Early 2015 at Muir of Dinnet

Followers of our Muir of Dinnet NNR blog know of the weather extremes experienced on the reserve this year. If you don’t follow the blog here’s an update from this stunning reserve.

Lying within the Cairngorms National Park, Muir of Dinnet NNR features four way marked paths starting from its popular visitor centre. The walks range from a mile to the fascinating Burn O’Vat,  to four miles around the Loch Kinord circular path.

The burning issue

An early job this year for Catriona Reid, Muir of Dinnet Reserve Manager, was heather burning. The most important thing about burning, “the one thing you must always do”, Catriona says, “is make sure it stops at the right point!” This involves strimming firebreaks through the heather – an exhausting task: “I’m not afraid of hard work but, my goodness, it’s a soul-destroying job!”

Heather burningBurning knocks back tree regeneration and strips off the long, dominant heather. This lets in light allowing other plants, like bearberry and intermediate wintergreen, to thrive. “We only burn small patches of heather and no more than once every 12-15 years”, Catriona adds, “It can be a nerve-racking experience, once a burn gets going. But we watch it carefully and have firebreak, beaters and a fire tender to control it. To be extra safe we hose down any smoky hot-spots before we go home.”

Snakes alive

Throughout February adders on the reserve are waking up and in mid-February staff saw their first common lizard of the year.

NewtFortunately, adders are shy creatures but if you are walking a dog, keeping to the paths and using your dog-lead really reduces the chances of your dog getting bitten. It also reduces disturbance to other wildlife – especially important now, with many animals starting to breed. So if you remember the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when out on the reserve it will serve both your dog and the local wildlife well.

Birds of a feather

In February geese were on the move with little groups passing northwards through the reserve. The resident greylag flock grew as birds gathered around the reserve’s lochs to breed.  Other geese spotted at Muir of Dinnet in late winter include pink footed and barnacle. Staff saw a couple of greylag / barnacle hybrids – dark with pale faces – leading to speculation that a lost barnacle goose missed the migration north to breed with a local greylag.

Muir of Dinnet enjoyed some lovely days in February with beautifully clear frosty mornings making for spectacular dawns. But the nights were still cold. On one occasion there was a 16 degree temperature rise from – 4oC at sunrise to a pleasant 12oC during the day. This wasn’t enough to defrost the lochs though – Loch Kinord was completely frozen for several days.

Dinnet sunsetIn the woods, great tits are already preparing to breed, and easily recognised by their repetitive “teacher, teacher” call. In the fields by Old Kinord lapwings made a February return and great -spotted woodpeckers hunting for grubs in dead wood can be heard drumming.

Great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpecker

Our duck population gathered on the growing patches of water on the partly frozen lochs: they seem to like hanging-out on the ice at the edges of the water. You’d think their feet would freeze but ducks have a heat exchange system with the blood vessels in their feet. Warm blood coming from the heart is cooled by exchanging heat with blood vessels returning cold blood to the heart. This means ducks’ feet don’t freeze, nor do they get hypothermia when cold blood goes back into their bodies.

Running repairs

At the Burn O’Vat we’ve been extending a ditch to stop the cap park flooding after heavy rain, and piles of path surfacing, waiting to be spread out and compacted, look like giant mole hills along the Vat trail.

One of the Parkin’s Moss dams is bulging with too much water and needs reinforcing once the snow melts a bit more

Parkin Moss dam January’s strong winds felled several trees that needed clearing up. At the same time dead trees close to the paths are removed. Dead trees tend not to fall over in one go – usually, the crown snaps out a few metres at a time. Four or five metres of tree landing on your head would fairly spoil your walk so they are removed.

Windy weather makes it difficult to spot wildlife in the woods. The ‘spotting’ bit in our brains is triggered by movement and doesn’t work so well when the entire wood is swaying around. We were lucky to spot a treecreeper making its way up the rowan. If you watch these birds closely you’ll soon realise that they only ever climb up trees and fly to get down.


Find out more about the Muir of Dinnet at http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/muir-of-dinnet/

For directions to Muir of Dinnet NNR visit http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/muir-of-dinnet/visiting/directions/

Find out more about treecreepers on the RSPB website at https://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/t/treecreeper/


Postscript : As a follow on from all the storms and high winds it might be timely to add a note about the benefits of deadwood and how some fallen wood can provide a habitat for invertebrates, plants and small animals, rather than being ‘tidied up’ .




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