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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, March 30, 2005

Most of my natural connections today have been second-hand ones, via the internet. The news is that all over the northern hemisphere, the nesting season has begun. I've been watching the Peregrines on the Kodak Tower in Rochester, New York for a week now, but today was a momentous one as it saw the first egg laid. It was also an important day at Loch Garten, with a female Osprey touching down on the nesting platform for the first time this year (see photos below).


First sighting of Osprey (female) on nest at Loch Garten.


Male Peregrine at nest site on Kodak Tower, Rochester, New York.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Five minutes down at Springfield Quay, Glasgow, revealed two Lesser Black backed Gulls, 10 Black headed Gulls (with lovely, chocolate-brown hoods) and a fishing Cormorant. Walking along the Cart (late afternoon) from Leverndale to Hawkhead turned up three Roe Deer (on the open space south of the "Tower"), plenty of singing Robin, Wren, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit, several Blackbirds going to roost, a Great spotted Woodpecker (heard but not seen), a pair of Goosander and a pair and a half of Mallard, a Kingfisher (calling noisily from the park river bend before flying off upstream) and around 50 (?Herring) gulls gathering on the field behind the cemetery (the first time I've seen them there), but no Chiffchaffs or Willow Warblers as yet.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Out and about twice this morning. Along the river, saw a Greater spotted Woodpecker (first I've seen there) and a Coal Tit (among all the usual species). Down in the town centre, noticed that the Mute Swans there are starting to build this year's nest. The first Bluebells are flowering in the municipal flower beds.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Had a late lunch break in Ayr today, and spent the time walking along the shore from the Seafield Car Park to the Doonfoot Bridge. Lots of birds around. Best were the 24 or so Teal feeding confidingly along the Doon river channel. The scrubby area between the path and the sand was particularly productive with single pairs of Linnets and Stonechats (the female of the latter (collecting nest material) with unusually pronounced white wing patches). Also Lesser Celandine and Common Scurvey Grass in flower. Beside the A77, two Kestrels hunted in the morning and Rooks were carrying twigs to their nests in the afternoon. Oh, and one that got away, a possible Tree Sparrow in bushes beside the approach road to the Whittlets roundabout.
News from the web is that Sand Martins have arrived back in force (with 50 over Strathclyde Loch and nest building at Baron's Haugh). Also on the Web, Steven Round has just published some fantastic new Mandarin photographs.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Weather still mild, although overcast and wet today. Saw my first Primroses of the year on the grassy bank opposite Newark Castle. Cherry blossom now well out on trees in Finlaystone Estate. As well as the pink blossom, some trees are showing all white. Looks like the first meadow there is to be used for growing young trees (as the second one is already). That would be a pity, as that spot is full of interest all year round.
Spent a few minutes checking out the shore behind the waterfront leisure complex. Tide was well in, but noted two Black Guillemots and a Shag fishing offshore (the latter very obvious, even at distance, with it's breeding crest and dramatic leap-dives). Also near there were six or more House Sparrows (and one Dunnock) feeding at the entrance to the cinema complex, Starlings singing everywhere and a male Greenfinch singing from a TV aerial.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Managed to get out for an hour this afternoon, walking along the cycle path from Rosshall Bridge to Hawkhead. Weather dead calm, with not much of interest about, although Sallow / Goat Willow / "Pussy" Willow is suddenly in flower. Took the opportunity to photograph some of yesterday's finds - see below. Kept scanning the river .... I just had a feeling .... and sure enough, eventually saw a Kingfisher speeding upriver, pausing to alight on an overhanging branch, then disappearing round the bend. The whole incident lasted less than half a minute, but it really made today a red letter day!
All in all it has been a great weekend with Black Guillemot, Bullfinch and Kingfisher (3 of the most attractive birds on the British List) all seen. And there is the promise of more to come with the first Sand Martin reported at Lochwinnoch yesterday!
(Checking out Steve Harrop's Shetland photos I see that he has a picture of a family of Whooper Swans taken on Shetland in June 2003. This is a really nice record of what is stll quite a rare event).


Dog's Mercury under Beeches.


Lesser Celandine, coming into flower.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Spent a lovely afternoon in Edinburgh, basking in some very welcome but rather mystifying warm sunshine (the temperature was probably in the high teens - well above the seasonal average). Noticed my first Coltsfoot of the year beside the road up to Craigmillar Castle. Walked up to Dunsapie Loch. Lots of Toads around, most locked together in pairs. Also quite a few dead on the road or footpath.
Birds on the loch included a pair of Mute Swans, three pairs of Mallard, around 20 Tufted Ducks, a single Coot and various Gulls (including a small bird with stuttering flight which might have been a Little Gull). Two Butterflies reported as Red Admirals may have been something else (Edinburgh sightings reported on the web today included Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell).

Had a really good walk along the Cart today. First sighting was of two male Greenfinches and a stunning male Bullfinch flying up from the damp ground beneath the Alders. Lots of birdsong too - I managed to recognise Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch and Dunnock. No sign, yet, of Chiffchaff.
Down by the river, two Mistle Thrushes were inspecting the disturbed turf in the Pig field. A pair of Mallard flew over (another pair were further up river), and on the way back, we disturbed the usual Cormorant which flew off, dodging the power lines.
Came across evidence of an owl roost site along the path (see bottom two photos below). Also found two dead Toads, possibly hit by a passing cyclist.
Each time I visit the woods down there, there are more signs of the burgeoning plant population. Today, the flat ground was covered with emerging Wild Garlic and Bluebells (see picture below - none in flower as yet). Some larger-leaved plants may be Lilly of the Valley. The first Lesser Celandine are in flower, and near the rocky river bend I noticed a patch of Dog's Mercury. Its amazing - I must have passed that spot a hundred times before. Its a good find though as the plant is an indicator of ancient woodland.


Woodland floor with emerging Bluebells.


Opened pellet revealing fur, incisors and other bones.


Evidence of owl roost in the tree above - droppings and (bottom left) a pellet.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Managed 10 minutes at the Greenock West promenade between appointments. Thought I might see Black Guillemots, and sure enough, almost the first thing I saw was a fine, summer-plumaged bird fishing just off shore. It was so close I could see it dipping its head underwater to look for fish, and when it dived its red legs were very obvious. A second bird was fishing the harbour mouth and a third flew West to East past the harbour wall. Other birds about included a pair of Red breasted Mergansers and small groups of Eider.
The M8 journey was quite eventful today with the Buzzard in the first Finlaystone Meadow on the way down, and a Sparrowhak flying across the Langbank roundabout and into trees on the way back. Flowering trees (? Cherries) are now very evident in Finlaystone; just as well, as the Snowdrops are almost finished for the year.
News from the net is that the first Chiffchaffs are back and starting to sing.......

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Woke up at 5 30 am to the sound of the dawn chorus. Then had to drive to Dumfries and back, the return journey via the A76. Noticed two Curlews and about 20 Lapwings over roadside fields (well inland). Also, the first lambs I've seen this year. Up near the Eaglesham Road end, a pair of Lapwing were mobbing a Carrion Crow which had strayed into their territory. Total of 3 Kestrels but no Buzzards.
News from Radio Scotland is that the Kittiwakes returned to their nests on Dunbar Castle today. The 16th March is the traditional return date according to the "Coasties" (people who live and work around the harbour). News from the web is that a Mute Swan is on its nest beside the water of Leith.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Spent a cold but sunny afternoon wandering around Aird Meadow, Lochwinnoch. Lots of birds around including a confiding treecreeper, a distant Smew and a group of Pochard loafing in a corner of the lagoon. Still next to no flowers on show - only a few patches of Snowdrops. Had to be content with fern-spotting. Nice to find good patches of Hart's Tongue, Maidenhair Spleenwort and Polypody on a short stretch of wall.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

News from the web is that Summer visitors have started to arrive, with Wheatear and Little Ringed Plover in England and an Osprey on Islay. To add to the Spring feel, drake Smew have been displaying at Lochwinnoch (2) and Duddingston Loch.
Today a Chaffinch was in full song in Ardgowan Square (up to now I've only heard short bursts). Thousands of Daffodils are ready to burst forth all along the A8 between Parklea and Newark.

Three days of clear blue skies and frosty mornings have served as a reminder that winter isn't over yet. Nevertheless there is more birdsong to be heard (Chaffinches, Strlings, Blue Tits, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds were all singing around the Ayrshire Hospice on Monday morning). Rooks are busier at their colonies. Drove through quite a lot of Ayrshire farmland this week but I've been very disappointed at the paucity of birdlife (apart from crows and gulls). Only a Yellowhammer at Symington hinted at what might be missing.
News from the web is that two Barn Owls were seen along the Johnstone Bypass around midnight one night recently. I must keep my eyes open if I'm driving home late.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Enjoyable walk down by the Cart. More birds than usual calling / singing, including Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches. Lots of Blackbirds about including 4 feeding on the football pitch. Two Goosander (a pair) just past the rocky river bend (I don't usually see them here). Big flock of gulls (? Black headed) following a mechanical rotovator..

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Drove to Dumfries today. Wanlockhead hills completely white with snow. Lots of Rabbits about in roadside fields. Daffodils starting to flower.
Drove back via Kilmarnock. Saw 1 Buzzard (being mobbed by crows) and 4 Kestrels. Also a few Oystercatchers in fields beside the Nith.