Sunday, 31 August 2014

Waste not, want not

Yesterday, dear put-upon reader, I began a blog post with a bit of a whinge about a temporary lack of mains water at OTT. It was only a bijou rantette and I'd hoped you wouldn't overly notice.

Y' see, we do not have a cold water storage tank at OTT, mains water is fed directly to the cold taps and we live near the top of a low hill. So any loss of pressure following a burst pipe in the area and we're one of the first households to be affected. The mitigation is that we keep a supply of bottled water handy for drinking and washing, whilst using the waste washing water to flush the lavatory.

It certainly makes you realise just how much we all seem to take a plentiful supply of clean water for granted. It's important stuff as, let's face it, by volume, it is the main ingredient in a cup of tea.

But then, what of all the empty plastic bottles?

Well, at the moment, Our Lass is busy propagating cuttings of all manner of leafy things. With the bases removed the 5 litre bottles are just the ticket for hot-housing on the windowsill.

And I'm pondering if I can create a row of mini cloches for the garden. There's just the small problem of the wind speed to consider...

The Pound Sterling and Plan B

OK, you can relax, this has absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming Scottish Referendum, or the debate surrounding a possible currency union or otherwise.

As the weather was so peachy this morning, bright sunshine and hardly a breath of wind, we spent a bit of time in the garden. Our Lass weeding the one border that has been half-tamed and me shifting some rocks from an adjoining paddock, that the local farmer was happy for me to take.

The pile of rocks were left over from the renovation of a dry stone wall, so Mother Nature had started to reclaim them beneath a covering of grass, buttercup and dock. I gradually unearthed the lumps of stone and transported them across to OTT, building another cairn for later use around the property. Towards the bottom of the pile, I discovered a bundle of dried grass that looked for all the world like the nest of a rodent, perhaps a mouse or vole. On closer inspection, however, it became apparent that the occupants were, in fact, bees.

I quickly took a few photos with my phone and replaced a slab over the nest, so as not to disturb the bees too much. Posting the pics on the local Facebook insect group page brought confirmation that bees do occasionally re-use rodent nests, though whether with permission or not was harder to gauge!

I think that in the last pic, towards the bottom of the shot, it's just possible to make out the comb. Sadly, none of the photos were useful in IDing the species of bee.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

It's been a funny old day

07.15 Stagger out of bed, make way to kitchen on autopilot, turn on cold tap to fill kettle. Nothing, not a drop. Arse! Make a pot of tea with bottled water and stagger back to bed to contemplate having to go to work without having a shower.

09.00 Set off for work and drive past the scene of the burst pipe... exactly where it was previously, when it happened three weeks ago.

12.00 Whilst sorting through a bag of donated items at the re-use yard, a work colleague discovers this...

Very dead, very desiccated, not native to Orkney. May well have been dead before it made the journey to these isles from gods-know-where.

16.30 Back home again and there's a knock at the door. Open it to discover a policeman. Just as he begins to explain the reason for the visit, I notice a Hen Harrier flying behind him. It slowly glides over the road and begins to make its way along the fence of the field opposite. I hurriedly try to gauge the odds of being arrested if I run for my camera and then barge the boy-in-blue out of the way. Apparently there'd been some vandalism at the church up the road. Probably not related to the Hen Harrier.

17.00 Following the departure of the local constabulary, we sit outside with a medicinal beverage and are astounded to see a single, small, greeny-brown bird fly into the tallest vegetation in the garden, a clump of thistles. As it lands, it emits a single "Wheet" call and then remains silent, but flits in and out of the stems for a minute or two, before flying straight past us and over the house. Everything pointed to Chiffchaff. We are elated. Five miles down the coast, they're fighting off Barred and Booted Warblers, Pied Flycatchers and Wrynecks. We don't care. Much.

17.45 Our Lass shouts from the kitchen that there's a ship steaming past the Rose Ness lighthouse.

She's nearly right!

It's been a funny old day.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


North Ron trip 23-24 August 2014, Part 2

Hmmm, are you thinking, "Wait a minute, he ended Part 1 by leaving the island. How the heck is there a Part 2?"

Well, the first episode was more about mood and atmosphere, whilst this final instalment concerns birds... mostly birds.

For this visit, Our Lass and I limited ourselves to pottering around the south of the island, foregoing the culinary pleasures of the North Ronaldsay Trust's cafe, located in one of the former lighthouse keeper's cottages at the far end of the island.

Not for us a full-English-breakfast-fuelled frantic dash to the most northerly cafe in Orkney, nor even a mad calorie-burning twitchfest to try to locate the Common Rosefinch that had been seen with the local finch flocks for several days. Nope, although we did partake of a full English, instead we ambled passed Holland House, down to Bridesness and then back again via the beach of South Bay. After a light salad lunch at the Obs, we maintained a slow pace down to the pier and around the south west coast, before heading inland to the airfield and our flight back to the sprawling mega-tropolis of Kirkwall.

But banish such urban thoughts from your mind and simply enjoy a few photos of feathered and fleeced fauna, glimpsed and garnered on our perambulations of this picturesque isle.

Purple Sandpipers, Calidris maritima, near Twingness

I suspect that this is a Willow Warbler, Phylloscopus trochilus, at Bridesness

Sanderling, Calidris alba, in South Bay

A juvenile Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula, in South Bay

Fulmar, Fulmaris glacialis, over dunes at South Bay

Several young Barn Swallows, Hirundo rustica, waiting to be fed at South Bay

North Ronaldsay sheep, Ovis sp., near Twingness

Snipe, Gallinago gallinago, in Gretchen Loch

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

North Ron trip 23-24 August 2014, Part 1

I wanted to give Our Lass a special treat for our wedding anniversary, so was considering an overnight stay with half board at an Orkney hotel. A bit of research, earlier in the week, had narrowed down the choices to either the Foveran (a good 'restaurant with rooms' sort of place) or the Bird Observatory on North Ronaldsay.

As it turned out, even with return flights, the Bird Obs was the better deal, and I knew for a fact that Our Lass would appreciate some quality tiny island time. Then I checked the meteorology (a prudent course of action in these parts) and noticed that going a week early would give us some absolutely peachy weather.

So last weekend, off we went to North Ron. I should add that, due to work commitments, the only flight I could make on Saturday afternoon was the 16.00, which only had one seat available. I took a risk, booked Our Lass on the previous flight and promised that I wouldn't miss mine, as spending an anniversary weekend apart wouldn't have been the most romantic of situations!

Fortunately, all went according to plan, and we spent a wonderful twenty four hours on North Ronaldsay. Big blue skies, scudding white clouds, azure seas, white sandy beaches, dry stane dykes, rugged coastal scenery [happy sigh].

What speed limit?
Dry stane dyke at Bridesness

A dreamy South Bay

Following the clowgang, the sheep track outside the perimeter wall

Cloudscape from South Bay

Scattered memories of bygone times

Gretchen Loch

A fond farewell, as we fly past the lighthouse and old beacon

Friday, 22 August 2014

Gettin' tufty with it

That venerable and august wildlife NGO, the RSPB (or rspb, as it often is these days), has launched a campaign to promote the inclusion of Nature in political parties' manifestos ahead of the UK General Election in 2015.

A noble and necessary endeavour, I hope you would agree. Wildlife and habitats should be on the political agenda, and not just as the things that are obliterated and trashed to make a quick buck.

The campaign is Vote for Bob

However... (you knew there'd be a 'however', didn't you?), the RSPB's choice of a figurehead for the campaign is a little odd, or as they put it, "innovative" and "quirky".

It's a Red Squirrel.

Called Bob.

Who has a pet snail named Brian (this could be him?)

It just all seems a little... Wildlife Explorers. Though to be fair, how often have you thought that a parliamentary debate sounded like a bunch of unruly school children running wild, so maybe Raspberry are onto something.

I've had a nice letter from a nice RSPB man in Edinburgh, letting me know that Bob won't be making too much of a fuss in our neck of the woods until after the Scottish independence referendum.

But, presumably, Bob actually lives in England, so is he based at RSPB HQ, near Sandy? A quick search on the NBN Gateway showed that the last recorded sighting of a Red Squirrel in Bedfordshire was in 1996. Even camped under the bird feeders and with pine cones on tap, a Red Squirrel from then wouldn't live long enough to be still around now.

This would either indicate that Bob is elsewhere and 'working from home' through the magic of the internet, or the RSPB have been suppressing mammal records to keep Bob's name and location secret, as those Greys can be complete and utter trolls.

Either way, I think we can rest assured that the era of lobbying government with scientific facts is over. Well, it didn't work too well for badgers or habitats, did it?