Today I found part of my journal from four years ago… thought I would share it. It has motivated me to start writing a nature diary again, it is nice to look back and remember the small things around, and compare what has changed.
Nature diary excerpts, 2016
The buzzards have been making an unusual amount of noise the last few days, a variety of calls and sounds. I suspect the chick is fledging as the mewing and crying seems to have been replaced with this squawking commotion. Earlier in the year they were very visible in the woods behind the house, diving and flying acrobatically through the trees. When walking up towards the loch they seemed to fly out of the same tree where it looked as though they were flying out from a nest. Today I saw one fly right past the upstairs window out towards its usual perch on the post in the low meadow.
This morning I sat by the porch in an armchair watching the last of the sunrise across the Solway above the Lakeland mountains. The land was a faint pale white-grey, with lots of small billowy clouds layering above the land mass. These upright forms were pale blue-slate with a slight pinkness and facets the colour of the feathers behind a male chaffinches head. Spilling through these first rising shapes a few clouds were catching the light, shining – not golden – but a cooler, gentle primrose. The clouds above crept towards the Solway in horizontal layers of grey and yellow revealing openings to the blue sky above.
I put some food out for the birds, attracting five or so chaffinches that struggled to rest on the small feeder, instead waiting underneath to take advantage of the spills from a nuthatch that flew back and forth, singing a single note of satisfaction each time it returned. A blue tit and two dunnocks flitted around, taking a few of the squirrels’ peanuts; a young chaffinch tried to figure out how to chip away at one that had been dropped.
The low meadow at the bottom of the garden has such a mix of grasses now, from palest pinks and orangey flecks to moss-browns and grey-greens, yellows, limes, ochres and straw colours all mixed and held in swathes high above the green growth beneath. The sheep will return to graze this field soon, they are across the Rockcliffe road in the field behind now, where their ‘baas’ carry from a distance up the hill. I can see their cream forms between tussocks of long grass; behind them a stone wall follows hilly contours and mixed woodland skirts a plantation of firs at the foot of Barcloy Hill. Where the land ends begins the pale grey of sea, lighter at the horizon where it meets darker land behind topped with the columned fluffy clouds.
Since I sat here a very pale and bright chaffinch has appeared, a young male yet to get his true colours. A great tit and coal tit have been on the feeder, and a red squirrel is hunting around underneath for black sunflower seeds. Its tail is tipped with pale golden fur where the sunlight shines through, and it has a dark grey stripe down its back along shining chestnut fur. It stands up on hind legs now looking in at me with little paws clasped up across its white chest. Its ears are glowing with the sun through them and it has lost the long ear tufts of winter completely. It was sitting quite happily in front of me until the resident female pheasant jumped startlingly off the wall almost on top of it, flapping her feathers in a loud clap. She has lost a few feathers lately, and after eating the seed hopped back on the wall and spread first her wings, then her tail out like fans around her in a lovely display to catch the sunlight for a few minutes. Then she lifted all her feathers up like a cloud and lowered them again smooth and shiny against her, and there she stands on the wall, preening and sun-bathing, the rusty red markings around her eyes and neck catching the light in an iridescent shimmer.
Today was a perfect weather day, the tide was out at the bay and the water looked blue and sparkling. The view across the Solway is clear so that you can see detail on the headland. The sky this side has been blue all day and white cumulus clouds topped the Lakes like a crown of meringues. I spent some time in the orchard again, yesterday I saw a stunning beetle, large and black with vibrant purple edges which I was hoping to see again, I suspect it was a violet ground beetle. Today I saw a round black beetle, and tens of froglets, tiny perfect little things emerging and disappearing in and out of the grass. The robin accompanied me as usual, and at one point I was encircled by birds on each plum tree, a tiny wren, a juvenile thrush, a blackbird and a few others, watching me.
This morning is breezy and cloudy, the land across the Solway is barely visible, a slightly darker hint of pale grey against the white sky and sea. The female pheasant is already waiting outside when I wake up, tucked up on the stone wall, eyes closed. The feeder is popular in the light rain, the red squirrel with the dark brown tail can’t figure out how to get onto the bird table top, but reaches the seed feeder in an acrobatic stretch. On the wall I see a pretty little bird in amongst the chaffinches, it has a pale streaked head and faded crimson chest, I look up linnet and grabbed the binoclars, and yes it had a pink-red head – my first sighting of a linnet! Carduelis cannabina.
In the afternoon the rain stopped and although not sunny, it was warm enough to go beach combing on Balcary Bay. The tide was far out, and the sand was covered in shells, mostly small half mussels with faded denim colouring. Tiny crabs scuttled across the damp sand, finding cover in the thin film of water and sifting sand on top of themselves making them almost invisible. Heaps of seaweeds covered low rocks, making homes for spiders and flies and shrimp-like sand hopper bugs. In the small rock pools were limpets and barnacles, gobi fish and shrimp, and dark red anemones with sticky tentacles. Oyster catchers wandered through sea lavender on the lumps of salt-marsh.
Today I went to pick up the monitor for the Southern Scotland Bat Survey from Threave Bat Reserve. Had a wander around the gardens which were looking lovely. The equipment was fairly straightforward and I spent the afternoon figuring out the best locations for the three nights, they need to be 200m apart, so I couldn’t put them too close together where I know the bats gather, but had to explore further afield. I decided to put one in the back of the orchard, then went down the lane to see where the best area near the wildlife pond would be. Halfway down the track a loud whoosh went across my head, from the combined noise of the wings of about a hundred goldfinches as they changed direction. This ‘charm’ has been gathering each day in the meadow at the front of the house for a few weeks now, perching on the telegraph wires and diving down into the field, and drinking from the stream in the garden. It was quite something to watch them circling round above me, diving into the field with the highland cattle, then whizzing back to the cherry tree in the garden. As I went into the wildflower meadow, they continued to plunge down and feed on the thistles near the pond. I found a good spot, jut far enough from the water to avoid noise reflection, and carried on to see where I could find in the fields across the road.
In a bizarre coincidence, as I reached the bottom of the lane, the lady from Threave that gave me the bat monitor was walking past, so we had a chat, she was on a circuit from Dalbeattie to Rockcliffe, what are the odds of that! The field opposite was full of pretty grasses, with fine feathery seedheads, and the sheep that used to be in the field below the house came to say hello. There was a stone wall and a woods that looked promising as a location, as bats follow hedge lines and features, and from the peak of the field, the sea was just visible. Suddenly above a huge bird circled, it was a red kite, the first I’ve seen this far towards the sea. Headed back home for tea. Just before 9pm I went back to the damp meadow to set up the kit before it got too dark, between the pond and the lane where I had seen plenty of bats the night before. The spike was fairly easy to push in, and the microphone went on top of two more poles, high up above the ground. Set the monitor to record and headed home… will hope for bats tonight! The honeysuckle all along the lane smelt sweet and wonderful as the late sunshine fell on it. By the back door, the greater spotted woodpecker was on the wall again, pecking away in the grass.
Lovely walk through the meadow following the grass tunnels to get the detector early this morning, it had that cool dewy smell of summer before the heat kicks in. The equipment was fine, just a little dew underneath, and when I checked the card there was 7GB of data, so promising. I checked the WAV files on the computer, and there were plenty of recordings, the majority this morning seemed to be birdsong, but some definite clicky sounds during the night, so hopefully there will be some useful recordings. Red squirrel came to investigate on the way back, standing upright on a stump up by the woods.
Had a drive out up to Loch Urr today, past a new windmill farm and up to the tops, where the floor was carpeted with sphagnum moss and wildflowers. A red, orange and black patterned moth (wood tiger?) flitted about on the moss and golden yellow fluffy flowers (bog asphodel) weaved through bog cranberry and heather.
Tonight the bat monitor is in the field near the wood edge, along a dry stone wall line, and near a gorse outcrop. Hopefully the sheep won’t lean against the pole. The light was beautiful as I walked back, all the contours of the land were highlighted with bright sunlight, and the sheep glowed golden white. East towards Dalbeattie forest solitary formations of low mist lay over the hilltops. Two swallows chased each other around the grassland, low to the ground and at high speed while seagulls cried above.
Good results from the detector, less than last night but definitely some recordings. Met some neighbours who said that they watch a stoat run along my garden wall through their binoculars… This afternoon, the day got duller and the visibility lessened, until dusk when great swirls of mist, like smoke swirled around outside the window. Masses of flying insects congregated by the bothy and it was humid and close even indoors. I had my doubts about the bat survey working so well tonight, although an abundance of insects, the fog seemed thick and un-inviting, however, when I ventured out it was still warm, and the landscape looked intriguing, I love the half-reveals that mist creates, the looming shapes of trees and fading colours towards the distance. The buzzard chick was screeching for food again, it has definitely fledged as it was giving its position away in the trees to the west of its nest. The grass was already saturated from the mist, so I have covered the box and hope for good results.
Incredibly hot today, too hot to go out in really. This morning I collected the bat detector from the orchard, the sky was absolutely bright and clear, in complete contrast from last night’s atmospheric mist. Good news, the disc is up to 20% and i can see lots of files, some brilliant long recordings and interesting clicks and squeaks. Can’t wait for the results. The day got hotter and hotter, and I ended up with a migraine. About 8pm a swarm of flying ants that had been gathering on the patio started to fly, ended up on the roof and all round the windows, although only a couple ventured in.
About half six this morning i was woken by incredible noises that turned out to be the force of the rain hitting the house, I had to run round closing all the windows that were open from the sweltering night. Sounds of sliding metal in the sky rolled all around and thick, white-out fog, obliterated all vision so it was impossible to even see the lightening. Downstairs various birds and a squirrel were sitting in the porch sheltering from the deluge, and I could just make out the table umbrella with its own collection of birds underneath. A few minutes later, thunder started shaking the house like an earthquake and all the birds disappeared. The sky went from white mist to dark as if night was falling again – very eerie. An ear-splitting crack jolted the house and what seems like a volcano under the house shook and rumbled. Still the shaking continued then suddenly it stopped, the darkness returned to light and the fog had disappeared like it had been sucked away; I could see sky and land again! Quite extraordinary!
The normal thunder and incessant rain continued for an hour or so, replaced by a lovely sunny day, clear and bright. Mid morning I opened the doors and windows up to let in some of the cooler air, and as I sat down with a cup of tea, I heard multiple crashing noises followed by a chaffinch flying around the living room. It flew into a box and lay looking up at me, obviously stunned and a little twisted; meanwhile I could hear crashing elsewhere – I assumed the sparrow hawk had upset the flock and they had escaped into the house. I gave it a few moments and picked it up, placing it in the porch, then went on a hunt and found another upstairs, perching on the window ledge. It was less dazed than the first and kept flying around crashing as I opened the window. For about half an hour I checked on them both, neither moving and in the end I had a chat with the one upstairs and convinced it to let me pick it up in a towel, which it did, and carry it down to the other one in the porch. Upstairs chaffinch hopped out of my hands and went to lounge chaffinch, which seemed to rouse it, and then they flew off, seemingly un-damaged! As you can imagine, plenty of cleaning up to do. The afternoon has become hazy and hot, with a nice breeze, I’m sitting outside under the umbrella, writing this listening to the sheep calling from across the fields. I keep seeing birds here that I can’t identify, I wish I had an expert here to help.
Paperwork day so not much excitement, by this afternoon I needed a walk to clear my head. Rockcliffe Bay was busy, the tide mostly in and a gentle breeze keeping the sun from being too hot. The meadows around the Motte of Mark were in full glory, full of grasses, thistles, buttercups wildflowers of every colour dotting between the gingery golden swathes. There were a few butterflies as I walked to the jetty, and the sound of crickets vibrating. The bay looked beautiful, fringed with green trees, rocky rubble sloping down to sandy strips, lapping with clear water and the views of hazy islands and headland on the far side of the Firth. A few yachts were bobbing around towards Kippford and a group of people were on the jetty, some with little crabbing lines, I think perhaps they were researchers. The water was choppy around the walkway, with wonderful seaweeds all around, greens and browns, floating in strands and pockets in the shallow water. The other side of the beach was glistening where the rivulets of water brightened the pebbles from a stream running out to sea. The air was fresh and salty and warm, lovely!
It was a green day today…at the bird feeder was a greenfinch (only see these occasionally), and a green woodpecker sat in the hemlock tree for a while watching two blackbirds and a thrush picking insects from the lawn beneath. The buzzards were noisy again, and circling around while the young called for food.
At about 6.30 this morning the garden was glittering with sunlight of the warmest colour, delightful! there were a couple of rabbits on the lawn and a deer working its way through the bracken in the meadow. The young buzzard was at its usual perch on the wires, crying for food. The highlight today was watching a family of wrens in the dry stone wall, the chick was a perfect tiny bird, orange in the light, and while its parents hopped around the stones, it stayed in one place, disappearing in and out of the thinnest gap between rocks, its head reappearing comically back out of the shadow.
Sunshine this morning with amazing sunshowers of the finest droplets; falling mist catching the breeze and swirling through the golden sky. The coast drive was stunning today, the area near Orchardton was shining in the glowing light, its olden countryside charm poignant as always. The descent to Kirkcudbright showed views clear and far, with blue and sparkling estuarine delight.