Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Sand martins, coppicing willows and a dig at Jean Balfour

I set off a couple of evenings ago, meaning to go and look at this place again. If you look carefully you will be able to make out two sticks. These were chopped off their parent trees last autumn by beavers and, I think, somehow got themselves bedded into silt during the winter while the water level was higher than it is now, owing to the presence of a dam the beavers had built further down stream.

Since then, as a result of the demolition of the dam, the water level has dropped, leaving the branches behind and exposed. As you see they are putting out leaves now.

This photograph shows massive sprouting out of buds that will become new shoots.

I mention these things because some opposition to the return of the beaver comes from people who think that they will destroy riparian woodlands.

Jean Balfour is one of these folk (I should explain to my friends overseas that Mrs Balfour was Chairman of a body, now defunct, called the 'Countryside Commission for Scotland'. In that capacity (I think) she sat on the board of the Nature Conservancy Council, a Non Governmental Organisation that was charged with giving the government impartial advice about nature conservation. She wrote a letter to 'The Times' in December last year in which she was strongly critical of the proposal that beavers should be brought back to Scotland. Here is the link to her letter: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5360654.ece.

Yesterday morning, 29th April I set off to feed my wild boar and noticed, as I approached the burn, a group of sand martins hawking for insects around above the pond. I had never seen sand martens there before a couple of evenings ago and yesterday evening when I saw swallows and a couple of house martens as well.

Today, making the same journey, I noticed the same gathering of sand martins, hunting for invertebrates over the pond.

This photograph shows the ditch, much as it was before the beavers came.

The point is that the activities of beavers (through the production of dead wood and modification of habitat) contribute enormously to the productivity of riparian systems, very much to the benefit of salmon and trout.

It may be true that the building of dams in the smaller tributaries may prevent salmon from

reaching spawning sites in years of drought, but this is not necessarily the case. Where it is the dams can be removed at the critical moment, as happens in New Brunswick on the Miramichi River.

There is good evidence to show that young salmon raised in pools created by beavers benefit from the more abundant habitat.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Some bumblebees are going about now. I suppose this one to be a queen White Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) out looking for somewhere to make a nest. I watched her for a while and tried to photograph her, but without tremendous success.

This morning I saw my first blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) among the dogwood that grows in one of the beaver ponds.

Two few evenings ago I watched sand martens and swallows over the Big Pond.

Dead Wood

This birch looks pretty dead with all its bracket fungi and that fine woodpecker hole, but the top of the tree has lively branches and twigs with budding leaves. In fact, you can see some adventitious growth with young leaves in the photograph.

I like the porch like bracket fungus above the nest hole.

This photograph shows the lowest of the beaver ponds at Bamff so far. I took it because the water had such a remarkable green reflection.

Some visitors are shocked by extent of the cutting of trees carried out by the beavers. They find it hard to understand the importance of dead wood to ecological diversity and productivity, in particular the productivity of the freshwater ecosystem.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

That alder tree browsed some more

This tree is a Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa), which we have seen before. Why is the beaver eating the bark of this supposedly unpalatable tree when there are still birch trees around?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Dean Water

I visited the Dean Water today and took the two photographs that you see.
On the right is a section of the Dean Water in Angus, Scotland. This stream is really a drainage ditch that flows eventually into the river Isla. Three hundred years ago Forfar Loch, a small bit of which still survives, stretched almost as far as Glamis Castle, but most of the loch was drained during the 18th Century.

Beavers now live along the course of the Dean Water.

This photograph shows a willow that was cut by a beaver possibly as much as two years ago. The young shoots are last year's growth.

Farmers do not like to have too many willows along the deep ditches that continue to keep the former loch cultivable and so cut them back, as in the photograph on the left. The beavers like to do the same, though a little untidily and less rigorously than the humans.

Monday, 20 April 2009

A visit to the Borders

We went to Fi Martynoga's birthday party on Saturday and I wrote my piece for the 'Alyth Voice' after that visit to the Border country. Here is a photograph that depicts some burning on a bit of moorland that we passed on our way from Yarrow over towards Innerleithen. Looking at it now it looks as though the fire had missed the willow, but further back along that road I thought that the regenerating willow had very definitely been burned out along with the tall heather.

Reflecting on this, I think that where the willow was burned it doesn't show up in the photograph.

Anyhow, here is my latest piece for 'The Alyth Voice':

Bright sunshine and a brisk wind from the Northeast were giving the jackdaws an exciting time when I began to write my contribution for this month’s ‘Voice’. I saw one that morning, flying like a peregrine falcon, sweeping down with the wind and stooping as though on prey. In fact, it touched down by its mates in a field that had recently been sown with barley, no doubt to devour some seeds and any insects that had been turned up in the course of the cultivations.

Since that brisk morning with its gusty Northeast wind, we have enjoyed a dry spell with frosty starlit nights and whirlwind evidence of the changing seasons: the unfurling of leaves and flowers that happens almost before your eyes.

During the weekend of the 18th April we visited the Borders to attend a friend’s sixtieth birthday party. We stayed a night in Yarrow and set out in the morning to meet other friends who were walking over from near Innerleithen. We followed the public road for a few hundred yards, admiring the open woodland with its ash trees and wild strawberries in flower. Then, leaving the main road, we took a track that runs above the course of the Deuchar Water. We passed by a recently protected patch of native woodland, and on the other side of the track a piece of would be wood, unprotected and browsed, and emerged onto open moorland. A herd of blue-grey cows and their Limousin-cross calves were standing by their feeding place near two fine stells, but made way for us as we headed towards them, Once past the cattle, and climbing more steeply up hill, I heard the croak of a raven and saw the white rumped fluttering of wheatears, newly returned from their winter in Africa. Larks sang and we listened to them as we lay back on the heather, resting after our climb, and waited for our friends. A curlew gave its bubbling call as we set off down hill again, now accompanied by the others. Returning to Yarrow, we heard a twittering sound and knew as we looked up that the swallows were back. Not the one swallow that does not make a summer, but several; flying back and forth, darting through open doorways that led into dark sheds where they would build their nests and breed once again.

During our walk I had been struck, as ever, by what I think of as the barren treelessness of the Border hills (apart from the blocks of commercial forestry) and, in my mind, contrasted long established practices of land management with efforts to reforest the area through such wonderful projects as the one at Carrifran, where the Borders’ Forest Trust is re-establishing woodland. I am reminded as ever of the Chinese philosopher Mencius and the tale of Ox Mountain.

Much of the landscape that we had seen earlier in the day had been burned and, as we drove over the road that takes one down to Innerleithen, we passed moorland, where willow woodland that had been regenerating vigorously had been burned recently. Next to the burned moorland and its carbonised willows and heather we passed a plantation with small blocks of carefully tubed trees. Somebody had gone to great expense to plant these trees and protect them with those ugly and expensive tubes, many of which are destined to become rubbish, while the plantation’s neighbour had reduced to charcoal what nature was giving freely. What would Mencius have thought?

Friday, 17 April 2009

One Morning in April

The photographs have not installed themselves quite as I had planned. 'Before' should have been above and 'After' should have come below. But there it is. The brisk wind from the North-East took those two stems of the birch tree in the end. I wonder how long it will be before the third trunk goes.

I took the photograph to the left of the two shots of the beaver pond on my way to the Burnieshed Two, the wild boars that are still living in the Den there. What a splendid example of a snag. As you can see, it is pockmarked with holes that a woodpecker has drilled.

The day before yesterday Professor John Thorpe, a retired fisheries' biologist with a special interest in salmon, came to visi . This was a most rewarding visit for me because here was was someone with a very keen ecological understanding. Not for him observations about impacts and damage done to trees by beavers, but instructive remarks about the dynamic nature of the riparian ecotone and the importance of dead wood for biodiversity and productivity of the freshwater ecosystem.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Rather a mysterious clip. The beaver is swimming at some speed. It may not have liked the pink glow of the infra-red as it triggered the sensors. On the other hand it has not dived. Perhaps it was just curious enough to go on swimming about before making up its mind what to do?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A River in Norway

Beginner's troubles today! I thought that I had added all my Scottish Beaver Group's email addresses to the list of contacts for this blog, but must have failed to press the 'Save' button.

Now where, I wonder, is this landscape? Somewhere in Scotland? Guess again. It is in Norway. This is a view of the River Namsen at Overhalla. Contrary to the outpourings of the Tweed Foundation, here is a river that could well be in Scotland. Nor is it alone among the rivers of Norway that is similar to Scottish Rivers.

Andrew Douglas-Home, chairman of the Tweed Foundation wrote a letter to 'The Times' in which he declared that Latvia was the same size as Wales. Latvia is, in fact, roughly three times the size of Wales, as is Lithuania (with which Andrew D-H may be getting confused).

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The alder puzzle.

I thought I should be able to write something about the two photographs that I posted some minutes ago, but have not found out how.

Still - interesting to see the beaver on its hind legs, clasping the trunk of the alder tree with its fore feet and gnawing the bark. These are still hungry times for beavers. Although some grass is growing and I see wood sorrel beginning to put out its leaves, there is not a lot of new growth for beavers and other large herbivores. Yet, the animal in the photograph has a reasonably well covered look to its flank. On the other hand it is surprising to see it assaulting the alder with such enthusiasm when there are birches nearby and some sycamore branches on the felled tree on the far side of that pond.

An Alder tree by day and with a night visitor

Monday, 13 April 2009

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, the temperature rose to 12ÂșC and I guess it must have been much the same today: enough to give a real push to the plants in our big pond. The sedges and yellow irises are growing vigorously now. Bumble bees were busy round the flowering current bush, but I didn't take care to look at them closely and wonder about the species to which they belonged.

I checked one of the trail cameras while on my way to feeding the wildboar this morning and found that there were no videos of beavers, but this one of a male grey wagtail catching some insect. The day before yesterday the camera had filmed a couple of magpies courting. I felt rather put out at getting no videos of beavers at night, particularly as the camera claimed to be full, but the wagtail hunting was a delight.

Friday, 10 April 2009

That alder felled!

I walked out while there was still light to photograph this tree. It was felled several days ago. Alders have that characteristic orangey wood, particularly when freshly cut. The trees next to it are sycamores.

Later in the evening I went out again. The toads were croaking and the frogs were singing. A beaver splashed its tail heavily and one or two went on gnawing despite the warning.

Loch Tay

The confirmation by Dr. Nick Dickson, during a talk, he gave yesterday at the Scottish Freshwater Discussion Group's meeting at Stirling University, that posts found at the bottom of Loch Tay last August had been gnawed by beavers came as no great surprise. The discovery does, however, go a long way towards falsifying the contention of some that beavers were never found in Highland Scotland.

I think that some careful research on the crannogs in Loch Awe will demonstrate that beavers were active there just as they were in Loch Tay. Moreover, the evidence from Loch Tay makes it even more likely that the marks that Professor Bryony Coles noted on a photograph of wood taken from the crannog at the head of Loch Treig were made by beavers too. This crannog was occupied by the MacDonells of Keppoch ( into the seventeenth century) and was later flooded when the north end of Loch Treig was dammed to provide hydro-electiricty around 1936.

To go back to Loch Tay - the reconstruction of a crannog near Kenmore was carried out by a group, headed by Dr. Dickson. It is well worth a visit. Tom Huxley has been there six times, which is no mean recommendation. I should admit that I pinched the photograph of the crannog from the Loch Tay Crannog website (www.crannog.co.uk).

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Second Day - Confusion

Chiff-chaffs have been singing for the last day or two.

The alder in the middle of this photo had reached a critical point when I took it a couple of days ago. Yesterday it had fallen, but for some reason I didn't photograph the scene.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Feeding time

This morning fieldfares were chacking in the trees and a flock of them was hunting for things to eat in a newly ploughed field. I noticed all this as I went about my business of feeding the pigs. The piglets are about three weeks old now and coming in to feed with their mothers.

A night time wanderer

I am just about getting by with the blogosphere and the new skills that I have to learn. This short sequence shows a beaver gnawing a felled birch tree. Its body is in the water and you can make out the animal gnawing the underside of the trunk.

Well, whadayaknow! I have begun a blog. Do the Gigabytes of space alarm me? Not at all.

Here is a photograph of a heron that walked past my Moultrie Trail Camera one day this past winter.