Further to my previous post, there appears to now be a full-scale invasion of waxwings underway, so be sure to be on the look-out for them. If you see some, you’ll not be disappointed.
To add to the hordes of winter visiting birds, including waxwings, redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds, could we soon be adding brambling in numbers? One flew over the Abernethy office here on Wednesday, but they too, like waxwings, are an eruptive species, sometimes forming migrating flocks of thousands or even millions, so perhaps others are on their way, giving us all something else to keep an eye open for.
These handsome members of the finch family are chaffinch-sized, with black and orange markings. They have a white rump (very noticeable in flight), an orange breast contrasting with a white belly, and their beaks are yellow. They breed in the forests of northern Europe and winter in southern Europe, north Africa, north India, China and Japan. Like most finches they feed on seeds, but beech mast is a favourite of bramblings, so if you have got beech woods near you, then keep a look out for them too. There is no beech here at Abernethy, so if they turn up in number they’ll be competing with thrushes and waxwings for the rapidly depleting berry crop.
We plan to hold our Goose roost-watch event again this year, (geese permitting!) on both Sunday 7th and 14th November between 4pm and 5pm. If you are reasonably close, and fancy a run out, then why not join Alice and I at Loch Garten. Also, chatting to colleagues at Insh Marshes reserve, they tell me that whooper swans have arrived there from Iceland, only about 20+ so far, more to follow no doubt. So if you’re in the area why not check them out too.
Out on the rez, we had a work party of students from Aberdeen University here for a day last weekend, to help with a task for which many hands made light (ish!) work. We had been asked by the Roads Dept to cut back on roadside encroachment of scrub willow, birch and broom, on a section of a minor public road passing through the reserve. This was not purely for cosmetic reasons, but in part because the growth in recent years was beginning to impair visibility on bends, but also because the heavy snows of last winter, caused branches to bow under the weight of snow and lean all the more towards the road. With winter approaching the Roads Dept were concerned about the obstruction to their passing snowploughs, and losing wing mirrors. This is all fair enough, but this apart, we had a further reason to tackle this encroachment.
The stretch of road edge in question is part of a butterfly transect route, walked weekly (weather permitting) from March to end of September, as part of a UK-wide butterfly monitoring scheme. The data set for this here goes back to 1976, so this important work was further impetus for us to manage this scrub development, removing it and making the road edge a more open, sunnier place next season, for the benefit of butterflies. The work party and staff set to, cutting and removing encroaching scrub over a stretch of almost a mile. They got a bit wet doing it, but (we think) they enjoyed themselves. I’m sure the butterflies will appreciate their efforts next summer – and it keeps the Council happy.
Incidentally, as Rothes isn’t doing very much these days, just enjoying the West African sun, we hope you find this wider blog post content interesting. Over now to Jayne & Alice for the latest news of her...........
Not much to say about Rothes really. She remains in Guinea Bissau, on or around the island of Ilha de Unhocomozinho. She appears to have made a few sorties out to sea, on fishing trips, but apart from that, no more news really, she seems fine & dandy.
There was a mini-invasion last weekend of visitors, likely from Russia and Scandinavia.
Waxwings, those most handsome of birds have already begun to arrive in the UK from further north. A flock of up to 28 have been enjoying a berry-fest on rowan trees in Nethybridge and other small flocks seen flying over the Abernethy reserve. This is quite early for waxwings to be in the area. If we get any at all, and it’s not every year that we do, then it usually is not until December or January that they show up.
What brings them across the North Sea to our shores is likely to be an already depletion of the berry crop back home or, that the berry crop failed, it wasn’t there in the first place. This sets them off in search of food. Some have fetched-up here in the Strath and elsewhere in Scotland too. There could be an invasion on its way, which happens from time to time when hundreds arrive here in Britain in so-called waxwing years. I would encourage anyone who has in their garden either a rowan tree, or another favourite of theirs, cotoneaster, took keep an eye open for them. They’ll find your berry tree or bush eventually. A more strikingly beautiful bird in your garden, you will never see.
Most birds have a feature or two that mark them out, but waxwings must have been at the front of the queue because they have everything, so many striking features. They are a starling sized, grey-brown bird, but their features include; a jaunty crest, and Lone Ranger face-mask, a black bib, a yellow tail-tip, chestnut under-tail, white and yellow flashes on the wing and the red, plastic-looking spots that look like drips of candle wax, that give them their name. They are absolutely stunning birds, simply unmistakeable and a real birders-bird, making for compulsive viewing, likely to excite every birdwatcher in the country.
They will stay around until they have stripped the local berry crop, depleted by them, blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares, then head off somewhere else to look for more food. So try and see them whilst they’re here. It's an experience that you will never forget.
I'll start with news of Rothes. She's still dodging about. I. de Unhocomo and Ilha de Unhocomozinho were the two islands that featured this week, so not much change there then. The last point was for 10pm last night (21st October). Sunning herself possibly...
Here at Abernethy the lovely Autumnal weather of last week has gone distinctly wintry (the photo is the view from a track taken on the way back from some deadwood creation just before it started sleeting again).
This week, we’ve been busy winching trees over to create more deadwood. We cheated a bit/decided to go with the easier option in the last week, because we’ve been targeting the edges of some plantations – which you can get a tractor to. This means that rather than winching all the trees over by hand – very exhausting work (at least for our residential volunteers who do the winching, while the staff relax with the chainsaws) we can use the tractor to pull the trees over. Below are a couple of photos taken from a similar spot showing before and after a morning’s winching session. It’s hard to take a photo to really show what we’re doing (and even harder to take a photo that’s in focus, for me anyway), but hopefully you get the idea.
All this deadwood creation, as well as making the edges of some of the plantations a bit less ‘straight’ and making them less regimented, is really important as it creates habitats for a huge number of species that rely on deadwood. Abernethy is nationally important for its suite of deadwood reliant species, but actually has a lot less deadwood than you would find in a totally natural forest in places like Poland, so we’re doing our bit to increase it. The work is focussed on the plantation parts of Abernethy – the semi-natural areas (of which there are lots) tend to have a lot more deadwood.
Richard has kindly contributed some words from his sick bed (man flu if you ask me), and emailed through what follows – on a dial-up connection..., so many thanks to him for that.
Here they come! That previously reported trickle of migrant winter thrushes has intensifies now, into a torrent. Redwings are pouring in here in Strathspey, some fieldfares too, but fewer in numbers at the moment, more to follow no doubt.
These birds are arriving here from Iceland, Scandinavia and from further north and east, from Russia, escaping inclement weather there, for hoped for better weather here and further south, plus they are in search of a berry crop on which they feed. They migrate at night, so if it is still and quiet where you live take a step outside into your garden, and you just might hear them migrating overhead in the darkness. Listen for their thin tseep, tseep, tseep calls.
Amongst these arriving thrushes are their cousins, blackbirds. These too are migrant birds, and like redwings, coming from further north and east. Blackbirds are of course very familiar, resident garden birds, so how can we be sure they’re migrants?
Well, here at Abernethy Forest, blackbirds are normally scarce birds. Yes they can be seen in the gardens of nearby villages, but rarely in the forest. So the sudden appearance of them suggests they are migrants. Their number is also another clue. Gardens and parklands will always have a few blackbirds, but when you see perhaps up to a dozen or more, and amongst redwings, that too clearly suggests migrants
One other clue is their relative shyness compared to your common or garden “blackie”. They are no-where near as confiding as your regulars and quite skittish in comparison. This is because these migrant blackbirds are likely woodland & forest dwelling birds, which is their original natural habitat before their relatively recent adaptation to more open and man-made habitats like gardens, farmland & parklands with which we more generally associate them here in the UK. These forest blackbirds then, will therefore be less familiar with, and less confident, alongside man and his activities, and so all the more shy as a result.
That’s all from us, more next week.
I have enterd the satellite data, but it has taken me longer this week and I still have my water wings on. Alice is hopfull, or at least she is hanging onto the hope that I will manage on my own soon.
Rothes continues to Island hop of the west coast of Guinea Bissau. Over the last week the data has shown that she has visited three Islands: on the 11th she was on Ilha de Uno, she then headed over to Ilha de Unhocomozinho, before ending the week (as of 10pm yesterday 14th) on I. de Unhocomo.
Deadwood creation is still one of the main tasks taking place at Abernethy. Alice continues to ring bark trees, while our volunteers winch trees over. This week we had study group who came to look at the species which the deadwood on the reserve supports.
Somewhere (it's hard to tell where it will display) is a photo Alice took (yes it is a bit out of focus, but you get the idea) of Loch Garten taken on Monday - just when the birch trees really hit their Autumnal peak. Since then it's gone grey and miserable again (Alice's words). A picture says a thousand words, so that's all for this week.
Jayne has done her first satellite data download... we started at 8am this morning to ensure it was done by 5pm! So writing this at 11.25 am is well ahead of shedule. (please note this is a joke, Jayne has really got the hang of it). Rothes has been shifting between Ille de Unhocomo and back to Ille de Unhocomozinho. Last known point was 10pm yesterday. I wonder when the first of this year's migrating ospreys will join her?
Here at Abernethy, it's been a hectic (in the office anyway) week. Out on the reserve we had a school group out to help with our exotics removal programme (Richard's explained what that is below) and dragonfly pond digging. We've a busy weekend ahead, the weather's right for burning, and we've a group of lawyers here to help.
Richard kindly contributed the rest of the blog. Enjoy.
The autumn colours continue to intensify, though some trees have already been stripped of their leaves by the windy weather lately. We’ve more news on that mini-hurricane that we mentioned last time. It was incredibly localised, flattening some trees just within an area about 50m wide. The wee twister blew over one huge granny pine and about a dozen large birch trees. It lasted only about 30 seconds before its power dissipated and blew-out. The damage was not on the reserve but affected some of our reserve neighbours. Nothing similar was reported anywhere else in the area, other than the generally windy weather experienced by all. Bizarre.
Out on the reserve this week, amongst other things, we have continued with our programme of exotic removal. By this we mean the removal of non-native species of conifer tree, that have either been planted in the past by previous forest managers or have self-sown, from viable seed blown in from plantations elsewhere in the area. The species involved are sitka spruce, Norway spruce and lodgepole pine. Though favoured by foresters for planting because they grow quickly and often do particularly well in damp or wet ground, when you have so precious little native woodland remaining, relatively speaking, we feel that such exotics have no place in what amounts to the crown jewels of native Caledonian pine woodland. So they are removed.
In some case their removal here has been whole-sale, great swathes of exotics removed using machinery. This then enable the sites to heal and native Scots pine and native broadleave trees like birch, willow and rowan, to regenerate and replace them – regaining their rightful place. On a smaller scale, isolated patches of regenerating exotics are removed by hand using bow saws. The pockets of spruce are often on former forest bogs and mires, planted there because they do better in wet ground than pine and in order to dry out those sites. However, these forest bogs are a natural feature of native pine woodland, have intrinsic value, and are home to some specialised wildlife. It is our aim therefore to begin the process of bog-restoration by removing said exotics.
More next week. Enjoy your weekend.