Thursday, 31 December 2009

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

The distant Lomonds glowed pink at dawn as we lay on our bellies in the thick heather and snow: watching the stout jet-black birds with fanned tails as white as the snow that lay around them. I was with my dad at a Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) lekking-site in the North East of the Kilpatrick Hills.

We tried to inch closer through the tangle of heather - our clothes were soaked with snow-melt. The wary birds flew up and landed in the birch trees.

We lay in the snow for a further 15 minutes...the Black Grouse returned.
13 males on the lek site and 13 females sitting somewhere in the heather nearby. We watched them strut around for a bit - the lekking period is still a long way off.

The Black Grouse like to gather at this site throughout the year - to size each other up and establish pecking orders/hierarchies before the intensive lekking period when males compete for females.

Suddenly, the grouse flew up again - spooked by our presence. We waited for another 20 minutes in the unbearable freezing cold and then walked over to examine the lek site.

The snow was imprinted with 3-toed tracks and besmirched with ridiculously large piles of droppings. These birds can seriously poo.
Here and there lay scattered black feathers - I collected some to add to my collection.

After this, we walked to The Whangie: a distinctive rock feature near Burn Crooks Reservoir. Basically, it's a narrow pass/gouge through a rocky cliff. The steep walls of rock at either side are many metres high: it's like a fortress carved by natural forces.

The Whangie

Flying overhead, a pair of Ravens (Corvus corax) croaked hoarsely at us - there is always a pair nesting here during the summer. The wedge-shaped tail and 'fingered' wings are distinctive, as well as the sheer size: this is the largest species of corvid in the world, weighing up to 1.6kg.
Raven (Corvus corax)
This footprint (below) belongs to a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). Unlike a dog's footprint, the 4 toe pads are positioned together in front of the central foot-pad and the whole foot-print is oval-shaped.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) foot-print
Large blocks of compacted, ice-crusted snow had formed around the Whangie and we struggled to plough our way through.

We put up a small group of Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) above Burncrooks Reservoir - they left behind their plodding tracks:
Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) foot-prints
...and wing-beats as they took off...
Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) wing-beats in snow
At Burncrooks Reservoir we spotted a male Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) singing from the top of a pine, a pair of Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) and a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

In the fields near the road to Burncrooks we saw a large winter flock of Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus).
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) female
The snowy Campsie Fells (nearly 600 metres in height), to the East of the Kilpatrick Hills, looked spectacular.
Campsie Fells
Campsie Fells

On the way to Carbeth Inn (where we would stop for a coffee and a warm up), we passed this little Robin (Erithacus rubecula).
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Robins are one of the few birds that sing right through the harshest winter months - possibly why they are associated with Christmas time. Both males and females sing at this time of year, defending their separate territories from intruders.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

This week we experienced the deepest snow-fall in over 20 years - waist-high in parts of the Kilpatrick Hills!

Keen to look for tracks and trails - my dad and I took a circular route up to the Greenside Reservoir and back.

Above the layer of fog which lay across Glasgow and the Clyde valley, the sky was clear azure-blue and the snow sparkled brilliantly in the sunshine.

The hills were transformed by the snow, mist and sun, into an almost lunar landscape - our footprints were the first human ones on this unfamiliar terrain.

Kilpatrick Hills snow

Kilpatrick Hills snow

Kilpatrick Hills snow

Further into the hills, the snow proved a real challenge to walk through.

Walking up the Cochno Hill towards the Greenside, a foraging flock of Reed Buntings (Emberiza scheoniclus) alighted on the snow ahead of us.

Kilpatrick Hills reed bunting
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) female

The view from the Greenside was spectacular! Duncolm is a volcanic plug - at 401 metres it is the highest point in the Kilpatrick Hills. Covered with snow, it somewhat resembled a huge dumpling, dusted with icing sugar! Yum!
*now craving mum's home-made dumpling*

...EXACTLY the sort of high energy food you should bring with you on a hike like this!

View of Duncolm
Greenside Reservoir
Greenside Reservoir
The snow really brings out the textures of grasses and reeds:

Bracken in snow

In the snow, even shy and reclusive animals cannot help but leave a record of their movements.

These footprints (at Little Round Top) belong to a Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus):

Pheasant footprints
Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) footprints
These tiny footprints (below) most likely belong to either a Bank Vole or Field Vole (no tail drag - unlike a Wood Mouse's footprints).

Vole footprints
Vole footprints
We found these much larger tracks near the Greenside Reservoir - they belong to a Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus). The distance between strides was over 2 metres!! These graceful long-legged gallopers have a very different gait from rabbits.

Brown Hare footprints
Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) footprints
Brown Hare footprints
Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) footprints
These large, long-clawed footprints belong to a Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis): note the lack of tail drag.
Grey Squirrel footprints
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) footprints