weekend, please feel free to let me know what i miss!
On that note, if you see something that isn't on the species list, I'd be grateful if you could let me know so i can add it to the list.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Flying Flock

The weather has been pretty awful the past few days, so I've not had much chance to get to the reserve. Last time i was there was on Thursday, which was simply a quite trip to top up the seed feeders.
Mind you, i did get my first Sparrowhawk sighting of the year then, so I'm certainly not complaining! The Species list continues to grow. I don't think it will be too long now till we start seeing and hearing the first arrivals of the spring and summer migrants.

Since i haven't been on the reserve much and can't update you on what is happening just now, i figured I'd use the opportunity to explain what the flying flock is and why they are on the reserve.
I mentioned in my last post that some sheep have arrived from the flying flock and are grazing one of the meadows on the reserve. The flying flock is SWTs own flock of sheep. They travel around various sites both in Fife and in other predominantly lowland areas. I think in total the SWT have over 300 sheep now, although only 25 of these are currently resident at Cullaloe.
The purpose of the flying flock is to provide practical management for some reserves in the form of grazing. By regularly grazing certain areas, they can actually help preserve the variety of plant species in the area. They can help prevent areas from becoming overgrown and dominated by particularly invasive species.
Currently at Cullaloe, they only graze one meadow, but there are plans to have them start grazing a second meadow on the reserve. We don't have them at Cullaloe all year round. That would result in the meadows being over grazed and little growing there. It is done at specific times of the year to preserve plant species.

So there you have it. I probably could have written for hours about the flying flock, but i figured it would be best to give just a small indication of why they were there.

Hopefully the weather will improve so that i can give a good report of things happening on the reserve next time!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Willow Screen

I went down to the reserve today to fill up the feeders to find that the willow screen had been tampered with. There is now a gap, almost one foot high at eye level of the average person in the screen.
This infuriates me. It is an act of pure vandalism, and the thing that annoys me most is that i am certain that the people responsible for this are bird watchers!!
Do people not understand the purpose of hides and screens? Yes, it to to give people the opportunity to see the wildlife, but more importantly, it is there to prevent DISTURBING the birds. The way things are now, there is little to no chance of any birds breeding close to the screen or at that side of the loch because some thoughtless individuals have taken it upon themselves to create a gap in the screen so they can see better.
I just can't believe that bird watchers would be so inconsiderate to the actual birds and so self-centered. They are clearly only interested in what view they get of the birds, not on the impact this has on the birds themselves. For me, the first rule of bird watching is to do so WITHOUT disturbing the birds.
If the people responsible for this read this, i hope they are ashamed of themselves. They've clearly put no thought into the disturbance they have caused and the results will continue to cause to the birds and also no thought about the time and effort David Blair and his conservation team put in to erect the screen for the benefits of the birds and for the people. I don't expect the people responsible for this to come forward or to make amends. I suspect that they will show true cowardice on this front.
Please be aware that anyone seen tampering with the screen, or on any other part of the reserve will be reported to the police for vandalism. Enough is enough now. It is a nature reserve, for the benefit of nature. We don't need these bad elements spoiling it.

On a slightly different note, please be aware that some sheep from the Flying Flock are now using one of the meadows on the reserve. Please keep dogs under control at all times to avoid worrying the sheep.
And on the dog front. Please pick up after your dog. I don't like stepping in it, and i'm sure nobody else does either. It has no benefit to the nature interests on the reserve, so please remove it.

Anyway, i think I've ranted enough for now. Again a reminder that anyone seen causing damage to any part of the reserve will be reported for vandalism. I welcome any comments, both positive and negative to this post.

Friday, 15 February 2008

First signs of Spring

I've been visiting the reserve quite a bit the past few days for stress relief and to work out some pain while i recover from a car accident last weekend. It has been good, and there's definitely some signs that Spring is in the air!
We've got snowdrops in bloom down at the car park right now, and some of the birds have started singing. It's a real cacophony of bird noise along there right now. I could sit at the screen all day and just listen to the bird noise!
We've also had quite a few birds added to the species list in the past week or so, taking the total up to 35 for the year so far. I'm pretty sure that figure will double before the year is out, too!
I've modified the species list a little to include the date of last sighting of birds (I haven't done it for the other species - butterflies, mammals, insects, plants, etc) since i suspect the majority of visitors to the reserve are there for the birds. I think it may be best to have a last sighting date so that people can see the chances of seeing any given bird species currently. I've also tried to sort it in date order, with most recent sightings first. If you take, for example, the Jay. I only saw one in the whole time i was visiting last year, yet i saw one just a couple of days ago. I wouldn't expect to see them anytime soon, but people might be under the impression from the species list that they can be seen all the time.

Just a reminder that we will be having the local air cadets on site doing some work this weekend. The forecast looks good, so for a rare change, we might actually get a decent amount of work done!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Raising the water level

On Friday i went to the reserve and I sealed the valve which allows us to lower the water level. The water level should remain pretty high now until the end of summer, when we'll lower it again.
We had planned to do a number of things at the edge of the loch this winter, when the water level was lower. Not least of which was to scrape away some of the encroaching rushes to create an area of bare mud for the Mudwort to establish itself on. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of rain we've had this winter, the water level has never stayed low enough for long enough for us to do any of this work. It is slightly disappointing, but sometimes these things happen. We'll probably try again later in the year, once we lower the water level again.

I'm going to have to make a point of ignoring the weather forecasts for ever, now! I'm slightly annoyed that I've cancelled the latest planned visit by the local air cadets for today due to forecast adverse conditions. Looking out of the window just now it's a little overcast, but it's still dry. It hasn't really rained for 3 days, despite numerous weather warnings for the met office for blizzard conditions! I feel bad about not having them come on site. Apparently they've become quite enthusiastic about the reserve and the work they've been doing and I'd really rather utilize that enthusiasm than let it dwindle.
On the plus side, thanks to Janie, we should have a back up plan for the next time they're due to visit. She's managed to find a source of wood, so if the weather prevents us from going on site, we can use the cadet hall to have the cadets building nest boxes for the birds on the reserve.

When i was on the reserve on Thursday, i managed to see something I've never actually seen on the reserve before. Foxes! We've always known they were there, with prints and scat clearly showing that they've been using the reserve, but this was the first time I've seen the actual animals. I saw one not far from the peanut feeders and another one on the hill near the car park. It sat and stared at me while i sat in the car warming my hands up after spending 2 hours on the reserve in freezing conditions.
As I've mentioned in a previous post. Finding field signs of mammals on the reserve is quite easy, but normally we wouldn't expect to see the mammals themselves. It makes it a real treat when you do, though! I won't be forgetting it for a while, that's for sure!