Americans in Scotland Part # 12 Apr 21, 2007 7:11:40 GMT
Post by mary ailean on Apr 21, 2007 7:11:40 GMT
Sunday July 2
We drove approximately 25 miles from the Gate Lodge, on the Ardverikie Estate, to the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig, and were there when it opened at 10:00.
The park is located about halfway between Aviemore and Kingussie, and it has been in operation since 1972. We bought our tickets and drove away from the ticket house, but in our excitement to begin we realized that we didn't have the cassette disc that would be our guide so we made one quick loop around the park and went back for it. The park is small enough to tour in a couple of hours, but big enough for the animals to have room to roam.
The animals in the main reserve and the landscaped runs and cages are:
+ mouflon sheep-one of our modern sheep's ancestors-huge horns
+ soay sheep-rare-the only living example of the small primitive sheep that were found in the British Isles before the coming of the Norsemen and Romans.
+ red deer-european bison-european elk-reindeer
+ highland cattle-a huge black variety
+ pine martin-snowy owl-arctic fox-otter, badger,eagle owl
+ lynx-wildcat-polecat-wild boar-red and black grouse
+ chough- a good-looking member of the crow family with distinctive red beak and legs. These birds are only seen in a few coastal areas of western South Wales, the Isle of Man and Cornwall. They were once widespread in G.B.
After we drove through the park we left the car, and walked through the exhibits of smaller critters in the woodland enclosure. I was quite taken with one of the Snowy Owls, and I watched the lovely, fluffy vibration of her throat feathers as she slept. What a beauty! These birds are rare in Scotland, and are found mainly in areas of tundra and marsh in the artic region. The last known pair nested on the Island of Fetlar in the Shetland Islands in 1975, and there are still occasional sightings. One of the largest species of owl, they are able to catch prey up to the size of an arctic hare. The 8 year old female Snowy Owl sent from the Edinburgh Zoo is pictured here. There is also a 2 year old male from Dundee, and they share their enclosure with 2 arctic foxes, Arnie and Solo. I've read on the park web-site that each defends his territory and food decisively!
We spent a long time with the wolves, but when Bruce moved on to other enclosures, I stayed a while longer. I was quite fascinated by these beautiful predators. In addition to watching the behavior of the wolves themselves, it was fun to watch the reaction of the visitors. We stood over the enclosure in a roofed 'tree house', and looked down on the vegetation and animals below. The enclosure is known as the 'wolf territory'. It covers almost 2 hectares (around 5 acres) and the wolves can overlook much of the park from higher ground. There is a lower pasture that extends up to birch woodlands, and a large boulder that is often used by the wolves as a 'council rock'. They all seemed to enjoy ‘the party’ when they met up there. All pack members are related in the wild, and they are in the 'wolf territory' as well. All members belonging to a wild pack will take part in hunting, but only the alpha male and alpha female will breed. If one of the alpha pair dies chaos ensues in the pack as a new hierarchy evolves.
When we first walked up to the viewing platform, the pack of 6 wolves, all under three years old, were interacting at the fence line with a herd of red deer. The deer were running by the side of the wolf enclosure to be provocative, it seemed to me. The wolves were trying to keep up with them on their side of the fence. It was quite stimulating to the wolves, as you can imagine. The side-by-side placement is no doubt intended to keep all of the animals active. The deer don’t seem to be intimidated by the enclosed wolves since they can freely roam the whole park. The deer initiated the game, and when they moved away, the wolves gave up the chase.
My first observation was of the incredibly quick reaction time of the European Grey Wolf. These wolves were fast, alert, on edge, and able to maneuver up and down the hilly terrain faster than I'd ever seen an animal move, and they were absolutely gorgeous. If one of the wolves drew near the observation house when a group of people came up he would make eye contact. One laughing father, with an Australian accent, told his son that if he didn't watch out the wolf would come up there and eat him. So much for good parenting! The visiting children would usually ask good questions. I heard one little boy ask his parents if the wolves would eat him if he was down with them in the enclosure. I waited to hear the answer to that, and it seemed truthful enough. His mother told him that they might, but only if they were very, very hungry. That satisfied him, and off he toddled.
There was wonderment and real fear exhibited by children of all ages. That surprised me because the wolves weren't exhibiting any aggressive behavior. The legend of the wolf is certainly well known. They couldn't have designed a better place for the animals, in my opinion, except maybe to keep them from being able to see the visitors. I did get a kick out of one of the wolves watching me closely. One person came up to the viewing platform with food, and almost instantly we were all having a lot of eye contact with the six wolves! I stayed for about 1/2 hour more, and in that time only about 4-5 groups came through so I was able to remain still to better observe the wolves. I took at least 20 minutes of camcorder film of them. Bruce had the digital camera with him and so I didn’t get still pictures of them but you can see them on line. Click on below:
Watching the pack mentality at work was interesting. It is a wolf rule, evidently, that when one goes somewhere, they all do. One dear young fella was trying to take a nap and several times he did fall asleep. Then he'd open his eyes again, shake and move down to join the others. In and out of the tall grass, logs, and hiding corners they would run together. While trying to nap, Mr. shut-eye would look at the others as if he was thinking, "not again," and he'd sleepily trudge after them.
The other five were very active during my time to observe them.
I was mesmerized while watching their games of tag, and the submission of one to another. One wolf bit another on the heel, and when the one being beaten reeled around to confront the nipper that wolf had the funniest 'I didn't do anything' look. I recommend this park for the wolf enclosure alone. We may have been lucky to observe the wolves when they were the most active. You could inquire at the entrance window to find out the best hours for wolf activity, and work your tour of the park around their schedule.
Second to the wolves my most exciting find was the 8 Przewalski's horses (equus caballas przewalski). The name is pronounced, zeh-val-skee. The 4 ft high (1.2 m) animal is the only surviving subspecies of horse that has never been domesticated. A Polish naturalist, Nikolai Przhevalsky (different spelling from the horses name) (1839-1888) described a herd in 1881 having gone on an expedition to find them. They once inhabited the grasslands of central asia. The species almost became extinct in the wild in the 1960's. In 1992 a successful breeding program that relied on captive animals was started, and they have been sent to parks everywhere for further breeding. There were only 300 animals, and then a census taken in '05 showed 1,500 of the beautiful horses. These all descended from 31 horses.
The Przewalski's horse is the only truly wild horse in the world. Most wild horses today, such as the American mustang, are actually feral animals. They were once domesticated, but escaped to a wild state. A cooperative venture between the zoological society of London and Mongolian scientists has resulted in a successful re-introduction of these horses from zoos into their natural habitat in Mongolia. As of 2005 there is a free ranging population of 248 animals in the wild. I learned that it is possible to cross the 66 chromosome Przewalskis with the domesticated horse. That horse has 64, and the resulting hybrid is fertile, however, this offspring has 65 chromosomes. When crossed again to the domestic horse, the new generation returns to 64 chromosomes so the species is not furthered that way.
In the wild they live in social groups consisting of a dominant male, several mares, and their offspring. Each has a well-defined range, and they travel about 3-6 miles a day, grazing, dozing and taking mud baths. At night they will cluster together and sleep for about 4 hours. At around 5 years of age the fillies and colts leave the group as they reach sexual maturity. The horses are driven away by the dominant stallion. The fillies generally look for a new herd to join after which they will begin to reproduce. Colts usually find one another and spend a year or two in bachelor herds. A stallion will eventually leave the bachelor herd, and attempt to take over an existing herd by challenging the dominant stallion, or by 'stealing' one or more mares from another group, or by gathering unattached fillies.
Like the whale killed for its body parts, this species met a decline when hunters would kill the horses for the thick green mucous it formed in the back of its mouth from the chlorophyll in the feed grass! It was thought to cure a virus circulating at the time. The Przewalski's horses are so beautiful, and I got nice movie pictures of a female nursing her foal. They are beige brown in color with muted stripes on the lower legs like a zebra. The upright mane is very attractive, and paired with the broad nose it makes these horses very handsome. Scholars see a similarity between this species and the ancient cave drawings of horses in Europe.
Bruce and I found a tiny loch by a small white Kirk that had a bench on the water. The little loch was really just a large pond and it’s not on the map, so I don’t know its name. We ate the light lunch that we'd packed at the Gate Lodge before leaving rested, and pressed on. We had many more sights around the Kincraig area to see that afternoon.
When we were on our tour of Scotland in 2001 we made a single stop in Kincraig. It is one that I would recommend to you. The Leault Farm with its working Border Collies is worth a stop. Neil Ross, the shepherd, and his young family, have two demonstrations six days a week. We watched puppies herd geese into a pen. In this way an owner can see fairly early on if a puppy will be good at herding. Neil demonstrated several accomplished dogs in the field, and it was just stunning. An Aussie rancher on the tour with us said he'd never seen anyone able to control as many dogs at once as Neil Ross. I was tearing up a little, but no one noticed me in the pouring rain. Our sheltie had passed away less than three months before, and I was still grieving. We wouldn't leave our old girl, Bonnie Lass, called Buffy, for a month long tour. When she was gone we were able to be away for an extended period of time. It is the beauty of the dogs that reminded me of our Shetland Sheepdog. If you've had a herding dog, you know that it is their nature to want to please. This bred-in quality makes a good pet as well as a trainable shepherd. I hope that you will visit the Leault Farm if you enjoy watching working dogs.
(a travelogue that mentions the working dog farm-scroll down at this site)
From Kincraig it is about 12 miles northeast, as the 'Chough' flies, to Loch Garten. We were excited to learn about Scottish Osprey survival. The 'Boat of Garten' is a crossroad for two long-distance sporting routes-the Speyside way from Buckie to Aviemore, and a Sustrans cycle route, part of a national system that runs from the south coast of England to the north coast of Scotland. Boat of Garten is also a link between Aviemore and Carrbridge. The village is a good center for visiting both the Cairngorms and Monadhliath Mountains. You may be as curious as I was about the name.
It says this on a wall plaque at the Boat of Garten village community hall: "The name of the village comes from a point on the River Spey to the east of the settlement. The farming district had always been known to the Gaelic speaking population as "Gartain' (the cornland). For generations before the building of the first bridge over the river in 1899, a 'Coit' (ferryboat) had operated. The crossing was known as 'Coit Ghartain'...The 'Garten Ferry' or 'Boat of Garten." There is a celebrated bi-annual arts festival in the Boat of Garten, and a famous 18-hole golf course, that is
known locally as, 'The Boat.'
It was Monarch of the Glen that perked my interest in the Osprey, and I was thrilled to go to the number one loch, and the number one spot on that loch for the conservation of the Osprey in Scotland. Loch Garten's Osprey Village is the place single-handedly credited with the re-introduction of these fascinating birds to their natural habitat. The centre is open from April to August every year. That is the yearly nesting cycle time that the centre is monitoring. While at home I'd researched the birds to make a report for the BBC America Monarch forum.
I raised finches for sale as pets when we lived in Nevada, and I’ve enjoyed other types of birds in our home. In our current house in Washington State we have an indoor aviary that is 6' x 5' and to the ceiling, and we have European Goldfinches, Java Rice Finches, and Society Finches. The aviary is in the Main Bathroom, and that has turned out to be the perfect room to keep birds. I can keep our cats out of the room, and the birds flourish in the high humidity and ample light from the windows. Silvano, a male European Goldfinch sings most colorfully when the Monarch of the Glen soundtrack is playing! My interest in birds extends to the out of doors. We have a Snowy Egret pair often at the creek’s edge, a 5 minute walk from our house. Every day when we approach their area they take wing, and that’s something I look forward to seeing. We aren't too far from the Ridgefield Wetlands Reserve, and I think the pair may have flown in from there.
The Osprey visitor's centre is small, but its set up for any number of people who want to crowd inside. You sit along wooden benches in front of six live video screens, to watch the mother Osprey feed her young (who were as big as she was in July). The return of the Osprey (pandion haliaetus) to breed again in Scotland in the 1950's was a conservation success story throughout the world. There are now upwards of 100 pairs in Scotland, and it is thought that they may soon nest in central England. Most nests are in Scots pine, but in the past they built massive eyries on rocky islands.
When we got to the centre at 2:30 in the afternoon, I went inside and found a seat in front of the screens. Bruce headed in another direction to see some displays on the other side of the main room by the windows. He immediately came back over to me and said, "Come over here and see..." To that I replied..."No, that's okay, this is what I've come to see-I can see the rest later." Then again he said..."No, really, come." So, just to keep him happy I left my good seat and went over to the window, and I saw that he was looking at the actual birds on the nest that I was seeing on the screen! We laughed.
The nest is up on a high stilt called a 'nest cam post', and you can look through binoculars or see them with regular vision through the window. The male, called Henry, was in a tree visible alongside. I went back and forth between the two viewing places, and we read the exhibits. At one point a woman came out and told us the pair's story. Over 100 volunteers work at the centre.
The centre is watching one pair only, 'Henry' and 'E.J'. They are both eight years old and, like most Osprey in Scotland, they breed near Loch Garten. Every year the birds migrate to the Gambia or Senegal in Africa for the winter, and the female comes back early to her former nest. A female osprey is bigger than a male. This is E.J.'s fourth year to nest at Loch Garten. Her mate was 3 weeks late this year, and she mated with another osprey male, "Orange VS" and laid her two eggs in the nest she uses every year, and began to incubate them. The centre does not interfere with the birds as a general rule, although there was the time a pine marten was making his way up the pole, and they did scare him off. This time when Henry flew back to the nest the workers were quite happy, because he'd been her mate before. They observed a display fight with aerial chases and wide dives as Henry routed the newcomer. He settled down to help incubate E.J.'s eggs, but upon closer inspection the cameras recorded Henry pushing one egg and then another over the edge of the nest.
The group in the observatory thought it was over for that year, but E.J. mated with Henry, and had another clutch of babies. He brings whole salmon and trout up to her, and it was amusing to see the large board on the wall of the centre with its accounting of the time each fish had been brought to the nest. Henry presented an 18" brown trout one time. Sometimes they flop around in the nest and fall out!
The Thursday after we visited the centre, the three young Ospreys were all to be banded. The staff drew straws, the asst. warden won the draw, and climbed up a ladder to bring the 3 female chicks down to band them with metal leg rings. The chicks were weighed at 3 lbs each, and are called 8U, 8V and 8W. The parent birds always stay until the last chick fledges before beginning their migration. It may be 2010 before the three are seen again because these fish eating birds of prey will often spend 2-3 years in Africa before coming 'home' to mate. There is a lovely gift shop there at the centre, and I purchased some postcards with pictures of diving osprey. To read the on-line osprey diary of Henry and E.J's season this year- go to Loch Garten osprey diary… (they've had some problems this summer)
The Osprey Blog:
( the drama continues )
The avian crowd can find out more through computer sites for the Abernathy and Insh Marshes nature reserves.
(continued in the next post)