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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.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Enjoying the change of scene here in Portugal. The vegetation is all but scorched by the summer sun (I'd love to come here in spring), but here and there are marvels: the hedges adorned with pink and yellow flowers, a sprawling Convolvulus with deep purple-blue flowers and the ?Castor Oil Palms lining all the main boulevards. Cabo Sao Vincente was fantastic. Not many birds around except two great Red Kites and a Kestrel. Really struck by how like the Mull of Galloway or the Mull of Oa it is, in terms of rock structure and position.
Hopefully going to visit the mountains around Monchique tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Half way through our holiday on the Algarve. Weather has been very, very hot. Even the Portuguese have been complaining! There have been extensive forest fires in the hills to the north of the region. The worst day was Sunday, when a huge cloud of smoke spread all the way down to our hotel at Praia do Vau, and bits of ash were dropping into the swimming pools. That night, the flames could clearly be seen on the hilsides 25 km away. Thankfully the fires now seem to be out.
It has really been too hot for wildlife. However the hotel complex is right next to a huge golf course which seems to act as an oasis for whatever is around. Egrets (maybe Little Egrets, maybe Squacco Herons) fly over over continually. One evening there was a flock of Azure winged Magpies in the boundary trees. House Sparrows are common, including males with extensive areas of black around the head, presumably the Spanish subspecies/species.
Other things we have seen include lots of dragonflies (a red-bodied species seems to be the commonest), Frogs in tiny, artificial pools, lots of butterflies and a possible Civet Cat running across in front of the car at dusk.
Heading for Sierra de Monchique and Cabo Sao Vincente later in the week, both of which should be good.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Saw another (or the same) Roe Deer standing waist deep in the lush grass of the first Finlaystone meadow. He had quite a big set of antlers (I guess he was a buck as I don't think the does have antlers) and a gorgeous chestnut-brown coat. On the way back, I was really struck by the number of birds out on the Clyde (Gulls, ducks and around 15 Mute Swans), in complete contrast to the last few weeks. Back home, that pesky Grey Squirrel was at next door's nut feeders. Grrr.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Another change in the weather - back to heavy rain. Five Mute Swans off Langbank floating on the high tide. Lovely patches of Viper's Bugloss at the bend in the motorway. Scattered Poppies in the verges, less washed-out than the ones earlier in the year.
Kids found an enormous Hedgehog (about half the size of a football) in the lane at the back of the house yesterday. Every kid in the neighbourhood came round to speculate on whether it was alive or dead. Unfortunately the clouds of flies around it were a bit of a giveaway.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Spent yesterday in Temple Sowerby (see below), a small village in the Eden Valley (on the A66) six miles south-east of Penrith. Lovely summer’s day. Dozens of Swallows and House Martins feeding overhead and visiting nests in a barn and under cottage eaves respectively. Also watched a Spotted Flycatcher “snapping” flies from a perch high up in an Elm tree. Pied Wagtails, Blackbirds and House Sparrows also about.
The village green is surrounded by various trees including some interesting variegated Sycamores and three or four enormous Elms (all sadly showing signs of (?Dutch Elm) disease). The whole atmosphere of the village will change if these mighty trees are lost, not least because they muffle the sound of the busy A66 which passes a few streets away.
Interestingly, the red line on the map below may indicate a future bypass for the village. That would be very welcome, although the downside is that it means yet more countryside under tarmac.
Visited Penrith castle. More hirundines and other common birds. Horse Chestnut trees now at the fresh-looking, nearly ripened conker stage.
Later, walked some of the lanes north of Temple Sowerby. Typical laneside plants were Shepherd’s Purse, Cow Parsley, Yarrow, nettles, thistles and, surprisingly, Harebell. Damp fields covered with great swathes of Meadowsweet.
Fantastic views to Cross Fell.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Up in Lochgilphead today. Hills very green - covered with bracken. Not many birds about, the exception being Pied Wagtails which were quite common (in spite of comments from Lothian that this has been a bad year). More time to nature-watch on the way down (I wasn't driving!). Lots of wildflowers around, especially Foxglove and Common Valerian (with pale pink or white flowers in umbell-type arrangement - although its not an Umbellifer). Short grass full of Self-heal as at home. Most interesting finds were a bank covered in Honeysuckle on the seaward side of the road just before Minnard, and a clump of Fragrant Orchids at the traffic lights there. Only mammal, a Vole (quite a big one!) scurrying across the road half way up the Rest-and-be-thankful.

Not much to be seen over the past few days. Spotted another intermediate Carrion / Hooded Crow at Braidcroft Road (the chocolate brown aberrant that was around the gardens at the back of the terrace seems to have moved on).
Wrote that letter to the Council, by the way. Haven't managed to send it yet.
Going to Argyll for the day tomorrow. Will see what is around......

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Walked over the fields between the estate and Ross House. Loved the fact that within two minutes of leaving the main road, we had gone back in time, I guess, a few hundred years. The stream there is perfectly clear (unfortunately not much of an indication of how polluted it might be) and full of aquatic plants. The field edges have Red and White Clovers, Tufted Vetch, Cow Parsley, Shepherd's Purse, great sweeps of Meadow Sweet and an ancient-looking Hawthorn Hedge. I can’t bear to think that the land has already been earmarked for a rebuild of the neighbouring school. Thinking about a letter to the Council to ask them to ensure the stream, field edges and hedgerows are preserved. Not much to ask for, surely.
Through in Hamilton today. Four House Sparrows (including a pristine male) visiting a back garden nut feeder, plus a juvenile Blue Tit and a Hedgesparrow (picking up crumbs from the path).
Got into a conversation with the kids about diamonds this evening. It prompted us to search the internet for information about precious stones in Scotland (“Do we get diamonds here?”) Came across a very interesting site entitled “Minerals of Scotland”. I think number 2 child’s appetite is well and truly whetted. A trip to Kelvingrove Gallery would have been one option, had it not been in the middle of its protracted period of closure. Maybe a field trip will have to be done….

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Walked along the river just before tea. Wondered why I don’t do that more often. It really is an idyllic spot, especially on a lazy summer day like today. Bramble flowers hanging in great clusters – I’m sure its going to be a fantastic year for blackberries. Raspberries have already appeared, in better numbers than in any year I can remember. The kids loved helping themselves to the ripe berries.
The highlight of the first part of the path is the Honeysuckle tumbling over the garden fences. Also peeping through was a lovely clump of Feverfew. The meadow there is chest-high now with grasses, Meadow Sweet and some single purple-flowered plants of the pea family which might have been Grass Vetchling. At the bridge, the Meadow Sweet is particularly rife (it really does smell sickly-sweet), and is joined by some Bindweed and Cleavers. However the most dramatic plants of all are the Indian Balsam (now head-height) and Giant Hogweed (even taller) which have formed an amazing green corridor all along the river.
A Willow had come down over the path, as had a large Beech bough (complete with leaves). A new Labiate is flowering (purple) profusely in open parts of the woods (maybe a Woundwort species). A few swifts were over the trees, one or two Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and wrens were singing half-heartedly, and some family parties of tits were wandering about, but mostly it was a lovely calm summer scene, with the main sounds the droning of bees and purring of Woodpigeons.

Still lots of bird interest around, both big and small. Saw a Buzzard yesterday, soaring over trees beside the M8 at Inchinnan, and being buzzed by a group of corvids. This morning, spotted a Heron flying up to the heronry near Parkhill roundabout. Then, this afternoon, saw a medium sized raptor (? Sparrowhawk) soaring over the wood beside the bend on Arkelston Farm Road.
At home, the House Sparrow flock frequenting the seed feeders behind the terraced houses was up to a noisy 20+. At least two were adult males, and from their food begging behaviour, I guess another 3 or 4 were this year's young. There really has been a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes locally. A year ago I wasn't seeing any.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Browsing through my battered copy of Richard Mabey’s “Food for Free” (see pic below), I’m fascinated to read his comments that eating wild food is a really important way in which modern humankind can connect with the natural world. Maybe I’ll have to change the Natural Connections maxim to “Keep looking, listening, smelling, touching….. and tasting”.

"Food for Free" by Richard Mabey (pic from amazon.co.uk). My second-hand copy is a first edition, with the original dust jacket (one of my most treasured possessions).

I talked about the summer doldrums the other day, and I still get the same strong feeling today. There are relatively few birds visible (or audible), although I guess they are skulking around just out of sight (ironically, this is the time of year when populations of residents and summer visitors are at their maxima). Open ground is so choked with plants that even if anything new was to emerge, it would be invisible amongst the rest (although I notice Bramble has just come into flower). And the weather is warm and settled. On the webcams, mostly all there is to see is empty nests (Spotted Flycatcher, Swallow and Red Kite). The Osprey chicks are still in the nest, but are nearly the size of the adults now.
Noticed on the internet that Collins have another New Naturalist (Northumberland) ready to launch: “ (see pic below). Decided to order it straightaway. I think I feel a trip down the A1 coming on....

Forthcoming New Naturalist book (pic from amazon.co.uk)

Monday, July 05, 2004

Big event today was another dead mammal (sorry), this time a slightly squashed Hedgehog outside one of the driveways off the lane at the back of our house. Poor thing! The Mammal Trust UK thinks dead animals on roads are important indicators of local populations. They even have a “Mammals on Roads” project for recording sightings (although I would have to drive up and down the lane quite a few times to reach the 30 mile journey threshold required). Nevertheless, it was interesting to see it as I would guess Hedgehogs are at least as common as, say, Jackdaws, and yet in 10 years living here I’ve only seen one live one.
Mute Swans at Langbank sitting at 8 (unless some are hiding behind the roadside crash barriers).

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The summer doldrums have set in a little, with warm, albeit unsettled weather. Main sound around the estate is the very welcome cheeping of House Sparrows. Only last year I was bemoaning how unfamiliar a sound it had become. The party of Feral Pigeons (20 today) continue to enjoy next door's daily bread fest, along with assorted Jackdaws, a few House Sparrows and an unusual crow that has been around for a few weeks. It's definitely a Carrion Crow, possibly one of this year's young, but has very aberrant plumage. Its head and upper breast are black, but its back, shoulders and lower breast are chocolate brown. There are also white flecks on the leading edges of both forewings. It makes quite a forlorn sight as it flaps about with the other species. It doesn't seem to associate with any others of its own kind.
Driving in North Ayrshire over the 1st and 2nd, saw a Kestrel hovering over the hills just above Largs, then a long-winged, brown raptor (possibly a Hen Harrier) over the road at Muirhead/Camphill Reservoirs. Back in Paisley, checked out those white-flowered plants along Arkleston Farm Road. The flower is mallow-like, so my guess would be Musk Mallow (the only species, according to my books, that appears in a white-flowered form). However I can't rule out a cultivated variety of some other species.