ABERNYTE NATUREWATCH LATE SPRING 2016
It is always lovely to notice the first flowers of Spring, especially the Celandines, they are so bright and shining it is as if the sun is shining out of them telling us that spring is here. There were Celandines blooming in good numbers along the church road on Sunday 13th March. Then there is the Red Campion with its hot pink flowers looking brilliant on the road verge as you drive home from work up the road from Baledgarno to Abernyte. We usually note the date when it starts coming into flower, which was at the beginning of May this year.
Tricia noticed that bumblebees were out in the garden at Balfour Cottage on 13th/14th March. Both the Red-tailed and Buff-tailed Bumblebee as well as some Honeybees were seen at Flawcraigs the same day (14th) where a butterfly was also out, although it flew off speedily and evaded identification. It seems that the nice sunny weather at that time brought quite a few beasties out of hibernation including bats (pipistrelles) which were flying up and down Whitehills track on evening of 14th March.
Frogspawn was seen in Kinnaird on 16th or 17th March and in Abernyte on 25th March. A suspicious swirl in the water suggested that there was a frog in the water, perhaps waiting for a friend to join it, the day before that! We went for a walk up at Laird's Loch on Monday 28th March - there has been a lot of logging done over the winter. We encountered a large number of toads out and about crossing the forest tracks. When we looked in the Loch we saw at least 30 toads, possibly more, in the shallows amongst rocks. Some of them were undoubtedly mating in small groups under water. Others seemed to be hanging about, perhaps waiting for more females to show up. We did not see any sign of spawn. Strangely, most of the toads were light coloured with a lot of dark spots, and not grey as they usually seem to be when we see them in the garden later in the summer. Perhaps this is because they are only recently out of hibernation and spots are more cryptic in the water?
As you may know, I have a penchant for butterflies and so was eagerly looking forward to the first butterflies appearing. We saw the first in Flawcraigs as mentioned above, but after that the weather took a turn for the colder and worse and we were not to see or hear of another until 15th April, when there was a Peacock butterfly basking in the garden. Later in the day we saw another Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell up at North Ballo.
An Orange Tip butterfly was seen at Kinnaird on 28th April. The Milkmaids or Cuckoo flower on which they lay their eggs are also in flower. It is worth checking the flower heads to see if you can see a tiny orange egg, on the stalk below the flower. If you see one you know that the Orange Tip butterfly has been there!
I had not seen a hedgehog but there were definitely some fresh hedgehog droppings in the garden on Friday 25th March. Hedgehog droppings are really easy to recognize because they are long, narrow and black with bits of insect in them. After that sighting the weather was rather cold and we did not see many signs of hedgehogs until recently when there were several dead hedgehogs seen on the roads. I was outside at the cold frames doing my customary slug patrol on Saturday night (7th May) when I heard loud snuffling and grunting coming from the lawn. Switching the head torch to red light (which mammals cannot normally see) I was rewarded by the sight of two hedgehogs courting together. I left them in peace to get on with it and hoped that they might get a little slug hunting done later. Then horror of horrors, in the morning I went along a short distance towards Kinnaird only to find one very similar hedgehog squashed on the side of the road! And the moral of the story is, watch out for hedgehogs at night, because apart from being fellow inhabitants of our planet they are the gardener’s friend!
Our first clue that some of the Spring Migrants were winging their way North was on 27th March. We had stopped off at the RSPB centre at Vane Farm beside Loch Leven and saw that they had Chiff-chaff listed on their noticeboard! Great, we thought, they should be in Abernyte before long! And sure enough Barry was at Fingask on 30th March where he heard at one calling in the woodland. Since then The Willow warbler was heard in Abernyte on 18th April, also at Hillhouse by Diana and actually seen in Kinnaird by Trefor who also heard a number of Yellowhammers in full song along the Kinnaird Road from Abernyte.
Swallows were around on the Carse and around the Tay on Sunday 10th April. We saw 3 flying over at Megginch Castle whilst attending the garden opening there. We met several other people who had also seen Swallows that morning. It seemed to take them a bit longer to venture up the hill to Abernyte – the first sighting known to us was 21st April (Hillhouse) and 1st May (Abernyte village), and they have only arrived in numbers in the last few days (1st- 7th May). That is very late but we have had low air temperatures for several weeks since the initial arrivals. Interestingly the first few reports of Swifts have been coming in from Lothian and Fife (where they were seen by Norma last week). Swifts are usually the last of the Hirondines (i.e. Swifts, Swallows and Martins) to arrive, nearly always in the first half of May. Sand Martins are often the first – but these frequent rivers and freshwaters. We saw a lot of them on our way past Dunkeld and up as far as Nairn where we went on 30th April.
Thanks to Andrew and Elizabeth (Tullach Ard, 20th April) and Diana (Hillhouse, 19th April) for letting us know that their House Martins are back in residence.
What other birdy signs of summer making its advance could there be? Well the Cuckoo has been heard by Trefor from Kinnaird Hill on 3rd May – we were relieved to hear that news, although most jealous that we hadn’t heard it!
As you may know because I have gone on at length about it before, Barry has been busy putting up next boxes, at the moment as part of the TLP (Tay Landscape Partnership). One of the objectives of this scheme has been to encourage hole nesting species like Tree Sparrows to expand their range. Natural holes are not easy to find these days as they require old trees with suitable cavities. So it was particularly gratifying to hear from Elizabeth and Trefor in Kinnaird that Tree Sparrows seem to have been popping in Kinnaird where they had not been seen before. And they may also be inhabiting some boxes at Flawcraigs. Thanks for that news! It is good to hear news of expansion rather than decline!
Please let us know if you know of any new Tree Sparrow colonies in your area!