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Posts from the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Wildlife Blog Jul 2018

Sunday July 29th 2018

Autumn on the hill is always a quiet time for birds and, not surprisingly this was a very low count both in terms of indvidual species recorded in the hour (a mere 15) and numbers (no single species got into double figures, not even the woodpigeons!). The Rooks have all left the colony and will be out in the fields looking for leatherjackets (daddy long-legs, crane flies or tipulidae larvae to be ‘proper’), but with the hard ground this will be difficult for them and indeed Autumn is the prime time for mortality in Rook populations when crane flies are hard to come by. The Jackdaws are also largely away by now, with only 6 seen. Also completely absent, or more likely quietly feeding out of sight and undergoing their wing moult, were any remaining summer migrants – no Chiffchaffs or Blackcaps recorded – though overhead there were still some Swifts to be seen, though they too will be leaving in the first week of August.

So the highlight was undoubtedly not a bird, but our resident Roe deer and in particular the twin fawns with their mother lying up in the brambles in the Braeport meadow area. The fawns can only be a couple of weeks old at a guess – all spots, floppy ears and large eyes (sic!) – and staying very close to their mother. I watched them for a while and tried to leave them undisturbed, though the doe had seen me straight away. Rabbits also seemed to be present in greater numbers than on most visits, but otherwise it was a quiet and largely green vista – the purple of the Rosebay Willowherb providing at least a splash of muted colour, as also the occasional yellow of Meadow Vetchling. A few late Raspberry berries provided a welcome addition to my breakfast as I passed by!

Click here to see the bird report for July 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Karelj:   “Fruit on a wild raspberry”.   Public domain.

Wildlife Blog Jun 2018

Sunday June 17th 2018

After all the recent glorious weather, this was a cool, indeed damp morning following overnight rain, but with no wind at all, so there were lots of midges around!   Perhaps not surprisingly therefore there was a group of swifts scything their way through the air low down and hunting over the open areas.   The impact of the recent gales though was very evident, the ground being littered with small (and not so small) twigs and leaves of Sycamores, Limes and the ocassional Oak, along with a spattering of beech nuts under the avenue of Beech trees.   The overall feel of the hill now is ‘green’ – with the tree canopy now closing in and birds difficult to see in among the leaves where many of them are now actively hunting for caterpillars and other insects.   Other than the odd splash of white from emerging bramble and elder flowers, and the now slightly faded Pignut, only the Meadow buttercups provided any real colour, though careful loking at ground level also revealed the delicate blue flowers of Speedwell.   Careful looking at the grasses, nettles and brambles also revealed many caterpillars, such as those of Red Admiral, and in the Braeport meadow numerous brightly coloured banded snails, most probably brown-lipped snails, one of the most colourful and variable snails in the UK. Their shells vary in colour across yellow, brown and pinkish, with a series of horizontal bands across each shell.

A buck Roe deer barked a warning as I approached, but most of the noise this time round was coming from families of newly-fledged Jackdaws up in the trees above.   I counted well over a hundred in total, so they must have had an excellent breeding season.   Other familes of young birds were also out and about, chasing their parents for food through the foliage, including Blue, Great and Coal tits, and a family of Nuthatches.

Click here to see the bird report for June 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Mad Max:   “The brown-lipped snail (Cepaea nemoralis)”.   CC BY-SA 3.0.

Wildlife Blog May 2018

Wednesday May 23rd 2018

This was a cool morning, at least at 6:15am when I ventured out, but with no wind and dry conditions it was still a pleasant start to the day. At that hour, not surprisingly I had the hill to myself, though a buck Roe deer watched me as I walked along the road. The deer was feeding on the leaves of a small Oak tree, creating a ‘browse line’ at the height it could reach. Tree leaves are all young, translucent and tender at this time of year, so maybe it was more attractive than mouthfulls of old grass. Around it, the white flowers of Pignut are just emerging, especially on the slope facing the Perth road, whilst elsewhere the Bluebells are looking great. One clump was a very distinct bright pink! A much paler pink was shown by several Cuckoo flowers, whilst one or two Primroses linger on, as do a few clumps Wood garlic, and there were several spikes of Red Campion now to be seen. A clump of Solomon’s seal with its dangling white flowers is presumably a ‘garden escape’, one of several escapes, such as Rhododendron that colonise the hill, whereas a splash of yellow from a Broom or Whin bush could either be wild or an escape.

Birdwise, other than the cacophany emanating from the Rookery, the main noises were coming from numerous singing Wrens. And at last I heard a Chiffchaff this year, two to be accurate both singing at the same time. Two Blackcaps were producing a much more melodious song, and the scratchy sound of a single Whitethroat completed three Summer migrant warblers. By comparison the Blackbirds have gone quiet, as have the Stock doves, though both were present. A solitary Long-tailed tit and a Coal tit were both far too busy feeding than having time to stop and sing, and there seemed to be far more Rabbits around this time than before.

Click here to see the bird report for May 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Conopodium majus; public domain.

Wildlife Blog Apr 2018

Saturday April 28th 2018

I thought I would get out early and avoid the threatened rain, but it was actually dry throughout and a very still morning.   With the leaves on the trees just beginning to come out, it was also the last time I would be able to get a good count of the rookery; the final total being 70 nests (up from 54 last month).   The majority are in the colony above Ramoyle, but a second group of 20 nests are in the south west corner above Holmehill Annexe.   Most nests now have sitting birds, but there were still some Rooks flying in with sticks to build new nests.   The Jackdaws, by comparison seem all well set in ther various holes in the trees nearby.

A male Great spotted Woodpecker was very vocal all morning, drumming on a series of different dead branches, producing a range of different notes, and seemingly unconcerned by my presence watching just below.   A pair of Roe deer were also not too concerned as I approached them in the Braeport meadow, the buck still with his antlers in velvet.   What was missing from the hill though was any Chiffchaffs, the first time I have not recorded singing birds in April.   It seems many of our returning Summer migrants are late this year, but Chiffchaffs have been around elsewhere for a while now, so their absence was a surprise.   It may be that their previously favoured area, the small trees and bushes where the old house once stood, which was flattened a couple of years back is now not so attractive, but hopefully they will re-appear in next month’s survey.   And neither could I find any of the Hawfinches that stayed on the hill over winter, so they have probably moved on.   At least I did find one returned Summer migrant, a male Blackcap singing from the undergrowth near the northern path entry.

Daffodills are still very much out, as are some clumps of Primroses, and I found a few yellow Celandines beneath the trees.   A single clump of Ramsons or Wood Garlic was not yet in flower, and neither is much else, though the emerging pale, translucent leaves of young Elm and Beech trees are very attractive at this time of year.

Click here to see the bird report for April 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Ron Knight: A male Eurasian Blackcap.   License CC BY 2.0.

Wildlife Blog Mar 2018

Saturday March 24th 2018

A beautiful, clear and relatively warm sunny morning, with no wind – ideal for hearing and seeing whatever is on the hill, with the possibility of even an early Spring migrant Chiffchaff.   However, although there were indeed lots of birds singing and many others starting nest building, there was no sound of a Chiffchaff and, actually there was still a small flock of 7 Redwings here from earlier in the winter, feeding in the leaf litter below the trees.

The Rooks are well in to breeding and I counted 41 nests in the main area above Ramoyle (up from 8 last month) and another 13 in the south west corner above Holmehill Annexe.   A pair of Carrion Crows are building a nest high up above the main path and there are numerous pairs of Jackdaws investigating nesting holes, and several pairs of Stock Doves.   A large branch of one of the Beech trees came crashing down about 3 weeks ago, breaking off from the main trunk at a point where there used to be a large hole, used at least for roosting by Tawny Owls in the past.   Rotten branches elsewhere were providing perfect sounding boards for a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers; the pitch of their drumming being markedly different from the different branches.   Equally vocal were several Nuthatches and a male Pheasant.

It was a good moring for a variety of finches, though surprisingly Goldfinches, the second most common on the hill, were absent.   Along with several singing Chaffinches and a couple of ‘wheezing’ Greenfinches, I located one male Bullfinch calling from a Birch tree and then found a large male Hawfinch, with possibly a couple of others nearby, feeding in another Birch behind it, so it’s good to know they are still around, at least for the moment.

The Daffodils that were about to burst into flower at the end of February have clearly been held back by the cold weather, and the ‘beast from the east’ is no doubt responsible for there still being very few flowers at all.   By comparison, there are several banks of Snowdrops and I did find one group of Primroses, though not yet in flower.   A buck Roe deer with its antlers still in velvet was consorting with two does out in the Braeport meadow and I watched them for some time as the buck seemed to be nibbling the doe’s ears!

Click here to see the bird report for March 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Andreas Trepke: Redwing.   Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.5

Wildlife Blog Feb 2018

Saturday February 24th 2018

A beautiful, cold and bright morning, with the frost rapidly disappearing as the sun warmed up the hill.   The sunshine and the warmth encouraged a few birds to start singing, with Dunnocks and Great tits the most vocal.   The Rooks have already started nest building, with eight nests already taking shape in each of the main rookery areas, and many birds collecting twigs and flying up to the colony to start new nests.   These are still pretty flimsy structures at this stage and there was a lot of robbing of nest material going on.

A Great spotted Woodpecker flew across and started drumming on an old, dead branch, the resonance being particularly good, and far more impressive than the drumming sound of its rival, emanating form somewhere off to the east.   Later on, I saw another woodpecker feeding on pine cones, but as I was watching the drumming bird, my eye was caught by 2 small, chunky birds high in the canopy of a Beech tree behind.   They looked interesting, but difficult to make out, but when eventually one came in to view and turned its head, there was the unmistakable, massive bill of a Hawfinch.   So, perseverence had finally paid off and a new species has been added to the regular monthly count totals, one that had been seen by other birdwatchers last month on the hill, but which had, up until now eluded me.   There were 3, possibly 4 in the tree tops, feeding on the end of the twigs.   And later on, I saw another bird, much lower down and closer to me, so I was able to get a much better view of that bill.   There are still groups of Hawfinches being seen in lots of areas further south in England, so it will be interesting to see if these birds stay around; the problem being that they are so quiet and secretive, they are easily overlooked.

There were few other finch species to be seen today, just the usual Chaffinches, but a Pheasant was an infrequent visitor.   Three Roe deer does were lying up in their usual haunt in the Braeport meadow area and whilst the predominant colour at ground level is still brown, there are now lots of clumps of vibrant white Snowdrops and, amongst the emerging Daffodil leaves I located one bright yellow flower.

Click here to see the bird report for February 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Mikils: “Male Hawfinch near Florence, Italy”.   Released under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wildlife Blog Jan 2018

Sunday January 14th 2018

A dreich, dark and thoroughly unpromising morning, indeed even at 9:30 when I started it felt like it might rain any moment and I might have to give up.   However, I persevered, not least as I was keen to see if I could find the group of three Hawfinches that had been reported on the hill and along Smithy Loan this last week.   There has been a small ‘invasion’ of these chunky finches (with a bill that can crack cherry stones!) in to the UK, mainly further south this winter, though small numbers are resident as well.   In the end, the answer was no, but I scanned each tree top and listened hard for their calls and did at least pick up various other finches.   Most notable was a flock of 12 Bullfinches, in itself a surprisingly large number for this secretive finch, with another pair elsewhere, a solitary Goldfinch and a flock of 6 Siskins; all in addition to the usual Chaffinches.

The cold weather of the previous weeks has put paid to any early nest-building and there were only 6 Rooks anywhere to be seen in the colony tree tops, though some 26 Jackdaws were around.   I saw a Hooded crow on the Laighills at the end of December, had two Ravens on the hill last month and heard a Jay calling from the hill last week, but the only other corvids today were 3 Carrion crows and 5 Magpies.   In much greater numbers were various tit species, a combined flock of some 20 Great, Blue and Coal tits feeding amongst the brambles near the path.   A small group of 8 Redwings and single Mistle and Song thrushes were joined by 3 Blackbirds feeding in amongst the leaf litter, with a Great spotted Woodpecker and various Nuthatches calling above.

And although it remained a dull and dark morning, with little of colour to note, two Roe deer were feeding near the hilltop and the first Snow drops are out.

Click here to see the bird report for January 2018.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Mark Medcalf: “Male Eurasian Bullfinch in Lochwinnoch”.   Released under CCA 2.0 Generic.

Wildlife Blog Dec 2017

Saturday December 9th 2017

Another impressive sunrise and a morning with absolutely no wind and, at least for the most part a cloud-free sky.   The ground though is rock hard and the frost was still lying when I started out, so it will be difficult conditions for birds trying to probe the soil or feed in amongst the grasses.   And it was very quiet, so I had to work very hard to locate any birds, with none singing, and the majority being intent on feeding and making very little in the way of calls while doing so.   A party of a dozen Long-tailed tits. for example were feeding high in amongst the outer branches and twigs of some Silver birch trees, but I had walked right underneath them before picking up the sound of a contact call and realising they were there.

More obvious, and indeed a first for the Hill was a pair of Ravens!   As I left the house this morning, I heard and then saw a pair flying over Dunblane, a not too uncommon sight in itself, but to my delight, I then found them an hour later, now on the top of one of the large Beech trees on the hill giving their distinct ‘croaking’ call, and where they stayed for a half-hour before flying off towards Sherriffmuir.   Another obvious large bird was a single Buzzard, though it was being chased by a pair of the resident Carrion Crows.

There was a good number of Blackbirds and a small flock of Redwings but, again these were very quiet and hard to locate at first.   Several Jackdaws were exploring some new holes in a partly fallen tree, while two skeins of Pinkfeet geese flew low overhead in the sunshine.   All the leaves have now fallen from the trees, but the leaves of the Brambles still provide a splash of green, as does the ivy climbing up some of the older trees.

Click here to see the bird report for December 2017.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Dave Croker: “Long-tailed tit”.   Released under the Creative Commons by-sa licence.

Wildlife Blog Nov 2017

Sunday November 19th 2017

This was a stunning morning to be up on the hill.   Not so much for the wildlife, of which there was relatively little to be seen, but for the gorgeous golden browns and yellows of the leaves on the beech trees as they were caught in the low, early morning sun.   It was definitely the time to have had a camera with you (sadly mine left at home), as the combination of hard frost and ice on the leaves on the ground and the sun glinting through the beech trees was memorable.   The limes and many of the other trees have already lost their leaves, but those on the large, mature beech trees along the top of the hill were all caught in the low sunlight and practically sparkled.

With no wind, bright sun and an early start, I thought I might see quite a few birds, but despite locating some of the ‘quieter’ species, such as Bullfinch, I only recorded 16 species in the hour.   The Bullfinches were sitting high on the top of one of the lime trees, so the male’s bright red cherry colours were easy to see. Less obvious were some 16 or so Redwings which, having eaten out most of the yew berries appear now to have turned their attention to the holly berries, along with a small group of Blackbirds.   Ten Chaffinches was a larger number than usual, but despite their occurrence at several local sites this month, I couldn’t find any Bramblings in amongst the Chaffinches.

The Rooks were in their usual good numbers high in the colony trees, and three Roe deer does were down in the Braeport meadow.

Click here to see the bird report for November 2017.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image:© Caroline Crawford

Wildlife Blog Oct 2017

Saturday October 28th 2017

After the sudden and unexpected frost on Tuesday morning, today was much warmer and totally overcast, though with the threat of rain any moment.   The rain didn’t eventually materialise, but it was a dull, even dark morning, so the Autumn colours were somewhat muted.   There are still lots of leaves on the trees though, so the winds haven’t yet blown them all off.

All the past two weeks I have been seeing flocks of Redwings flying overhead, so I was hoping some might have landed on the hill after their migration down from Scandinavia, the berries on the old yew trees being the obvious main attraction.   And sure enough, the tops of the yews were where I found them – fifteen at least, probably more, but they were mixed in with a couple of Blackbirds, a group of seven Song Thrushes and another seven Mistle Thrushes.   With this much attention, the berry crop won’t last long!   The other, much rarer bird I was on the look out for was Hawfinch, as small groups of these impressive finches have been seen all across the UK these past couple of weeks.   It’s not a species I have yet seen on the hill, and still haven’t; indeed there were very few finches of any sort this morning, not even Greenfinches or Goldfinches, though the quiet calling of a Bullfinch alerted me to one of these.

A huge stem of an old Beech tree has recently come crashing down in the corner of Braeport meadow, and groups of tits were feeding in the outer branches, now at ground level.   Rather like the ravages of the famous ‘hurricane’ that hit the UK 30 years ago this month, toppling thousands of trees in its wake, it has opened up a good area to sunlight, so it will be interesting to see how the vegetation develops in this patch over the next few years.   The aftermath of the 1987 ‘hurricane’ is now being seen in a much more positive light all these years later, as folk see what new plants appeared to ‘fill’ the gaps left by the fallen trees.

A lone Buzzard drifted over; a pair having been very evident this past month, so maybe they will stay and breed next year.   And after several visits without seeing our resident Roe deer, I saw four this morning, though only briefly as they disappeared amongst the trees.

Click here to see the bird report for October 2017.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia, “Redwing (Turdus iliacus, right) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris, left) picking rowan berries”