Goose counting by ear

Loch Lomond NNR

It was another goose roost count earlier this week, and a new challenge. It was one of those mornings where it just never seemed to get light. I was out on the marsh by 07:00 in the morning and it was absolutely pitch black. And as time went on it became apparent that there would be no sunrise but just a very gradual turning of black, to dark blue to grey as the sun had its effect. This meant that when it got to usual goose commuting time it was still less than a half-light. This didn’t seem to worry the geese. They seem to have remarkable eyes, I often hear them travelling overhead in the dark of the night so a grey murky morning didn’t keep them in bed. But it was a problem was for me to try to count them.
With nothing discernible by eye I found myself doing everything by ear. As the geese got themselves organized and ready to move there would be a tremendous kerfuffle of noise. But just before lift off they would all go quiet followed by a sudden thundering of wings as they took to the air. I found myself comparing the noise of the groups by ear to see if I could guess the number from the noise but couldn’t really decide how many I was hearing. The different species could be told with the pinkies easily making the biggest fuss with lots of high pitch winking while the greylags bass honks could just be picked out but the Greenland white fronts continued their reputation as stealth geese by making very little noise. It wasn’t until past 08:00 that it got light enough to pick out by sight geese flying along the skyline having come off the marsh. But by this time maybe a third or even a half of the geese had already left. There must have been a lot of geese roosting this time as between 08:00 and 08:30 I was still able to count about 2000 pinkfeet, 150 greylags and 110 Greenland white-fronts on there way to some breakfast.
So despite the frustrations it was still an absolute pleasure to be out on the marsh and witness the start of a goose day.


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Christmas tree cutting on Flanders Moss


Flanders Moss NNR

An opportunity to spend the day on Flanders Moss cutting invading pine scrub and keeping one as a Christmas tree was offered to SNH staff and volunteers alike with the message below:

Well it is that time of year again.  Flanders Moss Christmas tree time. 

Last year’s work party is now forgotten, time has helped to erase the memory of the biblical weather (rain not temperature), the cases of  the trench foot have fully cleared up and the counselling really helped.   

So is anyone interested in spending some time out on Flanders Moss NNR cutting pine regen and picking the best for your very own free, sustainable, greenest-ever Christmas tree?

You can then spend Christmas looking at a bit of Flanders Moss in the corner of your living room and feeling smug and 1-up on your neighbours.

Of course you can shell out large amounts of money on a wildlife unfriendly imported species of tree, or a plastic one hated by David Attenborough but if you do, will you be able to sleep at night?

 And I can promise a work out that would make Jane Fonda sweat (ask your Grandparents) and a chance to visit a bit of quality bog very few people get to (there is a good reason for that). 

So if interested the date is Mon 10 December  you will need wellies, full waterproofs, lunch, drinks etc. and we will provide gloves, hand tools, snorkel, flippers etc.

Maybe I exaggerated the toughness of the task a bit too much but despite this 6 keen staff and volunteers ventured out last Monday in glorious sun and had a wonderful day tending the moss and getting into the Christmas spirit. Red kites and ravens kept watch and a fox vacated the vicinity as we came on the site.



Everyone contributed to the scrub clearing.


Some people tackled big trees.

Exercise, improved mental health, mince pies, a free environmentally friendly Christmas tree and a warm feeling from contributing to the restoration of a special site. Fantastic. Many thanks to Kenny, Mary, Tom, John, Ralph, Finn and David.




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Taking the bogs to the people 3

Flanders Moss NNR


Thornhill is the closest village to Flanders Moss and with the strongest ties to the moss and so when they had a community history day it was great to be able to go along and give a talk about the historical landscape of Flanders and the changes that had taken place. Over several hundreds of years local Thornhill people would have been working away daily on the moss, in many places clearing the peat away to get to the more productive clay farmland underneath. This local connection with the moss was lost in the last century and people have only recently been reconnected with the moss when we opened the boardwalk and viewing tower.


Going a bit Jeremy Vine here.


Maps showing the stages of peat clearence and the shrinking of Flanders Moss.

The event was very well attended and really nice to see so many people, young and old, keen to find out more about the history of their community and surroundings. And the cake was great as well. Thank you, Thornhill for having me.


OK, this needs a bit of explanation! – I was saying about how we need to move beyond the usual modern connotations of the word bog and remember that it originally comes from a Gaelic word for “soft”.


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Taking the bogs to the people 2

EEcocoLIFE conference

Flanders Moss NNR

If people can’t visit the bogs then we are quite happy to take the bogs to the people. And we do this quite a lot and to all sorts of audiences.

Last week I got the opportunity to talk a room full of other professionals who are out there delivering conservation projects on the ground at the EcoCoLIFE conference. This was the end of project conference for the LIFE (European) funded project that is all about joining up nature across Central Scotland (more here). At Flanders Moss we have been using EcoCoLIFE money to join up bits of bog habitat by restoring the damaged bits in between. We were able to use some exotic sounding innovative techniques such as building wood chip dams, flipping stumps and deep trench bunding to bring back the bog habitat while at the same time this work helps to mitigate climate change by locking up carbon and reduce local flooding by slowing down the flow of water off the moss.

Ecocolife conf 2ecocolife conference

It was also a chance for me to hear about other exciting work across central Scotland where habitats were being restored such as bringing back salt marshes, restoring wetlands and involving people. Most of these projects seemed to involve diggers and heavy plant (including Flanders Moss) so in retrospect the whole project could have been called diggers-r-us. Maybe that could be the name for the next one.


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Taking the bogs to the people 1

Blawhorn Moss NNR

Blawhorn Moss has quite a low profile in the suite of NNRs so it was really exciting to find myself in the Scottish parliament on Tuesday night talking to a wide range of people about this special place.
parlimentary recpeion group photo
SNH had been invited, with Ally and Sammy from Beechbrae (more info here) to a Parliamentary reception hosted by the Central Scotland Green Network Trust (more info here) to celebrate the 2018 Year of Young People and showcase some of the work done with young people in the central belt area. Over the last year, in partnership with Beechbrae, we have been involving children from Blackridge and Armadale in outdoor learning in various ways at Blawhorn and the Beechbrae woods. Using the moss and woods with the P6 class from Blackridge primary (here), entering and winning the camera trapping competition with the P6s (here) and running the Bogridge Guides summer nature club (here) are just some of the things we have been getting up to and so it was great to be able to talk to people about it. In fact most of the talking was done by 4 of the children from these activities, Cody, Emily, Ellie and Alan, who came along to tell people what they had learned and what was the most fun. While in the parliament building they were whisked off for a quick tour of the debating chamber and got to sit in Nicola Sturgeon’s chair – just to get the feel for it in case one of them might like to take over in the future!

For me it was great to hear the very impressive Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment give a short talk about young people’s contribution and to briefly meet Gail Ross and Mark Ruskell, both MSPs doing great things for the environment at the moment, and the chance to put Blawhorn Moss on the map.

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His and hers winters

Flanders Moss NNR

Some of our winter residents are now back at Flanders. Out in the middle of the moss on the lochan are a group of goldeneye ducks.
These small ducks come to Flanders every year around October/ November from spending the summer breeding in Scandinavia.


At Flanders we always get a number of female goldeneye spending the winter on the lochan and only 1 or 2 males. The females have the grey body and a reddish brown head, the males are much more striking having a black and white body and a very dark green head. These are all females in the pictures above as the males haven’t yet arrived.

Male goldeneye tend to feed in different places than females through the winter, one reason given for this difference with the sexes is that male goldeneyes are bigger, they can weigh up to 40% more than females and can dive longer. This gives them a feeding advantage in some sites, especially rivers with a faster flow where there is a richer source of food. The Flanders lochan is probably not an optimum site so less attractive to the males so leaving it for almost exclusively females to use.

It would be interesting to know what they are eating at the lochan. Normally goldeneye are not vegetarian but eat small creatures like snails, larva, freshwater shrimps and other freshwater invertebrates. Being a bog pool, the lochan is not rich waters but there is obviously enough to keep 10-15 goldeneye fed for much of the winter so maybe it is the masses of dragonfly larva that them concentrate on.
Goldeneye get their name from, yes… their golden eye. Another name that they go by is rafflewings as when they fly the wings make a pleasant winnowing sound that some people describe as more of a whistle or even as a tinkling bell. The males make a stronger wing noise that the females but the immature birds make no wing noise. So this suggests that it isn’t just incidental but has an actual purpose.


The 2 birds below are slightly different from those above. They don’t have a white collar or a bright golden eye and this is because they are immature birds that hatched last summer.  P1080487


The lochan is only small but even in the depths of winter there is something interesting to see. P1080507

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Pine marten and squirrels

Flanders Moss NNR

One of our local supporters Andrew Watterson has been setting out a camera trap on the edge of Flanders to see what wildlife he can film at night. Amongst 50+ shots of wood mice plus 2 lots of roe deer, 3 day time shots of redwings and 1 of pheasants he filmed this beauty. Just sauntering through.


A pine marten.

These beautiful animals are moving out of their highland strong holds and have been in and around Flanders for 10+years now. They are even starting to get to the edges of Glasgow.

In the current situation of biodiversity loss it is really encouraging to see one of our larger mammals actually increasing in numbers and spreading. But as ever nature is not straight forward and simple. The spread of a carnivore like the pine martin can mean higher predation on some ground nesting and hole nesting birds. Woodland specialist such as pied flycatchers can especially suffer.
On the other hand there is very good news for other wildlife. It appears that the presence of pine martens inhibit the spread of the non-native grey squirrels. Grey squirrels are an introduced species from North America and has spread across the UK to the detriment of our native red squirrels. There were once estimated to be 3.5 million red squirrels in the UK but now there are only about 250 000 left, mostly in Scotland. The grey squirrel is bigger so are better at competing for food against the reds and also carry a disease that is deadly to the reds. But like a an avenging angel the pine marten is riding to the rescue. Pine martens will feed on red squirrels but when there is a bigger, fatter, slower animal like the grey squirrel, that is easier to catch as it is too heavy to get to the ends of the twigs of the tree, then that is what it will prefer to catch. As pine martens spread south their range is meeting the grey squirrel spreading north and in these areas grey squirrels are declining.
As paper showing the details of the initial research can be found here but more research is being carried out to exactly what is going on in the marten – squirrel wars.


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