Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Scottish wild scats

Caringorms National Park

I've always been hooked on the idea of survival in extreme winter habitats (Gatwick, you're just not cold enough!), so my escape to a northern place has become an annual event!

My friend Rina introduced me to the group Explorers Connect, who host adventurous trips and training around the UK. I joined them on their recent winter skills course in the Cairngorms.
   As well as hiking up wintry slopes, we had a chance to explore the mosaic of bogs and upland heath, with incredibly old pines, stunted and twisted in growth. This habitat felt truly wild and untouched by humans; in fact it was one of the quietest places I have ever been.

Caledonian forest and bog woodland; silent except for calls of a lone Coal Tit

This habitat has become increasingly rare after the centuries of deforestation activity by humans. Although the wildlife here can be incredibly elusive, there is an abundance of particularly rare and endangered species and charities such as Trees For Life are doing excellent work to conserve them.

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Despite the winter season, there was a whole gamut of species here waiting to be discovered by us. The ground layer beneath the forest was dominated by heather, sphagnum moss, and several small shrub species, all new to me. A few of them were unseasonably fruiting too...

Cowberry (otherwise known as Lingonberry) - Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Crowberry (not to be confused with Cowberry) - Empetrum nigrum

Everywhere we looked, there were signs of more elusive wildlife...

Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) droppings

Mountain Hare tracks in mud

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), UK's largest land mammal

Things got pretty exciting when we stumbled across something not unlike a frozen, mouldy Curly Wurly....

Pine Marten (Martes martes) scat

WOAH THERE... we hit the poop jackpot!

Capercaille (Tetrao urogallus) - big mounds like this one apparently form underneath 
the low bough where they typically perch

The Capercaille is a huge grouse and a very endangered bird in Scotland. I was hoping for just a glimpse, or a hint of their call, but we will just have to settle for their poop. Another two species we missed out on here were Crested Tits and Scottish Crossbill, again rare local specialities. We did see a mixed flock of Siskin and what looked to be Redpoll, but I wasn't confident enough on the ID of this group.

However, we did see and hear Snow Bunting and Ptarmigan, which make some really wacky calls...

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Our mammal tracking adventures continued in Aviemore!
   Before our long train journey home, we nipped down to the River Spey for a quick scout along the river bank. Our mustelid charm is working incredibly well right now, as look what we spied underneath the bridge...

Otter (Lutra lutra) tracks

This is not a great time of year for invertebrates, but at least I found a new species of moth to me on the hostel window... Into iRecord it goes!

Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), a fairly common moth all over the UK

Another interesting angle to my trip was testing out a new pocket-sized toilet called Peebol. To hear more about this portable option for answering 'the call of nature', take a look here...Go Go Guano: The Call of Nature