Autumn delights at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve

Red Squirrel

Red squirrel at Tentsmuir – (c) Lorne Gill-SNH

Marijke Leith is one of our team at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. She joined the team at Tentsmuir in July on our student placement scheme having graduated from Aberdeen University in June.  Here Marijke talks about some of the many features that make this reserve such a special place to visit at this time of year.

Autumn spectacles
The start of September saw a quick turn of seasons from summer to autumn. The first of the leaves turned and the weather changed from (sometimes) warm, sunny mornings to clear and crisp mornings with a chill in the air. Tentsmuir has something for everyone in all seasons and, although the days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler, there is still a lot to see!

The beginning of autumn sees the trees laden with pine cones and beech nuts. This year, the branches are weighed down with the mass of beech nuts on them, happily for the red squirrels. Our resident red squirrels are busy eating and stashing the beech nuts, but they still make a visit to the feeders outside the hide to get a hazelnut as a treat, much to the delight of photographers in the hide (and me) – who doesn’t love a red squirrel picture?

Incoming to Tentsmuir
The autumnal signs also lead us to the incoming birds of winter. Although often thought of as a downtime in activity which it is for some species such as the dragonflies and butterflies, the arrival of birds is on the increase at both Tentsmuir Point and Morton Lochs. At Tentsmuir Point we see the increase of pink-footed geese and eider ducks, with pink-footed geese reaching their thousands in the winter.


Pink footed geese (c) Steve Buckland

The pink-footed geese have arrived early this year – about two weeks before they normally do – in Tentsmuir, as in other places on the east coast. Over autumn and winter, the geese are counted weekly by volunteers. The data is shared with Fife Bird Club and Fife Nature to monitor the numbers and species of geese visiting.

Inland at Morton Lochs, the number of visiting teal varies and although the numbers recorded are lower than in past years, they still visit the lochs with the September count recording 87 teal on one day. The kingfisher returning to the lochs is also a fantastic start to the autumn. This is a very exciting time for visitors and photographers, who have been flocking to the hides to grab a glimpse of this beautiful bird. I’ve been lucky enough to get great views of not just one but two kingfishers on the North Loch. But so far, they are too fast for me to capture on camera.

Kingfisher - credit Steve Buckland

Kingfisher (c) Steve Buckland

The volunteering activities at Tentsmuir NNR have also taken on an autumnal theme. Burning brash has begun down at Morton Lochs to remove the remains of the many trees and branches that were blown down in the gales in September last year. The burning of the brash helps to clear the site and also prevents the wood decomposing and adds nutrients to the soil. We burning the smaller branches, and pile up the larger logs to create a ‘habitat pile’ which will provide shelter for a range of insects and cover for frogs, toads and small mammals. We had a great helping hand to kick off the season with a team of volunteers from the Perth SSE office. What we managed to clear in one day with the help of the team would have taken us around five days without them. We really appreciate the help we get from volunteer groups.

Burning Brash - credit Lorne Gill

Volunteers from Scottish and Southern Electricity helping to burn brash at Morton Lochs. © Lorne Gill/SNH.

Although planting wildflowers might sound more like a spring job, we have been busy planting wildflower plugs and seed this month with a lovely group of young people working towards the ‘Out There Award’ run by Ramblers Scotland. Between us, we managed to plant almost 200 plugs and two areas of seed which will be used in the pollinator trail which we plan to create next year. Come spring, we will hopefully see a burst of wildflowers and be able to enjoy the results of our hard work. The trail will use existing paths to highlight what plants can be used to help pollinators such as bees and butterflies and the important job they do in nature.

Ramblers Wildflower Group 2

Ramblers Scotland members helping plant wildflower plugs.

On the 24 October, we have our dragonfly pond clearance volunteer day with Daniele Muir from the British Dragonfly Society. Why not come along and help out?

Despite the onset of cooler weather and shorter days, there is still plenty to do and see at Tentsmuir NNR! Whether it be searching for a glimpse of teal or goldeneye at Morton Lochs or watching the vast numbers of pink-footed geese at Tentsmuir Point, come visit and enjoy an autumnal day out in Fife!


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