Tuesday, 8 December 2009

That makes me see red, no wait, it's amber. Oh, it's green!

Hey folks,

Just a quick update to advise that there are roadworks going on just now, directly outside the reserve, with traffic lights at either end. Apparently, the road works will be going on for the next 4 weeks.

The reserve is still open and accessible, but please do take care when leaving. Currently, we can only see one set of traffic lights, and can't tell which side is green.

In other news, we closed the valve to let the water level rise on the loch last week, and it has risen already! The spillway is now in full flow!
As a downside, the loch seems a bit quiet in terms of wildfowl just now, but to compensate, the feeders are getting lots of attention just now!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Anyone for Swimming?!

Dear Blog-watchers, it is that time of year again when the wellies and mactintoshes come out and everyone looks a little like Paddington Bear as they make their way around Fife ;-) And at Cullaloe, it is no different!

As you know, Grahame and I are always keen to promote new developments at the reserve and today I present... the carpark-come-swimming pool! Now, anybody who knows us knows we would love nothing more than hoards of visitors to come along to our reserve - in rain snow, or the occasional sunshine - but on this occasion we have had to close the car park for safety due to flooding. The disabled parking area is still available for use, but the gate down to the carpark proper has been closed for the moment.

Now, we don't wish to spoil all your fun, so we would still like to see you at the reserve whenever you would like to visit. The soggy birds and plants (and convenor and reserve warden) will still be around :-) And you are of course welcome to walk down to the car park to splash about in the big puddle until your heart is content! But please, please take care on the staircase down from the old Dam Wall as it is slippy!

Monday, 21 September 2009

We went Bats for National Moth Night!

When I speak to most people about moths, they are more than happy to tell me that moths are boring, brown and annoying as they flutter around the lights in their house. How very wrong they are!

Most people appreciate butterflies and the variety and colour of them. What they don’t realise is that moths can be just as colourful, but with a wider variety!
There are over 800 different species of macro moth in the UK (Macro moths being those larger than a fingernail, generally) compared to only 50 or so butterflies!

To highlight this, SWT have run a variety of moth nights throughout the summer months at the various reserves in Fife. We’ve had 4 events at Cullaloe, ranging from very productive to hopelessly quiet.

The most recent (and last at Cullaloe for the year) event was held on the evening of 18th September, which was part of National Moth Night, a national celebration of moths and moth trapping.

Throughout the evenings of 18th and 19th September, there were literally hundreds of moth events accessible for the public up and down the UK. It isn’t all fun and games, though. The serious side to the National Moth Nights is that all of these sites were recording the species and numbers of moths present. It’s like a snapshot of the UK, charting the state of moths throughout the country.

Now, onto the event itself!

We set up two traps on the reserve. One was based at the pine trees next to the viewing screen and the other was in the willow scrub to the east of the spillway. The temperature wasn’t too bad – still in double figures when we set up and there was a fair bit of cloud, which would hopefully have stopped it from dropping too low (the lower the temperature, the less likely we are to see moths). It wasn’t long till we saw our first moth – a Canary-Shouldered Thorn. I’m sure you’ll agree – definitely not a dull, boring moth!

We had several moths in pretty quick succession at this point. I could tell you what we got when, but I think it’s easier at this stage just to show you the list of species – if you want to see what each one looks like, click on its name and you’ll be taken to a website with pictures and info on each species

4 x Canary Shouldered Thorn
2 x Small Wainscot
2 x Square-spot Rustic
11 x Autumnal Rustic
18 x Common Marbled Carpet
4 x Pink-barred Sallow
9 x Red-green Carpet
2 x Sallow
6 x Pine Carpet
5 x Spruce Carpet
3 x Grey Pine Carpet
2 x Brimstone
10 x Frosted Orange
5 x Rosy Rustic
1 x July Highflyer
6 x Black Rustic
1 x Small Phoenix
2 x Autumn Green Carpet
1 x Red-line Quaker
1 x Yellow-line Quaker

There were also 3 other species, which we have yet to confirm ID on.

Now, life as a moth isn’t always a safe place. The darkness hides you from some things, but not from everything - Our moth trap in the willow scrub is testament to that!

At about 9pm, after studying the recent captures at the screen, we took a walk to the willow scrub to see what was going on. When we got there we found… nothing! Not a single moth in sight.

Now, we knew this trap was working, the light was plenty bright enough and was in a nice, big clearing… surely the moths should have been here?!

The answer quickly became apparent as a bat flew right past us, quickly followed by another two! As we stared, watching these flying mammals hurtling past us at lightning speeds, we noticed that there was at least two different species of bat, judging from their size.

The smaller ones, we reckon are almost certainly either Common or Soprano Pipistrelles. The larger ones, on the other hand, we are not sure about. We suspect they could be Daubenton’s Bats that have come over from the loch, their usual hunting ground. They could also be other species, such as Natterer’s Bats, which are also found in Fife. Sadly, we did not have a bat detector with us, so were unable to get any sort of confirmation of this.

Still, it’s good to know that we’ve got a healthy population of bats, whatever species they are!

Now, having read all this and you’re now hankering for a bit of moth action – never fear! There is one final moth night planned for this Friday, 25th September at SWT’s Fleecefaulds Meadow reserve. It begins at 7:30pm and is being hosted by Tim Brain, our resident moth expert. There will even be a bat detector present this time!

We’ll be releasing dates for next year’s moth trapping in the next couple of months, so watch this space!

Thursday, 9 July 2009


Hey folks,
I know it's been a long time since either Janie or me updated the blog. We've both been crazy busy recently, mostly working on material for the reserve open day on 2nd August!

I can, however, give you all a brief update on what's been going on at Cullaloe. Don't be expecting the flowery speech and long stories that Janie gives you, though. I'm not nearly that exciting!

The screen has now been completed, and if you go along, I'm sure you'll agree that it makes a huge improvement on the old one! We're definitely finding that the wildfowl are beginning to get that little bit closer, so better views are definitely to be had.

Butterfly season is in full swing on the reserve, with butterflies absolutely everywhere. The most common one right now is the Ringlet, though other species are also present, including the occasional Dark Green Fritillary!
An absolutely gorgeous butterfly, i'm sure you'll agree!

The march of the froglets has begun over the past week or so, so keep an eye on your footing when on the reserve. The little froglets are everywhere, and it's quite easy to stand on them - in fact, you're probably better off if you don't look down!

If any of you have been along in the past month or so, you'll have noticed that the bird feeders had been left empty. Never fear, as of last weekend, they are now kept with food in them!

Finally, just to let you all know, we're having an event on Saturday afternoon (11th July), with members of the local branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust coming along and sharing their expertise with us. The main theme is on bugs, but you can be sure we will be touching on butterflies, birds, plants - anything that's there, really!
It is open to all, so if you're free on Saturday afternoon from 2pm, please do feel free to come along

Hopefully it won't be quite as long between updates now. I know, we say that every time, but this time it might just happen! :)

Thursday, 14 May 2009

News Update - Screen Clean!

Just a quick update for our regular blog-watchers! The screen replacement works have finally begun at Cullaloe main loch! Grahame and I are very pleased to announce that Dave Blair and his Conservation Team have been hard at work since Tuesday, taking down the old willow withy screen that had become so battered and vandalised in recent years, and replacing it with something much more hardy and user friendly! :-)

I haven't seen it personally but Grahame has taken a wander along and reports back that the Team started working from the end that is farthest away from the loch. The first section looks much like you would expect a standard 6ft garden fence to look. It is made up of vertical fence boards set side by side with small gaps between. The screen will continue in much the same way, but with sight-holes at varying levels for all the visitors to be able to peek through and see what our water based birds are up to! :-)

If you happen to take a walk along to the loch in the next few days, keep your eyes peeled for our magnificent swans! They have recently become the proud parents of 7 cygnets! :-) Grahame and I have some concern about the loch being big enough to support that many young, and there is always the chance of one or two being lost to predators along the way, but we are hopeful that the bulk of them will successfully reach maturity! If you have never seen a cygnet before, don't be expecting a miniature version of their beautiful snow-coloured parents! Oh no! Think back into your childhood and the story of the Ugly Duckling. That ugly, grey, scruffy little duckling was actually a beautiful, graceful swan, just waiting to grow up! :-) They may not look like much when you see them, but if you keep coming to visit, you will gradually see the changes take place until eventually they will look like proper full-grown swans wearing dirty jumpers! ;-) They don't get their white feathers until they are a full year old, by which time they will already have taken flight away from Cullaloe.

Other birds are also having their young, so keep looking for ducklings and coot chicks as you scan the loch. Don't forget to look above the surface of the loch too for the swallows who are busy chasing the insects that fly above the water! :-) They like to swoop and twist and swirl in the air in mesmerising patterns - very entertaining to watch! :-)

Hope you are getting out there and enjoying the long-awaited sun! Just don't forget to wear sun cream as the heat can be deceptive when it is so windy!

Take care all!

Reserve Warden

Sunday, 26 April 2009


Hey there :-) Welcome to the beginning of summer at Cullaloe! :-) How do we know that it is getting to be summer at long, long last? The arrival of migrants has begun! And boy are they making their presence felt!

But first, the big news about a big bird! No... not the 8ft tall yellow one from Sesame Street... ;-) We are talking Osprey here! Yes, here - at Cullaloe! :-)

There are a couple of very regular visitors to the reserve (human this time) and one of them very kindly text Grahame yesterday to let us know that they had spied an Osprey making for our loch in search of a wee afternoon appetiser! This is brilliant news as we regularly make trips up to Loch of the Lowes (SWT Reserve) and Loch Garten (RSPB Reserve) to see these magnificent birds of prey! :-) For anyone who doesn't know their osprey from their buzzard, the osprey is similar in size to a buzzard, but it is essentially black and white all over. The top of its head is white with some speckled areas, the wings are black and the chest is white again, with a speckled bib at the front. The osprey also looks like a bit of a punk with a funky spike going on at the back of its head! ;-) If you are wondering what the buzzard looks like now - first suggestion is to visit the reserve and take a gander up the gorse slope towards the telegraph poles, where you can see one personally 9 times out of 10! ;-) If you can't make it along, buzzards are a very rich milk-chocolate brown all over, with some gold-brown mixed through. They have a black curved beak in the usual bird of prey style, but with a yellow nostril-cover that makes it look quite distinctive.

Although Grahame and I were obviously disappointed not to see the osprey personally, we were chuffed to bits that Ian and his wife took the time to let us know that the appearance had been noted. Thanks very much guys and we'll see you on the reserve again soon!

Now, apart from an Osprey making a pit-stop at the Little Chef that is Cullaloe Loch, we also have a new stream of more long-term visitors arriving. They are mostly of the LBJ (Little Brown Job) crew, but they also have their own distinctive features. First to arrive was the Chiff-Chaff which can be heard all over the reserve, but likes to hang out at the side of the loch nearest the sheep pasture mostly. Next arrival was the Willow Warbler (Grahame's favourites!) and they can be heard and seen every step of the way through the reserve! They are one of the most melodic singers of the LBJ crew - very beautiful indeed. We are also playing hosts to swallows as of the tail end of this week. These cheeky chappies are swooping about over the filterbeds, the loch and most of the areas in between! Best chance of sighting these is basically to look upwards! This morning was the turn of the first whitethroat of the year which has taken up residence as usual in the trees around the filterbeds! :-)

So, getting to be a busy wee place, with birds of all shapes and sizes moving in to their summer addresses. Make sure you take time to go and check them out before they check out of Hotel Cullaloe! ;-)

Take care!


Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Long time, no blog

Hey guys! I'm really sorry to see it has been more than a month since my last post! You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much is happening on-site - and that is all our fault for not keeping you up-to-date! :-(

So, lets get cracking and see what is new! :-) The first thing to mention is that the snow-drops are out in force all along the banking at the car park! I love snow-drops :-) For me they are the herald of the spring but with a wee remembrance of winter to warm the cockles of your heart! ;-) The bright green of the stems beautifully show off the crisp white of the flowers and they sway like little bells in the gentle breezes we were enjoying until this week! :-) I like the fact that they are nestled within the trees that mark the right-hand edge of the car park (as you stand looking down from the steps up to the top of the dam wall). They brighten the brown earth between the bare trees and make you realise that before too long the air is going to be thick with perfume and you are not going to be able to see a hint of bareness anywhere at all! :-)

Unfortunately the right hand edge of the access road has taken another beating in the recent heavy rains as it curves into the car park, so there has been a fair amount of debris washed down over the road. It makes things a litte dicey for the old car, so take your time as you come down around the corner, and make sure you check your brakes as you leave the reserve once your visit is over.

Another good reason to slow down as you come around the bottom bend in the access road, and regular readers will know I say this often, is that you never know what you might find at the filter beds. Picture it - you are minding your own business, sun-bathing on a rock, or hunting for rodents or small fish, and suddenly this massive hunk of metal comes belting into your existence, squealing and growling for all it is worth! What are you going to do..? Take off like the clappers - that's what! ;-) So, now imagine that you are once again engaged in your own activites, and you gradually become aware of a low growling noise, approaching quite slowly. You will certainly pause for a moment to try to identify the sound. You might even come out of cover a little to get a better look at whatever this new predator is. But you will most certainly delay the moment of flight for longer than you would have! And that, guys and girls, is the whole point! :-)

Grahame and I make it our habit to approach the filter beds as quietly as possible, whether we are driving or walking, and that is why we are occasionally treated to seeing some of the more shy creatures that call Cullaloe home. We have lost count of the number of deer, wildfowl and smaller mammals such as foxes we have spooked in that area of the reserve. Recently it seems to be the turn of a rather sleekit beastie - the mink. There have been a couple of occasions that a single mink has been spotted at the edge of, or within, one of the filter beds. Sightings have also been made at the spillway. The presence of mink would certainly explain the apparent down-turn in young on the main loch this year and we are keen to gauge the levels of them we might have, so if you should happen to spot a small weasel-like creature with dark brown/black fur, please leave a comment on this blog, letting Grahame and I know where you were, where it was and when it was! :-)

Other than the possible mink, something you definitely will be able to spot at the moment is the sheer number of birds who are singing their feathery little hearts out! :-) The feeders are being so well-used that Grahame barely gets the chance to hang the filled feeders back on their hooks before the cheeky blue tits and coal tits starting feasting away again! :-) The great spotted woodpecker has been spied regularly coming in from the direction of Cullaloe Lodge, and I have had yellowhammers pointed out to me by Grahame on at least 4 occasions in the last couple of weeks! :-) Now, I can recognise quite a few birds these days but the Yellowhammer is one that I just can't seem to get in my mind. I usually find though that if I say it out loud, or tell someone else, their description normally starts to stick - so I'm going to jot it down here as a memo to myself and hopefully it will help you all find them too! :-) They are about the same size as a house sparrow and from the neck down they are a little similar in pattern. There are dark lines that flow down the wings and back towards the tail in the same way as a sparrow has. However, as the name suggests, the yellowhammer has much brighter colour about him than a sparrow. The male has a sunny yellow coloured head and the yellow mingles with brown going downhis back in those stripes I already mentioned. The female has more brown on her body and head than the male, but is still yellow enough to be disingushed from other small brown-coloured birds. I hope that helps! :-) And for all of those who want to be purist about it - I know that the patterning of the sparrow is a little different, and it has a white stripe running cross-ways on the wing that the yellowhammer doesn't - but I just think it helps to have something that is well known to compare an unknown bird to. It helps me - and it might help others! ;-)

I do have one piece of cracking good news for all of us who like to go to Cullaloe though :-) Something that might make the experience a little more rewarding for all of us... :-) You may know that we were hoping to receieve funding towards the replacement of the viewing screen situated at the main loch... and we are delighted to say we have been successful! :-) The viewing screen will be of different construction this time to try to persuade vandals not to cut pieces of of it, and also in the hope that it may last a little longer this time! We are still sourcing funding for a noticeboard to accompany the screen, or be placed down at the car park, so we can share interesting sightings or put up adverts for events that are due to be held, but that funding is yet to be agreed. I'll keep you posted though! ;-) Out of interest... if you think it would be useful to have a notice board, please comment and let us know why! :-)

Anyway, that's it for now. I will come back and let you know of developments as they happen in due course! Happy spotting! ;-)

Monday, 2 February 2009

Willow? What Willow?

Hey Blog-watchers!

Its been a while since I last updated you, which I apologise for! The weather hasn't exactly been fantastic recently and I'm afraid many of the trips to Cullaloe have been entirely for work purposes, in as much as they have been quick stop-overs to fill feeders, count birds and generally check the place over.

One of the most recent visits,though, was as much about enjoying a day outdoors with like-minded people as it was about hard work. The cadets from ATC 859 Squadron (Dalgety Bay) were welcomed back to the reserve for their second visit of this year, to continue the willow coppicing they have been doing such a brilliant job of. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the reserve since Christmas can't have failed to notice the impression the cadets have been making on that pesky water-sooking willow on the Snipe Bog (to the right of the path as you walk to the loch). Where once there was willow standing as thick as the hedges around Sleeping Beauty's castle, there is now a sandy-coloured sea of bog vegetation, spinging up to fill the space that has been created :-)

The cadets were last on-site on Sunday 24 January 2009 and we set them to work at the left-hand edge of where they had last been cutting - and boy did they cut when they were let loose! Grahame and I were very pleased to note that 12 cadets had pitched up ready and willing to work, accompanied by 4 adult supervisors!! :-) What a show of support!! :-)

I am going to focus on the cadets themselves on this blog entry because I really do think that they have come a long way since their maiden visit on 02 December 2007! :-) Some of the group on 24th January this year were newbies to the reserve, but don't think that held them back! No Sirree Bob! Given a pair of branch lopers or a bow-saw and pointed in the right direction, it wasn't long before they could be seen breaking off into groups of 2 or 3 with more experienced cadets and taking the willow down as if they had been doing it all their lives! :-)

As well as the newbies, some of the cadets have been coming to the reserve on each scheduled visit since the start of our volunteering sessions with them and it has been a pleasure to see how self-assured they have become - and how justifiedly proud they are of their ongoing achievements! :-) And seeing as 24th January was marked as being the date of the first ever drawing of blood when the cadets have been on site (a very small slip involving a thumb and the business end of a bow-saw - all very accidental and never to be repeated!) the cadets can actually say they have given both blood and plenty of sweat to the project! ;-) Joking aside, it is an achievement in itself tthat we have managed to go more than a year before having even the smallest of accidents with the coppicing tools, and that is testiment to the mature way the cadets have gone about their work - even if one or two of them (you know who you are guys) like to challenge themselves by thinking of taking down the bigger trees that perhaps we might be wanting to save! ;-)

For anyone that is concerned about the taking down of the willow - and may perhaps be wondering if it is the best thing for the reserve - please don't worry. The willow warblers, white thoats, and other little brown jobs ("LBJ's") like them will still have many perches around the Snipe Bog area in the shape of mature trees of species other than willow. The Snipe, who until now have never been known to nest on the site, but are regular visitors, will almost certainly prefer the more waterlogged conditions in the Snipe Bog, and you dear Cullaloe walker, bird-watcher or bug-spotter, will have more chance of seeing some of the larger animals that inhabit the reserve, and may see the reed dwelling birds and insects we have to offer more easily too! :-) I'll tell you this much - I wouldn't suggest venturing off the path onto the Snipe Bog without a good pair of wellies any more! It is very muddy and wet over there - which is just what we were hoping for! :-)

Anyway, I'll round off this post by letting you know that the cadets will be back with us on Sunday 07 February between 12pm and 3pm, where they will be sweeping in an easterly direction through what remains of the willow on the Snipe Bog. We will also be taking wee tours around the reserve to show the cadets what else can be found in and around the area, so if you see us about, please don't hesitate to come and have a blether! Tell us what we may have missed while we have been up to our knees in mud! ;-)

Till next time!