Little dragons – from the boardwalk 4

Flanders Moss NNR

For me, getting good close up views of common lizards on the boardwalk is one of the best things about visits to Flanders.   A bit of warmth and maybe some sun is needed for you to see them. If you walk slowly and look, especially along the kicking boards at the edge of the boardwalk,  you stand a good chance of seeing them.   Once you get your eye in, you can spot individuals of all ages, colours and sizes. In August the young lizards are born and you can see tiny black lizards all along the path.

You can tell the difference between males and females, the males have a proportionally larger head and an orange belly with spots. The females a smaller head with an unspotted pale belly.  Below seems likely to be a female, above a male?
This fine looking specimen (maybe a female as has a smaller head) has gone through a previous trauma. When you look at the lower picture you can see that it has shed its tail and started to grow a new one. Lizards shed their tails if threatened by a predator. The shed tail can move after it has been dropped for a little while which distracts the predator while allowing the lizard to escape. Adders are probably the main predator on the moss. The tail that grows back is not an exact copy of the original tail – it has a long tube of cartilage rather than vertebrae so it has some of the function of the original one but not all.

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Bog swifts


P1060787P1060810Flanders Moss NNR

It is swift awareness week.

So if you aren’t very aware of these amazing birds then this is a good week to learn a bit more.  These are birds that spend most of their life flying and it’s been shown that they can even sleep on the wing. They are adapted to this aerial lifestyle by having very long wings and tiny feet that don’t get used very much. They have huge mouths to make it easier to catch the aerial insects that they live on. And you might not realize that bogs actually play an important role in the lives of these birds.

The numbers of aerial insects that swifts feed on are dropping. Research shows that in places they have dropped by over 75%.  This is not surprising when you think about the huge amount of pesticides and herbicides used across the countryside. Nesting sites that are usually in older buildings are also becoming less common There are projects that raise awareness about accommodating swifts in buildings but this is only part of the story and if they don’t have enough food they can nest safely but starve.

Swifts can and do travel quite large distances to feed, especially when they are catching insects to feed young.   Flanders Moss produces a lot of insects while sitting in a sterile, insect free desert of intensively farmed landscape. So, as somewhere to feed, Flanders is very important to swifts. This week this has been very obvious as there have been up to 50 swifts feeding over the bog in a stunning display of group flying. Standing on the viewing tower with these striking birds swooping close overhead is a fantastic experience. As these birds travel so far to good feeding areas the swifts at Flanders could be from neighbouring villages Kippen or Thornhill. But they could be Stirling swifts. Or maybe even Glasgow swifts. I like the thought that the Moss is feeding the birds that others are enjoying in the towns and cities.

So this is another example of how important sites like Flanders are for wildlife, not just specialized bog wildlife but other wildlife across a much wider area.  Why not go down to see the display?

(Apologies for the rubbish photos but they are really hard to photograph!)



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Sundews – from the boardwalk 3

Flanders Moss NNR

If you are taking a walk around the boardwalk a ‘must do’ thing is to look out for the sundew plants. You can see them in any weather but if you get the chance, get down on your hands and knees to take a really close look.  Apart from just looking like some weird bit of sculpture you might also be able to see what they are eating. These plants supplement their diet by catching insects and dissolving them and absorbing the juices for valuable proteins.

They have beautiful little white flowers on long stems coming out of the centre of the rosette of leaves and as you can see from this picture the flowers are very close to being out.

This little cluster of sundew have been working as a team and have caught an unfortunate large red damselfly. I am not sure how much they will be able to use of it but they look like they are giving it a good try.

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Not a green blob

IMG_7356[1]Loch Lomond NNR

Amee can’t stay away and makes a return NNR visit and a guest blog about….you guessed it, freshwater sponges!

After seeing the fresh water sponge appear again at Loch Leven NNR, I decided to return to Loch Lomond NNR to see if the large colony I discovered last year has started to        re-appear.

This summer I’m not only working at the Loch Leven NNR, I’m also working as a seasonal ranger for the national park, so when I was offered a shift at Balmaha I made sure to pack my car with the dry suit, bathyscope and underwater camera to make the trip that much more worthwhile! Plus I thought it would be a great blog post since I know how many people love me talking about sponges.

When I reached Chrom Mhin I wasn’t surprised it was rather hard on the foot and the bay was shallower with the soaring temperatures we have experienced recently. From the cows grazing the bay last year eating the rushes and trampling on where I found the large sponge colony and with the water level low I didn’t have much hope of seeing anything since the sponge at Loch Leven had just started to appear in the form of a green blob but off I went. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained so if anything I was content waddling around, in a place I love and reflecting on my past discovery.

I was amazed to find the colony and just to see the sheer size of the fresh water sponge, comparing it to the one I saw at Loch Leven (picture to the left) the other week. It got my brain going into overdrive wondering what factors has caused this growth to thrive more than the other. They are both of the same species Spongilla lacustris so why is Loch Lomond more suitable for their growth rate than Loch Leven?


The water quality and temperature are just a couple of factors that come to mind, but until I have more time to think and write in more detail you will just have to wait until my next blog post.

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Stuff with legs – from the boardwalk 2

Flanders Moss NNR
With summer comes the creepy crawlies. And the Flanders boardwalk is a great way to see some of the bog inhabitants. A warm day is probably better though these creatures become so active of hot days that you only see specks buzzing by. So, sometimes evenings or mornings are more productive than mid day if you are on the hunt for invertebrates. A slow walk with lots of stops is needed to track down some of these creatures.

Probably our most important butterfly is the large heath. It only lives on bogs so as bog habitats have been destroyed the large heath population is declining. They are on the wing at the moment so the boardwalk can be a good place to see them. They are not the most striking of butterfly but the caterpillars are really cool. They are so well adapted to bogs that when they are feeding on their food plant, the bog cotton, they can live underwater for up to 2 weeks at a time!P1060699P1060688

Some of the most obvious insects are the dragons and damsels. At the moment it is mainly four-spotted chaser dragonflies like this one. Or large red damselflies. But other species will appear as the season goes on.

Dragon and damselflies spend more of their life underwater than flying around. When the are ready to emerge they crawl up vegetation or any other structures close to the water and then burst out of their larval skin like an alien. At the moment hanging on the bridge on the boardwalk are lots of damselfly larval skins looking like ghosts of larva past.

When at the bridge it is well worth leaning over it for a while. Not only does this just seem to be the right thing to do but it means that you can also have a look for water beasties. Below are the whirligig beetles (whirlygiggle beetles to my daughter).  If you see them you will know why they get their name. I like the fact that they have 4 eyes – 2 for seeing above the water and 2 for seeing below the water. P1060470

And dodging the whirligig beetles are the pond skaters. Big predators that wait for something to get stuck on the surface of the water and then they run in and pierce the body with a pointy mouth part and suck out the juices. They know when a creature is struggling on the surface by feeling for ripples with adapted legs. As you can imagine therefore  when it rains they go hungry. P1060475

Also on the wing are some fantastic flies. I know that some can bite so are not popular but if you get the chance they are worth looking at. This cleg below is the silent leg chewer: somehow they produce no buzz and the first you know of them is the feeling of a hot needle going under the skin. But they have great eyes and beautifully patterned wings. There are also about some huge horse flies with bright metallic green eyes and red bodies. They are so big it takes 3 these flies to get you: 2 will hold you down while the other will bite. Naturally I didn’t manage to get a photo of them.


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Bog gallery to stay open

Flanders Moss NNR - under the microscope - artwork for leaflet - Hare's tail Cotton Grass May 18 (A2636393)

Flanders Moss NNR

The bog gallery will stay open.

Due to a huge amount of interest in the art work from the Flanders Under the Microscope botanical illustration project we will keep up the pictures until at least the end of July to give more people a chance to see them.

The pictures were put up as part of the forth Valley Art Beat open studio week but a number of people said that they hadn’t been able to make it along for that week so how could they see the pictures.

Well don’t panic, you have 6 more weeks to get to Flanders to see these amazing pictures.



Flanders Moss NNR - under the microscope - artwork for leaflet - Hare's tail Cotton Grass (2) May 18 (A2636395)

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Bog cotton to cranberry – from the boardwalk 1


Flanders Moss NNR

It is peak bog season now. After what seemed a long winter this burst of (generally) fine weather has brought the moss into full summer with an amazing change. Though there isn’t a huge plant diversity on a bog there is still plenty of fantastic plants to see. All of these are photographed from the boardwalk so are there for you to discover.

Hairy cap moss – you can see why it got its name, the spore capsules have a lovely hairy pixie cap.P1060521
It isn’t a bog unless there is a beautiful car pet of sphagnum moss. At Flanders this is spreading following the restoration work we are carrying out there.
Nestled amongst the heather in some of the drier patches is the acid grassland loving flower tormentil. Look out for the 4 heart shaped bright yellow petals. P1060491

In flower at the moment but not for much longer is the cranberry. For a rather insignificant plant is has a striking pink flower. And this is what will turn over the summer into the berry we all know for our Christmas dinners. P1060461P1060463

And last but not least the bog cotton. It has been a stunning display this year of the fluffy seed heads. Last weekends hail battered it a bit but there is still plenty to see. Worth a visit just to see the fluff. P1060447

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