Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Highlands in Spring - Part Three

Friday May 18 was another less strenuous day. A visit to RSPB Insh Marsh reserve was planned since it was just on our doorstep. Starting at Kingussie where the River Spey tumbles into the marsh we caught a glimpse of a dipper as well as this delightful view of a goosander with young.
At the reserve itself a fairly new hide gave us good views over the marsh. A pair of whooper swans not too far away were a good sight at this time of year. Several roe deer, some lapwings, a greylag goose, a nesting redshank and the ubiquitous siskins were a joy to see. I caught my first glimpse this year of swifts as we gathered for lunch. Thankfully there were some picnic tables here. Halfway through lunch we heard the distinctive sound of a male cuckoo.
Our afternoon walk took us around the more northern part of the reserve. Here we stood in awe of some magnificent trees as well as seeing a redstart, more siskins, another dore beetle and a spotted flycatcher.

 The next destination was everyone's favourite. Some decided to walk there whilst others needed to take cars. That was their loss since the walkers had good views of some crossbills. The following pictures explain the venue and also you can see how hard it was for me to watch birds and red squirrels from here. It's tough being a leader
The evening was spent in a sort of a ceilidh. We had songs, poems and dances that only a few knew. It was a good laugh for all of us
Saturday May 19 Our final day. We had decided that each could do their own activity today. Victoria and I had last minute admin to complete, whilst others had a trek up the Feshie, a walk to the cake shop, another look at Loch Insh and a farewell visit to the ospreys. There had been good views of a redstart, a distant view of a red throated diver (or loon if you read this in USA) and a close up of the local goldeneyes.

  In the evening, we had a short communion service to remember the One who created, sustains and redeemed the whole of the cosmos. The last walk to the loch was another thrill as more otters and several bats were seen. We could hear the otters squealing in apparent delight, as well as the bats on our detectors reminding us that they too were responding to Psalm 150 " Let everything that has breath, Praise the Lord".
A wonderful week, getting to know this part of Britain and strengthening friendships with all who came on our trip
My Challenge total at the end of the week was 461, an added 57 for the week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Highlands in Spring? Part two

Wednesday May 16 was to be a less strenuous day after the long journey yesterday. Loch Morlich is on the way to the car park at the start of the funicular railway We had decided to go to Cairngorm, look for ring ouzel in the car park and then either climb or use the railway to get to the plateau. The weather did not agree and decided to make things look very pretty. We did have an unsuccessful scout round for the mountain blackbird but decided not to go higher through the thickening snow showers. We did see some animals that are more adapted to the conditions. They were not accompanied by a man with a white beard though.
Some of us had a hot chocolate to thaw us out and we then all proceeded to the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten. Good views of the osprey as well as lots of chaffinches, coal tits, siskins and red squirrels feeding on the nuts just visible outside the Osprey Visitors Centre. As you can see they were accompanied by one or two great spotted woodpeckers.
The walk to  Loch Mallachie along the edge of Loch Garten and through the pinewood was very enjoyable despite the lack of birds on Garten itself. As we got about a third of the way round we saw the wood ant nest with its millions of inhabitants busily getting on with their lives. One of our party then paused a few yards further on and pointed out a crested tit on the ground. It soon flew into a tree and continued to try to evade our gaze. Loch Malachie soon came into view, as did a pair of goldeneyes on the far side. Even from a distance we were able to watch the female fly straight into the nestbox. The only other notable things on our walk was several redpolls calling right above our heads

Thursday May17 was to be our longest day. We started by going to the capercaillie watch starting at 0530. The first thing we noticed was a slight dusting of snow on our cars. We did check calenders to see if it was still May and we had not missed out June, July, August etc..and gone straight to December
You will not be surprised to learn we did not see any capercaillies but we did see the newly hatched osprey chick. We also learned a great deal from Richard Thaxton of the RSPB about  goldeneyes, ospreys and the continuing pressure on capers. Porridge when we got back to our residence was very welcome.
After breakfast we made the long journey to Gruinard Bay. A small Loch between Inverness and Ullapool gave us the opportunity to see two black-throated divers. One swimming in the centre of the loch, the other on the nest, barely visible through the telescopes. Our hoped for view of White-tailed eagle was not realised but we had fantastic views of black guillemots, Great Northern divers, a razorbill, some common guillemots, a distant gannet and some red breasted mergansers. Those of us with our eyes on the ground found this lovely caterpillar, which someone identified as a Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

It had been a long day, so after dinner ( or supper or tea) we had a relaxing time taking part in a quiz, reading or playing Scrabble. Most of us had an early night.

My Challenge total had now reached 445 - Don't forget to donate  >> 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Highlands in Spring? - Part One

This is a summary of a week based in Strathspey with a group of A Rocha supporters. We met in Kincraig at 4.00pm on the Sunday reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Even on this the first evening, I had arranged a visit to the local badger hide where we met our guide. He did allow me to take folks on the next two nights. Despite the strong breeze and monsoon-like downpour we did see three badgers and a pine marten. Those who could not make that trip had been to view the osprey on Loch Insh and had seen three otters

Monday May 14. Some folk took an early stroll to the Loch to view the osprey again and managed to see goldeneye and common sandpiper. Our walk after breakfast was in the area of Uath Lochans
Scores of siskins, accompanied by willow warblers, coal tits and chaffinches welcomed us to the woods, while at our feet wood sorrel, wood anemone and common dog violet reminded us that spring comes a little later here, than where most of us live. Walking the white trail took the rest of the morning and just at the end of lunch one of our party came rushing over to point out crested tit. Changing from the white to red trail enabled us to gain some height. This gave us a panoramic view of the area in which we were staying. We did take extra care with our feet since we had already seen a dore beetle and a lovely frog
The final stretch took in the smaller lochans where a pair of goldeneyes were swimming together. We had heard the call of a raptor but were unable to see it. What we did see was a gorgeous beetle. We found out later that it was a green tiger beetle

 The evening was taken up again with badger viewing and searching for bats. Other night sounds that were heard were some snipe drumming and a woodcock roding round his territory
Tuesday May 15 A windy day to start as we set off to search for eagles up the Findhorn valley. There were already some birders there as we arrived, one of whom was Alan Davies of "The Biggest Twitch" fame. He had already seen two sorts of eagle, but that was not to be for us. We did see Feral goats and red deer as well as common sandpiper and the ubiquitous oystercatcher. Loch Ruthven was not too far away so that was the next stage of our journey for today. Some of our party saw a tufted duck on a nearby pool as well as sand martin. At the Loch itself a semi-blizzard caused us to have lunch in the warmth of our vehicles. It did clear and we saw those lovely jewels that are Slavonian grebes
Our final destination of the day was Chanonry Point. The weather had changed for the better as we arrived. We had planned for a rising tide and our planning worked. We had fantastic views of dolphins very close to the beach. As we were leaving some dunlins, turnstones and ringed plovers scurried on the edge of the shore and a red kite glided over our heads

Our final visit to the badgers was made more thrilling as we heard another drumming snipe and a barking fox

Total now at 430

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dawn Chorus

Sunday May 6 was International Dawn Chorus day. This year I lead a walk for Cuerden Valley Park Trust. We started at 0500 with about 16 folk. Robins, a song thrush and two crows commenced the concert and as we walked past Cuerden Hall, a Jay screeched its alarm and a blue tit scolded us for being too close.

 One of the advantages of starting early is birds start singing at different times. This makes it easier to note one call before some of the others start to sing. As we progressed towards Cock Cabin Wood we heard chiffchaffs, gold finches and long-tailed tits contributing their voices to the choir. A comparison between a blackbird song and that of a song thrush became possible. Chaffinch, great tit and coal tit song were added to the repertoire, as well as the call of a woodpigeon  We decided to make a small detour to breathe in the bouquet of the bluebells. They were absolutely beautiful.
On our way down to the bottom of the valley we heard the gentle sound of goldcrest, another chiffchaff and saw a grey heron lazily flying away. By the time we arrived at the lake the sun was getting higher and it enabled us to see the great crested grebe on her nest. I was just as thrilled to see a female orange tip butterfly on a cuckoo flower. We did wonder if it  was egg laying. We had passed lots of cuckoo flower as well as bluebells and two of the stitchworts. There were also the bright yellow eggs of green dock leaf beetle gastrophysia viridula, on a dock leaf and not too far from here we saw a male and female together. The difference in size is amazing at this time of the season. He is quite small, she looks enormous in comparison.
 Continuing upstream we noticed a few swallows harvesting midges over our heads and suddenly one of our party pointed excitedly to a willow tree overhanging the river. As we looked where she was pointing, we had a fantastic view of a smallish bird with a vivid blue back and an orange tummy - a kingfisher. It flew off but we saw it again two minutes later being followed by a second kingfisher. In the woodland, a newly excavated hole suggested a great spotted woodpecker was rearing young, but we neither saw or heard anything. Well actually we did, but it was a nuthatch on another tree. Not to be outdone, the recently arrived whitethroat decided to announce its presence as we approached the Barn. One of the local dog walkers came over and said those inevitable words " You've just missed a ...." On this occasion "a" was a roe deer. It was then time for a hot drink, toast with scrambled egg or bacon. A great start to a Sunday morning.                                                   The photo is by @saveourbogs.

Please do not forget the two causes which will benefit from my challenge >>

Friday, May 4, 2012

Taste of Scargill

Scargill House is the base for a Christian movement set in the spectacular landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Here the international community, representing many Christian traditions is committed to a common rule of life and service. They provide a Christian holiday, conference and retreat centre, inviting Christians from all traditions ( and people who are not Christian) to come and spend time alongside our resident community. Their emphasis is on prayer and hospitality as well as refreshing and equipping churches and individuals. Some times there are quiet times, but they also have lots of laughter, fun, creativity and really good food.
I spent a few days there leading a group as we explored what the Bible says about creation care as well as going out and enjoying God's creation in that lovely part of Yorkshire 
Tuesday. We discovered what the Bible says about " Why Care for Creation?" and then had a walk round the estate lead by Hugh Firman. We looked at how the management was changing in order to preserve some of the meadows and noticed field woodrush, blue moorgrass, water avens and bloody cranesbill. There are three levels on the estate and as we passed the "scar" that identifies the "gill" we saw a plant that puzzled us for a while. A referral to both "Stace" and "Rose" suggested it was Alpine pennycress.


Wednesday. we had an early start to take advantage of the fine morning. I filled the bird feeders which had attracted great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches and then we set off round the estate. Willow warbler and song thrush were singing at the top of their voices and in competition we had chaffinches and at least one siskin. We walked carefully through the plantation and as we moved a fallen tree-guard a common shrew quickly ran for fresh cover. We advanced up the hill and heard a bird song we initially did not recognise. A scan of the treetops revealed it to be a common redstart. In the evening we did try to find out if there were any bats emerging. Wet conditions and low temperatures made it a fruitless wait, but there is always another time.
Thursday. We explored the various aspects of food; the cost in mileage, and how that affects our carbon footprint; how much is " synthetic" and produced to lowest cost rather that nutritious; then how we could grow our own. We the decide to look for those important workers without who we would not have any food - bugs. Examining different habitats, old branches, piles of leaves, and stone heaps, we discovered a variety of life. Millipedes, centipedes, woodlice, earthworms and a magnificent glow worm larva. We were fortunate to have a visit from Judith Allinson who does a lot of work for Christian Ecology Link. She was my tutor on two of the plant identification courses I attended at Malham Tarn FSC Centre. She pointed out two special things that were new to me. These were bird perch lichen and Craven Door Snail. The picture below is the Glow worm larva.

Meeting new friends and sharing in creation care made the week very worthwhile