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Natural Connections

Modern life in Scotland is increasingly busy. The connections our ancestors had with nature and the land are being lost. As leisure time shrinks, or is filled with hi-tech experiences, opportunities to experience nature become fewer. And yet it is possible to connect with nature on a day to day basis. All around us, the great web of life continues to hold its shape, and nature continues its eternal cycles. Keep looking, listening, smelling, touching - and keep experiencing natural connections.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Its not even July, and yet the signs of autumn are starting to appear. For instance, there were around 30 Lapwings in a flock over the sea level fields between Erskine and Langbank. Still, the summer flowers continue to put on a fantastic show for anyone who cares to notice. There are two patches of white flowers (possibly White Campion) beside Arkleston Farm Road - must go back and check them out when the traffic isn't so heavy. Also a small patch of Poppies among the grasses on the bank between the east-bound M8 and the on-ramp from the St James interchange.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Summer is still suspended while the unsettled weather persists. Nevertheless, the conditions (warm and damp) are ideal for plant life. Indian Balsam (Policeman's Helmet) now taking over the banks of the Cart at the Hammills, and making a fantastic display with its bright pink flowers. Found another garden escape, Fox and Cubs (below), growing amongst the border plants at Stanely House. Its orange flowers are quite striking, especially as the dandelion-shape means they really should be yellow!

Fox and Cubs, Stanely House, Paisley, 29th June 2004.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Rain spread back to the whole country again today, although thankfully the weather forecast says it will be short-lived. The female Osprey at Loch Garten has spent the last three days planted on top of her nest sheltering her chicks from the onslaught. However when I checked this morning, (before the rain started again), the chicks were sitting in the sun, hopefully drying out a bit. Ospreys aren’t affected by bad weather as much as the other Loch Garten specialty, the Capercaillie. Research has shown that wet weather in June, particularly when the spells are prolonged, leads to many chick deaths. The news is not all bad though. An RSPB press release on 22nd June reported a doubling of the Scottish population (from 1000 to 2000 birds) since the last survey in 1999.
At least some of our commoner birds are having good breeding success. Today there were an adult woodpigeon with two enormous juveniles waddling about on the playing fields on the east side of Arthur’s Seat, and a party of 7 Jackdaws (2 ads and 5 juveniles?) on the grassy patch behind our house in Paisley.
Spent part of the day in Edinburgh. Struck again by how common Poppies are, compared to here in the west. Favoured sites include field edges and road verges, but also waste places including a gap site between two shops. Intrigued by patches of waist-high, blue-flowered plants on roadsides at the east end of the bypass. I wonder if they could be Flax. Also noticed some impressive patches of Purple Loosestrife (Edinburgh’s unofficial plant) on the southern slopes of Arthur’s Seat. Fulmars still attending nests on the cliffs at Salisbury Crags, although I was in too much of a hurry to investigate.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Summer is back (!), with glorious sunshine for most of the day (although I think it’s still cooler than it should be, and the news is that the weather is to break again over the weekend). Working in Ayrshire for the second day running, I’m again amazed by the views across to Arran and Ailsa Craig, especially on a clear day like today. Both were deep blue against the pale blue of sea and sky. Ailsa Craig is particularly striking. It positively towers out of the water like a giant, isolated tooth, and can be seen looming up from well back up the A77. It is apparently a volcanic plug, composed of micro-granite, and exposed (like Bass Rock, Castle Rock in Edinburgh, the islands of St Kilda etc) by erosion of the softer rock that once surrounded it. There are some good, general views of the island at http://www.maybole.org/photogallery/ailsacraig/ailsacraig2.htm. Also, there is an interesting photo diary with images taken from the summit at http://web.ukonline.co.uk/mountains/ailsa.htm.
Drove back up the A77 to Paisley. Saw a Kestrel hovering over the rough grassland beside the southbound carriageway. Work is continuing on the upgrading to motorway, with massive earthworks at various points. I couldn’t help thinking what a fantastic opportunity it might have been to really improve what I have always found a very barren and uninspiring landscape. So much of the land between Newton Mearns and Ayr appears (to my eyes at least) to consist of unimproved grassland and open moorland, all nibbled away to virtually nothing by sheep. The scattered patches of blanket conifers don’t add anything much. But sympathetic planting of native trees, fencing off (and traditional management) of grassland to allow reversion to meadow, conservation of damp areas, the establishment of waterways, even the burying of short lengths of the road under tunnels could have really enhanced the whole corridor, both scenically and in terms of biodiversity. And why stop with the motorway corridor? There are vast tracts of land on both sides which could be “developed” in such a way. It remains to be seen what the developers will do. Certainly I have been impressed by the scale of planting of hedges along the upgraded M8, so maybe there is some cause for a little optimism.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Teaching at Ayrshire Central this afternoon. Quite a lot of wildlife around the hospital grounds including Rabbits, Grey Squirrel and a group of very smart-looking juvenile Jackdaws begging for food from a parent.
Dead Badger on the road just south of Hunterston.
Hedgerows and roadsides thick with wild flowers. Noticed a large patch of Yellow Flag in a damp hollow just east of Largs. Also plenty of frothy-flowered Meadowsweet, especially around Lochwinnoch, and a patch of ?Ragged Robin on the south side of the dual carriageway, just east of Howwood.
Weather starting to improve after the torrential rain of the past few days. It has been so bad that our tap water has actually turned brown (presumably from the amount of peat being washed into the reservoirs by the rain) - the first time I've seen that happen in 15 years living in Paisley.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Today started with a Grey Squirrel running across the road in front of the school bus. Its another creature I find it hard to be charitable about, especially as one last year was almost certainly responsible for clearing out our nest box full of half-grown Blue Tits.
Gulls have started to congregate on the grassy areas beside the Newark Castle shipyard. One of them might have been a juvenile Common Gull. I'll try to have a closer look tomorrow.
Saw a Kestrel hovering over the verge opposite Langbank at 9 30 tonight. I guess he has a brood to feed, and the very wet weather we have had over the past two days can't have made hunting very easy. A nice way to end the day though. They are such specialized birds, using a combination of hovering and telescopic vision to find their prey. They really are a perfect blend of form and function.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Monday 21st June 2004
Heard a Tawny Owl calling somewhere in the estate for quite a while last night (around 11 pm). I haven’t heard one for ages, so it was a really nice surprise. Not sure what the neighbours thought about it though. It was the Tawny Owl Shakespeare was writing about in his poem “Winter” (from “Love’s Labour’s Lost”), when he said: “Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note”. In fact, what he was hearing was the call of two owls, one calling “Tu-whit” (I think it sounds more like “Keewick”), and the other replying “Tu-who” (“Woo-woooo”). I only heard one bird last night (giving the “Woo-woooo” reply).
Drove down to Greenock around 5pm today. Harvesting of the second sea-level hay field at Bishopton now underway. Various gulls and crows hanging about, looking for free pickings, but also two Rabbits out in the open on the already-cut margin. They weren’t there when I drove back an hour later, but there were three Buzzards soaring together over the site (the most I’ve seen hereabouts).
Rosebay Willow Herb now well into flower. Odd Poppies on the roadsides.
Checked the Cairn Gorm and RSPB web cams at lunchtime. Surprised to see fresh snow lying in front of the Ptarmigan restaurant (on the day before midsummer!). Loch Garten Ospreys look OK, but a bit wet. Red Kites at Rockingham have lost one of their chicks out of the nest (a pity, but I’m not surprised. The nest had been impossibly crowded for days). Sea Eagle nest from Mull now on stream. Looking forward to watching events unfold there.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Drove along the Johnstone bypass between Linwood and Bridge of Weir this afternoon. Verges full of interesting plants. Rosebay Willow Herb in full flower. Other plants now coming into flower include thistles, ragworts and a waist-height, pink flowered herb which might be a type of Mallow. No sign of the patch of Thrift I noticed on the roadside here earlier in the year. I guess it has succumbed to the municipal lawn mowers.
Back home, a pair of Magpies have brought their ridiculously short-tailed fledgling to join in the general menacing of the back garden. In spite of what the experts say about their innocence when it comes to small bird declines, I find it difficult to feel anything but loathing towards them (although the juvenile does share his parents' stunning, electric-blue wing panels).

Friday, June 18, 2004

Back from two days in the Renfrewshire / Inverclyde countryside. Working most of the time, but kept my eyes and ears open, and managed a walk yesterday evening.
Venue was in extensive parkland with deciduous woods, conifer plantations, improved grassland and rough verges, but mostly dominated by a large golf course. Lots of birds around including Pied Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Buzzard overhead and lots of Swallows. Heard Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat, and found a group of ?Coal Tit chicks moving through a small stand of ?Scots Pine. Also notable were one or two Rabbits nibbling the grass on the croquet lawn.
Went for walk up through the golf course on the Thursday evening. Some of the rough grass verges were quite damp, and growing amongst the sedges were what I think were Northern Marsh Orchids (see bottom two pics below). Really struck by the intense purple colour and delicate beauty of the flowers. Further up the hill, the vegetation became more heath-like with Vaccinium, Spagnum, Cotton Grass, Heathers, Gorse, sedges and Birch. In the dampest patches were more orchids, this time I guess, Heath Spotted (see first two pics below). Really excited to have found two different (although, I think, quite common) species. I am starting to understand what it is that makes them so attractive to so many people. I think it is partly the appearance of the flowers, but also the fact that the individual plants are quite striking in themselves, as well as interesting in the way they grow in loose colonies.

?Heath Spotted Orchid habitat, Langbank, June04

?Heath Spotted Orchid, Langbank, June 04

?Northern Marsh Orchid habitat, Langbank, June 04

?Northern Marsh Orchid, Langbank, June 04

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Up in Glasgow today. Really struck by the abundance of Buddleia around the city, in gap sites, between pavements and walls, and even growing on top of derelict buildings. Not quite in flower yet, but still an impressive sight.
Speaking of environmental planning issues (as I was yesterday), came across an interesting website (http://www.carrifran.org.uk/) describing a project to establish a natural woodland in a valley between Moffat and Peebles. Once again I'm heartened by the forward thinking and public spiritedness of my fellow citizens. Few of them, I guess, will live to see the wood mature. And yet they obviously think it important enough to give up their time and money to get the project going.
Working in rural Renfrewshire for the next two days. Will take the camera just in case......

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Another mild day after a surprisingly stormy night. More clumps of Yellow Flag Iris appearing out of the roadside vegetation, especially at Langbank. Verge between the A8 and the Clyde footpath at Woodhill alive with colour. In addition to the Dog Roses which have been a mass of white and pink for a few weeks now, the grey leaved shrubs (I don't know what they are) are suddenly covered in bright yellow flowers. Another sign of mid summer is the hay cutting going on in both the first sea level field and the first Finlaystone meadow.
Drove home with the car windows open because it was so warm. As a result, heard a snatch of Yellowhammer song near the airport perimeter fence.
Interesting news from Chris that a 76 mile footpath is to be constructed along the south shore of the Forth, eventually stretching from Stirling to Dunbar. Really good to know that we may yet be remembered as a generation who built more than just shopping centres. Full story is at http://news.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=674582004

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Went back to take another look at the patches of Bistwort yesterday. The site is in an area of unimproved grassland with extensive damp areas dominated by sedges. The plants are on slightly raised banks which border the road. There are three small groups. The photos below show a close up of a single flower head and a general view looking north (back to Paisley).
Carried on to Ayr on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. Saw a single Buzzard, not far beyond Lugton, soaring in the sunshine. Ayr full of people, so consequently not many birds about. Lots of noisy Starling fledglings gobbling up the remains of sandwiches and chip suppers. Stunning views over a sparkling sea to the blue peaks on Arran.

Close up of Bistort, 12th June 2004

Bistort on road verge, Gleniffer Braes, 12th June 2004.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Different route today, this time to Irvine via Gleniffer Braes. Fantastic patches of Bistort in full flower on either side of the Irvine road across the braes, just before the sharp left-hand bend. Really stunning pink flower heads on long stems. Must go back tomorrow with my camera!
Saw a Buzzard being mobbed by a couple of crows just before Irvine. Roadsides around here are covered with Red Campion. Once in Irvine, could hardly concentrate on work for the sound of Chiffchaff song from outside.
Walk around Pollock Park, Glasgow, in the evening. Lots of Jackdaws and Swallows around. Also a few Swifts. Lots of interesting wall plants, most, I guess, escapes. Will have to wait until they flower to get a positive I.D.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Torrential rain for spells today, interspersed with periods of warm sunshine. One possible casualty of the rain was a near full-grown Starling chick on the pavement in front of a building on Nelson Street, Greenock. Not sure whether it died as a result of the fall, or was already dead and was washed down by the rain. Whatever, it made a forlorn, but not uncommon sight at this time of the year. No such misfortune for the gull chicks on the factory roofs in Port Glasgow. Their parents wisely nest close to ventilation ducts, under which the chicks can find shelter if the weather gets bad.
Roe Deer still at Finlaystone, this time in the first meadow. Shelduck flock off Erskine shore now up to around 20. Single Grey Heron nearby.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Wednesday 9th June 2004
Three Mute Swans off Langbank today. No sign of the Roe Deer at Finlaystone. Saw a Grey Squirrel running across Arkleston Road, Paisley at 5 30 pm. It was taking its life in its hands (paws?) as the road is like a race track at that time of night. Heard on Radio Scotland that a Wallaby has been found dead on a road near Islay airport. Lots of speculation as to how it got there. Nearest colonies are on the Isle of Man and some of the Loch Lomond islands. Members of the latter population have been seen coming ashore when the loch has been frozen. However getting to Islay from the mainland is quite a different prospect.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Tuesday 8th June 2004
Very mild today, but overcast and humid by the evening. Most birds seem to head for cover when it gets like this. Only the Swallows seem to benefit, no doubt chasing insects tempted into the air by the calm conditions.
Spotted the Roe Deer again this morning, more or less exactly where he has been since Friday. Not much else about in the morning.
In the evening, very high tide off Greenock. Virtually no foreshore left exposed. Intense blue flowers appearing in the verges. My guess would be Tufted Vetch. Large clump of Yellow Flag Iris opposite the gates to Finlaystone estate. More Foxgloves appearing , especially along the railway at Port Glasgow. Next plant to flower looks likely to be Rosebay Willow Herb. Verges are full of them.
First gull chicks out on the factory roofs in Greenock. Most Herring Gulls appear to be sitting tight (on eggs or young chicks) but at least one pair of Lesser Black backs had two large chicks out and about.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Monday 7th June.
Male Greenfinch singing loudly from the top of a derelict building in the centre of Paisley at 7 this morning. Roe deer in the Finlaystone meadow again, although this time at 10am, munching quietly while heavy traffic thundered by. In the afternoon, 1 Mute Swan off Langbank (possibly the beginning of the late summer flock that gathers there). Also around 8 Shelduck on the beach, possibly non-breeders or failed breeders. Foxgloves in full flower on the verges of the M8, near the bend at Erskine. Also a few spindly Poppies on the north side. Verges and other waste places now covered with grasses and wild flowers. Docks and thistles coming into flower. Odd escapes, including some stately Lupins at Langbank, liven up the picture. Back home, three fledgling Blue Tits hopping across the roofs begging their parent for food. They appear quite incongruous in this setting, but managed perfectly well, before flying off in pursuit.

Friday 4th June

A mixed day, weather-wise, but warmed up as it wore on. Down to work early this morning. Admired patch of White Campion on verge beside Renfrew westbound M8 on-ramp. I first noticed it about 3 weeks ago, and it is still the only patch I have seen. Noticed a Shelduck flying over the motorway from the estuary just west of Erskine to the low lying fields on the other side. Sensibly, it had risen to a fair height before attempting to cross. I guess they may well nest in the fields. I wonder how the chicks will make it over the M-way. Also worried about disturbance as I saw three men in luminous orange jackets working in the same field this afternoon.
Back to this morning, saw a Roe Deer in the second meadow beneath Finlaystone House, the first I have seen hereabouts.
Lots of House Sparrow noise today, both at Nelson Street in Greenock and outside the University library in Paisley. No time to investigate, but judging from the chirruping there are plenty about, possibly fledged young begging to be fed.
Came off the M8 at St James today. Verges are choked with Oxeye Daisies. I wonder how many of the commuters notice them as they sit waiting to get on to the roundabout.
Sad sight in the evening. A Collared Dove freshly dead in the middle of the road at the very top of the estate. A Crow was already pulling it apart, and clumps of feathers were floating down the road on the warm evening air.
Checked out the webcams late on. Interesting visitors at the Sandy and Ouse feeders, respectively, were a Jackdaw and a Great spotted woodpecker. Speaking of the latter, Laurie at work told me that her local pair in Inverkip have started bringing their young to garden nuts in the past few days.

Thursday 3rd June
Male Kestrel over M8, eastbound, just before St James (around tea time). I rarely see these around here. Disturbed ground from Erskine to St James, where they have been working on drains, completely covered with flowering grasses and wildflowers (especially buttercups). Just goes to show how quickly nature can take over when the land is disturbed, then left alone.

Wednesday 2nd June 2004
Warm and sunny again. A flock of noisy starlings visiting next doors bird table. I guess the parents are teaching the newly-fledged brood where all the best feeding places are. Honeysuckle now has three or four fully open flowers, although the scent has not developed fully yet. Think I will go out later to check as I have read it gets stronger at night.
Loch Garten osprey chicks now visible above the rim of the nest. Watched on the web cam today. Think I saw three little grey heads straining for some scraps of fish. The parent birds look hilarious as they stare, bewilderedly, at what they have produced. However the young male seems to be doing his bit in terms of delivering food for his growing family.

Monday 31st May 2004
Foxgloves in flower (plenty of white ones) beside the road on the southern slopes of Arthurs Seat. First Poppies of the year for me were a few in roadside verges just off the Edinburgh City bypass. I have not seen any in the west of the country. Are they absent or have I just missed them?

25th May 2004
Yellow-flowered cushion on roadside at Port Glasgow. Much more Red Campion around than last year.

23rd May 2004
Patch of thrift on the side of the Johnstone bypass again this year. It is just before the first marker for the north-bound Linwood off ramp.

20th May 2004
On a working trip to Islay. Early Purple and Early Marsh Orchids appearing in great sweeps. Birdsfoot Trefoil, Thrift and Scurvey Grass on the big rocks along the shore. Water Avens and Marsh Marigold along the sream through the golf course at Machrie.

Mid May 2004

Oxeye Daisies appearing on roadsides.

5th May 2004
Working in Lochgilhead today. Caught sight of a Common Sandpiper flying along the channel there - my first of the year.

End April 2004
Walked along the Cart behind the estate. Lots of Ramsons, Bluebells, Jack-by-the-Hedge (with small, white, four petalled flowers and shiny, vine-shaped, light green leaves). Also a small ? saxifrage species growing on damp banks and lots of Indian Balsam seelings pushing up. More Jack-by-the-Hedge (aka Garlic Mustard) at the top of the estate at base of fences/walls.

26th April 2004
First two Swallows over Arkleston Farm.

25th April 2004

Walked along by Castle Semple Loch. Marsh marigold and Cuckoo Flower in damp meadows there.

23rd April 2004
First Bluebell flowers appeared on south-facing banks (e.g. in the middle of the St James Interchange) over the past week (the fresh leaves have been apparent for a few weeks).

15th April 2004
First Willow warblers of the year in song at Loch Lomond shores. Also Wood Anemones in flower.

14th April 2004
Chiffchaffs calling by cycle path behind Hawkhead estate, and in woods at Troon. They have been around the country for the last 3 or 4 weeks, but I haven’t !
I have come to the conclusion that the prominent white-flowering, leafless bushes in roadside verges (e.g. the M8 between
Greenock and Paisley) are Blackthorn. I also saw good sized trees which I guess are this species in the woods at Troon. (Also Bluebell plants pushing through well (but not flowering yet)). I have also decided that the yellow-flowered bushes visible from the M8 (e.g. on Finlaystone estate) are Laburnum. Other bushes / trees coming into flower are pink- and red-flowering Cherry. However I note that unlike in the Blackthorn, the leaves of these species are already emerging when the flowers appear. Noticed the Hawthorn bushes in verges between Linwood and Ferguslie today (14th April). They are strongly in leaf, but have absolutely no flowers.

1st / 2nd April 2004
Drove to Lochgilphead. First Primroses appearing on roadside verges. Also Coltsfoot on bare verges, especially around Lochgair. First Rhodedenron flowers appearing.

29th March 2004
? Broom, ? Gorse in full flower. Blossom trees flowering on Finlaystone estate including Laburnum and ? Willow. First Dandelion flowers on verges. Gulls settled on Port Glasgow factory rooftops.

16th March 2004
Presumed Red legged Partridge in inner quadrangle at
University of Paisley Craigie campus, Ayr (presumably an escape from a local collection) – feeding quietly among the flower beds at 1 pm.

Early March 2004
Yellow roseroot flowering in garden.

First week in March 2004
Daffodils coming into flower along roadside verges in Argyll (Crocuses have been out for a few weeks, Snowdrops perhaps a week before that).

Last week of February 2004
Single Golden Eagle seen soaring (and gliding off very fast) above the glen which starts at the bend in the road at the foot of Glen Crone (around
5 pm).

Early Feb 2004
Crippling (if distant) views of Red throated Divers and Slavonian Grebes on dead calm sea off
Ardmore point. Also around 8 seals hauled up on sand banks looking like giant grey bananas. Walkers very excited – this is apparently not an everyday occurrence here.

9th February 2004
Rooks back at colonies beside A8 (Finlaystone) and A7 (Prestwick Airport).

Late January 2004
Two foxes chasing noisily in the garden.

18th October 2003
Circuit of Leverndale. Jackdaws circling tower. Cormorant and 2 Mallards on river. More Redwings and Fieldfares.

16th October 2003
Walk to base of Dumgoyne. Sunny weather. Several kestrels. Distant Buzzards. Paralysed Rabbit (? Myxamatosis). 1 Red Admiral. Fieldfares in berry trees.

Mid October 2003
Fieldfares and Redwings arrived, Hawkhead estate.

Around 14th October 2003
Back from postbox via fields. Numerous Redwings and some Fieldfares (first this winter for both) in berry trees. Sparrowhawk chasing after them. Later, walk to river. Goldcrest in small trees beside middle gate.

11th October 2003
Visit to Gartmorn Dam, Central. Adult G C Grebe attended by two large, stripey young. Various ducks (Mallard, Tufted Duck). Several dragonflies (? Late) flying over reedy patch. Red Admiral sunning on grassy bank. Around the same date, 7 swans over the M8 at
Glasgow Airport (? First Whoopers).

Early October 2003
Indian Balsam (Policeman's Helmet) seed pods popping in dry weather.

Mid September 2003
Fungi in woods at Inverary including Stinkhorn, luminous white tree fungus and Orange Peel.

End July 2003
Bog Asphodel in flower and Bilberry in fruit on Ben A'an.

End June 2003
Full grown gull chicks on factory rooftops. Yellow Flag flowers dying back. Red Campion completely gone.

Mid June 2003
Rosebay Willowherb, Ragwort and Sea Aster all in flower.

Early June 2003
Foxglove flowers appearing. Naturalised Lupins in flower beside the M8 through Livingston. Mute Swans gathering opposite Langbank. Small gull chicks beside some roof top nests. Yello Flag Iris in full flower at the Hawkhead estate park. Purple/blue vetch coming into flower along roadsides east of Port Glasgow.