Thursday, 24 January 2008


Hi everyone! Its Janie here, the Reserve Warden for Cullaloe. I thought I would give everyone a little change and do a blog entry for the first time! I’ll apologise now if it isn’t as polished as Grahame’s have become! ;-)

Well, hasn’t the weather been awful the last few days? Thank goodness Grahame and I decided to take advantage of a lull in the rain on Sunday and head along to the Reserve to have a nose around and see what we could see! I know what you are thinking… don’t we do that fairly often anyway? Well, it’s true that Grahame can be found on site most days, me a bit less so, but we don’t normally go far off the beaten track so every once in a while we go exploring! ;-)

Thank goodness most of the flooding has drained from the car park now – although if you are planning to visit make sure you wear sturdy shoes as the mud that has been left behind can get a bit slippy! The filter beds are looking rather dull just now as the water looks a little reminiscent of a weak cup of tea, but there are still plenty of insects and fish going about their business, as evidenced by the occasional break in the surface.

The walk along to the Loch was punctuated by a buzzard swooping around above the rise on the east of the Reserve, great tits alarm calling and a robin who was bobbing along ahead of us, encouraging us to follow him in a charming way. The Loch itself gave its usual bounty of coot, mallard, mute swan and a few teal, and I enjoyed a little entertainment when a heron that had been feeding in the rushes near to the screen startled and rose up into the air right in front of Grahame who hadn’t even noticed it! Admittedly, neither had I, but I didn’t jump the way Grahame did! ;-) It just goes to show that sometimes us bird-watching types need to keep the binoculars on our chests to see what is right there in front of us!

On the way towards the spillway, the chaffinches were out in force in the trees to the left of the path, whereas the feeding area on the right was dominated almost entirely by great and blue tits. Although there has been a lot of rainfall recently, the spillway is still dry from the ledge a third of the way along its length coming from the direction of the Loch. I have to admit that I am starting to wish it would refill now – and I’m sure it will once the valve to the overflow has been closed once more. This wish is partly because I love creeping along that portion of the path and popping my head up just above the tops of the plants to see what I can catch unawares (how else do you spy a kingfisher? ;-)), but also because I am finding it a little frustrating to be counting more than a hundred birds on the Loch one moment and seeing them all rise in a panic the next, only to find someone standing in the middle of the dried up spillway with their binoculars or a scope out! Having only mediocre binoculars myself, I can completely understand the urge to get a little closer to whatever you are trying to identify, but please allow the birds their comfort zone as well. It is much more enjoyable to be able to watch the various waterfowl as they drift sedately around on the Loch before gracefully rising as one into the air in their own time, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, as I said, the purpose of Sunday was pretty much exploring and our route took us into some of the more-out-of-reach areas of the Reserve. I have to be honest and say that this was one time that, for me, the journey was more productive than the destination as we were constantly stopping to identify birds, prints in the mud or droppings! However, sight was not the only sense being used as Grahame picked up the strong musky odour of the fox at one point (we’d already photographed his print as Grahame’s photograph shows), and there was also the unmistakable sound of prey being turned into dinner for a sparrowhawk as we picked our way carefully along part of the Dour Burn.

The highlight of the day for me though was the sighting of a family of goldcrest in one of the more mature trees just beyond the sheep pasture at the east end of the Reserve. Grahame spotted one first and tried to draw my attention to it as I’ve never seen one but –in the way they do – by the time I’d gotten my binoculars up and tracked it to another tree, it was well hidden! Then Grahame turned his attention to something else sitting in the same tree as the goldcrest had been and I managed to spot another two flitting about from branch to branch! :-) Now, if I do many of these blog entries, you will soon realise that I am not big on the LBJs (little brown jobs – warblers, sparrows, buntings – that kind of thing). I just find them a little difficult to identify. But I don’t think even I’ll manage to forget that gorgeous little flash of gold on the head of the goldcrest in a hurry! Definitely worth the wait and a pleasure to watch.

So, I guess the moral of this story is that even though the Reserve may look a bit bare and even untidy in places right now – there is still a fair bit to be seen if you have a little patience, some warm clothes and some spare time on your hands! Don’t forget that you can comment on our blog entries, so if you see something of interest and want to encourage others to take a look, please let us know! :-)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008


With us having so much heavy rain recently, water levels have been running extremely high on the reserve. The loch is currently up to it's summer levels, even though the valve has not been closed! It's basically filling up faster than it can empty right now.
As a downside, the water had caused quite a bit of flooding at the car park, but hopefully a little dry spell will sort it all out. It's sunny outside as i write this, so who knows!

Below is a photo of the car park taken on Monday afternoon. As you can see, it's not exactly the nicest place to be parking!

Even with all the rain, we've managed to increase the species list by a few species in the past week, so it's not all bad.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Surveying and monitoring

Well, the first week of the year has now passed and we've already got a pretty good bird list for the year, with 25 species having been recorded so far.

This year both me and Janie plan on doing a whole lot of surveying and monitoring of the species present on the reserve. Not just birds, but plants, mammals, insects, trees, etc. The idea is to build up a complete picture of what can be found on the reserve.

The Species list link to the right will hopefully contain a complete listing for everyone to see as it gets completed. Please do bear in mind that we are not experts and that this is a learning experience for us both, so some things will be missed. We will definitely do the best that we can, though.

With regard to the bird list, i plan on doing things slightly differently from how i have recorded them previously. I plan on working in a similar vein to the BTO's Bird Atlas scheme. Basically, birds will be recorded if they are seen or heard on the reserve. Unlike previous years, i will be excluding birds flying overhead from the list. I basically want to create a picture of what is actually using the reserve, not just those that can be seen from it. The 'flying' exceptions will be birds in flight which are clearly using the reserve, such as birds of prey hunting and swifts, swallows and the like.

The list does include a section on mammals, and it should be noted that in most cases the date of first sighting will not be the date the actual mammal was sighted, but rather field signs confirming their presence. Most mammals, particularly the small mice and voles are very secretive and you're not very likely to see them, so we must record confirmation of their presence rather than definite sightings.

Janie will be concentrating predominantly on the plant and tree species on the reserve, whilst i concentrate on birds and mammals. Insects, butterflies, dragonflies, etc will probably be done as a joint effort.

I have also added a calendar on the menu on the right. As with the species list, a google account is needed. I'll be updating it with every time we have a group coming on reserve for a tour, any eents on the reserve or any planned work. It'll give people a chance to either turn up or avoid the reserve on these busier days

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, it's the first of 2008, so i figured i would wish everyone who reads this blog a happy new year!

I have big plans for the reserve and this blog for 2008. I hope to have a full species list available here (I might try and do it using google docs and have a link over on the right-hand side, where the other links are for the SWT), not only of birds, but of anything else i see while i'm out and about on the reserve. With a small mountain of reference guides given to me for Christmas, covering all types of insect, birds, dragonflies, butterflies, mushrooms and toadstools, etc, I don't think I will have a shortage of things to update!
I'm open to other suggestions on how to update it, if anyone has a bit of a technical know-how and can code in HTML, i'm happy to hear any thoughts or suggestions. It's got to be better than the bird list i was using for 2007!
The plan is to have a table listing the different species, and when they are first seen, so that you can see what new arrivals there are.

There are several plans for work to be done on the reserve in 2008. Some of them will happen, some of them will not. Almost all of it is based on funding. If you really want to help with funding at Cullaloe, and their other 122 SWT reserves, please consider clicking on the link at the bottom of the page and join the SWT. (Sales pitch over now!)

Some of the things which may or may not happen on the reserve in 2008 are:

  • An Open Day in spring/summer. Hopefully to attract new people to the reserve, encourage more use from the place.
  • The continued management of the Willow scrub at the Snipe bog by the local Air Cadet Squadron. Hopefully we'll have most of it cleared before Spring.
  • Clearing the Orchid Meadow for grazing by the Flying Flock.
  • Scrapes at the loch edge in an attempt to reveal bare mud to encourage Mudwort growth
  • The raising and lowering of the loch will continue again this year.
  • This one is a big maybe, as it requires a lot of funding! - A bridge over the filter beds and a path leading to a viewpoint on top of the hill opposite the reserve.
  • Some general Health and Safety work to improve conditions for visitors to the reserve.

Some regular things will continue on the reserve in 2008. The flying flock will periodically be paying the reserve a visit to graze the field they have been grazing over the past year or two, and potentially to graze the Orchid Meadow as well. The feeders will remain on the reserve and Janie and I will continue to try and keep them filled for everyone to see. I'm sure Mark will continue to visit and do some bird ringing.

A couple of different groups have expressed an interest in visiting the reserve, and I will hopefully be guiding these groups around the reserve and showing them what it has to offer. If anyone is interested in visiting the reserve, please do get in touch with me. I am happy to provided guided walks for any interested party.

I'm hoping 2008 will be a good year for Cullaloe, with lots of work being done, both for the benefit of the wildlife on the reserve and for the people who come there to enjoy it!

Update: There's now a link on the right to access the species list for 2008. Obviously right now it's either empty, or as good as. You will need a Google account to view the spreadsheet, but these are free for everyone to create.