Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Butterflies, Ducklings and Electronic Alarms!

I have been inspired by nature to write the blog again today! :-) After the torrential rain of Monday, its lovely to get some sunshine and, reminiscent of Sunday’s visit to the reserve, the air smells fresh and fragrant with the spring blooms bursting into life all around and its making my fingers twitch!

As Grahame and I drove down the slope to the car park, the daffodils were still waving their heads in the slightly more gentle than normal breeze blowing across the top of the old dam, but their pale beauty is becoming more and more eclipsed by the wealth of deep golden yellow offered by the gorse which surrounds you as you pull up into the car park.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the entry road and car park have a whole lot of interest to offer in their own right, and so I’d like to make a small suggestion here… When you turn onto the reserve, slow your car, wind down the windows, turn off your music – and just enjoy! :-) On recent trips to the reserve Grahame has spooked 2 heron off the filter beds, and a moorhen is regularly to be found floating in and around the edges, so it is worth taking your time to make your approach as quiet as possible :-) Who knows what you might see… Grahame has even seen a stoat slinking off into the tall grass!

As we parked up, a buzzard swooped lazily down from one of the telegraph poles up the hill to the right and made a leisurely circuit of the area, while on the filter beds the moor hen poked about in the vegetation for the choicest nest-building materials. Having brought lunch we decided to eat it right there and take in the sights and sounds for a while – and the noise was incredible! :-) In direct contrast to the lazy meanderings of the buzzard, the blue tits were in full voice, and at full speed, darting through the trees before rising into the sky to give an amazing aerobatics display! There were at least two pairs involved and plenty of chattering back and forth as they criss-crossed the air. They were so caught up in their game that one of them nearly ploughed straight into Grahame – missing him by about a foot! There were also a few Reed Bunting in the area, occasionally living up to their names by hanging on to the stalks of the tall grasses leading up to the slope of the old dam!

The main reason for visiting the reserve on Sunday was to take advantage of the lovely weather and walk the route of the Butterfly Transect Grahame set up as part of the Butterfly Conservation Society’s UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. This is basically one of a series of 26 visits, undertaken on a weekly basis between April and September, where butterflies are recorded within 5m of a set route. I am pleased to say that after 3 weeks of zero, we have finally logged our first two butterflies for this year! They were both Peacock Butterflies and were found at the opposite ends of the reserve, so we can be sure they were not the same one twice!

The trip was by no means wasted even though these were our only two sightings! :-) Grahame has always been a lover of the LBJ’s (little brown jobs!) such as the warblers, chiffchaffs, whitethroat and buntings, and they have not been disappointing him so far! The melodic song of the willow warbler accompanied us on every step of the route, with the birds themselves being content to sit among the catkins of the willow trees. It was easy to see where they might have taken their name, given that the pastel shades of their plumage are perfectly reflected in the colours of the willow tree itself! The more sharp bark of the chiffchaff was also prominent, and the loud croak of the pheasant added to the music :-)

The loch is becoming more interesting as each day passes and Sunday provided its own little surprise! Grahame and I were just scanning around the edges looking for the dabchick (little grebe) when both of us happened upon something small and dark towards the far bank… Following a small adjustment of the binoculars and a couple of gasps, we were delighted to see 7 little mallard ducklings paddling like crazy after their mum! :-) Neither of us had really expected to see chicks just yet – although granted we are nearly at the end of April now. I suspect the dodgy weather has been fooling us into thinking that its still winter!

Just a small apology here for anyone who likes nipping to the loch-side to check out the birds at the peanut feeders… We have gotten a little lax in filling the feeders just recently due to a number of other personal commitments, however, now that the lighter evenings are rolling in normal service will be resumed. One of the peanut feeders does need a bit of repair work, so it may be just two of them being filled for a little while… a bushy tailed visitor has been a bit impatient about getting his hands on our peanuts!

Sadly, there was a little bit of disappointment as we neared the sheep field. We were really hoping that there might be more than two bouncy lambs for us to see – but it is common practice for ewes to be taken indoors during the lambing season these days and the flying flock are no exception so the field is looking very empty :-( However, the mother with the two lambs that have already been born are still in residence, so please do check on their progress if you are at the reserve – they are getting bigger very quickly but are still very cute with their wagging tails :-)

As we continued the Butterfly Transect beyond the sheep field, Grahame suddenly stopped and put his finger to his lips. It was the unmistakable call of the Grasshopper Warbler! Another item to be added to the species list for the reserve! :-) We tried very, very hard to spot the singer, but he was far too well hidden in the trees. As we had stopped to look and listen, we were treated to a fist fight by two male bullfinches who showed amazing agility in chasing each other through the winding branches of the willow trees! I don’t know how they were able to avoid them all, although there were a couple of close calls!

The remainder of the Transect, which basically ends at the point where the Dour Burn crosses the path at the east-most end of the reserve, was pretty quiet with the occasional chaffinch call and the bleeting of the sheep belonging to the farm east of the reserve. However, as we crossed the last open grassland area, I startled a hare (and myself!) out of the grass! I was amazed as I’d just walked past it and hadn’t seen a thing! Wildlife really is the master of disguise sometimes – which is why you should always walk slowly and talk quietly when you are out and about! :-) Grahame was happy as he’d just spotted a lapwing taking to the skies. They really are beautiful birds – but with a song that frankly sounds like an electronic alarm! :-)

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, but still a lovely walk from one end of the reserve to the other all the same :-) We jumped back into the car with 2 butterfly sightings and a couple more amazing wildlife experiences under our belts and the feeling that we’d had a good day - and isn’t that really all that matters sometimes? :-)

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