Monday, 30 June 2014

New Dams and Bumblebees

One of the new dams down the drive at Bamff.

The Flight of the Bumblebee

High summer: the longest day is past and the first cuts of grass for silage have been taken. I see the lengthening candles, the leading shoots, of the Scots pine giving a golden cast to the distant plantations on the Bamff hill. As I walk about I notice that ribwort plantains are in flower.

Down at the roadside by the Steffort corner there are tall purple flowered comfrey plants. They have attracted bumble bees of several species: the air on a warm day buzzes with them as they forage. I enjoy watching and trying to photograph them. Bumblebees are surprisingly difficult to catch for a shot, as you want them showing their whole body while they, most of the time, are busy sticking their tongues down the flower to get at the nectar within. Their bodies, then, are usually bent and partly invisible to the photographer. A bee checks a flower: no nectar there (that one has been visited by another bee recently); off it goes to the next flower, rejecting others on the way. Often it is possible to photograph the head and thorax, but not the lower part of the abdomen (or the other way round). To the beginner in bee identification the whole body is important because a bumblebee with a white tail may not be a white tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum): there are other species with white tails, but differently striped thoraxes. Well, there we go! When you get a good shot of a crisply focussed bumblebee in flight, amid a forest of softly focussed green vegetation, you have won a rich reward.

It was interesting to attend the open day at Rosemount Farm recently. The managers had set up fine, big polytunnels for exhibitors’ stands, so there was shelter from the sudden thunderous showers that soaked folk at the Alyth Gala.

Angus Fruit Growers, had a stand that focussed on the importance of bumblebees for their enterprise. A ventilated box containing buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) was on show. The occupants are released into polytunnels in spring to pollinate the flowers of the strawberry or raspberry plants within. Farming bees for use in growing raspberries and strawberries has become big business. Many of the bees used are imported from Slovakia: like the students who come to pick the fruit, essential immigrants.

Going back to the plantain, I see that research carried out in the Swedish Åland Islands, over the last twelve years, has shown that ‘isolated, fragmented ribwort populations were more frequently infected with powdery mildew than were well-connected ribwort populations’(( Fragmentation of habitats makes many diseases worse.

Such fragmentation is manifest everywhere you go. A recent walk along the Seaton Cliffs outside Arbroath reminded me of the fact of fragmentation of habitats in our countryside. A few yards of cliff head with path: beyond that, inland, as intensive arable cultivation and soft fruit growing in polytunnels as you could find anywhere. Beside the path the hogweed buzzed with bees and the air was thick with the cries of the kittiwakes. Were the bumblebees taking time off from the polytunnels to remind themselves of the taste of the nectar from other species, or were they just locals out for a buzz?

The forgoing was my article for July's number of the Alyth Voice.

I came across this link earlier today. It emphasises the dangers of the international trade in bumblebees from the point of view of the spread of disease.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

18th June 2014

I am delighted with this new dam on the east side of the drive to Bamff House.

And this one a little further down stream.

The Ragged Robin is out now.

Here is some coppice regrowth from young stems cut last winter.

And the iris. Hurray!

It was good news to learn that the RSPB are keen to see the beaver restored to Scotland.

Not before time, I think, for them to come out into the open.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Yesterday, carried away by the effort to post a blog after so long, I posted another one but put it on the wrong Blog. Here is the link to get to my alternative and previously unused blog.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Winter 2014

This photograph is taken from the B954 at the junction with the road that goes to Leitfie, looking South. The flood was not at its most extreme because the road was passable, having been under water a few days before.

Winter has more or less passed: April is next week. Here are some photographs to show that I have been up and about a bit.

The beavers in the Wet Wood have been active throughout this mild winter. This photograph shows some scraping of dead vegetation off the ground to an extent that I haven't noticed before. What a seed bed for willows! And, no doubt all sorts of other plant life.

February brings with it the annual visit of the Edinburgh University First Year Ecology class. They have been carrying out a monitoring project for the last three years and come equipped with nets, tapes and sampling equipment.

Sunny March: A view of the Long Dam.

A wander up into the plantation to the south of the Wet Wood revealed that some drains were being cleared by the beavers after many years of neglect.

          • Next we come to the joy of Spring - a profusion of frog spawn.

That is all for now, I think. I have lost my touch with Blogger, so some photos have come out huge and others small. One of two seem to have disappeared altogether. Well, not altogether, I seem to have fixed something.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Back to the Wet Wood at Bamff

After such a long absence it is hard to know where to start. So far this winter has been very wet and mild. Water levels in the beaver lands are as high as they have been and the animals have been working at their dams. I walked out to the Wet Wood this afternoon and took some photographs.

Here you see a straining post and in the foreground the dam that has been built up and lengthened as far as the recently felled ash tree that you see below.

 Further on I found the canals stretching further into what was an area of birch, planted back in 1992.

This shows as clearly as anywhere one of the reasons for which the beaver was valued by our Stone Age forebears  - all that timber lying ready felled and ready for use as palisades, posts for round houses and crannogs. I hope that Bryony Coles sees this photograph!

The watery world.

A feeding stance.

The pool created by the long dam - all 100 metres of it - or so.

This lodge, the one originally built by Messrs. Dennis and Bantick and Mme. Bantick, has been greatly improved over the 12 years of its occupation. There is a new entrance and the whole edifice has been heavily weather proofed with fresh mud.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Autumnal Developments in the Wet Wood

The autumn rains have fallen and now the first significant frosts of winter have turned the landscape white. 

Raised water levels make the 100 yard dam pool look much better.

Preparations for winter continue. A fair number of birch trees have been felled in this corner of the Wet Wood.

This canal has been extended out of the pool created by the dam in the photograph below.

You can see the branch canal off to the left of the picture and what may turn into another tributary further back and to the right.

This dam was first built in autumn 2004, but neglected for a long time. As you see it is now being built up again.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Jaunt to Hungary - A Visit to the Hortobágy National Park

This time a fortnight ago I was in Hungary with friends to see the migration of cranes. We landed at Budapest Airport, stayed the night in that city and drove on to the Hortobàgy National Park the next day. The Hortobàgy is in the Great Hungarian Plain. 

You may wonder what the subject of this photograph is. Indeed, it is hard to make out the couple of dotterels in the photo, but on reflection the picture does give a reasonable idea of the heavily grazed puszta of the Great Plain of Hungary. As with us there was a long and droughty summer. The area of lightly grazed steppe is much reduced and wherever the soils are deposits of loess they are cultivated. We saw sunflowers, maize, barley stubbles (cultivations were going ahead under clouds of dust), alfalfa. 
What made the dotterels more difficult to see was that they were mainly but not completely in winter plumage. Of course it is one thing to see birds through a telescope and another to pick them up with anything other than a very long lens.

Ah, yes, those cranes!

This was the view to the West from an observation tower. 

Near our hotel in the the town of Balmazújváros there were a couple of trees in which about seven, perhaps more long-eared owls were roosting. What a wonderful chance to see them!