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Abernyte Nature Watch Winter 2017/18 Update

First a few notes first from the Autumn season - I was a little deficient in my reporting at the end of last year.  I begin with some sightings of Red Squirrels.  Of course some Abernytians are lucky to see these in their gardens regularly, but on 4th October,  Claudia at Abernyte Farmhouse was delighted to see a lovely Red Squirrel investigating her patio in front of the window. She even managed to get a picture of it.   A few weeks later Jane and Trefor in Kinnaird had visits from both Red Squirrels and Hedgehogs.  Naughtily, apparently their Red Squirrel was investigating nest boxes, but don’t you have to forgive such a beautiful animal?.  As Barry would say, if every nestling survived, we would all be knee deep in Blue Tits and Blackbirds.   One reason for having a good secure nest box (particularly the woodcrete boxes which were purchased as part of Abernyte’s Breathing Places project), is that Squirrels and Woodpeckers cannot normally penetrate them. The Red Squirrel project is going very well and there are now fewer Greys in the area.  For really great views of some Red Squirrels, try a visit to Morton Lochs in Fife.  On a recent visit we got excellent views of five or more Red Squirrels feeding only a metre or two from the hide. 

The Autumn of 2017 was a great one for seeing the Red Admiral Butterfly, and Alison at Ballindean had 14 of them on the 26th October.  There is nothing Red Admirals like more than some fallen plums which are rotting nicely on the ground, and a warm autumn day on which they can feast on them.  What a fantastic sight that must have been!  The Red Admiral is the one with smart vermilion stripes and some white spots on a very dark coloured wing.  On the theme of butterflies, Butterfly Conservation had Ivy as a theme on National Moth Night.  Ivy has greenish yellow flowers which appear in the late autumn and then produce small dark fruit in the winter.  The flowers and berries are a valuable source of winter food for moths and birds respectively. On moth night which was in October, we looked for patches of Ivy in flower.   There are some along the church road in Abernyte, and a lot more around Kinnaird village.  In Kinnaird, a moth resounding in the name of a Satellite was seen using the ivy.  The Satellite has a planet mark with a little satellite on its wing!  In Abernyte it was rather cold and windy, we only found the caterpillar of a Swallowtail moth, a lot of woodlice and millipedes which apparently also like to eat the Ivy flowers!  Sometimes ivy can be rather rampant, but think how valuable it is for wildlife, before removing all of it from your trees.  The birds will also appreciate it for nesting sites in Spring.  Autumn Migrants seen in Abernyte include the usual Fieldfares and Redwings, which appeared from Northern Europe by 28th October.  The large flocks of pink-footed Geese seemed slow to make their appearance this year, but we saw a skein of about 200 Pink-footed Geese on Sunday 22nd October and much larger numbers were to follow.  There were large flocks at Montrose well before this date. 

 WINTER 2017/18Don‘t we seem to have had a more “proper” winter this year? Although we have not had extreme temperatures, we had our coldest night so far, -6.5C on the night of 7th/8th January and the pond in our garden was hard frozen for several days. Although we have had several wintry white mornings, the snow has not been deep nor generally lasted long. A few warmer wetter days around the end of January allowed some of the spring bulbs to shoot up. 

On 17th January Barry noticed an unusual smell beside the shed.  We thought maybe something had died, or that there might be a feral cat hiding out.  However we could not tempt anything out with a dish of catfood.  Next day when I went up the garden to see what was around on the bird feeders, another explanation emerged in the form of a large bouncy Polecat or Polecat-coloured Ferret bounding towards the shed.   They used to be called “foulmart” as opposed to the “sweetmart” which is the Pine Marten.  The Pine Marten is very attractive has brown face and cream chest and pale-fringed ears, whereas the Polecat has a bandit-like facial mask.    It is tricky to tell the difference between a true Polecat and a similarly coloured Ferret, (known as a Polecat-Ferret) unless you can examine their DNA. However Perthshire is one of the strongholds of the true wild Polecat.   If you are even luckier you might also see a Pine Marten. A large male animal was picked up dead from the A90 near Errol recently. When alive It is a gorgeous sleek chestnut coloured animal - how lucky we are to live in an area where we have a chance of seeing one.  For so long they were persecuted, but don’t we need predators that eat rodents and rabbits?
Research has shown that the Pine Marten may also help to control Grey Squirrels as it may find them easier to catch than the smaller reds, so it may itself be helping with control of the introduced Grey Squirrels.

There are signs now that Spring is well on its way.  On the 21st January we had our first Bramblings and Siskins back in the garden.  These often appear at the end of the winter, and perhaps some of the Siskins are working their way back North after a slightly warmer holiday down in England.   Last year the rings on some of them showed that they had travelled a long distance from further south.   And another sign of Spring - I notice from last year’s notes that we heard the Green Woodpecker calling from Abernyte Hill on 4th January 2017.  This year we heard it several weeks later, but it has been heard calling from the hill before the end of January.   Recent nights there have also been Tawny Owls exchanging calls. And another exciting bird sighting, from Ian and Pat. On 8th February they had a very distinguished garden visitor in the form of a Peregrine  Falcon.  It was not there just briefly, it took its time.  Barry said “Now I am not normally envious of the birds other people see, but there can be limits!

And what of the Spring flowers?  Aconites were in flower shortly after Christmas and Snowdrops have been making their slow appearance.  Those that grow beside the burn at Southfield Bridge have been in full flower since the end of January.  Those in the sun will often come out earlier.  Some in our garden are in full flower at the moment, 11th February, while others, particularly those in the shade, will be later. There are so many Snowdrop events to go to now, and it is a lovely reason to take a walk in the sun.  There are lots of gardens to choose from so get out there and enjoy the flowers and the wildlife!  Keep your ears tune, to the sounds and songs of Spring!