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Wildlife Blog Feb 2017

Sunday February 19th 2017

I managed to enjoy the best of the morning weather, with sunshine as I walked on to the hill and, although it eventually clouded over completely, it was warm and with no wind at all.   As a result, it almost felt like Spring and indeed there were bunches of Daffodils just coming in to bloom.   An Oystercatcher calling loudly overhead confirmed the seasonal change (and they are back on the Keir roundabout already), as did the increase in song.   Tawny owls, one of the early breeders are very vocal at night on the hill, while down on the river another early nester, Dippers are also in full voice.   That said, there were still skeins of Pinkfeet geese overhead and our winter thrushes are still around.

Anyhow, it was a very good total with 24 species and that despite some which had gone ‘missing’ – including both Great spotted woodpecker and Goldfinches, which were seen a few minutes later back across the Perth road in our garden!   Nevertheless, the survey began with the unmistakable sound (a ‘yaffle’) of a calling Green woodpecker, only the second I have seen on the hill – I subsequently located it high in a Beech tree – and then a Red Kite drifting slowly overhead.   The list of unusual birds continued with a male Pheasant feeding under the trees, though I have been seeing two different males this past two months in our garden under the bird feeders.   Amongst the more usual residents that were singing, Stock Doves and Nuthatches were very vocal, as was a single Song Thrush.   Blue tits were already in pairs, loudly chasing each other through the branches, and I located a pair of Treecreepers which, by comparison were extremely quiet.   A couple of Redwings showed that winter has not yet left.

A pair of female Roe deer were standing out in the open in the Braeport meadow, and ignored me totally, being preoccupied grooming one another and watching a cat walking along the stone wall next to them with great interest!

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   “Green Woodpecker” Charles J Sharp, sharpphotography. CC-BY-SA-4.0

Community Summit

Dunblane Organisations plan meeting

Discover Dunblane, Dunblane Community Council and Dunblane Development Trust are convening a “Community Summit” to discuss the draft Community Action Plan Dunblane 2020, developed from the Town Centre Charrette.   The meeting will be on 20 February 2017 from 7.30 to 9pm in the Braeport Centre.   A large number of local organisations have been invited: David Prescott, Chair of Holmehill Community Buyout, will be representing us, but other Holmehill members may be interested in attending as well.

The organisers have been meeting regularly to turn the results of the Town Centre Charrette into a Community Action Plan which will bring improvements and new activity to Dunblane.

They say

Our previous Action Plan expired at the end of 2014 after much had been achieved.   We hope that this new Action Plan, covering 2017 to 2020, reflects the needs of Dunblane – residents, businesses and visitors – and believe that the actions are aspirational but achievable.   The Action Plan shows what we as a community want to achieve – and will help us to get other partners involved, raise funds for new projects – and get the wider community of Dunblane involved.

More details on the proposed actions will be provided at the meeting – and there will be an opportunity to comment on the actions and raise any issues.   The meeting will also be an opportunity to hear about a new project which aims to enhance the historic centre of the community around the cathedral.

Image: Wikipedia. “The Matterhorn” Zacharie Grossen – Camptocamp.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wildlife Blog Jan 2017

Saturday January 14th 2017

After the snow, ice and winds of last week, this was a real change and a superb morning!   With no wind and a cloudless sky, but with the ground still covered in snow, as the sun gradually rose it painted the upper branches of the trees a warm orange in the early morning light, before filling the whole hill with beams of sunlight – so Holmehill was very much in ‘picture postcard’ mode!   And it was also a good time for a bird survey clearly, with no less than 26 species in the hour, two higher than any counts in 2016, and at last I managed to see a flock of Waxwings actually on the hill!   The Waxwing flock across town near Tesco’s has been there off and on these past weeks, with over 200 at times feeding on the Rowan trees, while smaller groups have been seen elsewhere, including in Smithy Loan on the edge of Holmehill.   This morning’s flock was about 40 birds, on the Ramoyle side of the hill, but they were not for staying around and soon headed off towards Tesco!

A feature of this morning was the number of birds on the ground foraging in amongst the leaves beneath the trees where there was ground clear of snow.   A dozen or so Blackbirds, half a dozen Redwings, a couple of Mistle thrushes and a Song thrush were not surprising, but also feeding on the ground were Great tits, Chaffinches, a single female Brambling and even a Nuthatch.   Up in the trees, Blue tits were very visible, as was a small ‘charm’ of Goldfinches, whilst lower down feeding very quietly on the old nettles, brambles and birch trees was a small group of Bullfinches, the males resplendent with their bright rose-pink breast and belly, black cap and wings.   It is too early in the season yet for any birds to be singing, even in this morning’s sunshine, but along with the rooks up on their colony a brief burst from a Dunnock enlivened an otherwise quiet hill.   I did however find my first bunch of Snowdrops, with a few just coming in to flower on a southerly facing slope beneath the trees.

The resident Roe deer are very well camouflaged at present, their white rumps looking like another patch of snow, but I did see three females which were being accompanied by a young buck, and another buck was also seen, though none of them seemed too concerned by my watching presence.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   “Galanthus nivalis” David Paloch / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Appeal Hearing in January

Review meeting date fixed

The date has been fixed for the first hearing of Allanwater Developments’ appeal against Stirling Council’s planners.   In June 2016 the Council rejected Allanwater’s plans to build on Holmehill.   That refusal of planning permission is being reviewed by the Council’s Local Review Body (LRB), which will hold its first meeting in Viewforth on Monday 23 January 2017 at 11.00am.

The agenda and papers to be considered by the LRB will be available on the Council’s website three days in advance of the meeting date.

The meeting is to be held in public.   The LRB will not be hearing oral representations at this meeting, but members of the public are welcome to attend and listen to the Local Review Body’s consideration of the review.

Allanwater’s proposals were alternative ideas: one for for an office block and the other for a luxury mansion.   To see more about this, visit our earlier blog post.   The appeals were lodged in September 2016.

The LRB will have access to all the representations that were made originally (and which no doubt contributed to the original rejection of the applications).   People who made representations were contacted by the Council to ask if they wished to submit further material.   The deadline for submissions was in October 2016.

You can see our submissions at these links: the house and the office block.

Image: The plan of the proposed office block, from the original application.

Wildlife Blog Dec 2016

Saturday December 17th 2016

This was a very dull day, the harsh morning light completely robbing most birds of any colour, and the branches of the trees standing out as skeletons against the clouds beyond.   It had also been raining during the night and whilst dry during my walk, it was never warm or sunny.   Perhaps not surprisingly, there was little about, the 18 species being the lowest monthly total in 2016, and what was there was pretty quiet.   The odd Robin briefly ‘warbled’ a soft sub-song, but even the Nuthatches were hardly calling.   At least two Great spotted Woodpeckers could be heard making their distinct ‘chipping’ call and I watched a female high up in the branches of a Lime feeding for a while, picking stuff from the twigs.

The winter thrushes have all left the hill – no Redwings to be seen this time, nor Fieldfares and only a solitary Blackbird and Mistle thrush.   My hope that some of the Waxwings that have been seen in Dunblane this past three weeks might make it up on to the hill went unfulfilled.   Indeed the Waxwings have largely, but not totally left the area, though for a week or so it was possibe to see a flock of well over 200 of these spectacular Winter visitors from Scandinavia feeding on the Rowan berries on the edge of Tesco’s car park!   Otherwise, even the birds I did see were in very small numbers and for a change I didn’t even see any of our resident Roe deer.

A Review of 2016

Looking back over this year’s surveys, in the ten standard one hour visits I did in 2016, we had a total of 33 different species recorded as using the hill, compared to 37 (from 11 visits) last year.   This only includes birds seen during the regular monthly morning count, when I follow the same route each time, and not others seen at other times of the day or year (like Tawny Owl or Peregrine).   And neither does this include species flying over, such as gulls, geese, swans, swallows, sky larks, oystercatchers, etc. but not making use of the site itself.

Of the 33 species in 2016, twelve were always present (Blackbird, Blue tit, Carrion crow, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Great tit, Jackdaw, Magpie, Robin, Stock dove, Wood pigeon and Wren), a couple more 9 times out of ten (Nuthatch and Rook), whilst others were there only during Summer (Chiffchaff, Blackcap), or Winter (Redwing) or seen only once (Bullfinch, Fieldfare, Red kite, Sparrowhawk and Treecreeper this year).   The number of species seen varied from 24 (November) down to 18 (December), with individual species varying from over 80 (Rooks) and 60 (Jackdaws) down to single birds, such as Sparrowhawk.

Other than birds, the resident Roe deer were nearly always seen, numbers usually 3, but as high as 5, with Grey squirrels and Rabbits even more common.   Signs (or in the case of the fox smells) of moles and a fox were also recorded.   Although I saw the odd butterfly, as the counts are undertaken in the early morning, this is totally the wrong time for recording these species.   And the same would be true for nocturnal species, such as Bats.

Click here to see the bird report for December 2016.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   “Robin” © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Our Meetings

We publish the agendas and minutes of our meetings on our website: click here to see the latest documents.

Click here to see the dates of forthcoming meetings.

Wildlife Blog Nov 2016

Saturday November 26th 2016

After the sharp frosts and cold of the last two weeks, I was hoping for a clear bright morning and possibly a flock of Waxwings up on the hill today, as small flocks of this impressive Winter visitor from Scandinavia and Russia have been seen all round Dunblane, Doune, Stirling and elsewhere recently in what is clearly another ‘invasion’ year for these attractive berry-eating birds.   But it turned out to be much warmer (relatively!) than I thought it would be, though still with a light frost on the ground coating the masses of golden-brown beech and sycamore leaves that carpeted the pathways.   The cloud gradually dispersed and with no wind it was easy to hear and see what was around.

Winter visitors were certainly there in numbers, with some 50 or so Redwings the pick of several thrush species – Mistle thrush (3), Song thrushes (3), Fieldfares (2) and Blackbirds (4) also represented.   The majority were still feeding on the remaining berries on the yew trees and the holly bushes, providing a faint background noise of high-pitched calls as I wandered round.   Each Autumn, the Rooks and Jackdaws return to their colony sites, some even ‘repairing’ the old nests, and there were good numbers of both, with some 80 of the former and 60 of the latter, along with 5 Carrion crows and 5 Magpies.   As the sun came out, a Red Kite drifted over the hill heading east, no doubt one originating from the release site over at Argaty, Stock Doves were busy chasing each other through the Lime trees and a Great-spotted woodpecker briefly called.

Of the smaller birds, there was a good variety again; indeed 24 species on the hill in an hour is a good Winter total (and not counting such high-flying species as gulls or geese passing overhead).   Nuthatches were calling loudly, and there were small numbers of various finches and tit species, though I couldn’t find any Siskins or Bullfinches, and Treecreeper was another ‘missing’ species this time.

I disturbed at least 5 Roe deer from Braeport meadow where they were lying up amidst the brambles, and came across another 3 further up the hill below the main rookery.

And Waxwings? – well, no, but then I walked in to town afterwards and there was a flock of 30 plus in the trees next to Perth road opposite the police station, heading north….so they may well have made their way to the hill later today!

Click here to see the bird report for November 2016.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Randen Pederson, “Waxwing”.   Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Spooks Are Back

Spooks will haunt Spooky Fun

Once again we’re repeating our annual Spooky Fun event.   This year it’s on Sunday 30th October from 3.30 to 5.30, in the Braeport Centre as usual.   Admission is £3 each or £10 for a family.   There will be games, refreshments, and story reading.   Come in costume with your camera for selfies in the photo booth.   The event culminates in the Spooky Walk up onto Holmehill as the night falls … Come if you dare!

If you would like to know more (or if you’d like to help with the organisation!) ring Alison on 07759 924 023.

Photograph: Spooky Fun 2015 © Caroline Crawford

Wildlife Blog Oct 2016

Saturday October 8th 2016

Another dry and warm morning, if not quite the clear blue skies and sunshine that has been the case recently.   Being Autumn, things are very much on the move and I was greeted by flocks of Pinkfeet geese high overhead, having recently arrived from Iceland – in fact, the drive up the A9 towards Perth each morning this week has been enlivened by the sight (and sound) of thousands and thousands of Pinkfeet flighting out from their overnight roost sites to feed on the fields in the Earn and Allan valleys.

Back on the hill, other newly arrived winter migrants were also very much in evidence, with a couple of Skylarks flying over, and a record count of over 50 Song Thrushes being remarkable.   These will not be our local birds but probably very recent arrivals from Scandinavia.   The birds on the hill were all on the yew trees, rapidly stripping the branches of the berries.   They were joined by a few Blackbirds and a small group of Redwings, but it was mainly Song Thrushes, with yet more being seen flying overhead all morning.   They regularly migrate at night, their high-pitched calls being a feature of this time of year.

Whilst the Song Thrushes were definitely the star of the morning, a group of Jackdaws and Magpies flying round the top of one of the Lime trees, calling loudly and ‘bombing’ the tree top, alerted me to the presence of something that was concerning them – eventually a male Sparrowhawk flew out, carrying a small bird in its talons and headed for cover away from the scolding attention of these and other birds.   Jackdaws were actually to be seen in good numbers, over 40, and the rookery was being occupied by some 60 Rooks, so there was a lot of noise and activity.   A corvid I thought I might have seen was Jay, many of which can be seen locally at present flying over carrying acorns, but not on the hill today.

I disturbed a couple of female Roe deer on the site of the old house, and another 3 down in the Braeport Meadow, while Grey Squirrels were very much in evidence throughout.   The resident Nuthatches were calling loudly and a couple of Great spotted woodpeckers added to the soundscape.  A few Robins were singing in snatches, but otherwise no real song.   At night the Tawny Owls are certainly very vocal this time of year, as they set up their winter territories and the occasional hedgehog can still be seen in the evenings.

Click here to see the bird report for October 2016.   Links to all Chris’ blogs, and a note about his survey method, can be found here.

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   “Song thrush” by Taco Meeuwsen from Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands.   Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Allanwater Appeals

Can’t take the hint

Allanwater Developments have lodged appeals against Stirling Council’s refusal of planning permission for their two proposals for the old house site.   These proposals were alternative ideas: one for for an office block and the other for a luxury mansion.   Permission was refused in June: to see more about this, visit our earlier blog post.   The appeals were lodged in September.

The appeal will be heard by the Council’s Local Review Body (LRB). The LRB consists of three Council Members who cannot be representatives for the ward where the proposed development is located.

The LRB will have access to all the representations that were made originally (and which no doubt contributed to the original rejection of the applications). People who made representations should all have been contacted by the Council to ask if they wish to submit further material.   The deadline for submissions is 7th October.

We at Holmehill Community Buyout have been considering what would be the best strategy.   It seems likely that the LRB will already have a mass of material arguing against the proposed developments, and that another surge of individual views will not add much.   Instead, we have prepared a summary statement for each application, and we are inviting people who originally submitted representations, and have been asked by the Council if they want to submit new material, to simply let the Council know that they support our summary statements.   You can see these at these links: house and office block.

Image: A bird of ill omen.