Here's me, very excited to be driving the RSPB Landrover out onto Abernethy to help out with a bit of fieldwork last autumn.

Here's me, very excited to be driving the RSPB Landrover out onto Abernethy to help out with a bit of fieldwork last autumn.

Hello (again)! Ewan here, and I am delighted to be writing a new introductory blog about myself for you all, as it means I am back for another season at Loch Garten! This time 12 months ago I was trying to do this job while working from home, trying to entertain myself, and hopefully all of you too, by creating interesting, entertaining and sometimes downright silly content for our social media platforms, and just waiting for all of this to blow over. Whilst I think this pandemic has forced most of us to develop reserves of patience as deep as the waters of Loch A’an, I am thrilled to finally have the chance to get inside the brand-new centre. I am looking forward to welcoming you all back, and hopefully to seeing a few familiar friendly faces at the centre and on the trails.

Contemplating the deep and clear waters of Loch A'an. The loch is a part of the Abernethy reserve. Photo by Stuart Griffiths.

Contemplating the deep and clear waters of Loch A'an. The loch is a part of the Abernethy reserve. Photo by Stuart Griffiths.

So I am back on the Nature Team for a second season, but really I have never been away from Abernethy. At the end of last year’s season, I had the good fortune to somehow fall into volunteering for Cairngorms Connect, a partnership of land managers the RSPB is proud to be a part of. My primary focus was on the identification of beetle samples collected over the summer as part of the habitat monitoring involved in the plantation restructuring work that has been taking place on the reserve here. (For more information on our plantation restructuring, see this blog post and this video

The sap on this recently ring-barked tree glistens in the low winter sun.

Although some of this restructuring might look rather messy just now, this vital work opens up the uniform canopy of the plantation origin woods, allowing the growth of new saplings and increasing the mix of ages and types of trees in these woods. It also creates a large quantity of dead wood, which is where my beetles come in! Trees support more life in death than they do when alive and a lot of that life is deadwood beetles, which come in seemingly endless varieties that can be very difficult to distinguish!

 One of the many deadwood beetles I looked at this winter.

One of the many deadwood beetles I looked at over the winter.

I knew almost nothing about beetles when I started, but the opportunity to continue living and working in the forest was far too good to even think of turning down, so I had to learn on the job. It was a fascinating look into the diversity of an easily-overlooked group of organisms, and just one more step in my incredibly quixotic quest to get to know each of the nearly 5000 species found at Abernethy. Similar to the 200-year management plan for the reserve, it is sometimes nice to take on tasks that are impossible to complete within a lifetime. The joy in life is in the doing, not in the completion.

Look at the iridescent colours on this beetle!

Last year I watched the forest swell with new life through spring and into the richness and busyness of summer, and saw the season slowly subside into autumn as the leaves turned and the mists rose off the loch. Then winter came to the forest, and what a winter it was, with snow on the ground for six weeks, Loch Garten frozen solid, and temperatures as low as -20 °C. The forest is much quieter during the winter, and in the snow has a stillness that seems to stretch to eternity. But even during the cold weather, the first signs of spring were present as the birds began warming up for their annual song contest.

Wood anemones, one of the first spring flowers in the forest.A summer view over Loch MallachieAutumn mists in the upper forestThere were several heavy snow falls on Abernethy this winter

Wood anemones in spring; a summer view over Loch Mallachie; autumn mist in the upper forest; a heavy snowfall on Abernethy this winter.

This has been the year I have finally got serious about identifying bird songs. Location helps: when a robin insists on singing loudly outside your bedroom window every morning at dawn, you soon get to know his song quite well. When every step out of the front door is greeted by a chorus of squeaky great tits and coal tits, it is easier (though still not easy!) to begin to appreciate the subtle differences of their voices. As new species join the chorus one by one as days lengthen and the sap starts to rise, it is possible to break down the overwhelming cacophony and pick out more and more recognisable tunes. It has brought me a whole new appreciation of the life of the forest. Goldcrest used to be quite an elusive bird for me, rarely seen. Now they are everywhere I go. I still don’t see them, but I hear their song. The same goes for siskin, whose noisy chatter I now hear nearly every time I walk by the loch.

Now I have witnessed the full turning of the seasons here, and as I see the flowers reappear and the migrant birds start to return, in the same places as last year, I feel so much more in tune with the forest. Like a person, the forest takes time to get know. Like a person, the forest has a depth and complexity that takes time to appreciate. Like a person, getting to know the forest rewards that time. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend a small portion of my life just beginning to get to know this forest, and to now have another few months to give. I can’t wait to start sharing the life of the forest with all of you again.

Me and a tree. Photo from Cairngorms Connect.

Me (left) and a big old Scots pine tree. Photo from Cairngorms Connect.