Another day at the office

Flanders Moss NNR

A day spent measuring the water table across the moss. It started in sleet and rain and finished in sunshine with a lot of wet bog in between. More on the water stuff tomorrow but for now some pictures of the office.

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Lunch time.

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Can’t get enough of the Cladonia lichen and the Polytrichum mosses.

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Ben Ledi, with a new cloak of snow, catching the last of the sun.

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Winking & Honking at 6am

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Loch Lomond NNR

Paul Roberts, SNH Area Officer from the Stirling office came out to the Loch Lomond NNR to help with one of the goose roost counts on Monday and these are his thoughts on the work:

When the alarm goes off on a Monday morning it often feels like an early start after the weekend, but when my alarm went off at 5am this Monday morning I felt justified in feeling like I’d been woken up in the middle of the night. I’m not sure I was properly awake when we wandered down the muddy track in the pitch dark and drizzle at 6am. Even when we had arrived at our allocated place in a damp field I sat on a rock and dozed off; the soft rain drumming on the hood of my jacket as my bum froze on the cold rock…

We were on the shore of Loch Lomond on the Crom Mhin at the mouth of the River Endrick taking part in the Wetland Bird survey. The survey is carried out once a month from September to March all around the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve by RSPB staff and volunteers and SNH staff. The aim is to count geese as they fly from their roosts on the shores of the loch and head inland to feed. Geese get up early so we needed to be in place before first light (although it didn’t really get light this morning)!

The key species we are interested in are Pink-footed geese, Greylag geese and Greenland White-fronted geese. These geese breed in the arctic from Iceland across Greenland and to Svalbard but in the winter they fly south in their thousands to the (relatively) warmer Scotland to bask in our (relatively) milder winters. They head back up north in the spring to lay their eggs. The loch is also home to Canada geese which are residents after being introduced to the UK.

Dave Pickett is clearly an expert at pre-dawn goose counting because 1) he was still awake and 2) he woke me up saying he’d heard some Pinkies. Even with binoculars and a telescope seeing geese across the fields in the pre-dawn gloom is challenging so by listening carefully you can tell which species they are before you can see them. So as they fly up from their roost you have a good idea what you’re looking before you start to count them.

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I find a good way to remember something new is to associate it with or a rhyme or memorable phrase. Pink Footed Geese make a ‘wink-wink-wink’ call; so I remember this by saying: ‘Winky Pinkies’ (nb. I don’t necessarily say this out loud). Then we heard some Canada geese, their call is much deeper and more of a ‘honking’; so these are ‘Honking Canadas’. We also heard some Greylags off in the distance: these make more of a quacking, clanking call, so I remember this as ‘Clanking Greylags’. Luckily we didn’t hear any Greenland Whitefronts because I’d run out of imagination at this point.

As daybreak turned the grey skies a shade lighter (I think it actually got darker again at one point) we walked along the shore to get a closer look at the geese. We heard snipe, teal, curlew, mallard and lapwing all calling in the pre-dawn twilight. We saw some ‘Honking Canadas’ out on the water and a small flock of ‘Clanking Greylags’ take off and head east for their breakfast.

Overall the numbers of Greylags and Pinkfoots were much lower than usual. There are a number of explanations for this and it might be that the numbers are only down locally and the geese are just somewhere else. It’s only by doing simple, regular, repeatable counts like this that we can get basic, robust data that will help us understand how the numbers of our winter visitors change over time.

Photos taken by Paul Roberts

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Unsung heroes sung

P1040849Flanders Moss NNR

The conservation work we do on Flanders is nearly always a collaboration of a group of people. SNH might appear to take the headlines in the management of the NNR but these projects are always partnerships with critical contributions from a number of people.

The bunding work at Wards of Goodie on Flanders is a good example. Building these bunds is a very skilled job. Kenny from Drumclog Plant Ltd has been doing this type of work for years, which is the equivalent of using 14 ton machine on a rice pudding, and has been involved in developing some of these special peatland restoration techniques that are used across Scotland. This type of work is only possible through Kenny’s skills and it is an education seeing the way he moving turfs and sods of peat around with the tines of his bucket and places them together like the pieces of a jigsaw.
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This work is on land owned and farmed by John Montgomery with whom we have a Nature Reserve Agreement with the management of the site part of the National Nature Reserve. We have been lucky to work with John on this project as it is his openness to new ideas that has enabled us to try out this work. The aim is to make some bits of his land wetter while making other bits drier. And also to improve the grazing for both his sheep and cattle. Eventually there should be a bit of wetland of high conservation value that has a functional part of a farming unit and this will be of interest to farmers and conservationists a like.

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The 2 Bogs at Night

Flanders Moss NNR & Blawhorn Moss NNR

It has been great to see that on social media many people ‘checking in’ at our reserves sharing their experience in pictures, capturing some spectacular moments for those of us who wouldn’t dare go adventuring out on a cold night. Chris Miles has recently visited two of our reserves and captured these stunning photographs. I asked Chris if he would write a few words;

I’ve always been in love with the sky and stared at it since I was a child but being from a big town light pollution has always hindered my view. As the town has grown  over the last 20 years (as has the whole  of the central belt) I can’t see as many stars as I saw when I was a child. Therefore I take any chance I can to get into darker skies.

The northern lights or Aurora borealis is very special. The popular places for Aurora chasing are like Duck Bay marina at Loch Lomond and a few others but these places can get too crowded so I try and seek out new places to visit and I get enjoyment from visiting places at night when everyone else is in bed. Under darkness these places become something different, something new. It kind of makes you feel like you’ve discovered somewhere for the first time.

I’ve had the moss on my ‘list’ for a while now and just been looking for the right time. Often when Aurora chasing you need to chase the weather as much as the Aurora so you need to go where there are gaps in the clouds.

But the skies were clear and Anna Lisa had asked a few times about seeing the Aurora and I figured the time was right to try it.

 

 

Northern Lights Flanders Moss 1

Northern lights from the Flanders Moss NNR viewing tower. Photo by Chris Miles

Northern Lights Flanders Moss 2

Photographed by Chris Miles – Flanders Moss Viewing tower

Blawhorn Moss Starry night

Photographed by Chris Miles – Blawhorn Moss

 

 

Thank you Chris for allowing us to share your photographs and for visiting one of our reserves.

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Whoopers!

Flanders Moss NNR

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We had a welcome but less common visitor to Flanders yesterday. When out at the lochan I found this family of whooper swans.  They will have flown in this autumn most probably from Iceland. The group of 6 is actually a family group: the male and female have adult beaks (yellow and black) and clean white plumage. The other 4 will be this year’s young; they still have dirty white grey feathers and a monochrome bill. The family will stick together for the whole winter, moving around farmland feeding on stubble fields and young oil-seed rape. The adults tend to return to the same area each winter so it may be that I have seen this pair in past years.  A family of 4 young is a good number especially this year when there has been concern about the low number of youngsters being seen this winter as it seems that they may have had a bad breeding season in Iceland.

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My favourite bit of a whooper swan is the whooping noise it makes. They make this fantastic bugling yodel of a call either when on land or when flying over and it can be the icing on the cake of a cold, bright winter morning when a group might fly over.

So if you are out and about around Flanders Moss this weekend, check out any swans you see as not every swan is the common mute swan.

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Restoring the grazers, keeping the moths

P1040640P1040642Flanders Moss NNR

The Wards of Goodie part of Flanders Moss is one of the oldest recorded farms on the moss. In John Harrisons’ report “A historical background of Flanders Moss” here there is a record that in 1452 James II, to celebrate the birth of his son the future James III, gave the farm, Wards of Goodie, to his servant Robert Nory.  Since then (and probably before) farmers have worked away on the productive land next to the river (the Goodie Water) while trying to clear peat from the edge of the moss to win more good farmland. By the mid 1850’s the peat clearance had ground to a halt there mainly because it seemed that the land was so flat it was difficult to get enough fall to be able to use water to flush away the cut, waste peat. The peatland edge will have been traditional grazed by sheep and also cattle, the slightly raised ground is a useful refuge for the stock in the winter when the flood prone Goodie regularly puts the productive land under water.

But changing farming economics meant that the small farm could no longer support a family and the traditional management declined. But now with a new owner who farms elsewhere as well, the grazing on the edge of the moss is being re-established. The first thing that needs to be done is to refence the areas. But as ever on a bog things are never that simple. firstly there is the tricky process of fencing on the giant jelly. Special machinery and extra long posts are needed. And normally the old fence would be taken down and removed and the new one put up on the boundary line. But the old fence is a favourite spot for one of Flanders special moths, the Rannoch brindled beauty. This moth is found in few places in Scotland with Flanders being one of the most southerly. They are odd in that the female doesn’t have wings but instead just sits there, pumps out pheromones and waits for the males to pick up the scent and find her. The cracked, lichen encrusted old fence has large numbers of females on it in spring. We don’t know if the moths are just using the fence posts as a good way of gaining height to get their scent to spread further or if they are actually egg laying in the cracks of the posts. Either way we have kept the old fence and got the fencers to run the new fence a foot or two from it.

 

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A pair of Rannoch brindled beauties using one of the old fence posts that we have saved.

With the new fence up we can now work with the landowner to get some careful grazing on the moss edge that will benefit the bog vegetation.

 

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Holding Back The Water

Flanders Moss NNR

Water is critical for a bog. All of the water that wets a bog comes from rain. After all, they are domes of peat and water doesn’t flow up hill. Once the water is on the bog our aim is to keep it as long as possible before letting it drain off the moss. This is why we are damming ditches, building wood chip dams and various other ways of impeding water flow.


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And the digger is back again. At Wards of Goodie on the north edge of the moss we are creating a barrier along the edge of the peat mass. This bund is a raised ridge constructed of compressed peat and clay that slows but doesn’t stop the flow of water off the moss. By holding back the water here it backs the water up into the moss so raising the water table and keeping the bog wetter.

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The finished bund, just waiting for the water to fill it up.

But this is about more than just improving the bog habitat. The wet, marshy area next to the bund is also great habitat for wetland birds and dragonflies. And there is more. By holding on to the water for longer the bog helps in natural flood management. When there is a lot of rainfall the bog releases the water more slowly so reducing the big woosh of flood water that gets into the Goodie water. This sort of work is just the right sort of thing in so many ways.

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And this is one we prepared earlier. A stretch of bund built last year, holding back large amounts of water and creating valuable wetland habitat.

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