Flora and Fauna Course Report 2013

FLORA & FAUNA FOR HILL-WALKERS

KINDROGAN FIELD CENTRE  7TH – 11TH JUNE, 2013

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BOTANISING ON THE SLOPES OF BEN LAWERS

      Most of the Team met up at 7.30 pm on Friday the 7th of June for one of Amanda’s wonderful dinners. The Team comprised of Paul & Brenda Chapman, Betty Black, Hannah Webley, Helen Young and Tim Smith. Alan Banks would join us for the last two days as he was still on a course in Lewis. This feast over, which we shared with 17 people on a ‘Freshwater Algae’ Course, we all went to the Brerachan Room for a ‘Health & Safety’ talk by Gemma. After this, we popped next door to make ourselves tea of coffee before heading for the Stables where we would be for the next three evenings to conduct our meetings.

       After introducing ourselves once more, we outlined the Course for the next three days. It was still quite light at 9.30 pm: so most of us went out to the car park to see what was about. We knew that there might be a Pine Marten on the go; so we had sly glances over to the log-pile every now and then. This produced a couple of Fallow Deer as the odd Pipistrelle Bat flew around, and a Song Thrush sang from the tall Sequoia. A couple of Grey Herons ‘barked’ as they went to roost, Jackdaws called their names, Swallows sought a late night meal and amazingly a couple of Woodcocks flew past uttering a few squeaks! We noted some Leopard’s Bane nearby. As the midges were becoming a wee bit of a nuisance, we elected to head for our comfy rooms and bed.

 

       It was a fine morning on Saturday the 8th of July as we gathered to make up our packed lunches prior to our cooked breakfasts around 8 am. Siskins, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Green Woodpecker could be heard around the Kindrogan grounds. We agreed to meet up in the car park at 9.15 am by the ’04 registered minibus before heading over the Moulin Moor towards Ben-y-Vrackie. However, we had trouble leaving the car park as we were intrigued by a couple of Red Squirrels at the Pine Marten log as well as observing Orange-tip butterflies and Green-veined Whites as another Grey Heron and Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew over. We contemplated setting up a picnic table in the car park where we could spend the rest of the day! But, as this was a mountain weekend, we forced ourselves away. We made the mandatory stop at the Ardle bridge, spotting a Pied Wagtail and the odd Swallow before having a second stop to pick and smell some Sweet Cicely. The third stop was at the SWT reserve in Strathardle where we looked at Globe Flower, Water Avens and Lady’s Smock. The fourth stop was on the Moulin Moor to hear Common Snipe and Curlews whilst spotting a distant Common Buzzard. A Kestrel was observed hovering just as we were about to leave. Once at the village of Moulin, we parked in the overflow car park where Honesty and Field Scorpion Grass were growing before heading up through the woods leading to the moors. A Wood Warbler was in full song as we looked at Common Alkanet, Bugle, Pignut, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Germander Speedwell, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common Lady’s Mantle, Cow Parsley, Pink Purslane, Common Violet, Greater Stitchwort, Bog Stitchwort, Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Ground Elder, Goose-grass, Yarrow, Common Forget-me-not, Bitter Vetch, Blaeberry, Yellow Pimpernel and Wood Avens as well as Scaly Male and Brittle Ferns.

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LUNCHING SPOT ON THE SLOPES OF BEN-Y-VRACKIE

 

       We could hear the songs of Chaffinch, Wren, Blackbird, Robin, Goldcrest and Willow Warbler as we wandered through the wood, and at the edge, we added a Tree Pipit. Once in the open, the plant-life changed, and we were able to see Heather, Crowberry, Cowberry, Tormentil, Lousewort, Heath Bedstraw, Common Milkwort, Common Butterwort, Common Cotton Grass and Marsh Violet. The Team came across a Wood Tiger Beetle followed a little later by a Green Tiger Beetle.

       A Cuckoo called, and we watched a few Meadow Pipits before hearing and seeing a beautiful cock Whinchat. Just below the two lunching seats, we stopped at a wet flush to add Scottish Asphodel, Round-leaved Sundew, Quaking-oat Grass and Yellow Mountain Saxifrage. We had a beautiful view over Pitlochry from our lunching spot before heading upward once more towards a small lochan, which housed a Common Sandpiper. It was here where we met a couple who had found the keys of an Alfa Romeo owner, and we said we would ask all the folk descending if they had lost them.

       Not long after this, the rain started to fall, and it really didn’t go off until we were back down at the minibus. However, it did not deter us and we enjoyed walking over to the patch of Alpine flowers, which included Purple Mountain Milk-vetch, Moonwort, Alpine Mouse-ear, Twisted Rock Cress, Mountain Pansy, Alpine Lady’s Mantle and Stag’s-horn Clubmoss. It was interesting to see so many Cowslips at this altitude.

       Two Ring Ouzels were spotted briefly as a couple of Ravens called before we decided to head back to the minibus. Most of us were quite wet by the time we reached the vehicle, noting that there was not an Alfa Romeo to be seen. Luckily, it was only 20 minutes back to Kindrogan where we could dry off, and have a hot shower. We were back at 5.50 pm, which gave us plenty of time to relax before the 7 pm meal-time, which we shared with a host of students from Aberdeen University.

       We had our usual meeting in the Stables with tea and coffee, and also had a presentation about some of the flora and fauna that we may come across during the Course. This evening, we were successful with the Pine Marten although it was around 11 pm when it appeared. Helen was up till after midnight waiting for the RAC chap to arrive to open up her car boot where she had inadvertently left her keys!

 

       Sunday the 9th of June started off with low cloud but little wind as we met up with our newcomer, Alan Banks, before heading off in the noisy ’04 minibus towards Aberfeldy, Kenmore and eventually Ben Lawers. In our own car park, from the vehicle, we watched three Red Squirrels chasing each other around an Oak tree, having great fun, and we found a Common Sandpiper by the Ardle bridge on the way out. It took us around 1 hour 45 minutes to reach our destination but the scenery en route was lovely, especially the carpets of Bluebells and the Bird Cherries looking the best I have ever seen! We stopped in Aberfeldy at the Black Watch monument to make use of the loos.

       At the Ben Lawers car park, we started our plant list with Mossy Saxifrage before  heading up the attractive nature trail by a small burn. We met up with a group on a plant photography course adorned in their midge nets. They were also observing Mountain Pansies, Alpine Lady’s Mantle, Common Butterworts, Yellow Mountain Saxifrage, Heath Bedstraw, Roseroot and Juniper. A Ring Ouzel flew up the burn and landed on a rock whilst a pair of Hooded Crows and a Lesser Redpoll flew over.

       I had a particular lunching spot in mind but it was enshrouded in mist: so we chose an equally nice spot a little lower down.  Common Ground Beetles and Dung Beetles frequented the path as we headed further up the mountain with the mist starting to lift. We branched off left to avoid having to climb Ben Glass but this path is also good for Alpine flowers, and we came across Starry Saxifrage, Moss Campion, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage and Mat-grass.

       We reached our final destination in lovely sunshine with spectacular views. The clock was against us now: so we did not have as much time up here as I would have wished but at least we had reached the snow-line, and noted two patches of late-flowering Purple Saxifrage and Alpine Scurvy-grass. A Ring Ouzel was calling from within the corrie as we started our 1½-hour descent. On the way down, we came across Cats-foot, Orange-tips, Green-veined Whites and Small Whites.

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ORANGE-TIP

 

       The sun was really quite hot now, and we had a very pleasant journey back, stopping by the Black Watch memorial once more.

       We were at the Field Centre at 6.35 pm with just enough time to get ready for our evening meal. After this, we had our usual meeting followed by setting up the moth trap, and going in search of bats. The detectors produced the frequency for the Soprano Pipistrelles before some of us sat in the minibus for a while in the hope of seeing a Pine Marten. A ‘spooked’ Roe Deer appeared for a moment or two but no Pine Marten.

 

       On Monday the 10th of June, the local hills were enshrouded in low cloud, and after our 8 am breakfast, we gathered outside the front door on the extensive lawn to look at our moth catch. This turned out to be much more exciting that I expected! We managed to identify a Flame Shoulder, a Common Quaker, a Hebrew Character and four Clouded Borders as well as several Caddis Flies but several species eluded us. We took photos of these, and an expert identified them for us as Nut-tree Tussock, Scalloped Hazel, Pale Prominent, Pebble Prominent and Flame Carpet.

       Our venue today was Glas Maol, in the ’02 minibus, but with the low cloud, our chances of reaching the top were slim. Anyway, I knew that most of the interesting Alpine flowers were not too far from the car park: so at least we would see them. Our first stop was at a lay-by en route where we left Helen’s Fiesta as she was keen to get home at a reasonable hour this evening. The next stop was at the Glen Shee Ski Centre car park where we visited the loos, prior to motoring to a higher car park from where we started our walk.

       Almost immediately, we were seeing Alpine Lady’s Mantle and Mountain Pansies followed by an unexpected Globeflower then Moonworts, Starry Saxifrage, Fir & Stag’s-horn Club-mosses, Pixie-cup Lichen, New Zealand Creeping Willow-herb, Mountain Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel and Cloudberry. Whilst admiring these, a Frog jumped in front of us! Just beyond a track junction, Hannah found one of the finds of the trip – five Lesser Twayblades! Whilst looking for Mountain Hares, Betty found the wonderful Mountain Azalea before I came across our one and only Sibbaldia.

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MOUNTAIN AZALEA

       We reached a viewpoint from which we scanned down the valley and spotted over 100 browsing Red Deer as the odd Meadow Pipit called. By this time, the mist was lifting and the warm sunshine was breaking through. We could see our lunching area, and this gave us the impetus to carry on, reaching this spot bang on lunchtime. Whilst munching, Betty spotted our first Mountain Hare, and two more were spotted a little further on just below the snow-line. The views of the Grampians and Cairngorms were staggering! A Wheatear was singing from the top of a tussock.

       Betty decided that this was the spot for her even although there was an army of Crane-flies milling around!  The rest of us continued up the last steep slope with Brenda having reservations. However, we all managed to reach the summit cairn and trig-point before heading off for a circular sweep of the summit in search of mountain birds. A Skylark was in full song but that was all we could initially hear or see, and I was relieved when Helen said “It is wonderful just being up here, and if we see anything else it will be a bonus”. We wandered over to the huge snow-covered corrie, and luckily, Alan came across a Ptarmigan, which flew in front of the rest of us. My guess was that this was a male, and that the female was still incubating. Some of the Team came across a patch of the Alpine Scurvy-grass. We continued searching for more mountain bird species but without success, and the time soon came for us to descend. On the way down, Alan spotted a small party of Common Gulls and a Buzzard.

       Betty had spotted us coming down: so she had started to walk up from the café but we returned there anyway to make use of the loos. We were back at Kindrogan at 6.15 pm after dropping Helen off at her car. It was a totally vegetarian meal this evening, enjoyed by all, and at the Stable’s meeting, Betty and Alan gave us a photo show of the things we had come across during the Course. We had the added benefit of sharing Alan’s experience on Lewis and St Kilda, the week before.

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JUST BELOW THE SUMMIT OF GLAS MAOL

       Now it was the chance for a last look for the Pine Marten, and we did not have long to wait as one appeared before 1030 pm, and we were able to watch it feeding on peanuts for around 10 minutes. The Course had been a big success with more Alpine plants than I expected with the late spring, many interesting birds (57 species), moths, butterflies and mammals plus the bonus of having a really good group of enthusiasts. I hope to see you all again at Kindrogan before too long.

Russell G Nisbet – June, 2013.

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