Alan Watson Featherstone, Founder of Trees for Life, writes about his experiences out in the Caledonian Forest, and about his work for the charity.

Signs of spring unfolding

Catkins of a goat willow (Salix caprea) bursting from their buds in Glen Affric at the beginning of April.

After a relatively mild and mostly snow-less winter, spring is well underway in the Highlands at this time. Leaves are reappearing on the trees, birdsong is abundant and the days are lengthening considerably now that we’re past the vernal equinox and are into the half of the year with more light than darkness. At the beginning of April I spent a Sunday out in Glen Affric and much of my time then was spent documenting some of the signs of spring.

Continue reading…

A magical snowy day in Glen Affric

Birch trees (Betula pubescens) and Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) covered in snow beside the Affric River, near Dog Falls.

As I write this we’ve just passed the equinox, and spring is well under way in the Highlands, with clear sunny days, lots of bird songs and the first flowers already in blossom. In some ways it almost seems like we didn’t have a winter this year, as the weather was generally relatively mild and the cold snowy days often associated with the season have been conspicuous mostly by their absence. There were occasional falls of snow, but usually the temperature warmed up again quite quickly, so the white covering on the ground and the trees never lasted for more than a day or two. Continue reading…

Misty day in Glen Cannich, part 2

Lichen-covered rock in Glen Cannich, with Loch a’Bhana and the old pinewood below the Mullardoch dam visible behind.

In early January I spent a day out in Glen Cannich, and during the morning my attention was focused on the wonderful atmospheric conditions created by the mist drifting along the hillsides and over the old Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) there. I also photographed some red deer (Cervus elaphus). By lunch time however, the mist was gone and the deer had moved away so in the afternoon I began exploring the rocky knolls in the area below the Mullardoch dam. There are no trees there at all, so I don’t usually spend any time in that spot, because it’s rather bleak and desolate. Continue reading…

A red squirrel translocation day

Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer, with a red squirrel trapped near Culloden, to the east of Inverness, that was released later the same day near Plockton on the West Coast.

On the 9th of February I spent a very interesting day with one of my colleagues, Becky Priestley, as she carried out the next phase of our newest project for the restoration of the Caledonian Forest. Becky is our Wildlife Officer and she’s working on a three year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and an appeal to our supporters, for the translocation of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) to suitable native forests in the northwest Highlands that are currently  missing these arboreal, bushy-tailed mammals. Continue reading…

Misty day in Glen Cannich, part 1

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) and mist in Glen Cannich in early January.

For my first trip out to the Caledonian Forest in 2017 I decided to visit Glen Cannich as it had been some time since I was last there. It was another mild day in this unseasonably warm winter when I went out in early January, and I was hoping to be able to photograph some red deer (Cervus elaphus) while I was there. One of the estates in the glen feeds deer near the road in the winter, so it’s often possible to see the animals at close proximity. Continue reading…

Fantastic fungi

Wrinkled crust fungus (Phlebia radiata) on the dead branch of a birch tree in Glen Affric in December 2016.

Jelly rot fungus (Phlebia tremellosa) on the dead branch of a birch tree in Glen Affric in December 2016.

Autumn is my favourite season of the year in the Caledonian Forest, and although I spend a lot of time appreciating and photographing the bright colours of the leaves on the deciduous trees, fungi run them a close second in terms of garnering my interest. This is the time when the majority of fungi produce their fruiting bodies and I’ve long been intrigued and fascinated by the diversity and beauty of the various forms they take. Continue reading…

Damp winter days in Glen Affric

Lichen-covered downy birch tree (Betula pubescens) on the north shore of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Lichen-covered downy birch tree (Betula pubescens) on the north shore of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

For a casual visitor, it may often appear like there’s not much to see in the Caledonian Forest in winter. By then, all the leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees, many birds have migrated south for the winter and insects have gone into pupal stasis, out of sight. My experience, however, is that there is in fact still plenty of interest in the forest, if I shift my focus to some of the permanent, year-round life forms, and take time to look closely for them. Continue reading…

An unexpected sight in an aspen tree

Aspen tree (Populus tremula) in autumn colour, growing out from a cliff over Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Aspen tree (Populus tremula) in autumn colour, growing out from a cliff over Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Each autumn I usually spend a couple of nights in Glen Affric, so that I can experience the early mornings there. At that time of year the days are often completely wind-still and the mornings in particular are characterised by mirror-perfect reflections in the lochs and the vibrant autumnal colours of the leaves on the trees. Overnight mist often lingers for several hours after sunrise, making it the most photogenic and memorable time of the year to be in the Caledonian Forest. Continue reading…

Seven year wait for a fungus

Hen of the woods fungus (Grifola frondosa) fruiting at the base of an oak tree at Dundreggan.

Hen of the woods fungus (Grifola frondosa) fruiting at the base of an oak tree at Dundreggan on 9th November 2016.

On 6th November 2009, while I was at Dundreggan, I discovered a large fungus fruiting at the base of an oak tree (Quercus petraea) that I’d never seen before. Situated right at the base of the tree, where the trunk emerges from the ground, it was very large for a fungus, and it had quite a complex shape, with a considerable number of overlapping and interconnected caps. As always when I find something new, I got quite excited and spent a while with the fungus, studying it and photographing it from different angles. Continue reading…

A wonder-full day at Dundreggan, part 2

Goblet waxcap fungus (Hygrocybe cantharellus) at Dundreggan.

Goblet waxcap fungus (Hygrocybe cantharellus) at Dundreggan.

The first part of this blog focussed almost entirely on the many insects I saw feeding on some ragwort plants (Senecio jacobaea) at Dundreggan in the middle of September. After lunch that day I continued walking in the birchwood near the lodge, and found a lot of other subjects of interest, so that I didn’t get very far at all during the course of the afternoon. I find this increasingly to the case – I cover less and less distance when I’m out in Nature, as I see more and more details in even small areas, often that I wasn’t aware of at all in times gone by. Continue reading…