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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.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Walked around Maxwell Park this morning. Single Little Grebe out on the pond, plus 11 Mallards and 14 Moorhen. One of the Moorhens had a chick, but most of the others were engaged in flamboyant threat displays with much head-lowering (see picture below) and flashing of white undertails. Other sightings of interest were plenty of Marsh Marigolds in flower and one of those enormous ornamental Carp lurking in the shallows. Along the Cart this afternoon, saw all the usual plants (including Garlic Mustard which started flowering last week) plus the first Herb Robert and Red Campion. Also found a small patch of Coltsfoot I had missed before, now gone to seed. Finally, single Grey Heron fishing quietly upstream of the rocky bend, clouds of Midges (for the first time this year) over the paths and a Grey Squirrel behind the estate. Back home, noticed a Kestrel flying over the house (can't remember the last one I saw here), House Sparrows carrying scraps of nest material or food and a Blue Tit checking out the nest box.
Great news from the web is that the Ivory billed Woodpecker, thought extinct for 60 years, has been sighted again in the Mississippi backwoods. For the full story, click here.

Angry Moorhen on Maxwell Park Pond.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Walked along the Cart at dusk. Plenty of bats about (one nearly touched my face).

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Woke up at 6 am to find the birds already on the feeders around the guest house in Colvend. Counted a pair of Blue Tit (courtship feeding), 2 Great Tits, 2 Coal Tits, a single Willow Tit (my first ever - visiting fat balls), 4 Goldfinches, 4 Chaffinches, 3 Greenfinches (including a juvenile), 1 Siskin, 2 Yellowhammers, 1 Great spotted Woodpecker, and in the trees around, single Woodpigeon and Chiffchaff.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pleasant drive from Manchester to Dumfries. Plenty of Rabbits about in roadside fields, plus 2 Kestrels and 1 Buzzard. Remnants of snow on Northern penines.
Roadside verges between Dumfries and Kirkbean full of colour with Red Campion, Wild Garlic, Common Mouse-ear Chickweed, Bluebells and Dog's Mercury all in flower (below). Hedges full of Blackthorn blossom, appearing like layers of white froth.
On the marshland between Dalbeatie and Colvend were a Buzzard, a Kestrel, 2 displaying Curlews and a possible Grasshopper Warbler. Also plenty of bats down at Colvend.

Herb-rich verges, north of Carsethorn.

Wild Garlic.

Dog's Mercury and Common Mouse ear Chickweed.

Red Campion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Enjoying my short stay in leafy South Manchester (below). Really struck by the number of birds singing. In Christie Hospital grounds alone heard Great Tit, Blue tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Wren, Woodpigeon, Dunnock and Robin. Not many of the usual leaf warblers about (I only heard one Willow Warbler and no Chiffchaffs during the entire 3 days), but heard quite a few possible Blackcaps. Most interesting sighting was of 4 Swifts flying low and straight (not in their usual sweeping arcs) across Wilabraham Road (my first of the year).

Christie Hospital grounds, South Manchester.

Wilbraham Road, Chorlton.

Monday, April 25, 2005

In Manchester for a few days. Woke up at 6 am today to the sound of what I guess was a Blackcap (appropriately enough, sometimes called the "northern Nightingale"). Lots of other birds around in spite of us only being a mile from the city centre. Weather is almost balmy, with warm sunshine and the Horse Chestnut trees in full leaf (and well ahead of those in Scotland).

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Warm and sunny along the cycle track today, with two Willow Warblers and a possible Blackcap in song. Lots of flowers on show, plus an Orange Tip Butterfly (my first ever here). [Pictures below].

Speedwell Sp. Hawkhead Estate park.

First Bluebells, Hawkhead Estate Park.

Wild garlic, Cart Cycle path.

Wood Sorrel, Cart Cycle track.

Orange Tip Butterfly, Hawkhead Estate Park.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The good weather of the past few days has meant ideal conditions for natural connections. Best today was the sighting of a Buzzard and two Carrion Crows in dramatic aerial combat not far from Crosshouse Hospital. Also enjoyed singing Willow Warblers around the car park at the Ayr Hospital, Coltsfoot beside the moor road from Stewarton, a Great crested Grebe close-in at Balgray Reservoir, a single Swallow at Blackstoun Farm and masses of Cuckoo Flower in Mosspark cemetery.
Interested to see large numbers of wild flowers (mostly Dandelions and Daisies) spangling some of the roadside fields south of Neilston. The contrast with neighbouring fields of improved grass (100% flower-free) was remarkable. Wonder how long it will be before the sheep nibble everything back to the roots.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Much brighter today, although still cold. The day started with a clump of Bluebells (and "Whitebells") newly out on a sheltered bank above Arkleston Farm. Then, driving past the second Finlaystone meadow, noticed a Heron neck deep in the rank vegetation. Primroses are now in full bloom along the A8. Roadworks there mean the traffic is going slowly enough for a good look.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Busy day yesterday, so the natural connections had to be squeezed in somewhere. Managed to stop at Strathclyde Country Park briefly in the morning, to find dozens of Sand Martins (my first of the year) feeding frantically over the loch. Also there, a displaying Great crested Grebe.
Driving through to Edinburgh in the afternoon, noticed a single Kestrel, and later, swathes of Cowslips on the grassy banks around Hermiston Gait. Drove past Arthur's Seat, with only distant views of the nesting Fulmars. Must try to take a closer look next time I'm through.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Went for the usual walk along the Cart late in the afternoon. Not many birds about (although the singing Willow Warbler was the first for this site this year). Spring flowers really starting to steal the show. Best are the Cuckoo Flower (coming up more profusely than I remember in previous years) and whole swathes of Yellow Archangel (above - the variegated variety, so probably a garden escape). Also "new" patches of Dog's Mercury, Common Comfry and Garlic Mustard (the latter two, like the Wild Garlic and Bluebells, still to flower). The mystery plant half way along the path looks like being a domestic Hyacinth. I wonder how it got there.....
Fantastic news from the web is that the long-awaited book "Birds britannica" now has a definite publication date (1st September 2005).

Bank of Yellow Archangel (with discarded shopping bag).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dropped in at Rouken Glen Park for a short while this afternoon. Weather still decidely wintry for the time of year, but that didn't seem to have deterred the ducks there, with a female Mallard being hotly pursued across the pond by 8 ducklings (my first of the year). Plenty of Coots, Black headed Gulls and Mallards about, as well as a smattering of Tufted Ducks - all enjoying the smirr.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The countryside has a real "neither one thing nor the other" feel at the moment. The mild weather of the past few weeks has been replaced by a colder snap (we had light snow a few days ago), and everything seems poised, waiting to see what is going to happen next.
Spent the late afternoon down at Castle Semple Loch. Between the squally showers, managed a walk along the loch shore, and back via the cycle path. First sighting was of a Common Sandpiper (my first of the year) which fluttered up from the shore and skimmed away across the loch. Next were three Swallows (again, my first of 2005), attempting to feed between the showers, but mostly perched, shivering in a tree. More at home were the three Goldeneye feeding out on the loch.
Spring plants continue to emerge, apparently oblivious to the weather. As well as the Daffodils and Dandelions which have been around for some time, noticed Dog's Mercury, Cuckoo Flower, Common Chickweed, Wood Anemone (below), Marsh Marigold (below), Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (in a patch beside a small burn), Coltsfoot (beside the cycle path) and Wild Cherry, all in flower, and Common Comfry in leaf.
Heard a snatch of Willow Warbler song and then came across my third "Summer" arrival of the day, a Chiffchaff calling loudly from the cycle path hedge.
On the way home, noticed a small clump of Cowslips beside the Howwood bypass, and at Candrens Farm, as if to reinforce the Winter/Spring theme, 6 Whooper Swans.

Wood Anemone, Castle Semple Loch.

Marsh Marigold, Castle Semple Loch.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Drove home from Dumfries via the A76. Countryside is greener now, although most of the trees are still to get into leaf. Noticed some Coltsfoot in a layby. Also, great swathes of what looked like Dog's Mercury along the wooded stretches. Most unusual sighting was of a Grey Heron walking behind a group of feeding Feral Pigeons in the middle of a ploughed field. Not sure if he was hoping to steal whatever they found, or if he was actually stalking them.
Took a quick walk along the Cart around 6pm. Not much about except for a pair of Goosanders and a pair of Mallards. The woodland floor is now covered in vegetation - Bluebells on the steeper banks and Wild Garlic (2nd photo below) down by the river. There is nothing in flower yet (apart from Lesser Celandine, the last of the Daffodils [the Snowdrops are finished] and a few Dandelions). Most interesting of all is the unidentified plant pictured below.

Unidentified plant, but almost ready to flower.....

Wild Garlic, almost ready to flower.

Teaching in Dumfries today, but managed a quick look round between classes.
First stop was Eastpark Farm. It really is a fantastic place, full of birds, with Pied Wagtail singing from the barn roof, Rooks and Jackdaws feeding in the paddock, House Sparrows squabbling in the stock yard and the last of the wintering Barnacle Geese in the field next door. Most unexpected finds were a Peacock and Peahen lurking in a shady driveway. Best were the two Willow Warblers singing (one in full view) nearby - my first of the year.
Next stop was Caerlaverock Castle where 3 Stock Doves were feeding on the lawns with Woodpigeons before flying up into some of the ancient Oaks that are all over the site.
Last stop was the SNH car park at Shore Road where 4 Dunnocks were singing and wing flicking in the Gorse, another Willow Warbler was singing from the woods, a Skylark was song-flighting over the salt marsh, and I found my first Cuckoo Flower of the year (see below).

First Cuckoo Flower of the year, on the edge of the salt marsh at Caerlaverock (with Criffel in the background).

Monday, April 04, 2005

Coltsfoot, layby on A9 South of Dalwhinnie.

Saturday 1st April 2005.

Another early start. Got to Loch Garten at 6 am. Colder today, with mist over the loch but clear blue skies above. Two pairs of Goldeneye swimming quietly on the loch, with a few Lesser Black backed Gulls loafing in the distance and about 20 Greylag Geese flying over. Watched the female Osprey on the nest as the sun came up. Still no Capercaillies, but compensated by a lovely female Great spotted Woodpecker on the feeders.
Along the road, noticed two Red Squirrels fighting (with bits of bark sent flying). Then at Glenmore Forest visitor centre (see pic below), watched male Greenfinches singing in the sunshine. Reluctantly heading down the A9, noticed Coltsfoot growing in at least one layby (see photo above).
Stopped at Loch of the Lowes on the way home. Best birds there were a pair of Mandarins (fantastic views), two Siskins (coming to the feeders) and the newly arrived female Osprey (standing on the nest).
Also stopped in Edinburgh, at Inverlieth Pond (Mute Swans, Mallards and solitary Moorhen and Tufted Duck, first Ladybird of the year and dead Bumble Bee), before heading home via Little France (noticing a fantastic show of Alexanders along the verges next to Craigmillar Castle).

Eastern corries from Glenmore Visitor Centre (bathed in Spring sunshine).

RSPB Insh Marshes (looking North).

Friday 31st March 2005 (continued).

Kept on through the Pass of Ryvoan to Ryvoan Bothy (below), then up on to the flank of Meall a' Bhuachaille. Again amazed by the plant communities there. Low down, the vegetation was dominated by Heather and grasses (with calling Red Grouse and displaying Meadow Pipits). Higher up it changed to a rich carpet of (I guess) mosses (? Rhacomitrium), lichens (? Reindeer Moss), a woody plant (? Dwarf Willow) and a small, succulent-leaved plant (? Thyme; ?stonecrop sp). I wish I had paid more attention in my Botany classes!
Over the hill (wild weather on top, but also glorious views of the Cairngorms, the path to Braemar (snaking over the moorland), the Forest of Abernethy to the East and Loch Morlich to the West) and back down to Glenmore Lodge (with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, possible Crossbill and Goldcrest, Wren (probably the commonest bird), Great, Blue and Coal Tit (but no Cresties) and Song Thrush).
Driving from site to site, saw occasional Roe Deer, Hare and Rabbit (very occasional), but plenty of Pheasants. In the evening, visited RSPB Insh Marshes (see picture above). Birds included Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Redshank, Curlew and Oystecatcher (with a Roe deer feeding quietly on the dry ground between the channels).

Ryvoan Bothy.

Rock plant on slopes of Meall a' Bhuachaille.

Primroses, Pass of Ryvoan.

Friday 31st March 2005.

This was the weekend of the annual trip to Strathspey. Drove up on Thursday evening, and arrived in Strathspey (see bottom picture) with the promise of steadily improving weather.
Woke up in Aviemore at 6 am to the sound of birdsong. An hour later, arrived at RSPB Loch Garten hoping to connect with lekking Capercaillies. Weather mild and beautifully clear. Female Osprey feeding on a large fish on a tree beside its nest. Plenty of resident song birds around including Song Thrush, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Robin and Wren. Single pairs of Wigeon and Goldeneye on the loch itself. No sign of Capercaillie though.
Spent most of the day walking around Glenmore Forest Park, beginning along the path to the Pass of Ryvoan (see photo below). Amazed at the uniqueness of the plant community on the South-facing slopes with Scots Pine and Birch growing over Juniper and Holly, and that in turn growing over Blaeberry, Broom, Blechnum, Polypody, Oxalis and Wild Strawberry with isolated patches of Primroses (above) and Dog's Mercury. Found a Frog (and lots of Frogspawn) in roadside ditches and a Common Newt in a concrete cistern. Buzzard overhead, Wrens and Coal Tits in the trees, and the snow-filled corries of the Eastern Cairngorms as a backdrop.

Scots Pine forest (with Juniper understorey), Pass of Ryvoan.

Sign on A9