Friday, 22 August 2008

Walking in Mudfields (to the tune of Walking in Memphis)

I put on my walking boots, and
Drove to Cullaloe today.
The view of the car park gave me the Blues,
In the middle of the pouring rain!

Water and mud and puddles,
crowding all around me,
Yeah, I wanted a new spillway lining,
But I`m as blue as a butterfly can be.

Then I`m walking in Mudfields…
Walking with my feet slipping, sliding away.
Walking in Mudfields…
So is there anything else to say?

Saw the tracks disappearing,
Along the reserve path.
Followed them up to the screen at lochside,
Then I watched them start on past.
Now the heron he did not see me,
He just fixed his eye on fish.
But there`s a fine flock of coots.
Waiting for the brave.
Down on the loch today!

Then I`m walking in Mudfields…
Walking with my feet slipping, sliding away.
Walking in Mudfields…
So is there anything else to say?

We’ve got bees on the flowers!
We’ve got bird-song in the air!
And Grahame and Janie’d, be glad to see you…
If you’re willing to take care!

So, please, take care in our Mudfields!

Now, workers will be at the spillway,
Every day at this till they’re done.
And I’ll pop in occasionally,
Coz Grahame asked me if I would…

Do a bit of recording?
And I said I’d do my best.
But I’m thinking,
“Tell me, am I a miracle worker? What will I...
Spot in this mess?!”

Then I`m walking in Mudfields…
Walking with my feet slipping, sliding away.
Walking in Mudfields…
So is there anything else to say?

I’ll put on my walking boots, and I’ll
Head for the reserve.
But I’d suggest to the populace,
That they give the place the swerve.

Or you’ll be Walking in Mudfields!

Ok – I’ve had my fun now! :-)

As you can tell from the above - even if you are struggling to fit the words into the song music - the situation at Cullaloe is looking a little muddy right now. Ok – I’ll rephrase – a LOT muddy right now! :-(

The contractors appeared on-site yesterday (Thursday 21 August 2008) to begin working on the new and improved lower spillway – and boy have they made an impression! Sadly we all knew that it would be virtually impossible for the reserve to remain unaffected while this work was being carried out but even Grahame and I were a little dismayed at what we found on arrival today.

The car park is getting to be a real concern with flooding problems after all the wet weather we have been “enjoying” recently, but the arrival of the necessary heavy machinery has brought the extra worry of mud on the entrance road. We would normally ask reserve visitors to exercise a certain degree of caution when driving down the slope to the car park in case they disturb unsuspecting wildlife, but we are reiterating that caution warning for your own safety this time. The mixture of water and dirt from the soft verges is turning into a truly awful paste on the road and traction is a bit of a distant memory if you are travelling at any great speed. Once you reach the car park, please navigate carefully around the hardcore deposited by the contractors. This is unsightly, but essential to the works being carried out.

It is only when you start walking along the pathway to the loch that the real problems begin to leap out at you. Grahame is quite concerned about how the butterfly transect results are going to fair following the obliteration of a couple of feet of grass verge on either side of the path by the to-ing and fro-ing of the mini-digger :-( And as you crest the slope leading down to the spillway, the path peeters out after 20-or-so feet into what can only be described as a soup of vegetation and mud. Grahame and I strongly advise any visitors to consider turning back after they have checked out what is on the loch, because the terrain down the slope is virtually impassable at the moment.

I would just like to say at this point that I am not at all criticising the contractors for their contribution to the changed landscape at Cullaloe. In fact, to give credit where credit is due, they appear to be keeping a very tidy ship as far as their machinery and building materials are concerned. It is clear that they have tried as far as possible to keep within their own tracks along the paths to minimise damage and allow some hope of being able to take a walk to the screen. There is also evidence of them trying their best to counteract the effects of the torrential rain by packing some of the hardcore intended for the spillway into the mud soup at the bottom of the slope to ensure a more stable surface for their vehicles. These are measures that are greatly appreciated by those of us who volunteer on the reserve and are to be applauded.

Now as I’ve said, parts of the reserve are just not negotiable at the moment, but I will be braving the slippery slopes to take a few photographs of progress being made and plan to post these to the blog as soon as possible. The eagle-eyed of you will notice that I have posted the blog all by myself this time and that is because Grahame is taking a well-earned break in Cumbria to catch up on some spotting of his own. So I’ll just ask everyone for a bit of patience to let me work out what I need to do to load on photos! ;-)

Ok – enough doom and gloom! It isn’t all bad news on the reserve! We are nearly at the end of August now and as I said in the last post we have opened the sluice-gate for the lowering of the loch. All the water gushed out… and the water fowl were flushed out of their cozy reeds and grasses to sit all exposed on the open water! :-) Who knew that there were so many coot and moorhen hidden in all the nooks and crannies?! And Grahame spotted a female Teal out on the water on Sunday, so the loch will soon be a very busy place with Widgeon also expected to return shortly! There were also a couple of swans sunning themselves on the bank during a very brief sunny spell!

I know I mentioned concern about the butterfly transect earlier, but we have already seen the Common Blue, Large White, Green-Veined White and a Red Admiral, so we know they are out and about and just waiting to be spotted! :-)

One good outcome to the mess that’s been made, I guess, is the possibility of getting the Scottish Wildlife Trust Conservation Team, and our brilliant volunteers from Air Training Corps 859 (Dalgety Bay) Squadron back on board to help tidy things up again and recommence essential maintenance works in mid-September! You always have to focus on the positives! ;-)

Being realistic, it is going to be a while before the reserve regains its air of peace and tranquillity, and for now Grahame and I are verging on suggesting people might like to consider alternative wildlife spotting locations. But, I know that sometimes it can be interesting to see change as it happens and monitor for yourself the effects of them, so the reserve will remain open throughout the spillway works. All we ask is that everyone takes safety precautions in terms of wearing sturdy food-wear, even if you plan on sticking to the paths, and staying well back from the edges of the lower spillway.

Thank you for your kind attention on these matters – and I’ll update you with gorey photos soon! ;-)

Monday, 11 August 2008


Good morning blog-watchers and welcome to a wet and wild day at Cullaloe! There are mini-rivers running down every pathway and the spillway is full to the brim!

As some of you may know, the Convener is required to lower the water level in August to allow areas of mud to be exposed. This exposed mud is the perfect seeding ground for the Mudwort plant. This plant is special to Cullaloe because it is the reason the Site of Special Scientific Interest was granted to the Reserve and the, therefore, reason Grahame and I have such a fulfilling volunteering experience today! :-)

Now I am supposed to be the plant person for Cullaloe, although I am still very much a learner at this. I am in the process of constructing a large database of all those plants that can be found on the Reserve and I would very much like to add Mudwort as a definite this year! :-) I have been very busy with other things though, so a big shout goes out to Grahame’s parents, particular his mum, for filling in the plants that are currently listed on the on-site database! :-)

Now you may have spotted that the weather has been particularly grotty in the last couple of weeks and, as I have already said, the spillway is full to bursting right now! But in the next few days, regular visitors should notice a difference around the loch and spillway as the big plug-pulling event has just taken place! ;-) A couple of days ago, Grahame popped along to the Reserve with his special key to open the sluice gate and allow the water level to drop down around 2ft across the surface of the loch. Now that is a WHOLE lot of water, people, so be aware that there will be additional noise around the loch from the water emptying into the Dour Burn which runs under the path leading down from the viewing screen to the spillway! Last year, this mad gushing of water continued for about 3 days until the loch was at the desired depth, and then the sluice gate was closed once again. However, this year Mother Nature appears to be keeping us guessing as to when the gate should be closed because the changeable weather patterns over the weekend have sent the water levels in the spillway yo-yo-ing from completely empty to over-flowing!

This is a bit of a concern this year because we are due to make a dramatic change to the landscape of the spillway area. Grahame and I have never been fans of the truly awful looking black plastic liner that covers the lower half of the spillway. At the time of installation, it was thought that the liner would gradually become covered with a layer of mud and vegetation as this was swept down from the loch, however, the dream has never quite been realised, and instead we have been left with a bit of an eye-sore that is not doing a particularly good job of preventing erosion of the lower spillway either! But that is set to change – and I’m afraid it does mean a little bit of upheaval for our wildlife and visitors too!

We have recently been granted funding to install a series of gabion mattresses, which are wire baskets with stones in, but on a large scale. These are going to replace the black plastic liner as the newest defence in Cullaloe’s ongoing battle with water erosion. There will be heavy machinery and workers on site so the chances of seeing wildlife in and undisturbed state are going to be remote this week. We anticipate that the works will take approximately 1 weeks, but with the weather being the way it is, this timescale is subject to change. Once the works have been completed, though, we should have a slightly prettier, and certainly more stable, foundation to our lower spillway area.

Now, to get back to the plug-pulling, the period of time immediately after the plug-pulling tends to be a bit more interesting than the period of time leading up to it. :-) Last year, Grahame kept a note of the types and numbers of birds he was seeing on the loch around the time of lowering the water. Before the water level was dropped he was seeing approximately 30 or so birds of 4 different types – but after the water level dropped, he was seeing upwards of 200 birds, with about 8 different types being found at any given time! That is a very big jump indeed! :-) The exposed mud tends to bring wading birds flocking in to feed at the edges of the loch, as well as providing that essential growing space for the Mudwort, so that means we get to see a little more than the usual ducks and coots – lovely though they are :-) This year, however, seems to have been a tough one for Cullaloe-based water fowl, so really we will be happy to spot whatever we can!

Volunteers and visitors alike have been a little concerned about the lack of fledglings on the water, especially as last year appears to have been a bit of bumper harvest in comparison. Yesterday, Grahame and I identified a possible cause for some of the decline – and I would like to say at this point that the following is not for the faint-hearted… As we neared the screen, Grahame had his binoculars trained on a heron on the far side of the loch – and it had something black in its mouth. The first thing you’d think would be that it had caught a sizable fish and was having a bit of trouble getting it down – but no fish living in Cullaloe has feathers and a beak! :-( Judging by the racket being raised by the resident coots on the water, the heron had captured a coot chick and was trying every possible angle to get it to go down its throat! In one of those typical slow-motion movie type moments, Grahame and I watched with morbid fascination as the heron first manoeuvred, and then swallowed the chick whole! I have to say, I am not good with the more beastly aspects of nature watching – but it was quite literally amazing to see – if not more than a little sad. Grahame was just blown away by the whole experience! I don’t think either of us will forget the sight in a hurry!

Now I have spoken about the plug pulling, and now it is time for another, totally shameless, plug – of the Reserve itself this time! :-)

As you may know, Grahame and I hosted an Open Day on 07 June this year, ably assisted by colleagues from the Scottish Wildlife Trust Fife Members Centre, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust Rangers and the Air Training Corps 859 Sqdn (Dalgety Bay). Before the Open Day took place, the Dunfermline Press popped along to have a wee word with Grahame, and our boss, Alistair Whyte, who is the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Reserves Manager for Central East. The man from the Press was treated to a tour around the Reserve and a few photos were taken, much to Alistair and Grahame’s disgust! ;-)

We have waited a fair while for the article to be printed, however, I am proud to announce that Cullaloe features in this week’s Dunfermline Press (dated 07 August 2008) and we have very kindly been given a tag-line on the front page, and a third of a page spread on page 6! :-) The article gives some interesting background information on the Reserve and our esteemed Convener as well as providing a couple of photos which will allow any future visitors to recognise Grahame and Alistair if they are spotted on the Reserve!

Those of you who are plant lovers like me, I apologise now for Grahame’s obvious disdain for them! Rest assured, you and the plants still have a champion! ;-) However, as the article says, Grahame is a bird man at heart, and his commitment to them ensures that he is equally happy to help the bugs and plants they survive on thrive on the Reserve! :-)

Well, as they say at the end of all good Loony Tunes… That’s All Folks! I hope you take a moment with a cuppa to read our article in the Press, and if you fancy ignoring the bad weather and want to take a look at the newly lowered Reserve, perhaps we will see you there!