In Perthshire we have had lots of rain throughout the autumn, but winter arrived with a huge dump of snow at the end of November and start of December.
We have had a flock of Fieldfares – winter migrants from Scandinavia & Russia – feeding on the apples in Perthshire Wildlife HQ garden. The blackbirds have joined in & all the apples have now been eaten, so the birds have moved on to the Cotoneaster berries.
What we grow in our gardens can make a huge difference to wildlife throughout the whole year, and the majority of our plants are native, nectar-rich, or produce berries over the winter (a combination of all three is the best eg hawthorn and dog rose). Our sister company Celtica Wildflowers grows native wildflowers from Scottish seed and offers advice on how to improve your garden or park for wildlife – drop them a line if you need some assistance with helping your wildlife! firstname.lastname@example.org
We have a few wintery guided walks coming up so please keep checking the website & Facebook/ Twitter pages for updates.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
We are pleased to report that no-one on our recent Spooky Species for Halloween guided walks thought our species were spooky!
We looked at many of the species from the witches’ spell (from Macbeth), including eye of toad (we had a live toad rescued from a roadside gullypot), stuffed and flat bats to sample the ‘wool of bat’, adder’s fork (stuffed, with a shed skin), owlets’ wings and pellets and, for the grand finale, Hugo and Tibo, the very friendly rats! We also used the bat detector to listen to Pipistrelle bats as they hunted by the Tay.
Matilda, an adult who brought along her two girls said ‘What froggy fun! Thanks again for a great spooky night!
This week I was lucky enough to be asked to run a ‘Tall Trees & Local Wildlife’ guided walk for a company running an ‘Autumn Gold’ holiday in Perthshire. We met at the Hermitage which is a top spot for tall trees, with a Douglas Fir growing close to Ossian’s Hall measuring 212ft – one of the tallest trees in the UK.
The Hermitage has many links with Perthshire’s Plant Hunters of the 18th and 19th century, most notably David Douglas and Archibald Menzies, who came from Scone and Aberfeldy respectively. As well as bringing back many new species from overseas, ultimately changing our forests and landscapes forever, they were adventurers and explorers. Imagine finding hundreds of species of plants new to the world of Western botany!
The previous day I had seen Atlantic salmon leaping up the falls at the Black Linn, which can be easily viewed from Ossian’s Hall. Salmon have been known to leap up to four metres on their migration from the northern Atlantic to the river in which they were born. These salmon had swum thousands of miles from feeding grounds close to Greenland or Iceland, into the North Sea, into the Tay at Dundee, into the River Braan at Dunkeld and then met the waterfall of the Black Linn. Once past the Linn, the salmon will find an area of gravel in well oxygenated water where the female will lay her eggs. This is called a redd. The male fertilises the eggs and the female then ensures they are hidden from predators by using her tail to cover the eggs with gravel.
The majority of fish are so exhausted by migration and breeding that they die soon afterwards, but a few survive to return to the sea.
Isn’t nature amazing?! The Hermitage is also a great place to spot Red squirrels and we found plenty of squirrel chewed cones showing they were very close by. Did you know that you can tell if a squirrel is right or left handed by looking at the way that a cone is chewed? Nobody seemed very convinced by this fact!
We are holding two Spooky Species for Halloween walks this coming weekend – in Blairgowrie on Fri 30th and in Perth on Sat 31st. This is a great family event and is one of our most popular walks – and you even win a prize for dressing up spookily! There are more details on the Walks & Bookings page – please come along for a fun evening where you can meet some real, live spooky species!
It’s late July and although this is meant to be one of the warmest months of the year, the Met office says we are enjoying the sort of temperatures that we would normally expect in October. Which probably explains why we didn’t see many dragonflies on our dragonfly walk this morning!
I decided to write about dragonflies for the summer blog as they are one of the species that we associate with warm, sunny days. They can usually be seen flying around water bodies – ponds, lochs, canals, burns and rivers – and in the Perthshire area we can expect to see at least ten species.
Dragonflies have an amazing life cycle and lots of people aren’t aware that dragonflies (and damselflies) actually spend most of their life as larvae underwater, with some species living there for up to five or six years. Golden-ringed Dragonflies live in upland burns where temperatures and food availability are relatively low, so take the longest of our dragonflies to reach adulthood. The female lays her eggs in the bed of the burn and because she needs to lay them deep in the substrate, she looks a bit like a pneumatic drill when laying them. The eggs hatch into larvae, which live in the bed of the burn and feed on small invertebrates such as midge larvae, water fleas and freshwater shrimps. As they get bigger they shed their skins and grow bigger ones until it is time to emerge as an adult.
What happens next is amazing to watch – the dragonfly larva climbs up the stem of an emergent plant and its skin splits all the way down the back. An adult dragonfly emerges and spends a few hours pumping blood around its wings and drying out. When able to fly, the adult finds a place to hunt for its insect prey (such as midges and flies) and builds up its strength while developing its adult colours. When it is ready to mate it will return to the water body where the life cycle starts all over again.
Dragonflies and damselflies are unique in forming a copulation wheel whilst mating – this frequently takes the shape of a loveheart! As adults they will live only a few weeks but will manage to consume lots of midges in that time!
If you do see any dragonflies when out on a walk, please let the British Dragonfly Society know. They have a Scottish section to their website where you can see the different species found here, see events taking place over the summer and you can enter your records on the main recording page. See www.british-dragonflies.org.uk
Keep an eye on the Perthshire Wildlife Facebook page for new events, including the ever-popular Spooky Species for Halloween in October! More info can be found and tickets for events and walks booked at www.perthshirewildlife.co.uk/events