Off Canvas

Abernyte Naturewatch Summer 2021

Exciting Whoopers
On Saturday 20th March we were excited to see the wonderful spectacle of a skein of 32 swans which passed over the village and headed north towards Lochton and beyond. These were Whooper swans by the wonderful trumpeting sounds they were making as they called to each other in flight, it seems possible that these were beginning to work there way North. They stop off at freshwater lakes, rivers or sea inlets as they head to their summer breeding grounds in Sweden and the Arctic. Whooper Swans can be distinguished from the usual Mute swans by the yellow coloured triangle in their bill, often described as being like “a wedge piece of cheese”.

Summer Migrants
At last we can claim that summer is reaching Abernyte as the hirondines wing their way up here finally swooping into Abernyte after their long migration from Africa. They were very late again this year. Seen by Linda on 25th April at East Newton. Ten seen by Steph at the Antique Centre on the 29th and at least 4 seen at the Church on the same day. On the 4th May we saw a House Martin at Baledgarno and we hear that they are back at Linda’s at East Newton now, albeit later than usual.
The Swifts have now appeared in Dundee although none seen from Abernyte that we know of.

The British Trust for Ornithology who run “Migration Watch” say in their newsletter:-
“Migration did hit a bit of a wall in the middle of April with a prolonged spell of northerly winds slowing arrival. This is especially noticeable in the reporting rates of Swallow and House Martin which stalled well below the historical average. ........ In contrast, earlier-arriving migrants such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff, that had already returned before the period of northerly airflow, showed little change in their reporting rates.”

The first of the Spring migrants are the small brown warblers, mainly Willow Warblers and Chiff-chaffs.
On the 1st April Diana heard a Chiff-chaff in her garden at Hillhouse. Trefor at Kinnaird had a sighting as well as hearing one singing in a slightly unusual fashion, as if it was not quite in practice, for a couple of days at the end of March. There were at least two in our garden in Abernyte by the 3rd April. Since then Blackcaps have re-appeared and seem to be nesting somewhere in the garden as we hear them chacking secretively in the bushes. Some folk have had them all winter but ours seem to only appear in Spring. The Blackcap has complicated migration strategies which are only now being worked out. Some winter here and breed in Europe while others winter further south and come here to breed. So the Blackcaps you see in the winter may not be the same ones that are there in the summer!

Red Kites
Not a migrant as Red Kites are resident birds, but perhaps a seasonal movement has been noticed. Last year Red Kites were being seen regularly around the village but then apparently disappeared over the winter. Then on 22nd March 2021 Iona watched a Red Kite feeding on road kill on the B953 just west of the road to the Ford, and to double up on that (Gordon’s words) a message was sent via the website site from a couple from Liff who were walking in that area also reported seeing a Red Kite. Following that and at around the same time, Steph and Mike, ace Red Kite spotters, saw 7 of them circling over the hill and even managed to record a video of them on a mobile phone. That must have been a really exciting day.

The CUCKOO has been heard, Norma, Liz and Mairi were walking near Outfield wood on Tuesday 11th May when they heard a male cuckoo calling nearby. Cuckoos frequent the hilly areas near us looking for the nests of Meadow Pipits in which to lay their eggs. The Pipit parents will then have to work very hard to feed their rapidly growing baby cuckoo. I was lucky to see this extraordinary behaviour up Glen Esk a few years ago. A parent bird was perching on the shoulder of the enormous fledged chick stuffing food into its mouth. What a devotion (some parents may recognize it).

Dippers after not being seen or reported for a while, have been sighted both in the Abernyte and Knapp burns. This is good news. A number of years ago Dippers were regular along the burn and it is possible that they suffered a decline following the hard winters of 2010/11.

12th May Gordon at Infield reported that Soprano Pipistrelle bats were out at dusk. “For the first time this year we spotted two bats out in the evening of Tuesday 11th April. It has probably only warmed up enough to make it worth their while venturing out!” Barry noted that he had seen several bats flying in broad daylight in the couple of weeks before they were seen at night. He wondered if the late cold spring weather and low night temperatures had encouraged them to come out to feed at the only time when it was warm enough for insects to be out.

Johnny and Julie at Kirkton Craig noticed that their usual Red Squirrels were looking very bald and tried to find out the reason. We also noticed a Red Squirrel that had a scrawny looking coat. This phenomenon has apparently been seen more widely - according to Scotlands Red Squirrels website- and the squirrels recover from it, although the reason isn’t entirely clear. Squirrels do moult at this time which would be one reason for the coat looking thin. John and Irene have also been seeing Red Squirels around their garden. Tim and Winnie Hardie at East Newton videoed a pair doing a circumnavigation of the garden at high speed in what looked like a territory squabble and Elizabeth and Andrew at Tullach Ard still report a goodly number of squirrels around their garden.

Rabbits and Hares
Tim at East Newton has noticed a big change in the fauna of the area – a noteable lack of Rabbits.
“The rabbit warren at Newton bank is no longer, all the bunnies have succumbed to some dreadful disease and died”. Anyone walking up on Kirkton Hill will also have noticed sick and dying rabbits hopping around in daylight near their burrows. They are apparently suffering from myxomatosis, although there are other rabbit diseases about, some of which can also be transferred to hares. Happily Tim has also been seeing leverets - “Out walking on Sunday evening my spoiled spaniel Weasel gave a “what's this I've found”. On closer inspection it proved to be a brand new leveret. Later on in the evening I came across an adult hare at the back of the farm behaving very suspiciously, I imagine there was a litter tucked away quietly”. He has also seen more mature leverets already this spring.

First Butterflies
We had some early sightings in April with Two Small Torts and two Peacocks out in the garden on 3rd April. The Orange Tip butterfly appeared on the Glebe on 22nd April although it was seen at least a week earlier on the Carse. When the weather became wet and cool for a period they disappeared but are now (15th May) back again, along with the females which lay eggs on Garlic Mustard, Cuckoo Flower and sometimes Honesty.

A lovely showing of Red Campion is now is flower up the road verge on the hill to Abernyte. Some plants in flower on the 10th May. Red Campion was one of the plants we chose as a significant marker in Abernyte as a sign of the time of year, along with the first flowering of Snowdrops in Spring.

Nature’s Calendar
We have been recording the times of events such as the flowering of Red Campion and Snowdrop in Abernyte for years now and one day we will manage to compile it all. There is also a website called “Nature’s Calendar” which records certain British Phenological* events from locations around the UK. Each event is recorded at a set place each year and then submitted for comparison with other sites. The data collected can then form a contribution to monitoring events with respect to climate change for example. As we have been recording some of these events in Abernyte anyway we thought it would be a good idea to submit suitable future sightings to this website. In that way they contribute to a broader understanding of environmental change. To that end I have registered as a recorder and the first appearance of Orange Tip in Abernyte for 2021 has been entered.

*Phenology is the study of periodic events in biological life cycles and how these are influenced by seasonal … variations in climate, as well as by other habitat factors.

Thanks to all contributors!