Aigas Field Centre
Aigas Field Centre

Aigas Rangers Survey Local Community Woodland

12 March, 2019. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Over the last 3 months, Aigas' three Academic Placements along with Staff Naturalist, Ben, and Field Officer, Pete, have been surveying the neighbouring Aigas Community Forest (see more about the forest in this previous blog). The main aims of these surveys were: looking for Crested Tits, and assessing the suitability of areas in the forest for them; locating suitable owl box sites (typically large Scots Pines); looking for signs of mammals and scoping out the best bits of the forest to take Aigas guests to in the coming season. Other aims included recording any other notable wildlife sightings (birds, plants and everything else), and becoming as familiar as possible with the forest; all 260 hectares of it! Surveys involved traversing a route through a selected area of
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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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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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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.

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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