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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.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Not much to report today. A pair of Mistle Thrushes creeping furtively (not at all like them) through the university grounds and a Kestrel "whiffling" along the Linclive Spur were the highlights.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Walked around Ardmore Point under blue skies, but in a bitterly cold Westerly wind (see picture below). Most notable birds were small flotillas of Eider (the males calling "Woo-Ooo-oo"), a few pairs of Red breasted Merganser and the ubiquitous (and noisy) Oystercatchers. Odd Red throated Divers loafing and preening well offshore. Also, a possible Slavonian Grebe (pure white cheeks flashing in the distance). Best sighting of the morning? My first Snowdrops of the year, under Bramble bushes next to the path (see below).

Looking West from Ardmore Point.

First Snowdrops, Ardmore Point, 29th January 2005.

Friday, January 28, 2005

South West Scotland has positively basked in sunshine over the past few days. The clear blue skies and wintry sunshine have been a very welcome change from the unsettled weather of the previous few weeks. Today started with a Mistle Thrush singing from the chimney of the house opposite. Rather ominously, it was flanked by two of the neighbourhood Magpies, and it obviously got the message, flying off after a few bars. The other sound today has been Blue Tit song . I've heard it from various sites over the past few days.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Drove to Ayr today, the Galloway Hills perfectly etched against the clear morning sky, and the peaks on Arran dusted with snow. Some people in Ayr town centre had a close natural connection this afternoon. Just ahead of me in the traffic queue (at the bridge across the river beside Ayr College), a woman was grappling with a Mute Swan which had got itself onto the road. The police arrived within seconds, but by then she had successfully wrestled him back to the river.
Elsewhere, news on the web is that Fulmars are back on their breeding ledges at Salisbury Crags and a Robin has been seen carrying nest material near Hopetoun.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Walked along the river as far as Rosshall bridge. The damage from last week's flooding is tremendous. Whole sections of river bank have been virtually washed clean of vegetation, while others are piled high with branches and other debris. Quite a number of trees have come down, although most of them were in a sorry state already. On one section of bank there are clumps of lily-like plants pushing through. It will be interesting to see what they turn into. Not quite so many birds around, but it was nice to see a stunning male Siskin (flushed, with a Redpoll, a Chaffinch and some other birds from the damp ground under the Alders), 11 Greenfinches (in the treetops) and a noisy Robin (filling the last few minutes of daylight with its lovely, liquid song).
Later, saw two Foxes chasing across the main road into the estate. Not too surprising as this is the time of year when pairs form.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Took a short walk through Glasgow Botanic Gardens and back along the Kelvin (see pics below). Lots of other people striding about, no doubt coaxed out by the dry weather.

Goosanders on the Kelvin.

Crocuses near Kelvinbridge

Monkeypuzzle, Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Calm and crisp today, after last night's frosts (see pic). Lots of birds around, foraging for food and singing noisily. Most notable sightings were a Dipper flying down river and a Buzzard flying over from Rosshall Farm (and being mobbed by all the neighbourhood crows). Both were my first sightings hereabouts in 10 years of watching.

A calm, crisp morning after a night of frost.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Another two days of wet conditions have made connecting with nature very difficult. However yesterday's gloom was lifted by a Grey Heron high above the Clyde estuary east of Langbank and a Pied Wagtail on a building site next to Greenock Road. Today's highlights were a Kestrel floating over the M8 at Bishopton, the usual flock of Whooper Swans close in beside Candrens Road and a Wren bombing across Stanely Drive in front of the car.

Monday, January 17, 2005

OK, so maybe the wildlife got it wrong. Today, the wind has swung around to the North West, and that short-lived Spring has been replaced by much more wintry weather with freezing winds and quite heavy snow. Definitely a day to stay in and connect with the natural world on the web.
Listened to Saturday's edition of Open Country (what a joy the "listen again" scheme is). Heard about a wonderful woman, a retired university lecturer in Lancashire, who has planted over 8,000 trees in the past 14 years. There is something romantic about people who plant trees. I remember, as a child, being fascinated by the story of John Chapman ("Johnny Appleseed") who wandered the U.S. in the early 1800s, planting apple seeds as he went. Popular wisdom is that some of his trees are still bearing fruit 200 years on. I'd love to know if that was true.
I came across another picture of an enthusiast wandering the wild lands recently. Stan Beckensall, a school teacher originally from Stoke on Trent, has spent the best part of a lifetime recording the prehistoric rock carvings of Northumberland. In 2000, he passed his archive of notes, drawings, photographs and rubbings (covering over 1500 separate artifacts in all) to the University of Newcastle. The result is a fantastic, web-based archive of Northumberland Rock Art.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Early Snowdrops exposed by floodwater.

More signs of spring today with one or two of the estate Starlings attempting a few bars from the chimney tops and a Yellowhammer singing softly but repeatedly from Rosshall Farm. The latter was particularly welcome as I don't hear them every year.
Lots of other birds around including a flock of 18 Jackdaws, flying around in pairs, and 3 Goosander (1 male and 2 females) fishing the riverbend just downstream of the park.
Last week's flood continues to turn up some interesting finds, for instance the clump of Snowdrops in the picture above.

Further to our story of the flood-stranded Minnow (see blog entry for last Saturday), two Goldfish have been rescued after they appeared in the floods covering Carlisle United Football Club's pitch. The full story is on the BBC website.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Whatever the rest of us think, the birds seem convinced spring is on its way. Suddenly there seem to be many more about (although they are probably just more visible) , with much calling, displaying, chasing and pairing off. A 15 minute walk along the Cart this morning produced the following: single Cormorant and female Goosander flying downriver, a pair of Carrion Crows inspecting the (now receded) river banks (with others flying around), 2 pairs of Magpie (with others calling from cover), 2 pairs of Great Tits (ditto) and 1 pair of Blue Tits (ditto), 1 Robin in song, 13 Long tailed Tits flying across the path (even they seemed to be mostly in pairs), 2 Goldfinches (possibly part of a flock of about 20), 1 Collared Dove, 7 Feral Pigeons and 9 Jackdaw (calling and wheeling over the rooftops).
Now that the floodwater has gone, the devastation along the river is evident, with tree branches and even whole trees down (see pic below). However the green shoots (?Snowdrops) starting to appear in the woods hint at better times to come.

Part of the devastation wreaked along the White Cart by recent (and past) storms .

Friday, January 14, 2005

The gardeners on the university campus have done a really good job, planting evergreen shrubs which are really cheering in the midst of winter. One of these, Mahonia japonica, is particularly noticeable just now with its holly-like leaves and fragrant, yellow flower spikes. The individual flower buds are just opening and I noticed two female House Sparrows trying to get at them by clinging acrobatically to the top of one of the plants.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Blue skies today, accompanied by light winds and virtually no rain - what a difference! Colder tonight though, with a fantastic show of stars in the night sky. The morning trip down the M8 was enlivened by a Buzzard standing broodily on a fencepost on the west side of the 2nd Finlaystone meadow. Later, in Greenock town centre, noticed some yellow Crocuses starting to peep through the municipal flower beds.
The evening run was also notable for a pre-roost flock of around 100 Starlings wheeling high over the A8 opposite Cappielow stadium. I haven't seen a flock like that for ages, and certainly not in Greenock. I had forgotten just how amazing their manoeuvres are, the whole flock turning and swirling like a single organism. The scene was enhanced by the lovely light this evening. I remember someone telling me the first signs of lengthening days are noticeable around 15th January. Well today is 13th, and I can definitely feel spring on its way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hatches battened down for what the weathermen say is going to be the stormiest night in Scotland for over 10 years. Looks like being really rough (even Hurricane force 12) north of a line from Mull to Wick. The BBC shipping forcast is posted as follows:
Here, it has been very windy, but also incredibly mild (the wind seemed to be blowing almost exactly from the south). Only now is it starting to turn wintry.
Drove to and from work in the dark today so nothing to report.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Checking to see when the next New Naturalist is to come out, but still no word. Looks like the front runner is "The New Naturalists" by Peter Marren (see pic below, from amazon). It will be an updated version of number 82 which is now very hard to find (a copy of the first reprint sold for £100 on Ebay last week). I'm not mad about Peter Marren's writing style but this is still my favourite out of the whole series.

NN96, or will it be 82 (2nd reprint) or 82 (2nd edition)?

Drove down to Greenock in the early morning gloom, but still noticed a huge Grey Heron lumbering over the carriageway at Bishopton. Drove back under blue skies for the first time in ages. Highest tide I've seen for a long time - only two bricks short of the top of the harbour wall at Greenock. Water is a bluey-brown colour - no doubt because of all the stirring up the high winds have caused. High winds have at last subsided. However, sadly, the big Horse Chestnut in the second Finlaysone meadow has lost a limb to the storms.
Noticed a big increase in birdlife today (refugees from stormy weather elsewhere?). Literally hundreds of Lapwings flying over the shore and sea-level meadows at Langbank. Also a pair of Wigeon there, perhaps 20 Mallard and a single Mute Swan.
Back in Paisley, noticed a pair of Mistle Thrushes "chacking" above the traffic noise as they chased over the tenements. It is still incredibly mild (the press is full of "I told you so" stories about global warming), and the birds are responding by pairing up.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The incessant rain of the past 24 hours finally abated at lunchtime today, so managed to get out for a short walk. Not surprisingly the Cart had flooded onto neighbouring fields (see pic below) and even over the path. A Minnow was frantically wriggling over the path to get back into the river. Amazing how it knew which way to go. It reached the grassy verge (see 2nd pic) and after a few more wriggles was home and dry (well, wet).
Lots of other wildlife about (rough weather always seems to stir things up a bit). Excited cries of some small birds in the bushes by the first gate announced a Sparrowhawk which flashed past at knee height. Then a mixed flock of about 50 Fieldfares and Redwings settled in the top of one of the riverside trees before flying down to a grassy field to feed with about 30 Starlings. Further along, around 100 gulls (Black headed and Herring Gulls), and perhaps 30 corvids were feeding on the flooded section inside the main river bend.
Back at the park, 8 Long tailed Tits were moving through the Alders and a Grey Squirrel sprinted across the path into the Spruces.
Another mammal encounter happened yesterday evening when we watched a young Red Fox padding around the bottom floor of the car park at Braehead Shopping Centre. It was completely unafraid and even moved its position so that it could keep us in view as we moved off. I do hope it doesn't come to any harm. As we drove off it was sitting right in the middle of the main traffic lane.

Flooding at Hawkhead Estate Park

Minnow temporarily stranded by flood water

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Spent yesterday at friends just north of Oban. Journey up was uneventful, but with little to see due to poor weather. Brighter once we got there. Enjoyed watching out of the window which overlooks rough pasture to the wooded cliffs and mountains beyond. Noticed a Buzzard, a couple of Hooded Crows and a distant small raptor (possibly a Sparrowhawk). One of our friends reported seeing a bird from time to time that she kept mistaking for a small plane. I guess White tailed Sea Eagle would be a strong possibility. Went out for a short, damp walk. The vegetation is still in the grip of winter although some welcome greenery was contributed by good sized patches of Polypody.
The drive home was enlivened by drifting snow over the passes and flooding at lower levels. Very grateful when we reached Tarbert and some decent (if noisy) roads.