Summer at Schiehallion

Published: 23rd December 2015

Dr Liz Auty, the Trust’s land manager for Schiehallion, wrote a quarterly diary in 2015 for Mountain Pro magazine. Here we feature her summer entry.

Spring was an exciting time around Schiehallion. In April we had some spectacular displays of lekking from up to 50 black grouse. For Scotland, this is an impressive figure. Only seven years ago, we had just 18 males on the site. Experts think that good spring weather in recent years has helped greater numbers of grouse chicks to survive.

I took some of our members out to see them on a beautiful April morning. We were also rewarded with the sight of the male Hen Harrier. We’re hoping a pair will nest successfully again this year. We will be delighted if they do well as this is a species that is threatened by disturbance and persecution. They are a distinctive bird and their aerobatic courtship displays have inspired the name skydancer. I’ll let you know how they get on!

I love summer at Schiehallion. The influence of the underlying limestone and the wide mosaic of habitats produce a rich variety of flowers. One of my favourites is Rockrose, which is found wherever the limestone outcrops to the surface. Its delicate bright yellow petals are found among carpets of Thyme, whose scent is fabulous when the sun is warm.

I feel privileged to be out here every week as the different plants come into flower and the associated insects are on the wing. Among the first in bloom are purple saxifrage and wood anemones, often closely followed by mountain pansy and then later grass of Parnassus. The latter is really special. Its name comes from Mount Parnassus, a limestone mountain in Greece where the cattle were said to love eating the plant as much as grass. We have some spectacular insects too. Last year’s highlights for me included the emperor moth, the golden ringed dragonfly and a wood wasp.

I recently got an Android phone, so I’ve been playing with various applications to help with species recording and identification. The BirdTrack app is easy to use in the field – as long as you have a GPS signal you don’t need a mobile signal. The app can work out the grid reference, and you can instantly record the birds and upload the information when you get home.
The birds quieten down a bit in midsummer, which is the time when we carry out butterfly and insect surveys. I’m looking forward to using another piece for technology for this – the iRecord Butterflies app which allows you to record sightings and also helps with identifying them. Perhaps you could let me know if you’ve been using any other landscape and nature technology, and how well you rate them?

We’re lucky to have a really special butterfly on Schiehallion – the mountain ringlet. Every summer, two of our dedicated volunteers come and walk transects to record how they’re faring. This butterfly is only found above 350m and has a very specific habitat where the caterpillars feed on mat grass. The adults have a short flight period and only fly in sunny weather so it can be quite a challenge to survey them.

We were thrilled last year to find signs that water voles had returned for the first time in five years. We work closely with our neighbours, the Highland Perthshire Communities Land Trust, which owns the hill to the East of Schiehallion called Dun Coillich. Our discovery of the water voles led to further survey work and we found lots of signs in two areas on Dun Coillich.

This year a new national monitoring programme has been developed. During the month of May people all across the country have been surveying for water voles along burns and watercourses near where they live. It’s great to be able to contribute to the national picture for this species which has been declining drastically in numbers over recent years. We’re hoping to capture some images of the voles using a trail camera, so if we are successful I hope to include a photo next time!

Volunteers are vital for the Trusts’ work and people help out in different ways. We also work in partnership with a variety of organisations. One of our corporate supporters is Macs Adventure an ethically minded travel company that organises self -guided walking and cycling holidays. Last year their staff came out and helped construct our first brash hedge at Schiehallion. We’re pleased they’re coming out again this summer to carry out practical work and to learn more about the area and its wildlife. It’s a great chance to share the work we do and the magic of the place.

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