Therese Alampo is Reserve Manager at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve. Here she provides an update on what has been happening on this popular reserve which lies four miles north of Montrose off the A92.
I actually don’t know where to start. I have never in all my life and travels, seen such a magnificent display of wild flowers as beautiful as this year at St Cyrus. It really does take your breath away. As your eyes wander across the dune grasslands there are colorful display of wild marjoram, thyme, clustered bellflower, golden rod and so many more flowers that you are completely taken aback.
When you finally catch your breath again it comes back with a gush as your lungs fill with honey scented ladies bedstraw. The sights, smell and the sound of the bees, grasshoppers and other insects are incredible. The combination of a damp, warm, humid spring then a hot sunny summer has obviously been a winning combination. I’d recommend you get down to the reserve immediately before you miss the flowers.
St Cyrus NNR is an amazing place with a very special microclimate and average temperatures more similar to 300 miles further South. It really does feel like the Mediterranean at the moment. It’s hardly surprising then that we have species that are at their northernmost limit or very uncharacteristic of the surrounding areas. Plants such as Nottingham catchfly (and insect eating plant) and wild liquorice are in evidence, and moths such as the cinnabar whose black and yellow striped caterpillar can be seen munching their way across the ragwort on the reserve at the moment.
Moths and butterflies are very good at being ‘micro indicators’ of climate change as they are sensitive to changes in climate so monitoring can show species shifting north as it gets warmer and so on.
We have been walking the same route to monitor our butterflies for 22 years at St Cyrus and have gathered great information but I want to draw your attention to the less well known and possibly less loved moths.
Moths and butterflies are in the same order of invertebrates called ‘Lepidoptera’ and as some moths fly during the day they are often mistaken for butterflies. My favourite – the hummingbird hawk moth – is often mistaken for a hummingbird! Here at St Cyrus we are privileged to be one of the best sites in Scotland with nearly 500 species of moths and butterflies. Moths are often overlooked as people see them as dull, boring night flying bugs that get stuck in your hair or car radiators. However, most moths are so beautiful, even the brown ones when inspected more closely are gorgeous. And with names like burnished brass, Merville de jour, gold spangle how could anybody not be seduced to their charms ?
St Cyrus used to be famous for its barn owls, wonderful birds of prey with an ethereal quality like no other bird. After many years of absence with the last pair thought to have been killed by the peregrines, they appear to be back and nesting. Perfectly silent whilst they fly through the air with wonderfully adapted ears (one higher then the other) and a face that acts like a flat diamond shaped radio receiver they can locate small items of prey such as mice and voles to the millimeter. Perhaps they have returned because the peregrine have not nested here for a couple of years? Whatever the reason I hope they stay. It’s wonderful to think I may be bumping into these silent ghosts on my evening patrols. Keep your eyes peeled!
The reserve can also boast lions mane jellyfish … there are still a few around so please do be careful as they really do sting. But why are they here and what are they?
Jellyfish are pretty amazing creatures and have roamed the seas for 700 million years making them amongst our oldest animals. They are made of 95% water, and with only very simple bodies. Lions mane are the largest of the jellyfish species and some on the beach have been the size of dustbin lids. But the ‘really’ big ones can have bodies up to 2.3m diameter with tentacles 37m long. They eat zooplankton (mini animals in the water) little fish and other jellyfish. They have a main body (the bell) which they pulsate to enable them to get around and trailing stinging tentacles they use to capture prey.
They act as mini floating oasis for certain types of shrimp and young fish and are one the main food sources for our visiting leatherback turtles, which is why turtles are so desperately vulnerable when there are plastic bags floating in the ocean – they look just like jellyfish (so pick up any bags you find please). The recent warm weather has produced lots of plankton in the sea causing a feeding frenzy and ‘bloom’ of jellies!
I’ll be back to tell you much more about St Cyrus in the coming weeks, but for now I hope the above has given you a flavor of the many delights that await if you make a trip to this fabulous north-eastern reserve.
Further information @ http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/st-cyrus/
Images (c) Lorne Gill / SNH, except grasshopper which is ©Laurie Campbell/SNH.