Fuel for day dreaming

Stirling NNRs

With us all confined to barracks, the Stirlng NNRs are now only accessible in person for those that can walk and cycle to them. In my village people are focusing a lot more on the environment immediately around us but after time this might wear thin and there are many living in flats, towns and cities who aren’t lucky enough to have easy access to the natural world.

So a bit of day dreaming about past outside experiences, fantastic places visited and beautiful wildlife seen will be essential for most people to get through this difficult time. We hope to give you some fuel for day dreaming on the Stirling NNR blog. If the day isn’t going so well, or as a break from work (or family!) or as a revitiliser, you could always drop in on the blog and let the mind wander.

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A world without adders

Flanders Moss NNR

The adders on Flanders will be enjoying this recent spell of fine weather. They are out of hibernation now and need good spells of sun to bask in. The fact that they can do this with minimal disturbance at Flanders at the moment is really good for them. Everytime an adder is disturbed, by walkers or photographers most often, they use up valuable energy and miss vital basking opportunities.

In fact a recent paper in the the Herpotological Journal here that looks at data from the Make Adders Count citizen science survey and historical data showed that adder populations across the country are plummeting with a 40% range reduction. Numbers are dropping and in small isolated populations this is meaning that they are disappearing from large parts of the UK. As adders don’t travel well, if they become extinct somewhere they are unlikely to recolonise.

The reasons for these extinctions are down to a mixture of changes in habitat and disturbance from human activities. At Flanders the adders close to the boardwalk and car park do get disturbed a bit but as most of the site is inaccessible the human impact is lessened. But the state of Flanders is changing across the whole of the site. The huge increase in red deer has changed the state of the vegetation – it is now much more trampled and eaten. This isn’t good for adders as they need lots of variety such as open sunny patches but will solid cover nearby. This allows them to moved to between shade and sun to fine tune their body temperature and also give them hiding places from predators. The concern at Flanders is that the high deer population is make this stronghold for adders less favourable.

Whenever we put up pictures of adders on our social media there is always gets a strong reaction – some people love it and others very much don’t. It seems to be the venomous snake thing but adders cause so few problems – there have only been 10 reported adder deaths in the last 100 years and none in the last 45 years – that it seems to be just the thought of something venomous and snakey out there in the wilds. But for me that is what makes adders so special. They are so beautiful to see and exciting as well, any day you see an adder is a special day. Also you often see them on days of lovely weather and in striking places so in a landscape where man has already removed nearly all of the inconveniently hazardous wildlife like wolves, bears and wild boar a world with out adders would be a terribly sad place to be.

If you have records of adders you can report them here or want to take part in adders surveys at a time when we can revisit the countryside then you can sign up to them here.

All photos taken on Flanders Moss using long lens and without disturbing the snakes.

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Stirling NNR Update

Stirling NNRs

Just a post to update our readers of the situation with the Stirling NNRs and what we, the NNR staff are doing.

The new measures announced last Monday are very clear and therefore SNH has closed all of its NNR visitor facilities and car parks for the health and safety of both visitors and staff. So that means for the Stirling NNRs the car park at Flanders Moss and Blawhorn Moss are shut and not to be used. Visitors are still welcome to visit the reserves but only if they live locally and can walk or cycle to the sites and follow social distancing guidelines when there.

Steve, Ellen and myself are all working from home at the moment, in whatever way we can. None of us do very well in captivity and it means that we are now doing paperwork that we thought we had avoided by taking these jobs!

So as light relief for you (and even more so for us) we will be putting onto the blog pictures, writings and videos from past years for your enlightenment and entertainment, so we can bring the bogs, islands and swamps to your home – virtually.

We will keep you up to date with any changes in the situation as they happen.

If you have an experiences, videos or photos taken on Flanders Moss NNR, Blawhorn Moss NNR or Loch Lomond NNR that you would like to share on the blog then please send them to me at david.pickett@nature.scot and I can put you onto the blog fame and fortune awaits!

#staysafe, #staylocal

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Bench banter

Being in lockdown has made me reflect on just how lucky we NNR staff are to work outside on our beautiful reserves! Its not just the scenery and wildlife that I’m missing already but the people that we work with. Our Wednesday volunteer sessions have always been the highlight of my week. I’ve never met such a hard-working and determined bunch who are not put off by rubbish weather and welly-fulls of bog water. The practical work they do is vital to the running of our NNRs and we always have a good laugh whilst doing it.

Our most recent volunteer work party task (pre-lockdown of course) was installing two benches at Blawhorn Moss NNR to improve the visitor experience at this site. Although this might sound fairly simple and straightforward, like most outdoor practical tasks there are always hidden obstacles and it was a great opportunity for some team building!

The benches were designed to be installed on peat so they had extremely long legs which meant digging to the centre of the earth. But despite the sleet and wind the volunteers got stuck in.

And of course there is always time to sit back, marvel at our handiwork and enjoy the view!

Following the latest clear instructions from the government for everyone to stay home, our volunteer work sessions have been suspended but if you would like to get involved when we are up and running again then get in touch with us. We cover a wide range of activities across three NNRs, from practical conservation work, such as invasive non-native plant removal and scrub clearance, to tasks that improve and maintain visitor access and facilities.

In the meantime we will be keeping you virtually connected with us and to nature through our social media so make sure you keep checking our blog, Instagram @flandersmossnnr and Facebook @FlandersNNR until we’re back out there for real.

In these challenging times we hope that our volunteers and everyone else is keeping well and staying safe at home!

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We struck gold!

Always in search of the next thrill, we have been up to some more extreme sport high speed birding (don’t try this at home guys)! A few weeks ago from the truck window we spotted a small flock of golden plover on one of the fields surrounding Flanders Moss NNR – this was an exciting birding first for me!

Golden plover spend most of the winter in large flocks feeding on lowland fields and coastal flats (much like lapwing) and move north to the uplands and moorlands to breed in summer. This flock may have been passing through the Carse, making their way up to the Highlands in time for the fair weather.

They are certainly ready for it as they have started to come into their summer plumage. In winter adult birds have a pale underside and face which turns jet black coming into summer. They get their name from the speckled gold plumage on their backs which gives them a golden appearance from a distance.

It was such a treat to see these beautiful birds for the first time and I hope they will be making an appearance again next year!

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Random thoughts of a dawn goose counter

Loch Lomond NNR

Last week, before the lock down, RSPB and myself carried out the last dawn goose roost count of the winter. It is a brutal one as you have to be in place well before first light so I was up at 03:15, left the house before 04:00 and after a long, extreme wet and muddy walk was in place by 05:15, standing in the dark, drizzle and mud. One’s mind tends to wander a bit for these tasks. So over the following 2 hours here are just a few of the thoughts that passed through my mind:

What a bloomin’ job

You know it is early when you have arrived and in place before Vanessa Feltz is on the radio – a silver lining!

I must be the only person up and about, no-one was on the roads but good to know that across the river the RSPB are in place counting as well……unless I got the wrong date………or they have set me up?

Thank God for neoprene wellies,

Damm selfies never work if you don’t put your glasses on,

Loch Lomond NNR in the winter is only half a reserve, the rest is underwater,

For the sake of the geese it is great that the RSPB are restoring habitat on their part of the reserve making it even better for geese who are using it a lot, but personally I would like a few more to count on our side.

Hope the water level goes down before we have to do the breeding bird survey otherwise I will need to get out snorkel and flippers,

Its true what they say, from this angle the island of Inchcailloch looks just like Dolly Parton lying on her back.

Those goldeneyes seem to be having a good time – 10 birds getting very frisky across the marsh first thing in the morning,

The sound of a curlew in full voice at first light must be one of the best sounds in the world…….and the sound of a reed bunting doing the same isn’t,

Sunrise at last,

Brilliant, the first meadow pipit I’ve seen this year doing its parachute display flight, but the reserve is so wet it is doing it over water! Not sure what it is planning?

The high water has brought in a huge amount of plastic rubbish – that is another job for the list,

Ahh, there goes the Greenland white-fronts – always last out of bed – 20 mins later than all of the other geese – wonder why that is?

Ok, maybe the job is pretty good – wonder if there is anywhere selling bacon sarnies and coffee yet.

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A barnacle a long way from the sea

Flanders Moss NNR

There is an urgency about the birds at the moment. The first summer migrants are arriving – I heard my first chiff chaffs at home on Sunday. And the geese are milling around in dwindling groups. There are still some in the fields around Flanders stuffing themselves on the rapidly growing grass to fuel up for their flight north. And others are passing over in bunches, mostly heading north, to springboard off the coast of Scotland to cross the northern seas.

Most are pink-feet – one of the commonest types of geese that visit Scotland. The birds we see here breed in Greenland and Iceland. There are also pinkies that breed in Svalbad but they winter in the Low Countries and there seems to be little evidence that they mix.

The other day in a field next to Flanders was a group of about bout 2000 pinkies and in the thick of them was a barnacle goose. These beautiful little geese also have 2 different populations but both winter here in Scotland. About 25 000 barnacle geese that breed in Svalbad winter down on the Solway and another 45 000 that winter on Islay and other west coast islands will have breed in Greenland. At a guess this bird may be one of the Greenland birds as that might be where the pink feet have come from. It seems likely that in the crossing of the northern seas it got separated from its species and as other geese were better than no geese it decided to hook up with some pinkies for the winter.

It would be fascinating to be able to tell if that is the case and if it manages to hitch some company for the journey back to Greenland and hook up with others of its species. But guessing is all we can do. Another mystery to ponder over.

A group of pinkies.
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