Finally – the roof goes on! (Ed Grace)
The new office building is really taking shape now, and we’re starting to feel that we actually will be in there one day soon-ish! The roof panels going on, and the interior walls being set out give us a good impression of how it’s going to be; the big windows looking out onto Starnafin Pools are probably going to prove quite a distraction.
Plans for the ‘Save Our Magnificent Meadows’ events are coming together, including a Doric poetry competition, supported by the Buchan Heritage Society, and an Open Day/family event on National Meadows Day on 2 July. To help organise and run all this, we’re currently looking to recruit a Meadows Officer – this is a 4-month contract from March to July – details are on the RSPB website.
The closing date for applications is 18 February, so if you are interested, get your skates on!
Recent sightings: An absolutely stonking bittern appeared on 23 January, giving visitor Doug Thomson a great opportunity for some amazing photographs; it was seen again at the weekend ( 6 Feb) from Fen Hide by our Warden Lorna. Great Northern diver and red-throated diver were seen offshore just south of the Tufted Duck Hotel at St Combs, at the far north end of the reserve, along with bar-tail godwit on ??? There have been quite a few coal tits with the blue tits, great tits and hordes of tree sparrows on the feeders near the office, not to mention the almost constant drumming of great spotted woodpeckers which is starting to drive us slightly mad! Regular visitor Margaret Cowie found a drake smew on the south end of the Loch on 4 February, far out but still identifiable.
Bittern (Doug Thomson, taken from Fen Hide on 23 January)
As part of our SOMM project to restore the fen meadow of Mosstown Marsh, several of our Konik ponies have been wearing tracking collars, to give us some idea of where they prefer to go. Analysing this data in relation to the management regime in the various areas of the project and the effect of this on the regrowth of Juncus rush is proving interesting.
Initial data came from one collar which uplinked directly to a mobile phone several times a day, giving a series of plots covering his movements for several months. While this revealed a general picture (including an indication of when we confined the ponies to the south end of the marsh, and when they were allowed north of the fences), it was a very broad-brush picture of what was going on.
Pony wearing tracking collar
Three months worth of data collection
For a more detailed picture of where the ponies were grazing, several other collars were used which saved, rather than transmitted the data, and were sent off to have it downloaded after a year. These have now been refurbished and refitted for more data collection. Comparing this grazing information to where the rushes have or have not been mown over the past two years gives us a much more detailed picture; in fact we now have so much data that we are in discussions with Glasgow University about assistance with the analysis!
Height and density of rushes has been measured in quadrats spread across the project area, to compare the different management regimes. These include mown one year and grazed, mown two years and grazed, just grazed, just mown, neither mown nor grazed, including control areas.
Map of project area showing areas mown in 2014 and 2015
Map showing composite data from tracking collars downloaded in September 2015
Ponies continue grazing the fen meadow, particularly enjoying the fresh growth of Juncus where it was cut earlier in the year; it seems that these are the areas they prefer, and where they have the most impact. There are some anomalies, however, and these will bear further scrutiny. (These do not include those tracks shown where the ponies appear to have escaped!)
The data below clearly shows that the area with the shortest Juncus has been cut in both years and constantly grazed – not surprising but nice to see the figures backing it up. The first column shows an average of the maximum height of individual rush stems and the second an average of the support provided by the stems – an indication of density.
Data from Sept/Oct 2015
Mown 2014 and 2015 - Grazed
Mown 2014 and 2015 - Ungrazed
Mown 2015 - Grazed
Mown 2014 - Grazed
Unmown - Grazed
Mown 2014- Ungrazed
Unmown - Ungrazed
Here is the data from Nov/Dec 2014 for comparison
Data from Nov 2014
Sward stick used to measure height and support
This weekend’s WeBS count saw a reasonable start time of around 7.00 am, and the Loch practically frozen over! Most of the birds are gathered around a small stretch of open water in the middle, or on the fields and wet areas. Highlights were 8010 pinkfooted geese, 1012 mallards, 1277 teal, 1470 wigeon (and there was a lot of noise from the adjacent flight ponds so there are probably more), 567 whooper swans, 111 mute swans, 60 goldeneye, 4 red-breasted mergansers, 32 shovelers, 6 pintail and one Slavonian grebe.
There have been a lot of woodcock recorded around the reserve, and quite large flocks of farmland birds in the wild bird cover fields beside the rookery – linnets, tree sparrows, reed buntings, corn buntings, yellowhammers, greenfinches, and one twite! Redwings and fieldfares have also made an appearance.
Twite (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com) – compare with linnet (below)
Watch out for large flocks of golden plovers, especially towards Rattray, for bearded tits, water rails and otters by Fen Hide, and for hen harriers over the reed beds – as usual, if you see anything of interest, please let us know!
We’re expecting the weather to get a bit milder towards the coming weekend, but please take care on the ungritted roads if you’re coming to visit; as usual, the hides remain open during construction works.