Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Insh Marshes - National Nature Reserve, Kingussie

The Insh marshes are the largest area of transition mire in the UK (a habitat that is half-way between acidic bog and alkaline fen), containing several species-rich oligotrophic and mesotrophic lochs (low-medium nutrient levels) and areas of alluvial alder-ash forest. Around 50% of all British Goldeneye nest here in the Spring and this is a good place to see Wigeon, Lapwings, Curlews, Redshank, Whooper Swans and Otters.

When the winter sun shines on the rushes, the marshes become a shimmering expanse of gold:

From Kingussie I followed the B970 across the railway line and up to the Ruthven Barracks. The Barracks were built in 1721 by the British Government after the Jacobite Uprisings and were subsequently captured and destroyed by the Jacobites in 1746.

Ruthven barracks

Ruthven barracks

Small flocks of Redwings foraged in the forest around the barracks and I continued walking across the marsh til I reached the banks of the River Spey (disturbing some Whooper Swans and Goldeneye), where I sat down for awhile with my binoculars. In the far distance I could see a large group of Wigeon grazing underneath the A9 at the point it crosses the River Spey. As I sat still I spotted a Stoat disappearing into the rushes on the opposite river bank.

Afterwards I checked out the hide at Invertromie, but saw nothing but a pair of Mallards and a lone male Tufted Duck.

Alluvial alder-ash forest

Alluvial alder-ash forest
Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Abernethy Forest - National Nature Reserve, Aviemore

Abernethy forest is the largest remnant of ancient Caledonian pine forest in the UK and it's a stronghold for Capercaillie, Scottish Crossbills, Wild Cats, Pine Martens, Crested Tits, Ospreys (Summer only!) and Red Squirrels. Winter brings an influx of Whooper Swans to Lochs Garten and Mallachie.

On this trip I took the Citylink bus from Glasgow to Aviemore which cost me £21 (Apex ticket) and I stayed at Aviemore Youth Hostel (SYHA). The only complaint I have about this hostel is that the old man who runs it harbors a great dislike of young people. I was told off for drinking a cup of tea and reading a map quietly in the kitchen area as there is a 'curfew' at 10pm, after which they put up a barrier rope! This man (who has been there for a number of years) is incredibly rude and I was later told to stay out of the kitchen til 7am (which I completely ignored). I find this 'rule' entirely unreasonable since the first bus is at 7am and I need to eat my breakfast etc before I go hillwalking.

I took the local bus from Aviemore to Nethybridge and then walked along the track to Loch Garten and back, with frequent detours into the forest.

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)are beautiful trees: the branches are warmly russet and the bark is broken into thick scaly crusts, overgrown with pale green lichens. They have an elegant and rounded shape, more like deciduous trees than typical pines. Somehow they remind me of Japanese woodblock prints.
Take a deep breath and enhale the aroma of pine-sap and the peaty, earthier smell of bog-moss...listen and you may hear the cork-popping call of the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus).

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvaticus)
Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Abernethy forest with Scots Pine (Pinus sylvaticus)
Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Scots pine (Pinus sylvaticus)

Weatherwise it was miserably cold with frequent rain and sleet showers but I was well prepared with thick winter clothing, plenty of chocolate and a flask of strong coffee to get me through :)

Red Squirrels have disappeared from most of their former range in the UK but are still very numerous within Abernethy forest itself, in fact, you can almost guarantee seeing them. In winter they grow a thicker, darker coat and their ear tufts become more prominent, which can be seen in the photos below:

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Norway spruce (Picea abies)
Norway Spruce (Picea abies) cone, a non-native pine species


birch (Betula sp)
Birch (Betula sp.) bark

Bracken (Pteridium aquilum)
Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)

When I got to Loch Garten I sat down to have a coffee and spotted a couple of Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) right out in the middle of the loch as well as a family group (2 adults and 4 juveniles) of Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus). The Whoopers were flighty and I couldn't get close to them to take a decent pic.

While I was sitting down I suddenly heard something behind me and turned round to discover a big fierce dog coming towards me. The dog was alsatian sized and stopped within a metre of me, barking and growling. At first I thought I could talk to it calmly and it might magically transform into a more friendly beast. After a few attempts at a squeaky "nice doggie....", I was forced to use my tripod to fend off the animal as it began jumping at my throat and snapping. Since no owner seemed to be around (for about 10 minutes) I started to fear that this might be a feral dog and that I would have to fight to the death in order to escape :(
Eventually an owner did appear and did not even come over to apologise or ask if I was ok! I was so shaken that I was afraid to go over and confront her, especially since there was noone around to back me up. I have found dog-owners in the UK (in general) to be very disrespectful of other people: this is not the first time I have been attacked by a dog in a public place (often as a child) and many dog-owners find it perfectly acceptable to let their dogs shit all over the place or attack random strangers/wildlife, it makes me very angry!

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)
Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), the juveniles have pinkish bills and are slightly greyish.