Wildside: Wealth of wildlife in Duns Castle reserve

One surprising creature discovered was this Palmate Newt.
One surprising creature discovered was this Palmate Newt.

The wildlife reserve at Duns Castle was the venue for excursions by the Central Borders Group of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Edinburgh Natural History Society on consecutive weekends in May.

Both groups arrived to find Duns covered with cloudy skies but by lunch time on both occasions the sun broke through and it turned out warm and sunny.

The route round the reserve was similar, although done in opposite directions, along the side of the Hen Poo (Herons Pond), down to the Mill Dam, up the Colonels Walk, lunch in St Mary’s Glade and back along the side of the Hen Poo. A walk I can throughly recommend just now as the young leaves on the trees are fresh and light green, the ferns have superb crosiers unfurling, there are flowers aplenty and birds are singing in the mornings and evenings.

A pair of Mute Swans had seven cygnets on our first visit but this seemed to have dwindled to five by the second excursion, I am not sure if they had just gone walk-about or if they had really gone.

At the Hen Poo male Reed Buntings were spotted sitting on the top of vantage points where they were delivering their short song to announce their claim to a territory. Similarly a beautiful male Redstart was the highlight for many, it sang in a willow close to the road seeming oblivious to its admirers, most of whom had never had such superb views of this striking bird, it’s breast is red, it has a black face, white forehead and grey crown and back and is almost the size of a Chaffinch.

Pairs of Spotted Flycatchers were watched darting in the air to catch passing insects and on the Mill Dam Little Grebes were uttering their trilling calls. Both Blackcap and Garden Warblers were in song but went unseen.

When the sun appeared so did some butterflies and we had a close encounter with a pair of Comma which even landed on the road beside us. Male Orange Tip were conspicuous as half of the forewing is bright orange and easily seen in flight, the upper surface of the female’s wing is similar to that of the common Green-veined and Small Whites which are also on the wing and it is not so easily distinguished when flying past.

Amongst the plants spotted were the diminutive Moschatel with its tiny green flowers.

Deep violet-blue and the occasional white Bluebells and masses of the white flowered Ramsons which is a relative of garlic. A number of fungi were spotted including some giant specimens of the Cup Fungus Peziza micropus which was found growing amongst wood chips and sawdust under a Horse Chestnut tree.

There are more than 50 species of Peziza and a lot of time and discussion took place before it’s identification was finally confirmed.

One surprising creature discovered was a Palmate Newt, a wee fellow about two inches long, it differs from the Smooth or Common Newt as the underside of the head and neck are pale pink and un-spotted. It’s best if you don’t pick up Newts as contact with hands can damage their skin.

There will be an evening walk in the grounds at Paxton House on Wednesday, June 22, meeting in the car park at 7pm. Good footwear recommended.