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Spooky Fun 2017

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Wildlife Blog Sep 2017

Saturday September 30th 2017

The overnight rains and total cloud cover when I started my count did not bode well for an uninterrupted survey, but gradually the weather improved and eventually the low sun was brilliantly lighting up the autumn leaves against a dark clouded backdrop.

As yet, not many leaves have actually turned orange or even a golden brown, but they are not far off, and there is little sign of any other fresh flowers or foliage anywhere to be seen, just tired greens, brown and mud!   The yew trees at least have their red berries, but they don’t seem to be as plentiful as last year, and there were no birds feeding on them as yet.

It was pretty quiet bird-wise, with a brief spell of drumming from a Great spotted Woodpecker and the odd calling Nuthatch, but mainly it was the sound and sight of pairs of Jackdaws swirling around the tree tops that caught the attention, whilst a few Rooks were still bringing in twigs to their old nests up in the tree tops.

Much, much less conspicuous and quieter were the ‘seep’ call notes of Song Thrushes, hidden up in the canopy or below the beech trees feeding on the mast in amongst the fallen leaves.   These must be migrant birds having just arrived from Scandinavia, as usually there is just a single or a couple of resident Song Thrushes, whereas I counted at least 24 this morning.   Looking back to last year, I counted 53 Song Thrushes at the start of October, so this is clearly a pattern of arrival.   Nothing else in terms of winter birds were present, though I have heard of small numbers of Icelandic Whooper swans and geese being seen elswhere this week.

No sign of any of the Roe deer again this morning, so I am not sure where they can be.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Taco Meeuwsen “Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing in a tree in the Netherlands”.   CCA 2.0 Generic license.

Wildlife Blog Aug 2017

Sunday August 27th 2017

An early morning with no wind and no rain, so an enjoyable time to wander round the hill, albeit the ground was wet from overnight dew and recent rain, and there was total cloud cover.   It is all looking slightly bedraggled and very green – brambles, ground elder, nettles and the foliage of Rosebay willowherb – with only the bright yellow flowers of Ragwort, the red berries on the Rowan trees and the purple flowers of the Willowherb itself providing any other splashes of colour.

Autumn is not a time with a lot of obvious activity on the hill, at least from the hill’s bird population as individuals undergo their annual feather moult and there is little, if any territorial display or singing.   Our summer visitors are thinking of leaving, and migration is well underway along the estuaries and coasts, so this is the season when odd rarities can turn up anywhere including, for example a Quail which spent a few days in a barley field between Dunblane and Doune earlier this month.

At night Tawny Owls are again beginning to call, but on the hill there was virtually no song at all to be heard.   Some 40 or so Rooks however were back in the trees up at the colony, many of them bringing twigs to ‘rebuild’ summer nests, not that these will be used this season.   This behaviour just reflects a reaction to the changing Autumn day length (roughly now equivalent to the Spring day length) when hormone levels rise in the Rooks stimulating a brief bout of ‘nesting’ behaviour.   Other species were far more occupied feeding and preparing for winter.

The most vocal birds were several family parties of Great tits, which have clearly had a good breeding season, given their numbers.   The loud call of a Jay was easily recognisable, though this is an unusual record for the hill, but not too unexpected as Jays wander wide across the countryside at this time of year, looking for nuts and other food.   Rabbits and Grey Squirrels were also feeding actively, but there was no sign of any of the Roe deer this visit.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia.   Carl Axel Magnus Lindman – Bilder ur Nordens Flora no. 20.   Public Domain.

Wildlife Blog Jun 2017

Sunday June 18th 2017

It was very warm, but with total cloud cover and even threatening to rain when I started out at 7am: however it it stayed dry and with no wind, and proved a pleasant morning’s stroll round the hill.

Undoubtedly, the stars of the day were the Jackdaws – everywhere I looked there were families of young Jackdaws, the young ones chasing their parents through the upper branches of the trees and begging for food.   A gathering of some 30-40 were also on the ground in the centre of the Braeport meadow, the adults in each family group working hard finding food in amongst the grasses to satisfy their brood’s demands!   The rooks, by comparison have virtually all left the colony now, so it was left to the Jackdaws to provide the sights and sounds of the morning.   Indeed, the group on the Braeport meadow were being watched by a very fine buck Roe deer, its coat now a rich russet colour, as also that of a nearby doe which was also watching the Jackdaws’ antics while feeding herself.

Elsewhere, a Sparrowhawk passed over, causing momentary panic amongst the Jackdaws, and there are broods of young Blue tits, Coal tits and others to be seen lurking in the undergrowth.   The delicate white flowers of Pignut are coming to an end, but this is a lovely small plant typical of open woodland and ungrazed dry grassland.   As its name suggests its roots and tuber underground, the buried ‘nut’ at the base of the plant, was once dug up by pigs to eat.   And although we have no pigs on the hill, the plant has its own small dark moth, the Chimney Sweeper Moth and, as these are day-flying, they are present on the hill at this time of year.   Chimney sweepers are sooty black all over (hence their name), except for a very small white fringe at the tips of the forewing.

The white of clumps of Elderflowers is also very noticeable right now, amidst what is otherwise largely a green sea of growing plants, brambles and rosebay willowherb in particular.   The beech trees have a huge number of nuts on them at present, so we could have a good mast year.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia. John Haslam, Dornoch, “Jackdaw – up close and personal”. CC BY 2.0

Wildlife Blog May 2017

Sunday May 7th 2017

A cool, cloudy early morning, but it quickly cleared and heated up to be another fine sunny day.   Overhead, the sound of the recently returned Swifts heralded the last of the Summer migrants now back in residence and the sound of three different warbler species on the hill was further proof.   A number of Blackcaps were singing, along with the Chiffchaffs, but the new arrival (and a first for the hill) was a Whitethroat, its scratchy loud song being easily told apart from the much more melodious offering from the Blackcaps.   There was a lot of other song, and for the first time I managed to see or hear all four of our woodpecker and allied species in the one visit – a single Green woodpecker calling and a Great spotted woodpecker drumming were joined by a couple of very noisy Nuthatches and a much quieter Treecreeper.

I managed to also record a number of other more quieter species – Goldcrest, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Long-tailed tits – and although I ‘missed’ such species as Bullfinch and Siskin this time round, the total of 27 in the hour was very good.

In places the ground now has a carpet of blue bells, and although the Daffodils are over there are still small patches of Wood anenome and a couple of clumps of Ramsons, or Wild garlic with its easiy recognisable smell.   Foxgloves are not yet out but their leaves are evident in many places, whilst the early young leaves of the Beech trees have an attractive pale green colour at this time of year.   Three Roe deer does were in the Braeport meadow, their coats almost silvery in colour due to the large amounts of fur they are currently losing as they moult.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia. “Common swift” by Paweł Kuźniar, CC BY-SA 3.0

Allanwater Withdraw Purchase Notice

Allanwater back away

Allanwater Developments has withdrawn its Purchase Notice aimed at Stirling Council.   This was to have been the subject of a hearing to be held in the Cathedral Halls on 25th April: this hearing is now cancelled.

Allanwater’s solicitors say our clients are withdrawing the Section 88 Notice dated 23 August 2016.   They have taken this decision in order that they may issue notices that will focus and limit the matters and parties in dispute.

We wait to see what form this new “focus” will take.

Previously Allanwater had put forward two plans for the same spot on the top of Holmehill: one for a luxury private house and the other for an office block.   These were originally rejected last year; and in March the Council’s Local Review Body confirmed these rejections.   At the same time a “Purchase Notice” was being considered.   Allanwater served this on the Council last year.

A Purchase Notice is a little-known feature of planning law.   A land owner who has been refused planning permission can demand that the local authority buys the site from them.   If the authority refuses, Scottish Government can appoint a Reporter to investigate, usually by holding public hearings.

We at Holmehill Community Buyout are not directly involved.   However, there is one worrying aspect: one of the possible outcomes is that planning permission could be granted for the original proposal(s), overturning the Council’s repeated rejections.

More information about the Purchase Notice can be found on our website.

Image: Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.

Wildlife Blog Apr 2017

Saturday April 15th 2017

I thought I’d get out on the hill bright and early and catch the early morning songsters, but although it was indeed bright, it was cold with what lttle wind there was definitely coming from the north.   So, maybe because of this, there was less song than I had expected and, for example athough I located a Chiffchaff feeding in some low bushes, it wasn’t until the place had warmed up almost an hour later when I heard it singing.   In those last five minutes on the hill this morning, I also located a couple of calling Bullfinches, a Long-tailed tit, a drumming Great spotted Woodpecker and two Goldfinches, all of which had eluded me up until then.

So although Spring has arrived and there are Swallows and Sand martins to be seen in Dunblane, the Oystercatchers are on their usual nest at the Kier roundabout, and an Osprey passed overhead earlier this week, it doesn’t always feel like it!   Other than the Chiffchaff, no other Summer migrants were up on the hill and there are still a few Icelandic Pinkfeet geese to be seen in the fields along the Allan Water.   On the hill then, not many new flowers are to be seen, except a patch of Wood anemones which have joined the last of the daffodils in flower.   The various trees are at last beginning to come in to bud and early blossom is out on the Blackthorn and Hawthorn bushes.

The Rook colony has now got some 58 active nests, which will probaby be the total for the season though a few still looked under construction.   Jackdaws and Carrion Crows are both on nests and I saw a Blue tit carrying nesting material in to a hole in one of the Oak trees.   The resident pairs of Stock doves were one of the more vocal birds today, along with the Nuthatches.

I disturbed a single female Roe deer up on the top behind the old house and then later saw the Buck, now in full antler along with three other does running away from an out of control dog across the main area.   A few minutes later though, they were down on the Braeport meadow, none the worse heading in to the Brambles.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia. “Wood Anemone” by Lilly M– Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wildlife Blog Mar 2017

Sunday March 26th 2017

The change to British Summer Time meant an ‘early start’ this morning, but it was well worth it and, as the sun rose the Lime trees were all bathed in a golden glow against a cloudless blue sky.   With no wind either, it was a perfect day to be on the hill and the song of quieter species could be easily picked up.   Notable amongst these then were at least 4 different singing Goldcrests in various conifer trees scattered across the hill.   I didn’t hear any Treecreepers, another species with a soft call, but two Great spotted woodpeckers were drumming, and the Nuthatches were calling loudly.

The new sound for the month though was the distinctive two-note song of a Chiffchaff, and I easily located a single bird singing from the tree tops and moving all round the hill.   Presumably, it is the first one back and either is an early Spring arrival or maybe it had overwintered close by as some of these migrants now do.   Either way, it was the first bird for the survey records this year, though I heard one last weekend on the hill as I was walking past, and it will no doubt be joined by others in due course.   The winter thrushes have all now departed, at least from the hill, though our three resident species (Mistle thrush, Song thrush and Blackbird) were all present.

The Rooks all well ahead with nest building, and I counted a total of 55 nests in construction, the majority in the main colony area above Ramoyle, with a further 9 above the main path and 8 in the trees on the south west edge above the Annex.   The Jackdaws are also now occupying their usual nest holes in the larger trees above the path.

There were lots of Rabbits around, but no Grey squirrels this morning – maybe just not up yet, as there are enough in my garden already!   Our resident Roe deer were out feeding up on the area of the old house where I was able to watch the three does accompanied by a single buck.

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

Chris Spray

Image: Wikipedia. Andreas Trepke: “Common Chiffchaff” © CC-BY-SA 2.5

Allanwater’s Appeal

Local Review Body

David Prescott writes:

On 2nd March the Council’s Local Review Body rejected Allanwater Developments’ two appeals against the Council’s Planners.   Allanwater had put forward two plans for the same spot on the top of Holmehill: one for a luxury private house and the other for an office block.   These were originally rejected last year; yesterday the Council’s Local Review Body confirmed these rejections.

In presenting their decision, members of the LRB noted that planning decisions have to reflect the policies currently in force.   This once again underlined two key points: firstly that although a mansion was demolished on the site 37 years ago, it would be wrong to build another today; and secondly that a planning agreement signed in 1987 is no longer relevant.

Image: Stirling Council Headquarters, Viewforth.

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