LIFE AT THE LOCHSIDE
The combination of freshwater loch and ancient pine forest at Loch an Eilein creates an ecosystem that supports a number of species, some of which can be seen at few other places. Two flowers which are strongly associated with the native pinewoods are creeping ladies’ tresses, Goodyera repens, which blooms in late summer, and the twinflower, Linnaea borealis. Its two bell-like flowers can be seen from June onwards, though early starters are sometimes spotted in May. The Narrow-headed wood ant, Formica exsecta, is rare and highly localised, making its domed nest at the edge of the forest. It plays an important role in the ecology of the forest, roaming widely to bring seeds back to the colony. The elaiosome, a fleshy appendage to the seed, rich in proteins and lipids, is fed to the larvae. The rest of the seed is then thrown out, where it can germinate in new ground. Wood anemone and cow wheat both produce seeds which can be dispersed in this way. The ant is also an important prey species for the highly endangered capercaillie, Tetrao urogallus. For this bird, May marks the beginning of the nesting season, when it retreats to the cover of blaeberry bushes to protect its clutch of approximately eight eggs. From this time until August, the capercaillie is highly sensitive to disturbance, and flushing can put the chicks in danger of predation and the panicked birds at risk of flying into fence posts. Staying on footpaths increases the chances of the juveniles reaching adulthood. Another specialist of the Caledonian forest is the crested tit, Lophophanes cristatus. These are frequently seen clinging to feeders near the start of the walk and are readily identified by a prominent spiky crest on the head. Learning its ‘cheep-cheep-burrr’ call before the walk can help to locate it among the trees, where it forages for pine seeds in the spring and insects and spiders in the bark all year. A short distance from the loch is a wildlife hide, owned by Speyside Wildlife. With large picture windows, it provides perhaps the best opportunity to spot the elusive pine marten, Martes martes.
Creeping ladies’ tresses, which bloom later in summer, with the delicate twinflower behind.
The crested tit, with its distinctive quiff and bridled face.
Up to 70cm (28in) long, the pine marten lives in native woodland and rocky hillsides.