Our Ranger Jackie will be doing an exciting Red Deer rut tour in the Cairngorms National Park this Autumn.
An unforgettable experience and one of nature’s most incredible moments in the wildlife calendar is the autumn red deer rut. Come and join Glenesk Wildlife this October and not only will you experience the sight and sound of red deer rutting but you will be wholly captivated from the moment you meet your guide Jackie by her incredible knowledge of these beautiful, majestic creatures.
The tour will begin at Tarfside car park in Glenesk where you will be met by your guide. You will be taken by 4×4 to a known spot where you will look and listen for the red deer stags. You will continue to drive and walk, looking out and listening for the stags’ bellow echoing around the hills. During the evening, you will be introduced to a Highland working pony (commonly known as Garrons), these ponies are still used on the estate to transport deer off the hill during the stalking season. You will eventually end up at Glenesk Bothy for a welcome hot drink and delicious cake where you will have a fun and interactive chat about deer. There will be some interesting props and facts including deer behaviour, ecology and management.
For more information or to book:
or telephone 01356 624566 (9.00 – 5.00 weekdays only)
In 2018 we have started doing wildlife tours looking at the living landscape of the Cairngorms and Speyside. With our passion for all things outdoors and a wee dram we have found that the combination of wildlife walking and whisky to be truly intoxicating.
Spending a few hours in the rugged countryside around Glenlivet talking about the illicit stills and the smuggling of whisky does make one rather thirsty. So, come along with us and see what we can show you and who knows you might even spot a Red Deer, Curlew or even an Golden Eagle.
We would love it if you could join us.
Check out whisky tours here
The Pine Marten is a very elusive animal. It spends it time climbing trees in search of its favourite food of eggs, insects, birds or small rodents. It also loves fruit and has been known to visit bird tables. Bilberries can make up to 30% of a Pine Marten’s summer diet resulting in its droppings turning blue in colour.
Recent research has indicated that pine martens also prey on grey squirrels which are larger, move less quickly and are on the ground more often than red squirrels. Analyses is incomplete, but this could be good news for the endangered red squirrel, and many trees that are frequently harmed by grey squirrels stripping their bark. We are lucky here in the Cairngorms as the grey squirrel has not yet managed to get this far north.
Pine martens have a distinctive bouncing run when on the ground moving front feet and rear feet together. They may stop and stand upright on their haunches to get a better view.
Pine Martens in Scotland where almost extinct in the nineteenth century due to farmers and gamekeepers trapping them. Their fur was also highly valued, so they were captured and killed for export across to Europe. The destruction of many of Scotland’s forests and natural habitats are another reason why Scotland’s Pine Martens have become rare today.
The fantastic news for Pine Martens in Scotland today is they are now on the increase and are seen more often in many areas, and in 1988 it was made illegal to kill Pine Martens. Successful re-planting of these many forest and the conservation efforts of land owners and many other groups have also helped increase the amount of Pine Martens in Scotland today
So, if you are out on a wildlife tour there is now a much better chance of seeing these magnificent animals.
Our ranger Jackie tells some interesting facts on her guided wildlife tours running in the Cairngorms National Park. Here are her thoughts on the Peregrine falcon that can be seen in the great out doors around Scotland.
While out on a wildlife tour, I was fortunate to get a brief glimpse of a peregrine disappearing at speed over a ridge. Ever since I was a child I have always had a fascination with these incredible birds.
Peregrines populate large areas of every continent apart from Antarctica and they have managed to customise their hunting methods to suit almost every habitat, including in our cities.
We as humans very quickly realised how high their hunting success rate was. We also very quickly realised how trainable they are. As a result they have become one of the most popular birds for falconers throughout the world. Some peregrines have gained themselves very important jobs in our society, warding off other birds where they have become a problem, e.g. pigeons at Wimbledon, Lords cricket ground or at airports. I have also heard some have been trained to catch drones!
They really are an apex predator. So what is it that makes them so much more successful than other birds of prey?
If we start by looking at the head, a peregrine’s eyes make up more than 50% of its head; to give you a comparison our eyes make up 5% of our head. Peregrines eyes are also very clever because they can see in both monocular and binocular vision. So when a peregrine looks at something close by it uses both eyes together to create an image in the same way that we do, but the clever bit is when they look at something far away. Often you will see peregrines turning their heads sideways to look at something. This is because they are using their monocular vision, which for us would be like looking through a telescope. A peregrine can see a tennis ball from 3 kilometres away! This means an unsuspecting pigeon can be being hunted with out even realising. A peregrine will then use its next weapon, the one they are most famous for and deservedly so, because it is the fastest creature on the planet.
Peregrines have been recorded at speeds of over 200 miles an hour. What’s also amazing is their ability to get to high speeds incredibly quickly, faster than any sports car.
Being able to accelerate from 0-60mph in less than a second has its issues though. This is why peregrines have very strong dense skeletal structures and relatively short, stiff, pointy wings. The tail is wide but also short and stiff. All of these traits help it to cope with the extreme speeds, acceleration and high G forces, up to 18G, which is double what any of our best fighter pilots can deal with.
I have been fortunate to see wild peregrines hunting a few times and also been out with falconers on a few occasions in the past; watching peregrines fly while hunting is a truly incredible site. I’m not sure I can really put into words how beautifully graceful and effortless it is.
So once the peregrine has spotted and managed to catch up with its prey, it will now grab it with its talons while on the wing and then deal the fatal blow with its sharp beak. Both the feet and the beak have hidden secrets though.
The feet have a clever ratchet like system on the end of each digit that means when the 2cm talons have hold of the prey they will not let go. The other big advantage of this is that no energy is expended holding the prey. This also means peregrines can take on prey far larger than themselves.
The peregrine’s beak has a small, easily missable notch on the inside of the upper mandible that is called a tomial tooth. This is used to fit between and dislocate the vertebrae in the victim’s neck and results in almost instant death.
When it comes to parenting peregrines take it in turns to look after normally about 3-5 eggs. Once hatched the chicks mature very quickly partly due to a constant flow of food from both parents. The chicks are trying to fledge after 7-8 weeks. Once they have the hang of basic flying, together the parents teach the chicks the skills needed to hunt.
So when you are next out and about in an open area, do keep your eyes peeled for these amazingly swift, beautiful birds.
Most people will be familiar with the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). The medium-sized bird with the familiar disyllabic call. The females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers.
Less well known is the fact that there are bees with a similar habit to that of the cuckoo. Other than honey bees most wild bee species are solitary. They do not have a complex social structure with queens and workers. Females of these solitary bees build their own nest, fill it with pollen, and then lay an egg in it. Often a nest contains several compartments with pollen on which the bee larvae will feed.
These bees are targeted by other insects that take advantage of the available shelter and food. The females of these cuckoo bees locate a nest of a specific host bee species and lay their eggs in the nest themselves. Cuckoo bees may revisit a nest from time to check if there is enough pollen for their future offspring to feed on. If so, the eggs are deposited and the pollen that was collected by the host bee will be eaten by these cuckoo bee youngsters instead.
On one of our tours we found the cuckoo bee Nomada panzeri (Panzer’s nomad bee): a little bee that looks a bit like a wasp because it isn’t as hairy as a lot of other bees and because of its yellow and dark red markings. The presence of this bee meant that its host species was likely to be around too. Sure enough, a female of Andrena lapponica (bilberry mining bee) seen. Females of this bee build their nest in the ground and visit mainly bilberry for nectar and pollen. Pollen is collected on the pollen sacks on the hind legs and later deposited in the nest for her offspring to feed on, or the offspring of the cuckoo bee of course.
Click here for a UK bumblebee species guide.
The common nettle is, in my opinion, a misunderstood plant. I think almost everyone in the UK who has spent any time in the countryside has a story about how they fell in a patch of stinging nettles. Because of this they get a bad reputation and most people are a little frightened of them. In my case I have many childhood memories of being stung, then rummaging round looking for dock, or ‘doctor leaves’ as they are known in my family, to try and ease the discomfort.
Nettles are part of the Urticaceae family and are found almost all over the world and tend to be a good indicator of moist, nitrogen rich soil. This is why they are often found near livestock fields, dung heaps, riverbanks and hedgerows. As most gardeners know once they get going its incredible how fast they can take over an area.
There are six subspecies of nettle, not all of which sting; the five that do are all covered in small hollow hairs that are full of a chemical called histamine. When you come into contact with these hollow hairs they act like thousands of hypodermic needles that inject the chemical into the skin thus causing a painful sensation. For nettles this is a highly effective method of protecting themselves from hungry herbivores. How ever, nettles are an important food source for both the peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, as well as a large number of moths and other insects which in turn pollinate and continue the spread of nettles.
Nettles produce a lot of seed but it often doesn’t travel far from the plant, which is why they are often seen growing in clumps. They can also spread by rhizomes. Having both options means if the plant is damaged or burnt it will quickly re-establish and over take other plants.
Nettles have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years and although they have great ability to cause discomfort they are also said to alleviate symptoms of allergies, hay fever, muscle cramps, joint pain and urinary issues. This is due to their high numbers of nutrients and minerals. It is also excellent for your compost heap (without the seed heads) for the same reason.
Nettles can be made into tea and there are many entire cooking books dedicated to cooking with nettles. They can be used any of the ways you might cook spinach, as well as being a great ingredient in soups, smoothies, pesto, risotto and many, many more. I have recently been enjoying them in soup and pesto, and hold out hope that they are going to reduce my hay fever symptoms!
It’s spring meandering into summer, the uplands are rich in wildlife and vibrant colours, the nights are short, the days are long and the natural world is alive and screaming (Swifts spring straight to mind). Now coming into nesting and fledging time, the birds are feeding up and finding food for their young.
A glimpse out of the window and suddenly an aerial glider comes into view and spiralling in the wind, the sight of an Osprey is enough to get a whole office excited, communal awe of the wonders of nature.
Sometimes going on a recce reaps the rewards. Whilst trying to find a good spot to cross a burn, I witnessed something that lifted a somewhat dreich day in the field. I saw red, no I’m not talking about an angry farmer chasing me off his land. In fact something far more adrenaline pulsating, a sight I’d never seen before, a PINE MARTEN, an unmistakable big bushy red-brown tail scuttled out from the riverbank and into the undergrowth. As quick as I’d locked eyes on the Marten it had gone. Still that special moment lead me to feel a sense of elation, a feeling only endured during times of success!
Several weeks later Oliver came running into the kitchen with excitement exclaiming the words PINE MARTEN on the front wall, I ran outside but once again this elusive mammal had gone. Still that same sense of emotion raced through me, rare or common, the natural world is all around. Get out there, live it and enjoy it…
Whilst up in the hills on a warm, sunny afternoon in June, there is little to disturb the peace and quiet–little more perhaps than the passing buzz of a worker bumblebee as it flies in search of flowers to collect food. The Blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is in flower at that time of year and is a food plant of the Blaeberry bumblebee: an attractive, colourful bee, native to the uplands of the United Kingdom, with many found here, in the Scottish Highlands.
This bumblebee favours colder weather and is at home in the uplands and moorlands. As such, it is particularly at risk of decline, due in large part to global warming. As the temperature generally warms, its habitat shrinks: pushing the bumblebee higher into the uplands.
Look out for them as you walk or even in your garden: queens, workers and males all have the same markings. If you spot a bumblebee with two lemon-yellow bands on its thorax and a large band of red-orange on its abdomen, this is most likely to be a Blaeberry bumblebee.
Bumblebees are important pollinators; however, they are not alone in being so invaluable. A variety of other insects, such as: solitary bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies, are also busily pollinating flowers as they feed and move amongst them to feed. These wild pollinators are in fact twice as effective as domesticated honey bees. Many flowering plants rely on their activities to pollinate their flowers, and so, to produce seeds. We heavily rely on these insects too; they complete an essential step towards helping us to produce crops, such as: apples, oil seed rape, coffee and tomatoes. They may be only tiny, but en masse, their work is on an epic scale and would cost the human race trillions of pounds to replicate (if this were even feasible).
I have many memories of growing up in the countryside of Speyside and the Cairngorms. The bubbling whistle of the first curlew returning from winter shores, the fragrance of bog myrtle, the vibrant purple of heather blooming, the taste of blaeberrys straight from the hill and the phrase ”the funny thing about cotton-grass is, it’s not cotton and it’s not grass”. This was accompanied by eye rolling from those of us who had heard it a thousand times before and some chuckling from the perpetrator. Unfortunately for those of us who heard it too often, he was actually right.
Grasses, sedges and rushes are Graminoids. These are herbaceous plants which have long blade leaves and often occupy areas of open ground such as grasslands and moorland. To a relative beginner, these can at times look quite alike but the short saying ‘sedges have edges, rushes are round and grasses are hollow right up from the ground’ can help with sorting out whether it is a rush, a sedge or a grass you are looking at. As ever there are exceptions to this rule!
Cotton-grass, or bog-cotton as it is sometimes known, is actually a sedge. Following the ‘sedges have edges’ rule, a cross section through the stem shows that it is triangular in shape. This is also very obvious if you roll the stem between your fingers.
Although there are more than 25 species, we mostly see Common Cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium) and Hare’s-tail Cotton-grass (Eriophorum vaginatum). Common Cotton-grass is often found near bog pools and areas of Sphagnum moss whereas Hare’s-tail Cotton-grass is normally found in areas of wet peaty moorland. In particular on the acidic soils of blanket bog and raised bogs. It is often found growing alongside Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris).
In early summer the flowers of Cotton-grass are fertilised. The characteristic cottony white seed heads can be seen when they are in fruit June. This can be an amazing sight with a sea of fluffy white flower heads spread out before you. In addition to the very slightly different niches which Common and Hare’s-tail cotton-grass occupy, the leaves and seed heads are also slightly different. Unsurprisingly hare’s-tail cotton grass produces one fluffy white seed head which looks like a hare’s tail. It also has many thin leaf blades which grow to around 50 cm. In comparison, common cotton-grass has thicker leaf blades and can produce multiple seed heads from the same stalk. They are like flags waving in the wind.
Historically Cotton-grass seed heads would have been used to stuff pillows instead of goose down and were used for wound dressings in the first world war. Native Americans also use the seed and stems of Common cotton-grass in traditional recipes. I’m not sure this is something we will be trying.
So when you are next out on the moor and see Cotton-grass, just remember ‘the funny thing about Cotton-grass is, it’s not cotton and its not a grass’!