Aigas Field Centre
Aigas Field Centre

The Weird and Wonderful World of Sphagnum Mosses

18 February, 2019. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

I have always been fascinated by the more unusual and overlooked groups of wildlife; from obscure beetle families, millipedes and slugs, to lichens and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). So often these understudied organisms can tell us huge amounts about the health of the ecosystems in which they dwell. Sphagnum mosses are one such group that have piqued my interest recently. Familiar to some as the major component in peat (which they form as they slowly decay over hundreds or thousands of years), few people know that the UK has over 35 species of this diverse genus of mosses. The Scottish Highlands are the centre of Sphagnum diversity in the UK, with all species able to be found within a 3-hour drive of Aigas. Globally, Sphagnum mosses are
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Touch Not the Cat bot a Glove

11 February, 2019. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Managing the Aigas Wildcat Conservation Programme is always an exciting affair; each day different to the next, adding new foliage to enclosures, cleaning out den boxes, checking the stealth cameras for mating behaviour can all be components of a standard week. But, one day towards the end of last year was exceptionally interesting... Our young male Coll needed to have a blood sample taken for genetic analysis. Both his parents have scored high on their genetic test and Coll is likely to score even higher. [caption id="attachment_2734" align="aligncenter" width="700"] We took the opportunity while Coll was under anesthetic to take some close up images of his pelage.[/caption] All wildcats in the conservation breeding programme have had their lineages traced and genetics sampled to ensure only genetically strong
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A Trip to the North Coast

28 January, 2019. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Our outreach sessions carry us far and wide around the highlands; which recently included a two-day excursion around the north coast. We aim to reach as many schools and classes as we can to share our love for wildlife. The north coast is an exceptionally beautiful and remote landscape; giving rise to small, personable primary school sizes. Durness primary, for example, was a single class of eleven with one teacher. We visited three different primary schools, ran five hour-long sessions, and covered all five of our outreach topics many times. Many of our sessions were being tested for the first time after weeks, if not months, of preparation. Our quick-fire approach was designed to keep them engaged whilst introducing some of the current conservation ideas, such as;
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The Twelve Days of Aigas Christmas…

20 December, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Twelve Whoopers Whooping Eleven Squirrels Stealing Ten Deer a-Dancing Nine Pine Cones Prancing Eight Jays a-Jousting Seven Cresties Chattering Six Pips a-Piping Five Balancing Puds Four Handsome Hares Three Merry Martens Two Busy Beavers And a Badger up a Birch Tree! All original images by Laurie Campbell, with a few elfish alterations.

Tree Planting in the Aigas Community Forest

17 December, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Bordering our Field Centre is an undulating, 260ha community owned patch of woodland - Aigas Community Forest. Bought with the aims of increasing biodiversity in areas of previously poorly managed plantation; it demonstrates sustainable timber sourcing, whilst providing a fantastic recreational area for the public. Aigas Field Centre has deep links with the community forest and is strongly supportive of its missions, helping to buy it over in 2015. Two of our members of staff are on the committee board and help to shape decisions regarding its management. Planting trees in the Aigas Community Forest ©Pete Short Over the winter months we have been carrying out surveys around the forest to scout out areas with higher value for wildlife, such as crested tits, in order to install nest
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My Mission to Spot a Ptarmigan

10 December, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

We rose early, eager to reach the mountain. Our goal: catch a glimpse of the elusive ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), a bird that breeds and winters at high altitudes throughout the Highlands. In summer these birds have a cold, speckled grey plumage; in winter they are almost entirely white, a camouflage against the snowy mountain backdrop they call home. I knew we had a hard task ahead of us; the ptarmigan is well camouflaged and small (roughly wood pigeon sized), and we had a lot of ground to scan. I hoped to recognise the bird by its distinctive call; the ptarmigan’s Japanese name translates to ‘thunder bird,’ due to the deep, booming croak that the bird produces. While in my opinion it sounds a little more like a
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My First Solo Hide Visit

6 November, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

The Autumn Birds group flocked up the hill towards me, buzzing with anticipation for what the evening may hold. Brimming with badger and pine marten trivia, and anxious not to disappoint on the first hide visit that I had ever run, I waited. The evening certainly did not let me down. As we stood in the fading light outside of the Magnus House, sharing news of the day's fantastic wildlife sightings, we witnessed our first nocturnal hosts; bats! They swooped past along the path and tree line, carrying out daily commutes between hunting grounds and roosts. Five species of bat have residence on site: Natterer’s (Myotis nattereri); Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus); Common and Soprano Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pipistrellus & P.pygmaeus); and Daubenton’s (Myotis daubentonii). Some lucky individuals seemed
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Going Batty in the Highlands

23 October, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Soprano pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) are one of 18 species of bat found in the UK. They are our most commonly sighted bat, feeding on midges, mosquitos and other small flies, using echolocation between 55 and 80 kHz. They often roost alongside other species of bat such as Common pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pipistrellus). Aigas is home to another two species of bat; brown long-eared (Plecotus auritus) and Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii). Female pipistrelles form maternity roosts during the summer and give birth to pups between June and July. For the first four weeks, the pups rely solely on their mother’s milk, after which they are able to fly and begin foraging independently at just six weeks old. At this time, some individuals may become a bit confused and lost.
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Demystifying Fungi

1 October, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Fungi is a very difficult group to get to grips with. There is such a bewildering number of species and genera, which make identification very hard. It amazes me how experienced mycologists can recognise seemingly nondescript mushrooms at arms length. A large proportion of the species I have identified are host-specific microfungi growing on plants. [caption id="attachment_2493" align="aligncenter" width="655"] One species that is easy to identify: Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)[/caption] Fortunately, last week I had the opportunity (through my recently-started placement year at Aigas Field Centre) to help out and join in with the first two days of a week-long course on fungi, led by expert mycologist Liz Holden. After only a few hours I had discovered and learned several genera and a few species I'd never encountered
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The Keys to the Kingdom

11 September, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

The Kingdom Hide, our loch-side hide which was built by Johnny Kingdom in 2007, is the perfect place to spend an evening wildlife watching. Nicknamed the 'beaver hide', there is so much more to see than just the beavers. Myself and another ranger decided to spend some time there on the evening of the summer solstice, when we would have maximum daylight. It wasn’t long before we got our first amazing sighting. Looking around, we saw a tawny owl (Strix aluco) perched in one of the trees at the side of the loch. It was turning its head, searching for prey. After watching the tawny owl for a few minutes, we carried on scanning the loch and the surrounding greenery and caught a glimpse of something moving
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