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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, June 30, 2014

A Lesser Black-backed Gull dive bombed me as I stopped to use my phone in the west end of Greenock this afternoon. Checking the nearby rooftops revealed the cause of the attack - a young chick on a ledge near the top of a tenement.
Heading home, a Swallow was over the brackish pools at Port Glasgow and a Grey Heron was flying over the St James Interchange.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Awakened at 6am by the sunshine streaming into the room. The view of Loch Leven was even better than yesterday. A House Martin hopped about the shore, presumably picking up insects. Two Song Thrushes fed on the hotel lawn, with one carrying a beakful of worms. A Mallard flew past the window and out in the car park, a male House Sparrow was feeding a fledgling.

At the Glencoe Visitor Centre, a rasping call proved to be coming from a spotty, juvenile Spotted Flycatcher perched on a branch and being fed by its parents. Other birds there included Willow Warbler, Blackcap and a fledgling Robin acquiring its red breast.

A detour to Glen Etive on the way home produced four Buzzards (including a pair at an occupied nest) and the only Wheatear of the trip. The last birds of note were two Collared Doves in Crianlarich.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Highlights of a lovely afternoon and evening spent on the shores of Loch Leven, Glencoe were as follows:
A Whitethroat feeding newly-fledged young (still with their creamy-yellow gapes) on a grassy promontory (with Siskin, Goldfinch, Redpoll, Wren, Song Thrush, Dunnock and Willow Warbler also in the area).
A good selection of birds on the saltmarsh in front of Ballachulish (including two Hooded Crows, a pair of Mute Swans with at least two cygnets, a Mallard and a Common Sandpiper).
Various birds moving over and on the loch including a flotilla of Canada Geese, another of Red-breasted Mergansers, a Grey Heron being chased by an Oystercatcher and a typically nervous Common Sandpiper.
Swallows hunting along the shore and feeding four young perched on the handrail of a yacht moored in the bay.
A fledgling House Sparrow which flew into a window, then recovered and flew off.
The Common Terns, Common Gulls and Oystercatchers (presumably) nesting on the nearby islands kept up a constant din and at one point, all rose into the air together (including an estimated 60 terns). Perhaps an Otter or Mink was about.
Earlier, driving through Glencoe, both Pied and Grey Wagtails were feeding fledged young.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A lunchtime walk around Paisley town centre today produced a female Goosander with five ducklings, a female Mallard with one, three Sand Martins, a House Martin and a Swift, all at Forbes Place.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The local Blue and Great Tit fledglings have clearly banded together and frequently arrive in the back garden en masse. No adults among them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The garden, this evening, was full of juvenile Great Tits and Blue Tits.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A posse of fledged Blue Tits were inspecting the "bus shelter" in the early evening. At dusk, a possible Barn Owl was seen being chased by gulls only a mile from the house.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The nights are fair drawing in...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A fledged brood of Great Tits were in the back garden for part of the afternoon.
Some extra thoughts from yesterday to follow:
Mistle Thrush:

Three birds were feeding on the "Hayfield" at the south end of Glenmore. Presumably they had young to feed - or perhaps they were juvenile birds hunting for themselves.

Glenmore village was filled of the sound of Siskins, calling from the treetops and commuting back and forward in excited groups. Although I couldnt make out any plumage details, I assume a good prportion were birds of the year. 
Black-headed Gull:

Small numbers (ones and twos) were merauding around Glenmore Village, taking food from picnic tables in the campsite and trying to get in on the action around the feeders behind the Glenmore Cafe and Shop (and outside the chippie in Aviemore). 
Long-tailed Tit:

A large group (10+) in Glenmore Forest was possibly a family party, although it contained at least one Willow Warbler and also seemed to have few Chaffinches "hanging on", effectively making it my first "tit flock" of the year. 
Willow Warbler:

The woods were still resounding to the song of Willow Warblers, although their "hoo-weet" conact calls were much more evident than before.
Grey Wagtail: 

A pair on the burn next to the Coire na Ciste car park had young in the vegetation and kept up a constant barrage of sqeaks and whistles as the flew back and forward attending to them. The two Pied Wagtails in Glenmore Village were this year's young, picking up insects from the ski road.
Other wildlife of Glenmore Forest:

Walking in Glenmore Forest, the undergrowth was full of invertebrate life including numerous craneflies. Particularly evident were the nursery chambers of spittle bugs which covered the Bilberry and Heather across vast areas of the forest floor. Wood Ant nests were also very evident and very active with some positively "heaving" with workers coming and going. A Dor Beetle was upside down on the path (in my experience they often are), but hobbled away when righted.

Impressions of Strathspey in June:
Its quieter, with birdsong partly replaced by sqeaks, whistles and other contact calls.
Its colourful, with foxgloves along the forest paths, scarlet lichen "flowers" on exposed banks and various upland plants (Thrift, Apline Lady's Tresses etc) flowering wherever browsing animals can't reach them.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A really good day spent wandering the foothills of the Cairngorms. Route is here. Details as follows:

Emboldened by the warm weather in the central belt all week, I had intended to head for the high plateau today. As it happened, the weather was really quite poor with high winds and frequent squally showers. Consequently, I had to turn back at 3000 feet. Nevertheless some good natural connections were had, in spite of the weather.

The train journey produced lots of Rabbits and a single Brown Hare between Newtonmore and Kingussie, a Grey Heron and two Mute Swans on Loch Insh,  a pair of Greylag Geese on the Insh Marshes, Siskins and Chaffinches visiting feeders in a Newtonmore garden and the first signs of a build-up of Jackdaws, Starlings, Oystercatchers, Lapwings and Woodpigeons in trackside fields.

Arriving in Aviemore, a heavy shower made the wait for the Cairngorm bus less than pleasant. However a quick walk along the river as far as the start of the logging road produced some good birds including singing Willow Warblers and Blackcaps, a Song Thrush with a newly-fledged brood and an alarm-calling Common Sandpiper.  On the way to the ski car park, three Mistle Thrushes were feeding on the cropped turf of the “Hayfield”.
Got off at the Coire na Ciste car park and took the path east from there. A Pied Wagtail was in the car park and a Grey Wagtail on the burn clearly had fledged young in the undergrowth, judging by the numerous squeaks and calls, and the adult bringing in food. A little further east, a male Ring Ouzel was among the many Meadow Pipits on the moor. A Dipper was on the Allt Ban burn and a pair of Red Grouse flew up from the heather above Lochan na Beinne.
Reaching the ridge above the abandoned conifer plantation, the first torr of many for the day was encountered, guarding the entrance to a rock-filled gap through to Strath Nethy.

Views from the ridge were tremendous, covering the full length of Strath Nethy, the impressive bulk of Stac na h-iolaire and the broad sweep of Abernethy with the cottages of Rynettin in the distance. The weather started to deteriorate at this point, so that few birds could be located. Only the mournful call of what I assumed was a Golden Plover could be heard above the wind. After one of the many squalls had passed, a pair of Ptarmigan got up from beside the path and began to walk slowly away. The difference between the male and female was very apparent with the former predominantly silver and the latter more golden. The strange behaviour of the pair (walking slowly in a wide circle) made me think there was a nest nearby, so I quickly left the in peace.

Another three hours walking the Sron na Cha-no ridge and descending via Coire Laogh Mor produced a lot of wind and rain, spectacular views, massive boulder fields, dramatic rock formations, fascinating plant communities, no people, but also no other birds apart from the ubiquitous Meadow Pipit.
Dropping down to the Allt Ciste burn, the plant life was particularly notable with Alpine Lady’s Mantle, Thrift, Cotton Grass and Butterwort the ones I could identify. Birds started to increase as the moorland gave way to woodland with Willow Warbler and Wren keeping the Meadow Pipits company. Deeper into Glenmore Forest, other species encountered included Crested Tit (at two sites). Coal Tit (with a large, fledged brood), Long-tailed Tit (again, a large family party), Chaffinch, and Tree Pipit.  A Grey Wagtail and two Common Sandpipers were along the Allt Ban. Other wildlife included a Dor Beetle on the path, several very active Wood Ant nests and signs of “spittle bug” infestation throughout the herb layer.  
Birds in Glenmore village included Sand and House Martins, very numerous Siskins (the population presumably swollen by fledged young), two juvenile Pied Wagtails feeding on the tarmac and Black-headed Gulls trying to rob any unsuspecting campers.
Back at Aviemore, Collared Doves were singing and a single Swift sailed over the railway station.

The full bird list is as follows: Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Teal, Mallard, Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Pheasant, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Swift, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Goldcrest, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Wren, Starling, Dipper, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Siskin (48 species).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Two House Martins were around the houses at Cardonald Gardens. Later, in Paisley, two Sand Martins were visiting drainage pipes in the river wall at Forbes Place. A pair of Black-headed Gulls were courting among the gravestones next to the Town Hall but two others on the river were already losing their chocolate hoods.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Greenfinch has taken to "wheezing" loudly in the trees outside the house.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spent another fruitless evening, this time searching the Renfrew area for (among others) Mallard, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Collared Dove, Coal Tit and Chiffchaff. There was no shortage of birds, just the wrong type (Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Starlings etc).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An evening spent trying to hoover up some of the "missing" species (Kestrel, Buzzard, Black-headed Gull, Stock Dove, Great-spotted Woodpecker, House Martin, Grey Wagtail and Long-tailed Tit) from the Hillington tetrad resulted in total failure with no new species added. Perhaps they are just not there....
Earlier in the day, three Whinchats were singing near Largs and signs of the turn of the seasons included a Lapwing and increasing numbers of Mute Swans off Langbank.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Three House Martins were back over Cardonald Gardens this morning. Arriving in Greenock, a Lesser Black-backed Gull chick was out of its rooftop nest and running along the guttering below.This evening, up to 10 House Martins were feeding high over the estate.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Odd House Martins were over the garden during a pleasant, sunny afternoon.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A single House Martin was over Oldhall first thing this morning. A party of Long-tailed Tits roamed around the edge of the garden for parts of the day and both Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing from the "nature  reserve".

Friday, June 13, 2014

Three House Martins were showing interest in yet another house on Cardonald Gardens at 7am. I hope they have more success there.
Heading back from Renfrew late afternoon, a Skylark was again in song over Arkleston Farm (with a Swallow around the buildings), a Blackbird had a beakful of worms in Hillington Industrial Estate and at least three juvenile Magpies were begging for food in Silver Glade.Later, at least 4 begging Great Tit fledgelings were in the back garden.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A working trip to Dundee actually produced an interesting sighting in the form of a Red-throated Diver on the dock in front of the Apex Hotel. A quick search of the internet revealed it to be a bird with an injured wing which has been in the area since December 2012.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Two Swifts flew past the house at 9 tonight. A single House Martin was overhead about 6:30pm.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Osprey brood at Loch Garten continues to do well but a brood in Borders all died from the cold when the female disappeared for several days.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Still empty skies over Cardonald. I think the House Martins have abandoned their breeding attempts, and the wet weather seems to be keeping the Swifts away.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Spent two hours in the morning atlassing in Pollok, then two hours in the afternoon doing the same in Renfrew. Highlights in Pollock were Whitethroat  and Bullfinch added to the tetrad total (now standing at 29), breeding confirmed for Blue Tit and Pied Wagtail, and an incredible (though unconfirmed) record of a Redstart singing briefly behind Silverburn Shopping Centre. Highlights in Renfrew were four new species (Swallow, Goldcrest, Song Thrush and Reed Bunting) taking the tetrad total to 40 and two new species confirmed breeding (Carrion Crow feeding a fledgling and two broods of newly-fledged Great Tits).

Scrub-reclaimed Car Park at Cowglen

Naturalised Lupins at Cowglen

Damp corner at Arden

South pond at Ferry Village

West pond at Cockle's Loan

East pond at Cockle's Loan

Saturday, June 07, 2014

A couple of hours of atlassing in the Yoker/Clydebank area produced a few notable records including singing Blackcap and Willow Warber, Moorhen at two sites on the canal and fledged broods of Great Tit and Starling. Actual additions to the tetrad totals were Rook for NS56E and Starling, House Sparrow, Blackbird and Woodpigeon for NS57A.

Friday, June 06, 2014

A work trip to QMU's campus in Musselburgh found the area alive with birds including singing Yellowhammer, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch. House Martins were nesting on the university buildings and a pair of Mute Swans on the pond had six cygnets.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The three House Martin nests in Cardonald Gardens have all disappeared. I really hope there hasn't been deliberate disturbance.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Took a quick look around the back of Hillington Industrial Estate today. Found some potentially productive areas which may be quite productive. Too wet this evening.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Pathetic work-life balance again today. Must try and get out tomorrow.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The final bird list for Saturday's Strathspey trip was as follows: Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Wigeon, Mallard, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Pheasant, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Swift, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Swallow, House Martin, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Treecreeper, Wren, Starling, Dipper, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Robin, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin (55 species).

Some of the most notable sightings of the day were:

Pied Flycatcher: A single male was singing strongly (but hidden) from the top of a Birch tree near the north east corner of Loch Pulladern in Craigellachie NNR. In my experience, it is not uncommon to come across the species in late May and early June (in the past two years I have had singing birds in Aviemore, near Farr and near the Bogach). I am not sure if these are mated or unmated males, and whether they are remaining at these sites to breed or simply singing as they pass through.

hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow: Although a few are recorded in the Aviemore area from time to time, I have seldom seen a pure Hooded Crow in Strathspey (I think a single near Tomdhu was the closest I have been). This bird was lurking in the Lapwing field next to the SNH headquarters.

Crested Tit: Typically for this species, I had to walk for quite a long distance through the forest before I heard its characteristic chittering call.  Birds were present at a total of three sites with a single at one site, an adult feeding a juvenile at a second, and a brood of at least four fledgelings at a third. 

Redstart: This species was particularly noticeable with singing birds at several sites (especially east of Forest Lodge) and evidence of breeding activity at two. A male and female were picking up insects (possibly ants) from the dirt track just north of Forest Lodge, and a male was seen furtively entering a pile of rocks (presumably its nest site) just north of the bridge near the site of the demolished Bynack Stable.

Green Tiger Beetle: The paths through the forest, especially in the hilly area southeast of Forest Lodge, held dozens of these insects. Around 0.75cm long, most flew up on approach, alighting again a short distance away. Other insects on the paths included Ground Beetles, lots of ants and at least two dragonfly species. 

Swift: Only a single bird was heard all day - over Aviemore train station at 7:30pm (although small numbers were over most of the towns along the train route including Blair Atholl, Pitochry and Perth).

Willow Warbler: At least 78 singing males were heard along the route plus three Blackcaps and a single Chiffchaff (and at least 17 Tree Pipits). 
Braes of Abernethy: This is real “big country” – wide expanses of heather moorland, stretching east towards the braes and up Strathnethy to Bynack More. The landscape is dotted with lochans, damp hollows and isolated clumps of pines. Birds were hard to find (apart from the ubiquitous Meadow Pipit) but Cuckoo, Curlew and possibly Golden Plover called unseen. The path petered out at one point, requiring full attention to be given to trailblazing. However scrubby terrain near the Nethy held two Black Grouse, Dipper and Common Sandpiper were on the river and a Redstart was visiting a presumed nest in a pile of boulders. This area looked promising for Wheatear and Ring Ouzel but neither was found. 

Brown Hare: A single was in a trackside field between Newtonmore and Kingussie. I rarely see the species in Badenoch and Strathspey.

Mute Swan:  Two pairs were on Loch Insh as I passed by on the train. Neither appeared to have swimming young, and as they are unlikely to leave any nests unguarded, I assume neither were breeding. I am unaware of any regular breeding sites in the area. There were none on the Bogach earlier in the month, and I am not aware of any other regularly occupied sites.

Spotted Flycatcher: This species was notable by its almost complete absence, with only a single bird glimpsed at Craigellachie. I find that the species can be quite secretive early in the season (and its creaky call is drowned out by the various tweets and whistles of everything else), although it becomes much more obvious when the young fledge and start to fill the woods with their rasping, begging calls.

Craigellachie: The National Nature Reserve was alive with birds, with fledged Robins and Chaffinches adding to the sounds of the various woodland birds including Willow Warblers and a Blackcap. Waterbirds were scarce with four drake Mallards being the only representatives. The crags were empty, the Peregrines apparently having failed to settle again this year.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Yesterday's trip to Strathspey produced a list of 55 bird species plus various mammals, invertebrates and plants. Some of the highlights are here (still in note form):
On the journey up, a Hare, just before Newtonmore.
In Aviemore, a Chaffinch feeding young, several juvenile Robins, two singing Willow Warblers.
At Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, a male Pied Flycatcher singing strongly from a tree at the north east corner of Loch Pulladern, two entomologists netting there (the only notable species I could see was Green-veined White), a single Spotted Flycatcher, four Chaffinches, a singing Tree Pipit, five singing Willow Warblers and a singing Blackcap.

A Hooded x Carrion Crow hybrid at the northern outskirts of the town.
In Nethybridge, two singing Greenfinches, Song Thrush carrying food, two Blackcap singing, Chiffchaff singing, seven Willow Warblers singing, adult Dunnock with three young in close attendance, no Himalayan Balsam allong the river there.
In the area around Dell Lodge, a Buzzard, probable nesting Swallows, nesting Rooks, 6 singing Willow Warblers, one singing Tree Pipit, Siskin and Chaffinch drinking from puddles on track, Chaffinch bringing young to path to feed, pair of Oystercatchers, possibly with young hidden in long grass.
In Abernethy Forest between the Dell entrance and Forest Lodge, nine singing Willow Warblers, 29 Chaffinches, six singing Tree Pipit (in small pockets) plus a host of moths and ants.

The area around Forest Lodge produced three singing Tree Pipits, one singing Willow Warbler, 6 Chaffinches and a pair of Redstarts collecting insects from the track. The male was resplendent in the sunshine, his white forehead and orange underwings showing particularly well.
East of the Nethy, the forest continued but was noticeably drier, more undulating and more open with large area of Juniper scrub. The insect life was enhanced by the appearance of Green Tiger Beetles, large black Ground Beetles and at least two dragonfly species. Bird life continued to be dominated by Willow Warbler (20 singing males), Chaffinch (8), Robin, Wren, Coal Tit and Tree Pipit (6 singing males), but was augmented by Crested Tit (1 at one site, 2 (including feeding behaviour) at a second and a fledged brood at a third), Redstart (3 singing males) and a hen Capercaillie.

The moorland south of there held Cuckoo, Curlew and two Black Grouse.
The Nethy just north of the Bynack Bridge had Common Sandpiper, Dipper and nesting Redstart, with Red Grouse and singing Willow Warbler (5), Redstart and Cuckoo on the moor heading back to Ryvoan. On Loch a’ Gharbh-Choire (a site that looks like it could produce much more with careful searching) were a pair of Wigeon, a pair of Black-headed Gulls and a drake Mallard.

The walk back to Glenmore had to be done at a bit of a trot (in order to catch the bus back to Aviemore), but still produced Willow Warblers (at least 23 singing males), Tree Pipit (2 singing males) and the usual range of common woodland species.

Glenmore held nesting House Martin and a Pied Wagtail with a brood of at least three newly-fledged juveniles. Also, the most remarkable sighting of the day – a vole species which appeared from under the Glenmore Café and Shop, and scampered across the road, dodging the passing traffic.
The train trip down produced Swifts over Aviemore, Blair Atholl, Pitochry and Perth.
No Wheatears, Whinchats or Stonechats all day.