Spring is noisy with the sound of birdsong. Many birds return here after spending the winter at the coast or in Africa. The moors fill up with wheatears, skylarks and cuckoos. Noisy sandpipers pipe their presence at the edge of rivers and lochs. The noisiest of all are the oystercatchers, ‘peep peeping’ their way up the rivers from the coast at night, and finding their way to our fields.
The flowers bloom before the leaves come out on the trees, darkening the woodland floor. Delicate anemones and wood sorrel, brash bluebells and pungent wild garlic carpet the woods. Enjoy them before they disappear without a trace, as though they had never been there at all.
Our mountain hares, stoats and ptarmigan are losing their white winter coats in spring. Perfect camouflage for winter, the spring option is a mottled white and brown which gradually changes to brown for the summer. The spring coats are great for hiding in patchy snow conditions, but make it easy to spot these creatures when no snow is about.
Our red deer are usually high up in the hills at this time of year, feeding on the fresh growth of grass and heather and keeping away from the insects and pests found lower down. The hinds will leave their calves in the early summer. The mother will leave the new-born calf while she feeds, but return to it regularly. If you come across a deer calf, it is not abandoned – please leave it alone. After a few days, the calf will be strong enough to keep up with the herd.
This is the time to see our beautiful butterflies and dramatic dragonflies. The golden-ringed dragonfly is a large yellow and black dragonfly that lives near upland streams. It hunts moths and other flying insects. August is the month for the Scotch argus butterfly. It is brown with orange spots, and you might see hundreds on a sunny day.
The summer evenings are a great time to see our pipistrelle bats in woodland clearings. Treat them with respect as they eat thousands of midges every night. Long-eared bats live in the Castle roof, but they are tricky to see as they don’t come out until it’s really dark. Head to the river to see Daubenton’s bats feeding just above the water.
The trees on Atholl Estates look superb in autumn. The wide variety of species planted on the estate gives an array of reds, oranges and golds. The swathes of golden larch trees look especially fine, and, as they lose their needles, the paths below them turn to gold.
The squirrels are very busy at this time of year. They don’t hibernate, but they do make caches of food for the winter, so in autumn they are busy finding and storing food. The young squirrels, born in the spring, are out and about too, and are often seen playing around in the trees. You may spot a squirrel right now on our live squirrel webcam. If you would like to find out more about Red Squirrels and current efforts to ensure their survival please visit the Red Squirrel Survival Trust website.
Autumn is the time of the red deer rut. The sound of stags roaring echoes round the hills and glens. Stags will vye for harems of hinds, continually challenging each other by roaring and, if necessary, fighting. They don’t eat and have very little sleep during this time, so by the end of the rut they are exhausted.
Wild red deer can be much easier to see in winter, because they come down from the high tops to find more shelter from the wild weather. Herds often also join together at this time, so it is not unusual to see a herd of many hundreds of stags or hinds. The deer often find wet and windy winter days much harder to survive than very cold and clear weather.
Red squirrels do not hibernate. However, in winter they spend more time sleeping and sheltering in their dreys, and you are only likely to see them on fine days. Then they will raid their food caches, made in the autumn, and also feed on cones in their favourite pine or spruce trees.
Salmon spawn through the earlier months of the winter, laying many thousands of eggs in upland streams and rivers in the area. Most of the fish die after mating or spawning, but a few may return to the sea to repeat the spawning cycle again.
Greylag geese from the far north (Iceland and Greenland) will come and overwinter here where it is relatively warm. They come to the fields, where they graze on the grass. Whooper swans, which have a yellow and black beak, will also overwinter on our ponds and lochs.
If you venture into the hills in the winter, you may be lucky enough to see mountain hares. There are lots of them, but they are well camouflaged in the snow, turning completely white in the winter. If there’s no snow on the ground, however, they are very easy to spot.