Winter Wildlife

Many people think of most wildlife slowing down for the winter or, in the case of some birds, flying to warmer climates. But, there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen – including some special winter visitors!

Red squirrels are still busy looking for food to store away for the winter months. They are frequently seen foraging on the forest floor or scrambling up the trunk of a pine tree. Your best chance of seeing them is to look in your local coniferous woodlands. Be aware of them running across the road though, as they don’t have very good road sense! Find out where they have been spotted recently on the Red Squirrels in Perth and Kinross Facebook page

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Red squirrel and a blue-tit at a feeder spotted by Ranger Calum. Do you know of any feeders near you?

One sound that is often associated with the arrival of the colder months is the calls from large flocks of geese flying overhead. You may see the large “V” formations as they pass by. Did you know that this “V” is a great example of teamwork? Each bird flying reduces the air and wind resistance for the bird behind, allowing them to fly further before getting tired – they also take it in turns to fly at the front!

If you are lucky, you may even have some new faces in your garden. One special winter visitor is the Waxwing. This bird flies over from Scandinavia to find food, sometimes in quite large numbers. Keep an eye out for them gathered in small-to-medium flocks in Rowan or Hawthorn Trees. There are plenty others to be found; including goldfinches, long-tailed tits, blackbirds, woodpeckers and more.

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The acrobatic long-tailed tits are great fun to watch – look for them in hedgerows, bushes and low trees

What wildlife have you seen in your area? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Portmoak Paths Group

On Thursday I met with some members of the Portmoak Paths Group to find out a bit about the work they are doing. We went to the paths on the hillside above Kinnesswood with the intention of de-berming some of the paths. Sharing the paths with the many walkers, joggers and cyclists are also some cattle. The intensive use of these paths combined with the heavy footfall of the cattle has resulted in trench-like paths with banks on either side. This creates small gulleys in which streams are formed after any rainfall, further eroding the paths.

Removing the banked sides of the paths and filling in the trenches had the effect of widening the paths and allowing water to flow off rather than along it. The result should be a reduced rate of erosion, less standing water (and therefore less mud) and paths that are easier to walk along.

In addition to the levelling out of paths the group also remove encroaching gorse and brush, cut back vegetation and carry out maintenance on a variety of paths in the area. There is always more to be done, as the path maintenance is an on-going but rewarding effort.

If you would like to join the Portmoak Paths Group, they would love to hear from you! They tend to meet every Thursday at 14.00 in the public car park in Kinnesswood (near to Portmoak Primary School). To get involved contact Greenspace Ranger Calum Bachell at cbachell@pkc.gov.uk

To find out about more volunteering opportunities in Perth and Kinross see our volunteer page

Barnhill Meadows – Tree cage clearing

There are some hidden gems within our countryside sites. At Barnhill, within Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park, there are some old hay-meadows hidden in the woodland. Over the last several years these meadows have been left unmaintained – almost forgotten and now overgrown. Together with the Kinnoull Hill Woodland Group we have plans to clear the meadows and plant some wildflowers, adding a more plant diversity to the area – turning near-forgotten grasslands into species-rich meadows.

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One of the Barnhill meadows

Within these meadows we found several fruit trees, which had been planted to celebrate the millennium. These trees are each surrounded by a cage from when they were planted, to protect the young trees from grazing animals like deer and rabbits. Whilst these cages were initially useful for keeping out the grazers, the trees have grown too large for rabbits to damage, and tall enough that deer can reach regardless of a cage.

On Saturday 6th October we started the process of bringing life back to the meadows. The first step was to open up the cages surrounding the trees. Once these cages were opened up we could access the vegetation that had been swamping the trees. As the volunteers cleared the overgrown vegetation and pruned back some of the branches from the fruit trees, the Community Greenspace Horticultural Modern Apprentice Adam was also able to prune back some of the surrounding Hawthorn trees to improve access to the meadow.

There are upcoming volunteer days planned within the Barnhill meadows on Kinnoull Hill. Would you be interested in joining? To find out more contact Greenspace Ranger Calum Bachell at cbachell@pkc.gov.uk or 01738 476792

Red Squirrel Awareness Week

Did you know that this week (24th-30th September) is Red Squirrel Awareness Week?

Perth and Kinross can be a great place for spotting these amazing creatures. From Kinnoull Hill in Perth to the Den o’ Alyth or the Black Spout Woods, many of our countryside sites are home to the Red Squirrel. Take a walk out in your local forest and you may be lucky enough to see one! Red squirrels tend to build their nests, or dreys, in tall coniferous trees, and are often seen scrambling up the trunks of trees.

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A Red Squirrel spotted near Aberfeldy by Greenspace Ranger Calum Bachell

Red squirrels are very busy during the autumn, making this time of year perfect for spotting them. Keep a look out on the forest floor as they collect berries, seeds, nuts and fungi to keep themselves fed through the winter months. Listen for the sound of the squirrels climbing up the trees, chewing on a pine cone, or shouting to another squirrel. You can also often tell if red squirrels are nearby by finding chewed pine cones scattered around the forest floor.

Unfortunately red squirrel sightings are becoming increasingly rare in some areas, with the spread of grey squirrels, but you can register your squirrel sightings with Saving Scottish Red Squirrels and follow local sightings and discussions on the Red Squirrels in Perth and Kinross Facebook page

New Temporary Ranger for South Perth and Kinross

I’m Calum Bachell, and I will be covering the South Perth and Kinross area until January 2019. Having worked as part of the community greenspace team as a graduate trainee in 2015 I was delighted to come back as a greenspace ranger.

Between leaving PKC in 2015 and now I have completed a Master’s degree in Biology at the University of Tromsø; spending 1 year in Tromsø and another 1 ½ years in Svalbard. I focussed on studying nest defence behaviour in eider ducks against arctic foxes and predatory birds. After completion of my degree I worked a field season for the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, researching and monitoring seabird populations on the west coast of Norway.

My background is largely in ecology and wildlife, having studied a BSc in Ecological Science at The University of Edinburgh between 2010 and 2014. Working now as a Ranger allows me to apply my knowledge and experience in Greenspace sites in Perthshire. Now based back in Scotland I look forward to covering the South Perthshire area, including the incredible Kinnoull Hill, Loch Leven Heritage Trail and other great greenspaces in the area.

Tree cage clearing in Black Spout Woods

Last Friday (29th May) some of the conservation volunteers went to Black Spout woods near Pitlochry to help Greenspace Ranger Jeannie to clear out some tree cages. The wood is a semi-natural oak woodland which was managed as an oak coppice and is an easy walk from the town centre on pavements, or via the Edradour Path. There have been several trees planted over the last 5 years, including Hazel, Birch and Scots Pine.

Most of these trees were planted in cages or tree tubes to prevent them being eaten by deer or rabbits. The task today was to remove any overgrown vegetation from within these cages that may have a negative impact on the growth of the planted trees, as well as releasing trees that had outgrown their tree tubes.

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There was a huge difference made in some of the cages. In some cases it was difficult to tell there was still a tree in the Scots Pine cages before they were cleared, but they now stand a much better chance after removing the encroaching plants. Around 10 to 15 birch trees were also freed from their tubes now they are big enough to avoid grazing by deer.

To find out about volunteering opportunities in Black Spout Woods contact:
Jeannie Grant
Community Greenspace Ranger
Breadalbane Community Campus, Crieff Road, Aberfeldy, PH15 2DU
Tel – 01887 822 425
Mobile – 07788 190 876

Birnam Balsam Initiative

Today we have a guest post from a local conservation volunteer group based in the Dunkeld & Birnam area:

 

This is the third year we have been involved in removing H. Balsam in the Birnam/Dunkeld area. With the cooperation of landowners, our operations have been centred on the Birnam Oak woodland but have involved outcrops 800m or more upstream and downstream.

 

Our group is currently seven strong, but we would like to see more people involved more regularly and extend our operation to take in areas further up the Tay valley. Pulling balsam in the Birnam Dunkeld area is underway again and there is no doubt that it is starting to have an effect.

Heavy balsam growth around the Birnam Oak

Heavy balsam growth around the Birnam Oak

Slashing thick growth at mouth of the River Braan

Slashing thick growth at mouth of the River Braan

The alien plant population is certainly on the decrease, but there is much more to be done. Hopefully we will extend operations as far as the Dalguise and Balinluig areas this year, and there is hope that our Sustrans connection will see people pulling balsam in the Perth area as well. Some of us are out every day so there is every chance that we can fit in with your own availability.

 Contact and have a chat if you are interested:

Bill Melville
billmelville@ogoroad.com

01350 727048

 

Pitlochry Paths Group

On Thursday 14th May Pitlochry Paths Group carried out some work at the Pitlochry Recreation Ground car park, joined by Greenspace Ranger Jeannie Grant. Pitlochry Rec is a fantastic park with a play area, football pitches, skatepark, terraces and a pavillion, but unfortunately the car park was getting a bit overgrown.

It was important that gloves were worn during this task as many of the bushes had sharp thorns, making it quite difficult to deal with. Although the bushes were being cut back to only 1 foot from the road edge, it was amazing how much plant material was eventually removed. The cuttings were placed into a couple of piles to be collected by the council afterwards, and the dust and debris was swept up too. There was quite a significant difference made over the morning – allowing everyone to leave quite satisfied with their work.

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Pitlochry Paths Group are a relatively new group, formed in 2014 and would welcome new members. Their goals are to improve and maintain the variety of path networks in and around Pitlochry. The group meet every other Thursday; for information on how to join please email Councillor Kate Howie at: khowie@pkc.gov.uk

Amphibians in Drains Project

The Amphibians in Drains Project was started in Perth and Kinross in 2010 after observations that a significant number of roadside gullypots contained dead amphibians and small mammals. Roadside gullypots are essential for road drainage but can act as pitfall traps when animals fall through the grid at road level, and once trapped it is unlikely the animals will be able to survive for any length of time. It was identified that a more robust study to ascertain the scale of the problem was required. The Amphibians in Drains Project was born!

A large common toad wedged in a gullypot plug – escaping drowning, but with no way out.

The aims of the project were:

  • To estimate the number of drains that may be affected across eastern Perthshire and, through extrapolation, across Perth and Kinross.
  • To estimate the number of amphibians & mammals that may be trapped.
  • To record species of amphibian & mammals affected.
  • To investigate if there is an association between adjacent habitat type and high numbers of trapped amphibians.
  • To investigate if there is an association between proximity to ponds and high numbers of trapped amphibians.

Results from the survey illustrated that gullypots create a substantial problem for amphibians and small mammals. A total of 3007 animals were found in 1565 gullypots, which works out at an average of 1.9 animal per gullypot. From these results we can extrapolate that with 37,252 gullypots being found across the county, if an average of 67% (24,958) of these contain wildlife (with an average of 1.9 animals trapped per drain), the total number of trapped animals would be 47,421 across Perth & Kinross per year.

The survey showed that the majority of amphibians were found within 1km of a breeding pond. This information is significant for targeting road works involving gullypots or kerbs within a short distance of a breeding pond. If we were to target only these areas with a high incidence of trapped wildlife, this approach would ensure a low cost, high benefit solution.

Not all amphibians are as lucky to be rescued as this frog - but things are looking up.

Not all amphibians are as lucky as this rescued frog – but things are looking up.

In 2012 the Ranger Service started the Amphibians in Drains Pilot Project at Elm Drive in Blairgowrie, which involved replacing standard kerbs with wildlife kerbs, allowing wildlife to avoid the danger zone of the gullypot by following a recess in the new kerb. Consequent surveys have shown that these kerbs are working well, with far fewer animals falling into and drowning in the gullypots.

In 2015, working with the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership, ladders were placed in gullypots at a site in Lethendy, to enable wildlife which had fallen in to escape.

 

Salmon in the Classroom

Throughout the month of March, children from several schools across Perth & Kinross were given the responsibility of looking after salmon eggs in their classroom. During this period the eggs would hatch into ‘alevins’ – a stage in their life-cycle where they survive entirely off a yolk sac until they are ready to catch their own food. The eggs were very successful this year, with over 95% of the eggs surviving!

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Once the alevins were ready, they were brought to Annaty Burn at Quarrymill to be released. Here they will spend their next two years living mainly off small invertebrates, and avoiding the numerous predators including other fish, otters, heron and kingfisher. Before the salmon could be released, the children were also shown how to do several tests in the river – looking at the clarity, speed and pH of the water. It is important to know that the river isn’t too polluted, otherwise the fish would have little chance to survive. The children released the fish into the burn, watching as they quickly hid under rocks and stones.

In April the children were able to visit the hatchery, where their eggs originated from. Here they were able to see more stages of the salmon life-cycle from the initial eggs to adults. In the hatchery all of the half-million eggs are counted by hand, raised until they are ready to be put in the river, and given the best survival chances possible. The children learned about how fishermen have to be quite clever to catch their salmon, and how they worked to prevent illegal poaching – they especially enjoyed dressing up in the camouflage clothing!

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In June the health of the salmon released into Annaty Burn will be checked by the schools when they go electrofishing. Not as dramatic as it sounds, the fish are stunned using a small electric current and netted. This allows us to see the how well the fish are doing, and see the great difference in size from when they were initially released. The fish are then returned to the water quickly and unharmed.

Have you seen any salmon where you live, or have you ever had any experience fishing?
Let us know in the comments or on our share page.