LIFE AT THE LOCHSIDE

Landscape (UK) - - In The Home -

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.

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