Spring in Scotland

Spring in Scotland

Posted 19th Feb 2018

Spring is well on its way, with warmer weather returning and wildlife bursting back into life in an array of sight, sounds and colour

Following the long, dark winter months, spring is a breath of fresh air for all.

Whether it's listening out for the distinct calls of the cuckoos, the songs of the crossbills or smiling at the arrival of calves and lambs, there will always be something to put a spring in your step at National Trust Scotland locations. Here, NTS rangers offer their insight into the first signs of spring.

Toni Watt, Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire

After a long cold northeast winter, the return of our insects is always special. Here at Crathes Castle, one of the first butterflies to return is the Orange Tip, beautifully and distinctively coloured. It can be found feeding on cuckoo flowers in the forest clearings all over the estate

Richard Clarkson, Grey Mare's Tail, Dumfries and Galloway

The return of the Wheatear acts as a sure sign that spring is on its way. These long-distance migrants will arrive back in the UK from central Africa via Spain in early March, with an unexpected flash of their white rump against the muted colours of a fading winter giving away their return. Wheatears are ground dwelling birds of open habitats, especially stony upland country. The male is unmistakeable, with a blue-grey back, black wings and mask, buff tinged breast, and of course the white rump and black T' on its tail. The car park and low-level walk to the waterfall viewpoint is a good place to see Wheatears at Grey Mare's Tail (late March to early September).

Emily Wilkins, Iona, Argyll and Bute

Spring on Iona is heralded by the corncrake's rasping call. Patches of iris and nettles in corners of the island's small crofting fields will act as early cover for the bird on its return from Africa. With the grass growing taller, they move into the meadows for nesting, with their sound heard echoing everywhere, although attempting to catch sight of one is always a challenge.

Toni Watt, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

Spring has arrived in the northeast when the first damselflies return. The Flight pond at Castle Fraser is a Priority Site for the British Dragonfly Society with 10 species of dragonfly and damselfly which is unusual here in the northeast, particularly when it includes the most easterly population of the endangered Northern Damselfly. However, it's the Large Red Damselfly which is the first to return in Spring, sometimes as early as the start of May. A beautiful and unmistakable damselfly, with black and yellow on the body, it has an overall deep red colour with red eyes and black legs.

Liza Cole, St Abb's Head, Berwickshire

April is when seabird season kicks off as St Abb's Head, with the clifftops alive with tens of thousands of seabirds returning to breed. There will be incredible behaviour to watch, including reaffirmation of pair bonds (seabirds will normally pair for life, but get divided from their partner in the winter months), fighting for nest sites, nesting building and egg laying. Shags are the earliest breeders, laying up to four eggs in their untidy nests early in the month. Meanwhile, guillemots and kittiwakes will gather just offshore, with their calls drifting up to the clifftops. The guillemots make periodic visits to the cliffs in large numbers, staying for a couple of days, sometimes only a couple of hours, but settling down by the end of the month when the first eggs are laid. Kittiwakes also visit the cliffs but do not start building nests until early May.

Seamus McNally, Torridon, Ross-shire

Spring in Torridon will mean the weather is showing signs of improvement and the mature red deer stars are starting to cast their old antlers. This is an annual event for the stags and must cause some pain, but within a few days, the scars have healed over, and new antlers are starting to grow. They will grow steadily until they reach their full size towards the end of July, covered in a hairy skin called velvet which contains blood vessels and nerves. This strips off in August, revealing the new hard antler.

Kate Sampson, Goatfell, Isle of Arran

A certain sign that spring is on its way will be the adders basking in the sun in Glen Rosa. Once these cold-blooded animals have warmed up, they will then head off into the moorland in search of their first meal of the year. Glen Rosa is particularly good for adder spotting as there are a number of the melanistic black adders. Mating occurs during spring and can be quite dramatic with several males battling it out for a receptive female, as they coil up around each other, trying to knock each other down in a sinuous, slithering 'dance'.

Alasdair Eckersall, Ben Lomond

At dusk, keep your eyes peeled for the flitting silhouettes of bats at the woodland edge, or above the paths and tracks at the foot of Ben Lomond. Mainly Pipistrelles which have been scattered through hundreds of smaller roosts through winter, many of them will gather into larger maternity roosts in the farm steading and local attics for the spring and summer. Bats need to wait until insect life is about before they can fully come out of hibernation - therefore, lots of bat activity serves as a sure sign that spring has arrived.

Susan Bain, St Kilda

In April, the first Soay sheep lambs will appear on the St Kilda archipelago. The tiny lambs form part of the wild flock of Soays that can be found on the islands of Soay and Hirta. Only 2kg at birth, they soon form 'lamb gangs' exploring their unique environment.

Andrew Warwick, Ben Lawers

Purple saxifrage is the first alpine plant to flower, heralding spring's arrival in the uplands. Commonly found of cliffs in Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, it will sometimes already be in flower as the last snow melts from the plant.

Kirsten Dallas, Balmacara

A sure sign spring is on its way at Balmacara Estate is the arrival of calves and lambs on the crofts. Crofting is a small-scale and low intensity form of agriculture with great environmental benefits, as well as being the defining social system of highland communities. Practicing this traditional lifestyle means the crofting community can also manage a range of habitats within the crofts that host an abundance of birds, insects and wildflowers. This time of year, it will be the young highland cattle that steal the show as they wander through the crofts and villages, happily posing for pictures.

Rule Anderson, Kintail

Cuckoos will start to arrive at Kintail from Africa from mid-April. Most of us will have heard their distinctive call but how many of us have ever seen a Cuckoo? Take a walk along any of the National Trust for Scotland-maintained paths at Kintail in late Spring and you'll have a good chance of hearing one - they will often call from a prominent tree on open hill slopes. You could be lucky enough to spot one as it flies in or out from its perch - alternatively, look for small birds such as Meadow Pipits revealing their presence by nosily mobbing them. Cuckoos are nest parasites, and Meadow Pipits will harangue any coming near their nest - binoculars are recommended!

Ian Joyce, Culzean

There isn't much frost or snow at Culzean but occasionally, there will be some little green shoots peeping through some melting snow. There has been a recent project here to increase the amount of this lovely little flower. A couple of years ago, there was a peculiar spring where some flowering late and some early, meaning there was a short period when snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells were all blooming together.

Shaila Rao, Mar Lodge

Mar Lodge will often have snow all year found, with spring arriving far later than in many parts of the country. Nevertheless, when cross bills are singing away in the pinewoods and golden eagles are performing death-defying display flights in the mountains, you can be sure spring is coming. Keep an eye out for their amazing aerial acrobatics and their characteristic croaking call.

Louise Medine, North Perthshire

The wildflowers in the Pass of Killiecrankie are a signal for the arrival of spring, with a carpet of wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) appearing. The wood anemone is almost scentless, with no nectar, but will still be visited by flies, bees and beetles as the pollen is edible. It is also known as the 'windflower' - it's so called because the flowers do not open until the wind blows. It spreads incredibly slowly - six feet in a hundred years - as it relies on the growth of its roots as opposed to the spread of its seed. It therefore serves as a good indicator of ancient woodland, flowering early to make the most of the spring sunshine, before the woodland canopy becomes too dense.

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