Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman, tells us about a recent trip to Corrimony nature reserve...
In the heat of the morning
One of my most recent and so far most rewarding reserve visits has been to RSPB Corrimony. In particular I was working in the stunning, but at times tricky to navigate gorge the river Enrick runs through. The gorge is located in the east of the reserve and is surrounded by a large area of beautiful Caledonian pine forest. At one point, the gorge channels the fast flowing river over the frothing Corrimony falls. This creates a magical scene that I felt very privileged to be working in. I spent the first afternoon at the site scoping out the gorge, looking for areas that were easily accessible and safe to work in. The weather was fantastically hot, so the water level was relatively low and this meant I could accesses large areas of the gorge with relatively ease. This left me confident I could spend the next day navigating the gorge looking at the abundant bryophyte flora without risking life and limb.
The next morning was again an absolute scorcher. Clear blue skies again as far as the eye could see and shimmering heat haze on the ground. As I walked past the ancient Corrimony Cairn, an impressive sight confronted me. Now I’m no Ornithologist and my knowledge of birds is basic at best, however the unbelievable size of the bird hanging in the clear blue sky before me left me with little doubt that I was face to face with a Golden Eagle. The gigantic creature circled a while before gracefully sliding off to go about its business. This certainly has to be one of the most memorable moments of my time at Corrimony.
Walking through the Caledonian pine forest situated around the gorge I found the ground flora was dominated by Vaccinium myrtillus and wonderfully textured carpets of Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus and Hylocomium splendens. These three species together create a unique picture of greens and yellows under the purple shaded light of the pines. In the gorge itself there is a dazzlingly array of mosses and liverworts. I certainly have enough specimens to keep me very busy for the next few weeks. Some of the highlights I have identified so far include the tiny Bryum pallens and Bartamia pomiformis. I found Bryum pallens tucked away on a sandy stream edge glittering like handful of rubies in the hot sun. The striking Bartamia pomiformis was immediately apparent to me as it has a range of distinctive reproductive structures called sporophytes. These sporophytes resemble miniature green apples hanging from long stalks (seta) above the main body of the plant.
I still have plenty of specimens to identify from Corrimony including a range of weird and wonderful thallose liverworts and some rather atypical sphagnums. The sheer number of species I’m learning about and identifying for the first time demonstrate the time I spent at Corrimony was a great success. This is a reserve I am keen to visit again in the future.
Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back with a new blog...
Meet Brin, our new puppy – just 15 weeks old and with a whole lifetime of walks and sniffs and adventures in front of him.
On the very day that Brin was born, a pair of eagles were putting the finishing touches to their eyrie in the Cairngorm Mountains, making it ready for their two eggs. And though we’ve just had the coldest spring for over 50 years, the eagles kept those eggs warm and in May they hatched into two tiny white balls of down the weight of an apple. But young eagles grow fast - this week, I went to the nest to fit satellite tags to the chicks and the female was already over four and a half kilos of muscle and power and quite a handful. Her brother was slimline by comparison but still armed with the tools of the trade – a beak and talons that you make sure are kept well away from any bit of you that they might want to grab hold of.
This is a great territory and regularly produces twins which is a rarity in Scotland these days but it’s also great because the folk that own and manage the land really love their eagles and look after them. Sadly, this is not universally true and there are still plenty of other places where eagles aren’t tolerated and the long list of dead birds and vacant territories is testament to that.
Satellite tracking really helps in dealing with those crimes acting as both a deterrent and in finding any birds that are downed. This is the third year that we’ve tagged chicks at this site - one of the chicks from the first time was found poisoned in Aberdeenshire. And in 2012, we filmed the tagging here with the One Show and I’m really pleased to say that those two chicks are still alive and well - their satellite tags show us that they’ve already been over half of Scotland.
This is typical behaviour of young eagles as they range about getting to know the lie of the land before it’s time to set up territories of their own in maybe four or five year’s time. Within the month, this year’s eaglets will fly from the nest and then at some stage before next spring they will leave their home and head off. Hopefully, for a long and fruitful life – just like Brin.
Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back with a new blog about the State of Nature.
25 not out
Last week, Alastair Cook scored his 25th Test century for England, I completed 25 years of working for the RSPB and the State of Nature report was launched by 25 conservation organisations – and there’s no doubt which was the greater landmark. Health checks have been produced before on birds, butterflies, mammals and the like but this is the first time that it has all been brought together in one document. Now we can all see how nature as a whole is faring right now in the UK.
Those 25 years have been good to me and I keep well but the report tells us that the same can’t be said for UK’s nature. Sure, some animals are in rude good health, but so many more are ailing or on life support and there’s plenty that are just plain dead before their time. Lots of reasons but, put simply, they don’t have anywhere to live.
Peppered moth by Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)
The statistics are shocking. Moths down by 28%, once common butterflies decreasing by a similar figure, 44 million fewer breeding birds now than there were 40 years ago. The trouble is, though, that I find it very hard to visualise what those figures actually mean. We relate much more easily to bite-sized chunks than the big picture. So, I think of those losses as the little damp bits of fields where redshanks used to nest and curlews bubbled, that untended corner where I could always rely on seeing a small tortoiseshell. And I miss them.
OK – so ‘State of Nature’ gives us the diagnosis but if that’s all it did, it would be a pretty unremittingly dispiriting read. But, it goes beyond that and shows us the cure too – some of the species thriving now were basket cases not so very long ago but we found out what the problems were and turned them around. So, I can think of bitterns and large blues, those meadows full of cuckoo flowers and orange-tips that were once lifeless fields, other places where I and eagles were unwelcome just a few years back but where they now nest and I’m always assured of a friendly chat. It can be done.
And that really is the message in ‘State of Nature’ – things aren’t good and, of course, there are problems but we all have the ability to turn it around in the gardens, parks, green spaces, bits of the countryside that we can influence. And that’s how all those millions of flowers, birds, butterflies and bugs will be put back – one bit at a time.