Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Blooming Campion, it's cold!

Hello Blog-watchers and welcome to a chilly day on the Cullaloe Blog. Grahame and I headed over to the Reserve earlier this week to catch up on a bit of survey and seed maintainance, so I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts on what we, and nature, were up to! :-)

It was with some intrepidation that Grahame and I first descended the access slope into the Reserve as the roads leading to Cullaloe itself had not exactly been pleasant following the recent cold snap Fife had been plunged into. However, about half-way down we noticed that the crisp white snow had been broken by tracks of some kind - and tracks always get our interest levels rising! ;-) I admit that we were actually a little disappointed that at 10.30am on a Sunday, we were the first visitors to the Reserve of the day... we would really love to have found tyre tracks leading to the disabled parking bay (situated outside the Reserve gate) and human footprints disappearing off towards the Loch, but alas on this particular morning it was not meant to be... :-( You do come to the Reserve sometimes... don't you Blog-watchers...? Drop us a comment and let us know! :-)

Where was I... Oh, yes! Tracks! :-) They ran down the middle of the access road, and around the bottom corner, before disappearing over towards the far back corner of the car park. Grahame and I parked up and took a look. To begin with we wondered whether perhaps the Lodge's resident German Shepherd had taken itself on an early morning walk, but we quickly established that our track-maker had in fact been a fox! :-) As we crossed the car park we encountered another set of tracks, belonging to a bird this time. They were pretty big - about 8cm long, and we noticed that every once in a while they were joined by another set of tracks that were similar in size. We didn't have any identification books with us, but can be reasonably sure that the tracks belonged to a couple of pheasants. The really interesting part was that the fox tracks seemed to mirror the location of the pheasant tracks - almost as if we were seeing the memory of the fox slinking along behind them, thinking about lunch! ;-) This was backed up by the fact that in some places, the fox's tail had also made contact with the snow as it walked, perhaps as it hunkered down to get a good old nostril full of the pheasant's scent! ;-)

Both the fox and pheasant tracks ran up the slope and along the pathway to the Loch, and this is the way that we walked as we undertook the most recent Birdcount Survey (details posted on the survey results section of the blog). There were two birds that particularly stood out for me in terms of their numbers and "stage" presence - the Robin and the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. We saw around 4 Robins and 2 Woodpeckers. Both birds are extremely beautiful in their own way. First the Robin, regularly assuming that well-loved Christmas Card Pose of perching on the top of fence-posts, his brilliant orangey-red chest puffed out as far as it will go and his beady eyes shining as he monitors with chirps of encouragement your progression along the path towards the Loch. Then the Woodpecker with his black and white striped plummage, chevron style on the wings, thicker strokes across his back, and a bold splash of scarlet across the back of his head and lower abdomen, who clings with effortless ease to the most precarious of tree trunks and branches while he decides which direction to go darting off in next! :-) I know - I get a bit poetetic over nature - but it really is beautiful guys! ;-)

The whole Reserve was blanketed in about an inch depth of snow which sparkled in the comparatively bright sunshine of the morning, making everything look very pretty and at peace. Here and there tufts of grass penetrated with touches of green, reminding us that winter is just a passing fancy and Spring would be coming around the corner before we knew it. Around about half-way towards the Loch, a long line of deer tracks joined that of the fox and pheasant. These were interesting as they progressed towards the Loch steadily for a while then abruptly stopped - and started up again a good 4 feet further forward and around a foot and a half to the left of the original track-line! I have often heard of animals such as deer, hares, etc making a flying leap to one side in an effort to evade a predator, and it was lovely to see tracks that suggested such a move had taken place. The Loch itself was partially frozen, although not to any great depth. There were the usual selection of Teal, Widgen and Swan with one or two Moorhen and Mallard popping in and out. Grahame and I re-filled the seed and peanut feeders (having to put the peanut feeders back on their hooks while we were at it - thanks Mr Squirrel!) and took down the empty coconut halves that had been filled to the brim with a tasty mixture of lamb-fat and seeds just a couple of days before! Grahame and his mum have been making the fat cakes themselves and I will be adding a separate blog entry with the recipe for anyone who would like to put a tasty treat in their own garden for their winter visitors. We are hoping to make a deal with a kindly butcher to receive regular donations of fat to help keep the cost of feeding the Reserve birds down. As Grahame and I pay for most of the seeds and peanuts, and all of the feeding equipment, ourselves, this is a very necessary consideration! But we know that it is appreciated by visitors :-)

As we continued down the slope towards the spillway, we saw the first of a few Reed Buntings we recorded on our Birdcount, which was a pleasure as they are not often seen on the Reserve at this time of year. The spillway itself was covered with snow the same as everything else and the water was crystal clear as it flowed through the pipes embedded within the concrete bridge. This is about the only time you could expect Grahame and I to say that actually we would prefer it if the water was significantly more silty. If you take a look at the spillway, you will see the water tumbling down the concrete run-off slope, then disappearing BETWEEN the stones forming the gabion mattress that replaces the previous black liner we all disliked, and then running out of the bottom again to meet with the Dour Burn further across the Reserve. Its the "between" part that is the problem - but one which will be naturally overcome by the gradual building up of layers of silt, swept downslope by the water. This is Scotland - it won't take long for a few healthy downpours to do the work that is required! ;-)

We continued on along the Reserve path towards the sheep-field and beyond, noting as we did so that Dave Blair and the Conservation Team have been doing an absolutely sterling job of taking down the more mature willow that occupies a large proportion of the area to the right of the path. Grahame mentioned, from reading past survey records, that this area of the Reserve was often found to contain significantly large numbers of Jack Snipe (smaller than Snipe, slightly shorter beak, makes a bobbing motion when feeding). It is hoped that this bird may make a return if the correct conditions are made available. We will certainly be keeping an eye out for them!

The path leading along-side the sheep field presented us with more tracks. This time the track-makers were rabbits, leaving little pockets of 4 prints, followed by a gap, 4 more prints, gap... and so on :-) It was thought for a while that perhaps rabbits didn't appreciate the goods on offer on the Reserve as we had never spotted any - but the tracks have put paid to that! Obviously they are just very good at hiding in the undergrowth! ;-)

Once you get beyond the end of the sheep-field, the vegetation starts to take over a bit, and as the path is on a downward camber to the right, it can get a little awkward for walking along. The ground itself was quite wet where the watery sunshine hadn't quite managed to penetrate. It was along here that we found a little gem of a flower, still turning its face to the sky, and bringing a touch of pink to the never-ending green and brown canvass - Red Campion. This delicate little flower can be found from one end of the Reserve to the other during the summer months, but it seems to have found a lovely sheltered winter foothold at the far end of the Reserve. Well worth the walk to get there on a cold, bright morning like the one we had! :-)

Well, that's my round-up from our most recent trip to the Reserve. We will be dropping in a bit more frequently over the next few months to keep the bird food topped up. We will do our best to keep blog-watchers topped up while we are at it! Don't forget to say Hi" if you see us around. Take care all! :-)


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