Sunday, 26 March 2017

A Walk to the Wet Wood/Beaver Bog

Last week it was the otter latrine that excited me. This week it was the chorus of frogs. The British frog is Rana temporaria and the song it sings is a simple one note trill - satisfactory in warm weather and bright sunshine as a harbinger of spring.

Here is a choral group.

The small pond at the west end of the Beaver Bog/Wet Wood has grown dramatically.

Otters, water voles, frogs whatever next?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Memories of our visit to Seattle

Forests for fish should be recognised in Scotland as being important for the health of the Atlantic salmon. That doesn't mean monocultures of Sitka spruce but of a programme of ecological restoration as proposed by Helen Armstrong (, Duncan Halley and others.

I took the next few photos at the Seattle Aquarium.

The removal of the Elwha Dam has been a huge project (,

It is thrilling to think that, as with other river restoration projects, salmon are running up the Elwha River again.

I liked this tank of coho parr in the Seattle Aquarium.

The two photographs below are taken just above the hatchery and so rather upstream of the now removed dam.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Spring Notes 2017

Being short of time I thought I would look out something I had written earlier and put it in for April 2017. But no, that would not do. The articles I found were all relevant to some extent, but not enough in the particulars. Snowdrops, aconites, migrating geese, beavers and wild boar were all mentioned in the articles that I looked through, but in the context of the year and seasons they described they were irrelevant to the present. There were late years and early years and comments that belonged to a particular year. No, I decided, I would not get away with it. I would have to start afresh and make time.

 This year I see that daffodils are beginning to flower, which seems a little early, but then the weather has been quite mild. Buds of the red berried elders are about to burst and I see one of those flowering currants coming into bloom. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are drilling away in the snags of dead trees of which there are plenty here, especially along the banks of the Burnieshead Burn. Song thrushes are singing furiously from the tops of trees. One, at least, has been pretending to be an oyster catcher. 

What of the passing winter, revived as it is from time to time by frosts and teuchat storms? The green sandpiper that wintered here for the last two years made a brief touch down along the Burnieshead Burn a couple of weeks before Christmas, but I didn’t see it again. The dippers were absent too. Our Dutch shooters saw a flock of snipe during one of their visits. 

While walking in the Wet Wood I came across an otters’ latrine by the side of the burn. Usually I come across single spraints in various states of dissolution, but  this latrine comprised at least ten separate scats: clearly a meeting place for otters. The spraints are sources of information for the animals. They learn from each other’s faeces what there is to eat in the area and other important information such as the sex and state of sexual readiness of the informant. Otters are not seasonal breeders, but will breed whenever their body condition allows.

The species has made a wonderful recovery since the dark days of the 1970s when it nearly became extinct in this country owing to the widespread use of various poisons in the environment. Happily, scientists of the Nature Conservancy’s Monks’ Wood Research Station, led by the late Derek Ratcliffe, were able to persuade Government of the toxicity of the organochlorines and then the PCBs. This led eventually to the withdrawal and banning of these chemicals. Rachel Carson’s famous ‘Silent Spring’ was a classic summary of the case against the chemical companies’ irresponsible promotion of the use of these substances. And still the struggle continues: the British Government, unlike those of Germany and France, refuses to ban the neonicotinoid chemicals that threaten to destroy honey bees and bumble bees, essential pollinators of so many crops. 

Otters are still rare in various parts of mainland Europe, but making a come back just as ours have. There is the possibility of recovery: we must make the most of it.

There we go! Some photos of otter spraints

I should have pointed out that the short article is my contribution to April's number of 'The Alyth Voice'.

And now to the same walk at Bamff where I came across the otters' latrine.

This is the little pool that John Lister-Kaye dug with the excavator in September 2001.

The new dam for that pond - the dam topped with turf and mud.

Here is the pool created by the Long Dam. In the distance you see a mass felling grey alder. The trees are felled parallel to each other, but not facing specifically towards the water.

Here is the Long Dam, seen from near the lodge by the ditch.

Monday, 13 March 2017

More about Canyonville and the State of the Beaver Conference 2017

We reached Canyonville. The air was crisp and promised frost that night. Word was that there was a lot of snow higher up and not far away. The prospect of a visit to the Crater Lake was dismissed.

We met our fellow Brits and Gerhard Schwab in the Seven Feathers Hotel as well as Leonard and Lois Houston, and ate and drank with them before heading for bed.

We were sorry to learn that Heidi Perryman had decided not to come after all, put off by the prospect of floods. Louise and I were lucky not to have been blocked by landslides because two or three roads were blocked by landslides, either after we had passed through, or because we didn't take those roads by accident.

As she was absent Heidi sent us the following talk as a video. Here is a link to it:

Stan Petrowski welcomed us all, but the first talk came from Derek Gow who was standing in for Professor Bryony Coles. The talk covered the familiar grounds of Bryony's 'Beavers in Britain's Past' of 2007/8, but it was interesting to see photos of soil horizons in river banks with great gaps, filled with different sediments, their shape suggestive of beaver burrows, the significance of which I had not fully taken in before.

Gerhard Schwab's talk covered much familiar ground to do with the interface between beavers and people in Bavaria. The theme of much of the conference was exactly that. Gerhard also introduced us to Max Behr Amtman who worked on the protection of the beavers of the Elbe floodplains in the 1920s.

Translocation of beavers came up as a subject. It was interesting to learn of high failure rates (up to 40%) in some projects. Much of this had to do with predation by cougars and coyotes. Young adults of dispersal age must be specially vulnerable.

One of the most interesting talks was given by Stewart Reid. Dr. Reid spoke about the relationship between beavers and Pacific lampreys. Two years ago when Louise and I attended the last State of the Beaver conference I found myself wondering about beavers and lampreys. It struck me then that our river and brook lampreys (as ammocoetes) should benefit from the fine sediments that accumulate on the upstream side of beaver dams, as they seem to in the Pacific North West. As the Tay is a Special Area for Conservation in part because of the presence of three species of lamprey this is something worth remembering. On the other hand the amount of agricultural pollution in the lower stretches of the Isla and other tributaries of the Tay is probably such as to make the survival of lampreys difficult. It would be interesting to learn more about this.

Vanessa Petro spoke about beavers in managed forests. She started her talk interestingly by saying that we know surprisingly little about the species. For example it was not generally known that American beavers like the Eurasians, often live in bank burrows. 

I became aware of this recently. It seems that beavers of both species are more flexible in their solutions to housing problems than people had thought. 

Mike Callahan showed us a design for a ditch levelling device for narrow channels with high flows:

That is enough for now.

Except that here is a photograph of Stan Petrowski

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Some random thoughts about our visit to the 'State of the Beaver' Conference at Canyonvillle, Oregon.

I have been having difficulties in downloading photographs and thought I would move my blog to Wordpress. However, I thought I would try Blogger again and, lo and behold, photos downloaded. 

Anyhow, just to start with her is my piece for March's number of the Alyth Voice.

A Letter from California.

They do say that San Francisco is inclined to rain, but nobody told me that Los Angeles would suffer a massive rainstorm while I was there. Instead of golden sun and blue skies the rain lashed down, tearing old palm fronds off their trees and casting them on the roads and sidewalks. The famous Hollywood sign was hidden in the mist and there was no view from the Griffith Observatory. Ten inches or so of rain fell in the storm of Friday, 17th February. 

California is in the throes of a metereological turn around. For a good six years there had been unbroken drought and now there are floods. The US's highest dam, the one at Oroville was in danger of overflowing and the massive outpouring of water through the spillways threatened to destroy these structures themselves. About 180,000 local people had to be evacuated from their houses in case the dam itself collapsed. An article in the current number of the 'Scientific American' reports that recommendations that the dam should be strengthened as a response to the changing climate were turned down in 2008.

Interstate 101 is the highway that takes you through much of the Central Valley of California. This lies between the coastal range and the Sierra Nevada to the East.  The area amounts to some 18,000 square miles and is given over to intensive agriculture. We drove past vineyards and huge orchards, some of them almond orchards in flower. There were plantations of peaches and vast fields where rice would grow. Irrigation pipes were to be seen in many place, a curious counterpoint to the flooded fields in which those pipes lay. Single enormous fields stretched out of sight from the road as we drove by. The biggest fields in Strathmore were dwarfed in comparison.

The signs of the recent rains were present everywhere, but it was not until we drove through the northern end of the plain that we saw the extent of the flooding caused by the rainfall that has threatened the Oroville dam (and a couple of others) with apocalypse. By this time we had left Interstate 101 and were heading for Chico. I noticed a high rampart to our right and then saw a sign to Oroville. Wow! I thought. Passing so close to this enormous lake/reservoir with its threatened dam, was an unexpected brush with current headlines. We drove on and the rain continued to lash down. I noticed a huge flock of snow geese resting in a flooded field. On the other side of the road some Canada geese were grazing.

Looking at maps later I discovered that the rampart we had passed by was the boundary of the Thermalito Afterbay, which is part of the Oroville-Thermalito complex of reservoirs and structures. The main high dam lies further to the east. It was completed in 1968 and created a lake that flooded the Feather River and various others in the catchment to store water for hydroelectricity, irrigation, flood control, etc.

In my excitement about the Oroville dam I nearly forgot to mention our visit to the Muir Woods National Monument. This is a small reserve of about 500 acres a little to the North of the Golden Gate Bridge, and one of the last areas of old growth coastal redwoods. It was declared a reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 in honour of John Muir who fought so hard throughout his life for the protection of wilderness and for the establishment of a system of national parks in a country that was being assailed by the demands of modern society and the growth economy. The great trees are an astonishing sight and presence, for which nothing can prepare the visitor. The old trees in this wood are at least 1,000 years old.

Rolling back in my memories of this journey from Los Angeles to Oregon I must mention Monterey, the site of John Steinbeck's 'Cannery Row', where we stayed a night. The canneries in Monterey processed fish, mainly sardines, of which there was once tremendous abundance, but the fishery was grossly over exploited and eventually collapsed by the late 1940s, leaving a legacy of pollution in the Bay and collapsed economy on land. Steinbeck's friend, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts, and Julia Platts, the mayor of the town, campaigned for the restoration of the ecology of the marine environment with eventual success. Ed Ricketts is the 'Doc' of Steinbeck's novel. Dr. Ricketts founded the world famous aquarium in Monterey, a major attraction to visitors.

Now we are in Canyonville, Oregon after driving out of California, over the mountains, ready to attend the 'State of the Beaver' conference for 2017. 

Time to go.

Louise standing at the foot of a coastal redwood at Big Sur. The road to the South had been blocked by landslides and the road we took down fro Monterey was closed the next day.

We visited the Muir Woods National Monument - an area of about 600 acres which were declared protected by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908. They escaped logging because the ground was at the bottom of a deep canyon. The wood was bought by Congressman William Kent and his wife. In 1906 the wood was threatened by a proposed dam. Kent insisted that the monument be named after John Muir.

More soon.