Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Garden List

Our Lass was on a roll at the weekend...

On Friday evening, whilst I was in the kitchen cooking tea and being oblivious to what was going on outside, she shouted from the study that there was a bird on our neighbour's roof.

Not even wearing spectacles, I was absolutely no help at all, but I kept my unfocussed eyes on the bird whilst Our Lass fetched two sets of binoculars. That at least established the identity of the visitor as a falcon. Our Lass then kept her eye on the raptor, which was being mobbed by a small flock of Swallows, whilst I retrieved my camera from the lounge.

There was just enough time to rattle off a few shots before the falcon gracefully exited stage right.

We think it was a young Merlin, a bird not previously seen within the environs of Tense Towers, so a prime candidate for addition to the Garden List.

Two days later, on Sunday morning, and reasonably early on a Sunday morning too (I was still in my dressing gown), Our Lass spots more unidentified birds. This time from the lounge window.

In amongst a flock of Common Gulls are four waders. I hurriedly dash off to throw on some clothes, so that I can try and sneak a little closer. However, halfway through this endeavour, I am aware of the daily drive by of the milk tanker, with the result that there are no more waders left in the field. Dang! I should've just gone outside in my dressing gown!

Perusal of our ID books produces a short list of Knot or Ruff, so I throw the question out to those with more experience than me with such conundrums. The consensus is Ruff, as Knot are not usually seen away from the shore.

Brilliant! Another addition to the Garden List.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Perils of Listening in English, Part 3

The Scottish Government recently announced that it would be banning the growing of GM crops, in an attempt to protect the excellent reputation that Scotland's food and drink industry has garnered over the years. Let's ignore any references to deep-fried Mars bars, eh?

So, I was alarmed to hear on our local radio the other day, that farmers in Orkney were having a terrible year due to something called 2-Wheat.

I could only assume that this was the trade name given to a fearsome and ecologically damaging genetically-modified cereal crop but, unsurprisingly, I was wrong.

Orkney has had a great deal of rain through the Spring and Summer: cattle couldn't be turned out onto pasture until much later than normal; hay-making was delayed, and many crops have had a shortened growing season.

An awful situation though this is, it isn't the cataclysmic destruction of our environment by some nightmarish science experiment. Nope, it is just that the ground's been too 'weet' i.e. wet.


After the fire

Here are a few random shots from the past few days, which had to wait until the fires of my dragon frenzy had subsided...

The floral supernova of a Devil's Bit Scabious (I think).

Proof, if it were needed, that you can have just too many colours and textures in a photo. Taken from the Hoy Head ferry en route to Lyness.

A biannual plant from the garden in MK, that we've never been able to name, but which is putting on a show in Orkney.

Flaming reeds.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Summer! It's today!

Today may well have been Summer. It was rather lush.

Before breakfast, we wandered down to the shore, through pastures which were strangely quiet. Many of the waders have begun to leave on migration, so the air was not pierced by the calls of Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew.

In fact, I was just remarking upon this to Our Lass, when I looked over the fence into the adjacent field and spotted a Brown Hare, motionless and as hunkered down as possible. I stopped in my tracks and had to call Our Lass back to see it.

After breakfast, we headed down to St Mary's village, parked by the Loch of the Ayre and wandered off in the direction of the Bay of Sandber. Our first surprise was a Green Sandpiper, which flew up from the stream that flows from the loch to the sea. Then we found a Dunlin amongst the waders on the shore. We followed the path around until we were facing Scapa Flow, then sat down to enjoy the scenery and sunny weather.

After a while, the sound of something running across the beach pebbles made us sit up. There was no-one else in sight, no dogs or feral cats, not even a suddenly-hoped-for Otter. What and where was the source of the sound? Then I spotted a Stoat, scampering across the beach and disappearing amongst some seaweed-strewn rocks.

Stoats are an introduced problem on Orkney. They are not native to these isles and the ground-nesting birds and native Orkney Vole are not evolved to cope with such a voracious predator. There is little evidence of action from Scottish Natural Heritage (there may indeed be action, but little concrete evidence of it), which is strange as they have carried out successful relocation/eradication projects of other species where necessary, for instance in the the Western Isles.

A local Facebook group helps to document the scale of the problem, providing data on Stoat sightings and behaviour.

The walk back to the car also produced several Gannets and a lone Sand Martin.

After lunch, a spot of gardening (specifically, mowing the lawn) flushed out a few leafhoppers onto the path. I think these are Evacanthus interruptus, which are quite strikingly-marked.

Following that excitement, we went for a potter along the beach between Barriers 2 and 3, searching for shells and sea glass, and serendipitously encountering a small flock of Sanderling, possibly the cutest wader known to Man. No pictures, I'm afraid, it's been a 'no camera' day.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

In which I experience vibrant colours and that soaring feeling after chasing the dragon

Don't worry, I'm just high on life.

As well as our dragon hunting escapade on Sunday morning, we also spent the afternoon wildlife watching, but this time over on the west coast of the mainland.

Top to bottom: Bog Asphodel; a young skua; Scottish Primrose.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Boglan before breakfast

As the last vestiges of pinkness fade from the grey clouds and lethargic turbine blades indicate a reduced wind speed, it is very peaceful here at Tense Towers tonight.

This is generally considered to be a good thing.

For the previous few days, there has been very little in the way of peace and quiet hereabouts.

Part of the reason for this has been the Aberdeen Angus bull featured in my last post. When I say 'part', I mean fifty per cent. The other fifty per cent can be attributed to a Shorthorn bull.

Black Angus (as he shall be known), along with a single cow (name unknown, but she has a fierce stare) are inhabiting the paddock below our home. A mixed herd of about a dozen and a half cattle, mainly Shorthorns, has been occupying the large field over the road from the house.

The upshot of all this is that Black Angus is rather taken with the ladies of the Shorthorn herd and is not backward in coming forward in letting everyone know about it. The Shorthorn bull isn't too impressed with this state of affairs and has been keen to make his displeasure known. Volubly.

So at regular intervals during the day, the closest point between the two fields has been Bovine Central, with much posturing, low frequency rumblings and out-and-out bellowing. In the local dialect, this is known as boglan, from the verb to bogle. Tense Towers is effectively at ground zero for these exchanges, which makes for an interesting period between first light and the time when our alarm clock goes off. It's not quite the spectacle of a Red Deer rut, but what the bulls lack in panache, they make up for in decibels.

This evening, it appears that the Shorthorn herd has been moved again. So we're left with the brooding silence of the heavyweight stare that the single cow is bringing to bear upon Black Angus.

Boy, I wouldn't want to be in his shoes.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Landscape, not portrait

It was a schoolboy error, akin to an epic Microsoft Word fail.

Remember this from a few weeks ago?

My attempt at marking out where the raised beds for our veg patch should go?

Aligned with Tense Towers and giving a view from the kitchen window (to distract eyes from the aesthetically-challenged oil tank.

Our Lass was having no truck with it, as it was wrong on just about every level.

So this evening (having allowed the grass to grow under my feet for a few weeks), I tried the re-orientated, aligned with our neighbours' track, landscape version.

And here's a shot from the track, which isn't into the light.

Keen-eyed readers may also notice the bull at the other end of the garden, leaning over the fence (despite two strands of barbed wire!) and munching on our grass, and possibly the willows. Ah, it's always greener, eh?