Saturday 12 March took Michael and I to Glen Lui on the Mar Lodge Estate to do an outstanding pine seedling count on a plot my father can no longer get to. The trek in to the site takes you past a landscape of the ancient pines many of which are now on their last legs and the interest is in the rate of regeneration, starting with seedlings such as the one above. We also passed a team of workers doing "ring barking" in an adjacent plantation, a practice designed to thin the forest and thereby promote the growth and health of the remaining trees (as described in Gus's blog, and on the SRUC conservation field trip from last year).
Arriving at the plot we were thankful for GPS or we would have been struggling to find the remains of the pegs. Two Blackcock were flushed and flew to the adjacent wood, and droppings on the plot itself suggested they had been there and may have even been grazing on seedlings, though we could not prove either point. With young helper we counted a minimum of 285 Scots pine seedlings and 8 larch on the 4x15m plot, pro rata that is 5 million pine seedlings per 1km square, or 500 million per hectad - they are regenerating for sure! But the tallest was only 47cm, some may have been grazed.
No raptors were spotted and indeed the only other large birds on the BirdTrack list were a pair of Mallard, though we had seen flocks of Curlew, Oycs and the odd Lapwing on our way up through Glen Clunie. Most pleasing was the sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying across open moorland heading for the wood where the ring barking had been done, in fulfilment of Gus's prediction last year!
My father has handed over the further monitoring of sites in this valley to SNH, after 40 years of study so far, so in theory we won't need to go back. The long terms study will now be written up, with the benefit of one final data point for the last site. On related topics, and perhaps of interest for any botanist readers, he has two recent publications on the impact of grazing and lack of burning (for 50 years) on the evolution of moorland vegetational composition, from a set of seven sites (on Deeside and in Glen Clunie) that I am very familiar with, having often accompanied him to them in earlier years, recording birds along the way. Note, only abstracts of these papers may be available outside institutional subscriptions.
[Photos (except 3rd last) copyright Michael C. Welch, aged 10 yrs]