Posted by: cullaloelnr | August 11, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes…!

Good morning blog-watchers and welcome to a wet and wild day at Cullaloe! There are mini-rivers running down every pathway and the spillway is full to the brim!

As some of you may know, the Convener is required to lower the water level in August to allow areas of mud to be exposed. This exposed mud is the perfect seeding ground for the Mudwort plant. This plant is special to Cullaloe because it is the reason the Site of Special Scientific Interest was granted to the Reserve and the, therefore, reason Grahame and I have such a fulfilling volunteering experience today! 🙂

Now I am supposed to be the plant person for Cullaloe, although I am still very much a learner at this. I am in the process of constructing a large database of all those plants that can be found on the Reserve and I would very much like to add Mudwort as a definite this year! 🙂 I have been very busy with other things though, so a big shout goes out to Grahame’s parents, particular his mum, for filling in the plants that are currently listed on the on-site database! 🙂

Now you may have spotted that the weather has been particularly grotty in the last couple of weeks and, as I have already said, the spillway is full to bursting right now! But in the next few days, regular visitors should notice a difference around the loch and spillway as the big plug-pulling event has just taken place! 😉 A couple of days ago, Grahame popped along to the Reserve with his special key to open the sluice gate and allow the water level to drop down around 2ft across the surface of the loch. Now that is a WHOLE lot of water, people, so be aware that there will be additional noise around the loch from the water emptying into the Dour Burn which runs under the path leading down from the viewing screen to the spillway! Last year, this mad gushing of water continued for about 3 days until the loch was at the desired depth, and then the sluice gate was closed once again. However, this year Mother Nature appears to be keeping us guessing as to when the gate should be closed because the changeable weather patterns over the weekend have sent the water levels in the spillway yo-yo-ing from completely empty to over-flowing!

This is a bit of a concern this year because we are due to make a dramatic change to the landscape of the spillway area. Grahame and I have never been fans of the truly awful looking black plastic liner that covers the lower half of the spillway. At the time of installation, it was thought that the liner would gradually become covered with a layer of mud and vegetation as this was swept down from the loch, however, the dream has never quite been realised, and instead we have been left with a bit of an eye-sore that is not doing a particularly good job of preventing erosion of the lower spillway either! But that is set to change – and I’m afraid it does mean a little bit of upheaval for our wildlife and visitors too!

We have recently been granted funding to install a series of gabion mattresses, which are wire baskets with stones in, but on a large scale. These are going to replace the black plastic liner as the newest defence in Cullaloe’s ongoing battle with water erosion. There will be heavy machinery and workers on site so the chances of seeing wildlife in and undisturbed state are going to be remote this week. We anticipate that the works will take approximately 1 weeks, but with the weather being the way it is, this timescale is subject to change. Once the works have been completed, though, we should have a slightly prettier, and certainly more stable, foundation to our lower spillway area.

Now, to get back to the plug-pulling, the period of time immediately after the plug-pulling tends to be a bit more interesting than the period of time leading up to it. 🙂 Last year, Grahame kept a note of the types and numbers of birds he was seeing on the loch around the time of lowering the water. Before the water level was dropped he was seeing approximately 30 or so birds of 4 different types – but after the water level dropped, he was seeing upwards of 200 birds, with about 8 different types being found at any given time! That is a very big jump indeed! 🙂 The exposed mud tends to bring wading birds flocking in to feed at the edges of the loch, as well as providing that essential growing space for the Mudwort, so that means we get to see a little more than the usual ducks and coots – lovely though they are 🙂 This year, however, seems to have been a tough one for Cullaloe-based water fowl, so really we will be happy to spot whatever we can!

Volunteers and visitors alike have been a little concerned about the lack of fledglings on the water, especially as last year appears to have been a bit of bumper harvest in comparison. Yesterday, Grahame and I identified a possible cause for some of the decline – and I would like to say at this point that the following is not for the faint-hearted… As we neared the screen, Grahame had his binoculars trained on a heron on the far side of the loch – and it had something black in its mouth. The first thing you’d think would be that it had caught a sizable fish and was having a bit of trouble getting it down – but no fish living in Cullaloe has feathers and a beak! 😦 Judging by the racket being raised by the resident coots on the water, the heron had captured a coot chick and was trying every possible angle to get it to go down its throat! In one of those typical slow-motion movie type moments, Grahame and I watched with morbid fascination as the heron first manoeuvred, and then swallowed the chick whole! I have to say, I am not good with the more beastly aspects of nature watching – but it was quite literally amazing to see – if not more than a little sad. Grahame was just blown away by the whole experience! I don’t think either of us will forget the sight in a hurry!

Now I have spoken about the plug pulling, and now it is time for another, totally shameless, plug – of the Reserve itself this time! 🙂

As you may know, Grahame and I hosted an Open Day on 07 June this year, ably assisted by colleagues from the Scottish Wildlife Trust Fife Members Centre, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust Rangers and the Air Training Corps 859 Sqdn (Dalgety Bay). Before the Open Day took place, the Dunfermline Press popped along to have a wee word with Grahame, and our boss, Alistair Whyte, who is the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Reserves Manager for Central East. The man from the Press was treated to a tour around the Reserve and a few photos were taken, much to Alistair and Grahame’s disgust! 😉

We have waited a fair while for the article to be printed, however, I am proud to announce that Cullaloe features in this week’s Dunfermline Press (dated 07 August 2008) and we have very kindly been given a tag-line on the front page, and a third of a page spread on page 6! 🙂 The article gives some interesting background information on the Reserve and our esteemed Convener as well as providing a couple of photos which will allow any future visitors to recognise Grahame and Alistair if they are spotted on the Reserve!

Those of you who are plant lovers like me, I apologise now for Grahame’s obvious disdain for them! Rest assured, you and the plants still have a champion! 😉 However, as the article says, Grahame is a bird man at heart, and his commitment to them ensures that he is equally happy to help the bugs and plants they survive on thrive on the Reserve! 🙂

Well, as they say at the end of all good Loony Tunes… That’s All Folks! I hope you take a moment with a cuppa to read our article in the Press, and if you fancy ignoring the bad weather and want to take a look at the newly lowered Reserve, perhaps we will see you there!

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