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

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…

A wonder-full day at Dundreggan, part 1

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) changing colour with Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), downy birches (Betula pubescens) and aspen trees (Populous tremula) behind, at Dundreggan in early September.

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) changing colour with Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), downy birches (Betula pubescens) and aspen trees (Populous tremula) behind, at Dundreggan in the middle of September.

September is a month of transition in the Caledonian Forest, with summer coming towards an end, and the first signs of autumn appearing as the bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) begins to change colour. However, there’s still a lot of life visible at this time of year, and so I was glad to have the opportunity of spending a Saturday at Dundreggan in the middle of the month purely for photography. I had some thoughts about going to one of the more distant parts of the estate, but as it transpired, I didn’t get further than about a 10 minute walk from the lodge, because there was so much of interest nearby! Continue reading…

Return to Inchvuilt Wood

Heather (Calluna vulgaris) in flower, with bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) changing colour amongst Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) in Inchvuilt Wood in Glen Strathfarrar in early September.

Heather (Calluna vulgaris) in flower, with bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) changing colour amongst Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) in Inchvuilt Wood in Glen Strathfarrar in early September.

The end of August and early September is the peak time for common heather (Calluna vulgaris) to be flowering in the Highlands, and I usually aim to do a couple of days of photography of this seasonal phenomenon at different locations each year. This summer I decided to make a return visit to the Inchvuilt Wood in Glen Strathfarrar, which I’d first been to in 2012, but hadn’t gone back to since then. So it was that I set off there on the first Sunday in September, hoping to find the heather at its peak of blossom… Continue reading…

A day in Glasdrum Wood, Part 2

Alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) covered in moss in the temperate rainforest of Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve.

Alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) covered in moss in the temperate rainforest of Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve.

This is the follow up to my previous blog, about my visit to Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve in Argyll at the end of July. Rather than make one very long blog, I decided to split it into two, in the interest of making it more readable, and also for my own ease of posting blogs relatively regularly. The amount of work involved in creating each blog is obviously proportional to the length of the blog, and my aim is to get two blogs posted each month, so dividing my day at Glasdrum between two has enabled me to keep to that schedule. Continue reading…

A day in Glasdrum Wood, part 1

Moss-covered old oak tree (Quercus petraea) in temperate rainforest, Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve.

Moss-covered old oak tree (Quercus petraea) in temperate rainforest, Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve, Argyll.

For quite a few years I’d been wanting to visit Glasdrum Wood, a special area of temperate rainforest that is protected as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) on the west coast of Scotland, and at the end of July I finally made a visit there. Situated about midway between Fort William and Oban, on the north shore of Loch Creran, the wood is about 3 hours by car from my home so I set off at 6 am to ensure I had enough time to explore the woodland. Continue reading…

Floral attraction in Glen Affric

Longhorn beetle (Rhagium mordax) feeding on the flowers of a common hogweed plant (Heracleum sphondylium)

Black-spotted longhorn beetle (Rhagium mordax) feeding on the flowers of a common hogweed plant (Heracleum sphondylium) in Glen Affric.

July is one of my favourite months of the year, as it is the peak time for a lot of activity in nature – the blossoming of  many summer flowers, their pollination by a host of insects and the dispersal of young birds and mammals from their parents, to name some of the main events. In the middle of the month I spent a day in Glen Affric, visiting various areas of forest there, but the highlight of this trip was the time I spent with a few hogweed plants (Heracleum sphondylium) that were flowering beside the road, between Badger Falls and Dog Falls. Continue reading…

Birth and death on a birch tree

Aphid (Euceraphis punctipennis) on a leaf of the aspen tree in my garden.

Aphid (Euceraphis betulae) on a leaf of the aspen tree in my garden.

On Saturday 9th July I spent some time in my garden looking at an aspen tree (Populus tremula) I planted there about 10 years ago. As I was doing so, I noticed little spots of liquid on some of the leaves that I recognised as being the honeydew that is secreted by aphids when they feed on the tree’s sap. This prompted me to start looking at the leaves higher up on the tree, in search of the aphids themselves. Almost immediately, I found some large aphids on a few of the aspen’s leaves, but they didn’t look like the aphid species that I’m familiar with that feed on aspen. Continue reading…