Aigas Field Centre
Aigas Field Centre

Early Morning Nature Drives at Aigas

19 February, 2019. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

It was still dark as we gathered at the front of the house, wrapped up in hats, scarves, gloves and thermals, clutching our coffee filled thermoses. Few words were uttered as we loaded into the minibus and took our seats; it was not yet 6:30am. As we approached the coast, the first light of the sun had almost reached the horizon and shards orange escaped from the darkness. [caption id="attachment_2788" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Dawn twilight as we approached the coast[/caption] Tentatively we unloaded our Swarovski ‘scopes and began to scour the shore in silence and hopeful anticipation. Every ripple catching the dawn twilight made our hearts flutter. First, a grey seal popped up as if to mock us. He rolled back his head, sniffed loudly and disappeared. Several
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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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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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An eventful morning at Aigas

13 August, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

The morning was expected to be like any other – I had all of my normal jobs to do (with the addition of sorting through a moth trap that I had set the night before), however, it was to turn out very different. After potting all of the moths that I had collected I began my usual daily jobs. First was topping up the hazelnuts and peanuts at the squirrel hide. Before I could sit down a red squirrel was in. As I sat watching, the peanut feeders filled with fledgling great tits, chaffinches and siskins. In a flash they took off. Two juvenile great-spotted woodpeckers joined the red squirrel.  This all happened in less than five minutes. In the following five minutes the red squirrel and
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The dolphin, the dipper, and the ‘dunno’

3 July, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Last month our Walking and Wildlife group had excellent views of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) surfacing and later an adult dipper (Cinclus cinclus) which was teaching its fledgling to swim along a stream. Towards the end of the day, a member of the group spotted this unusual looking bird which both surprised and confused our rangers. After some investigation, we confirm this is a black bird (Turdus merula) with a plumage abnormality.  In addition to various pigment abnormalities, plumage abnormalities can include issues with feather growth or loss. A common misconception is that pigment abnormality is albinism or leucism, however the bird is capable of producing dark feathers therefore cannot be classified as a true albino. This could be detrimental to the individual’s survival as it is
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Nature Photography at Aigas with Laurie Campbell

28 May, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Laurie Campbell is one of Scotland’s leading nature photographers. His knowledge of the natural world has allowed him to photograph Scotland’s most iconic species, producing beautiful results. Here at Aigas, we’re lucky enough to have him lead programmes throughout the year. He runs a photography workshop and a masterclass for more experienced photographers. I am definitely not a photographer. My experience consists of pointing and shooting a hybrid camera with blurry results. On past trips out with Laurie I’ve felt a little intimidated by the guests’ flashy cameras and the photography jargon (I still do not know what ISO stands for). However, last week I took my camera with me for a day in Glen Starthfarrar with Laurie and his group, and I’m so glad I did.
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Exploring the Bone Caves

23 April, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Every year, a school group from the south coast of England travel north to learn all about the Highlands. Traditionally, we take this group to Assynt to climb Stac Pollaidh, a rocky Corbett of Torridonian sandstone just north of Ullapool. However, due to icy conditions, we had to provide an alternative walk. We landed on the Bone Cave Circuit near Ichnadamph, and it did not disappoint. The walk took us through a limestone valley, past a spring where water seems to flow from nowhere, and into a dried up riverbed. The riverbed provided students (and rangers) with a lot of rock-stacking fun. The path then climbs up to a cliff face, in which the cave system lies. Four large caves are easily accessible and were thoroughly explored.
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Birch Syrup: Beneath the Bark

14 April, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

It’s easy to think that while there’s snow on the ground, there isn’t much going on in the way of wild food. While an icy blanket conceals the winter fungi and the bitter frosts slow the growth of spring greens, a cascade of meltwater from an overhanging birch tree drips squarely down my neck. For a frozen second, inspiration hits. Downy birch, Betula pubescens, cover much of the hillside around Aigas, and in the Highlands they are one of the first colonizers to freshly felled ground, their tiny windblown seeds finding purchase in tiny nooks and crannies in the earth. All round foraging superstars, they support the chaga mushroom,  Inonotus obliquusa, a secretive and delightful species that yields an amazing array of health benefits. The tender young
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