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Abernyte Nature Watch - Autumn 2020


Visitors from overseas
What a contrast between the movements of birds and humans at the moment. I can’t help being envious of those Pink-footed geese that started streaming into Scotland from around the second week in September. We weren’t so locked down then, but now we are all trying not to make unnecessary journeys again.

How fortunate for the geese that their journeys are entirely necessary! Not much fun for them if they got locked down in the Greenland or Svalbard for the winter with nothing to eat.

There was a great skein of Pink-footed Geese passing over Abernyte on Friday 16th October. At an estimate there were about 600 or more of them. Yesterday – 7th November - when it was misty, they could be heard flying low over the village calling invisibly from the sky as if lost up there and looking for somewhere to land.

Our other usual winter migrants from Europe started arriving around the same time. Fieldfares were seen by Tim at East Newton and Gordon at Whitehills on the 21st of October. Last week a large flock of winter thrushes in a white-berried Rowan in our garden proved to be Redwings tucking into the berries, competing with Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds.

The Blackbirds were also enjoying some beautiful orange and pink Spindle berries in the garden, always popular with the birds which include Robins and Blackcaps at times. Berries are a sure-fire way of attracting winter thrushes as well as bullfinches at this time of year. Rowans, Malus, Spindle, Hawthorn, Rosehips and Apples (perhaps later) will all prove popular. And Jays will be attracted by acorns of which there has been an excellent crop this year. Earlier in the year a good crop of wild Geans or Cherries provided good feeding for them.

Tim was amused by a lovely Tawny Owl which roosted each day in the same place in his garden. The other birds seemed not to notice it. If they did spot it they would make a great cacophony around it until they spooked it away, which we have seen happen at other times. He has been hearing increased activity from Tawny Owls at East Newton.

We have also had a female calling regularly close to our house in Abernyte each evening for the past few weeks. The female has the kwik-kwik call. Watch out for Long-eared owls, we know they are around and particularly in the autumn there is often an influx of migrants from Europe.

Barry had a thrilling catch in our garden 18th October when he caught our first Brambling of the year, its rich yellow underwing and rust orange patches match the colours of the autumn leaves! One of my favourites as you can tell.

We have also had some larger groups of Long-tailed Tits going around the garden, and Diana has had a Grey Wagtail in her garden around the 11th October, an unusual visitor although she always has the Pied Wagtails. It looks as though there have been some successful breeding Great Spotted Woodpeckers. There are several different juveniles visiting the peanuts. The young ones are still recognisable by their red caps. And on 21st October an exciting message from Julie at Kirkton Craig. “Just sitting in gazebo having a cup of tea and major excitement - a pair of goldcrests came out of the crab apple and sat in the Hamamelis not 1.5 meters away singing their amazing song! I'd never seen them in reality in my life before ??”

Squirrels
Another regular autumn visitor to Abernyte gardens has been the Red Squirrel, not very often seen in our (more western) corner of the village until this year. At least two red squirrels were around earlier in the summer which we reported last time, but we are delighted that once again a squirrel is peanuts feeders at Infield and Abernyte Farm Cottage.

Norma now has an interesting problem – the squirrel has been making its winter stores of peanuts in her patio pots and all around the garden. Yesterday I spotted one springing across the tree canopy in the garden, stopping briefly for a nibble on Rowan berries, very high up. They are such great aerial acrobats. The colour of their pelage changes from winter to summer, so they are darker in the winter, and blonder in summer, they also grow longer ear tufts for the winter – how I wish I could do that sometimes.

At Hill House, less popular, a Grey Squirrel was seen running across the drive and was chased rapidly by Diana’s cat. There are still both reds and greys about.

A frequently asked question is can Red and Grey squirrels interbreed as sometimes the grey squirrels in this area look reddish. They are in fact quite distinct species which do not interbreed and they also behave differently and have a different gait. Grey Squirrels can have a variable colour and sometimes look a bit reddish, but they are never all reddish with a bright white underside like the native Red Squirrel.

Thinking about where the Red Squirrels in Abernyte might be nesting, and not having seen a drey anywhere, I looked up some information. Apparently Red Squirrels build several dreys, even up to six might be used. They like to have a drey where they can take a daytime rest, and another one to sleep in at night. The preferred sites are fairly high up in places covered by growths of climbers such as ivy, or in dense conifers such as spruce rather than pine.

Armed with this information we will keep looking out for them. Have you seen a drey locally? I wonder where our squirrels come from and how far they travel. According to the literature they can have territories up to 6 hectares or much less, depending on the richness of the food supply in their area.
Different squirrels may overlap territories especially where there are rich pickings such as feeders or good food crops. I often see nibbled fungi in the garden and wonder if they have been eaten by squirrels as fungi are a favourite food, however no doubt they are also nibbled by mice and voles.

Garden Tidying
In the summer the attractive Orange-tip butterfly laid eggs and later formed crysalises on some Honesty (honestly!) which was growing in the veg garden. Now I have to remember not to tidy up around there so that we can enjoy the butterflies when they emerge in April or May.

If you can identify which areas in your garden are best for wildlife and leave them undisturbed you may be rewarded with some garden friends next year.