Nursery Tales

Some of the more observant among you may have realised that last week’s post was not written by the Falls of Clyde Ranger, Laura, but rather by me, a volunteer at the reserve.

Yew berries (c)Liz West

Yew berries (c)Liz West

My role within the reserve is to organise the nursery and to start growing seeds from local trees. I have collected seeds from around the reserve and have prepared seeds of eight different species, including dog rose, elder and hawthorn, all of which bore fruits (rather than nuts or winged seeds). These seeds need to rest for at least one winter, before they germinate in spring. To do this, however, they needed to be separated from the fleshy fruit around the inner seed. This job was messy, fiddly, but also very pleasant. I’ve done a lot of tree planting in my time, but not so much seed preparation, and imagining what’s going to grow out of these tiny seeds has passed the hours very pleasantly.

Not all will germinate, of course, but those that do should make up for those that do not. Imagine a seedling rowan, and then think of the beautiful tree that can grow from humble beginnings. And yew, one of the seeds I am working with, is one of the longest living trees known to mankind. These seeds might end up living for 1000 years, or more! I find that hard to imagine but easy to admire.

The nursery is a lovely place to work. There are people going by regularly, many of whom stop for a chat (if you’re passing please do too!), the planting is a very enjoyable activity and there are robins flitting in and out of the trees, occasionally bursting into a song that lifts a chilly day into something spectacular. Yes, it’s a lovely place to work!

Heather Beaton – Scottish Wildlife Trust Volunteer

 

 

Posted in Trees | Tagged , |

A Murmuration of Starlings

It’s that time of year again; the nights are drawing in, there’s a real chill in the air and the starlings are starting to display. A medium-sized songbird, starlings are well known for their spectacular flock display that they undertake in the autumn and winter. Flocks can number up to 100,000 birds, and murmurations are made up of these agile birds flying in close coordination at high speed.

Starlingmurmuration(c)ad551

Starling murmuration (c)ad551

There are several theories why starlings dance in flocks like this. It might help individuals avoid being predated, as the display creates a confusing vision that could bewilder a bird of prey, such as a peregrine falcon, looking for a meal. It may be to do with keeping warm, or it may be a way of sharing information within the flock. As one bird starts towards a good roosting site, the whole flock follows, and as they roost together, this idea could work. It may be one of these reasons, or a combination of all three, or there may be some other explanation that we haven’t yet come up with!

One thing that I cannot doubt is that it must feel amazing to fly as part of a flock like that, whether the starlings feel such emotions is under debate, but for me there’s nothing like watching a murmuration while the light is fading.

New research is being undertaken into starling’s murmurations, and the scientists behind it want you to take part! If you see a murmuration, take note of the time and location and head along to the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/starlings to input your results. The aim is to find out the when and the where so that the scientists can figure out the why. Research like this can help the species weather any changes that the future may bring.

Heather Beaton – Scottish Wildlife Trust Volunteer

Posted in Birds, Volunteer Opportunities |

Hairy Hips!

Last week I was out with a volunteer collecting seeds for planting in our tree nursery. Although it is now getting a little bit late in the year for finding them, we did manage to get hold of some sloes (blackthorn berries), elder berries, haws (hawthorn berries), a few hazel nuts, yew berries, redcurrants and rosehips. I would hazard a guess that around half the seeds we collected will not be viable, which is why it is important to collect more than you will need if you want to grow them. If you just plan on cooking the fruit than that doesn’t really matter!

Dog Rose (c) Richard Burkmarr

Dog Rose (c) Richard Burkmarr

My stepfather will be disappointed to hear that I have left it too late to get a good crop of sloes to make sloe gin. I will argue though, that I don’t think it is my fault! Along the boardwalk are a lovely bunch of blackthorn trees and interestingly, there were plenty of sloes on them, just not within reach (unless you wanted to fall into the river). I seem to have some human competition!

Happily though, there are plenty of rosehips still bountiful on the reserve. Rosehips make a wonderful syrup rich in vitamin C and during the Second World War rosehip syrup was used as a substitute to oranges which were unobtainable at the time. Rosehip syrup is very easy to make and recipes can be found online (or ask your gran). It is also possible to make rosehip jelly and rosehip tea. One note of caution though, rosehips have hairy seeds so it is important to when making anything from them to strain them at least twice to get rid of them as they can upset your stomach otherwise.

Laura Preston – Scottish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde Ranger

Posted in Trees, Uncategorized, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Did you know that ravens are bigger than buzzards?

Whilst out on the Falls of Clyde Reserve last week I heard the distinct call of a raven (it sounds like it has a frog in its throat). My bird book describes the call as a deep ‘korrp’ repeated 3-4 times and it is hard to mistake for anything else once you have heard it. The other distinctive feature of a raven is that fact that it is the largest songbird (passerine) with a wingspan of up to 1.3m, which is larger than a buzzard!

A pair of ravens (c) Doug Brown

A pair of ravens (c) Doug Brown

Now onto the fun stuff, ravens are very playful in flight, often momentarily tucking their wings in whilst flying, doing a half roll to one side and then shooting their wings out again, sometimes they will even do a full roll. Often this is done to impress a potential mate but the one I saw was flying solo and we are a good few months away from the breeding season.

Interestingly, during the Second World War, most of the Tower of London’s ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving only a mated pair named Mabel and Grip. Shortly before the Tower reopened to the public, Mabel flew away, leaving Grip all alone. Sadly, a couple of weeks later, Grip also flew away, most likely in search of his mate. The incident was reported in several newspapers and some of the stories contained the first references in print to the legend that the British Empire would fall if the ravens left the tower.Since the Empire was dismantled shortly afterward, those who are superstitious might interpret events as a confirmation of the legend. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.

Laura Preston – Scottish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde Ranger

 

Posted in Birds | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Did you know a house martin’s nest is made with 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud?

When I was a little girl, a pair of house martins came and nested outside my bedroom window. I was so fascinated by these tiny birds; I spent hours watching them build their nest. Did you know each nest uses 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud? As the days grew longer the female laid her eggs and before I knew it I was being abruptly awoken every morning by the sound a chicks cheeping for food. As summer drew to a close, it was time for the now juvenile birds and their parents to leave on their migration to South Africa. I remember waiting for their return the year after but sadly they did not appear, in fact I never had house martins nesting outside my bedroom window ever again.

House martin (c) Harry Harms

House martin (c) Harry Harms

It is estimated that house martin numbers have declined by over 65% in over 40 years and we don’t really know why. We know surprisingly little about house martins despite the fact that they breed alongside us, using our houses on which to build a nest. Important information about house martin numbers and breeding activity is needed now and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are beginning a two part survey starting next year.

BTO aim to discover more about house martins to help us identify why they are declining and provide scientific evidence to help inform policy decisions that could reverse the declines. The house martin survey over the next two years will collect more information on population size, breeding ecology and habitat preferences, so we can begin to tackle some key questions about this eagerly awaited summer visitor. If you would like to find out more about how to get involved with this survey, please visit the BTO website and register your interest – www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/house-martin-survey.

Laura Preston – Scottish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde Ranger

Posted in Birds, Campaigns, Volunteer Opportunities | Tagged , , , , , , , , |