Sunday 28 June 2015


Yesterday evening, following a day which consisted of mainly warm sunshine, I kept popping outside to monitor the changing skies.

The photos were just taken with my phone, but provide a simple, if rudimentary, anatomy of the sunset. The air was still, Oystercatchers were calling, responding to perceived threats from predators. Occasionally, a gull would glide slowly across the sky, on its way to roost.

At 22.04 (above), Wideford Hill is aglow.

At 22.22, the sun sets in the north west.

Meanwhile, at 22.33, the western horizon has a bit of a pink cameo.

At 23.05, there's still plenty of colour low down on the horizon.

Just after midnight, looking north, one of the neighbouring farms (Little Hurtiso) is silhouetted against a pale sky. 

Friday 26 June 2015

The deepest cut of all

Yesterday, Thursday, dawned dry and bright.

Patchy blue skies, a light easterly breeze and the promise of a day without rain meant that, if not all, then at least many things were possible. I was very tempted to nip off to a suitable pool or pond to look for damselflies, as the temperature was almost high enough to encourage emergence. OK, it was nowhere near 17 deg C :o(

However, living in Orkney soon makes you realise that decent weather mustn't be wasted upon frivolous dragon hunts, so it seemed the perfect time for a little more mower-cise. I had managed to cut half the garden earlier in the week and, as we're trying to lower the nutrients in the soil to encourage wild flowers over grass, I had also been able to cart all the clippings away to the local composting site.

Happily, things went according to plan. I pushed the lawn mower around, wreaking havoc amongst docks, thistles and nettles, until I ached, then augmented my efforts with a gentle application of the self propulsion lever (oh dear, that sounded a bit ruder than was anticipated!).

Apologies for the wonky horizon, I was suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.

After a tea break to replace fluid loss, I tackled the pile of trimmings, cramming the grass and weeds into recycled fertiliser bags, packing the bags into the car and then transporting the whole lot to the local recycling centre. In due course, the treated green waste is turned into a soil improver, which is available free to householders.

We're contemplating an area of raised beds for growing vegetables, so I decided to mow a suitably-sized patch even shorter, in order to gauge how it might fit in with other possible plans.

This produced further clippings and precipitated another trip to the dump with a car stuffed full of grass.

Meanwhile in the 'flower' border at the front of the house, I was heartened to see the welcome return of some Common Ramping Fumitory, Fumaria muralis.

By way of contrast, this morning is damp, grey and cold. Low cloud and rain are disrupting flights and washing away the memories of a day's pleasant gardening. However, life must go on and a small flock of a dozen Starlings are busy in the severely cut patch, searching successfully for invertebrates to feed their hungry nestlings. And a Brown Hare cantered along the track at the northern side of our garden, presumably in preference to negotiating its way through the wet grass.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Pipe dream

Constant showers of persistent precipitation for the solstice meant that Midsummer's Day was something of a damp squib. To be fair, there was very little wind, so at least the rain was vertical. But as we drove home from a lunchtime treat at Skerries Bistro, water was draining off the fields straight across the roads.

What is a grumpy dragon hunter to do?

(That's the dragon hunter who is grumpy, rather than a hunter of grumpy dragons, but I digress)

Well, what I did was this...

Pipe cleaners?!


Is old Tense losing it?

C'mon, hands up who remembers this dragon from these very pages in 2012?

She's a Golden-ringed Dragonfly (photographed in Beinn Eighe national nature reserve), the only lady G-rD I've ever knowingly seen.

And with a little bit of industry and the odd casual expletive, here's my homage to a spectacular ode.

We can only hope that the sun puts in an appearance soon, for all your sakes!

Friday 19 June 2015

Artist in residence

This afternoon, following a 'coffee and cake' business meeting at a nearby cafe (it's a tough job, but someone has to do it), I popped into the hide at the RSPB's Loons reserve for a spot of West Mainland birding. Actually, that's not strictly true, as I mainly spent my time using my bins to scan the vegetation at the water's edge for damsels and dragons.

A vague thought went through my head (yeah, they're all fairly vague, to be honest) that I wouldn't leave the hide until I had seen one.

There were three other folk in the hide: a couple on holiday, happily counting fluffy ducklings and wishing bad things upon the Great Black-backed Gull that was threatening to eat them; and an artist painting a panoramic mural of the immediate area, complete with all manner of flora and fauna. 

I was absolutely awestruck. It's one thing to have the talent to paint, but it's several others to be able to create readily-identifiable wildlife in intricate detail, in a public place, whilst happily chatting about all manner of ecological what-have-you. Not to mention suppressing the urge to ram a paint brush in the eye of the eejit leaping about, taking photographs for his blog.

Sorry :o(

Curlews emerging from the undergrowth
Coot and Bogbean
A smorgasbord of artistic potentiality

Lapwings flying onto the wall

Snipe and Toad
A lady with more patience than I could possibly contemplate
Whilst discussing pond construction, the conversation produced this gem...

"I'm experimenting with bentonite."

"You're experimenting with Ben tonight?!"

It's a wonder I didn't inherit a paint brush in the other eye.

On the plus side, I could now leave the hide, because...

Large Red Damselfly
Whilst typing this blogpost, I have remembered that this isn't the only Orcadian hide to be blessed with such wonderful images. About six weeks ago, we visited the new building at RSPB Cottascarth, which celebrates the moorland realm of the Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl.

Thanks, AB, your work is truly inspirational.

Thursday 18 June 2015

My guilty secret

Well, it's probably not that secret if you've ever met me. However, as this conversation is taking place in the blogosphere, it is possible that you don't know, dear reader.

There are many things that we find shocking about other folk, depending upon our own value judgements and circumstances. It is arguable that the most astounding examples occur where there is a juxtaposition between the persona which one projects and the reality of one's life.

For instance, from this blog you could infer that I am inspired by Nature, am reasonably environmentally active (in work and play) and have a no frills, 'function over form' attitude to my wardrobe.

This is mostly true.


  • Yes, a day without wildlife feels like a day trapped in some kind of soulless, concrete, windowless Hell.

  • Yes, I work for a charity whose aim is to reduce waste in all its forms.

  • Yes, I give of my free time to various wildlife organisations, to help with citizen science, to inspire others and because it's generally better than being trapped in the afore-mentioned soulless, concrete windowless Hell.

  • Yes, my wardrobe is functional, outdoorsy and mainly in a range of earth colours. And to be fair, the blue dress and red tights phase was ages ago and just for charity (No, Second Born, that isn't a good enough reason to rush to post photos on Facebook!).

Why only 'mostly', then?

Hmmm, there's no easy way to explain this, so I'd better just come out with it.

I'm a designer label junkie. There, I've said it.

Despite my loathing of large shopping centres (generally), massed throngs of shoppers (usually) and my overwhelming apathy for clothes shopping (particularly), it came as something of a surprise to me too.

So, the question is... why?

Predictably, there's not a simple answer, but a conveniently-located retail emporium and a range fit for purpose figure highly amongst my reasons.

It has been noted on many occasions that I bang on about the weather a great deal. This is because I overheat at the drop of a hat (usually a sun hat) and have trouble keeping warm in cold conditions. So any clothing range that can provide suitable layering and wicking options is going to be near the top of my list.

When we moved to the original Tense Towers in 2002, we soon learned that a few hundred yards down the road (and a quiet, leafy, tree-lined road it was too), was the factory shop for outdoor and travel clothing manufacturer Rohan. This presented the opportunity for bargains to be had, both from regular in-store discounts as well as 'seconds' clothing that had some small imperfection. It also provided, and this may well have been the clincher for me, a pleasant amble to the shop from home, either down the afore-mentioned road or, alternatively, along a canal towpath. I don't think clothes retailers have generally cottoned on to the fact that ensuring your potential customers arrive feeling quite chilled out is a big loosener of the purse strings!

So over the years, I built up quite a wardrobe by taking advantage of bargains and discounts, not to mention birthday and Christmas presents.

Coupled with wildlife watching, for which I find the range very suitable, I rarely wear anything else these days. Does that make me a designer label junkie?

And is it faintly ludicrous that I used to live in a inland English city, around the corner from an outdoor clothing shop, but now live on a Scottish island where sea and weather mean outdoor clothing is not only practical, but flippin' necessary?

Well, perhaps the joke is on me, because here's the up-to-date graphic:

And that includes about 8 miles of sea, courtesy of the Pentland Firth!

However, I still have online shopping (to be honest, I lazily used that a fair bit in MK too), but my next challenge was of a whole different order.

First Born and her beau are to be wed in September. Wondrous news!

The wedding is taking place on the Greek isle of Rhodes, where temperatures are likely to be double those to which I'm currently acclimatised.


I wondered about wearing a kilt, but 8 metres of woolly material is not going to win any medals for temperature regulation in hot climes. Nope, what I really needed was a smart version of what I normally wear.

And so, on our recent trip to the west coast of Scotland, we detoured into Inverness, clutching several vouchers, to buy a suit. On selecting a... er... suit-able one, I was taken along the street to a tailor so that the necessary adjustments could be made. A week later, on the way home, we popped into Inverness again and collected the suit (the tailoring was included in the price!). Several weeks earlier, I had managed to buy a shirt, discounted online, that goes rather well with Our Lass's outfit, so I think I'm now sorted. Yay!

Apologies if this has seemed too much of a promotional post for a certain retailer, but it's more that I consider myself a savvy shopper who has found clothes that work for me. Please be reassured that I don't wear their knickers and socks.To put that another way, I DO wear knickers and socks, but not theirs.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Tour de France

Our final full day on the west coast of Scotland was spent on a trip to the Applecross peninsula. As has happened to us before, it was a last day of holiday that began with cold and wet weather, but which redeemed itself with some warm sunshine and blue skies in the afternoon.

Our drive took us along the shores of Loch Maree and skirted around the edges of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. Inevitably, it also had a wee detour to Torridon village for elevenses (see previous post). From Torridon, we headed west to Shieldaig and then south towards Lochs Carron and Kishorn. Here we picked up the single track road that leads tortuously over Bealach na Ba, or the Pass of the Cattle, to the Applecross peninsula.

I was already aware that the narrow road had numerous hairpin bends, eye-watering drops on one side and a magnificent view from the summit. I was also aware that it was raining and our ascent was taking us into the clouds. O... K, thick fog certainly added a bit of spice to the climb and took several years off my life. At the summit, the only view was of numerous mobile homes parked up, hoping for a break in the weather, so we carried on without stopping. After a few hundred yards, a small figure emerged from the gloom, running up the hill towards us. I was just about to mutter something along the lines of "Who jogs up here... in this weather... in the middle of nowhere?" when the wee damp soul waved at us to stop. It was a young French woman, who explained in broken English, that there was a problem lower down the slope and could we hold the traffic here until it was sorted out. We ran through the usual list of questions: Is anyone hurt? Should we call 999? Did she need help at the incident? All of which were answered with a "Non". So we parked in the middle of the track with our hazard lights on, whilst 'la petite femme humide' disappeared back into the murk. C'est ├ętrange, n'est-ce pas?

After a few minutes (which I spent wondering if the whole thing was a ruse), a convoy of lights emerged out of the fog, which resolved itself into a small 4x4 towing a tiny caravan, plus an entourage of held-up traffic, and the afore-mentioned French lass still on foot, who was now soaking wet, bless her.

We edged out of the way, so that the traffic could pass, and the 4x4 and caravan parked beside us. The young couple proceeded to have a domestic, until Our Lass intervened with some calming words (and lots of arm waving). We think that they had frightened themselves with the terrain, but were now cold and wet too, so Our Lass advised them to have a spot of lunch and we left them to it.

Reaching Applecross, my internal navigation took us to a walled garden that indicated it had a cafe. By the time we had warmed up with a bowl of soup, the weather was less ominous, so we wandered around the garden, which was looking lush and fresh.

We then drove south from Applecross village for a few miles, until the tourist hordes had thinned, parked up in a likely spot and set off on foot along an interesting-looking path. We didn't even stop to put on our hiking boots, so keen were we to be out in the fresh air.

My unease at not having a 1:25000 map to hand was mollified by the gorgeous scenery, warm sunshine and a myriad of wildlife. We ambled through moorland and woods, contoured around a small bay, and then emerged onto a verdant flower-studded pasture that led to a rocky shore.
What's not to lichen?
The views across to the isle of Skye were fantastic, though I was remiss in not photographing this as I was trying to spot a Cuckoo which kept giving tantalising glimpses without ever being in camera range. After sitting by a white shell-sand beach for a while, we decided to retrace our steps, as we needed to allow time for the return journey and a pre-booked restaurant meal. No sooner had we set off, when a commotion ahead caught my eye. There were gulls alarm calling and filling the sky, though the only immediate cause seemed to be a Grey Heron that was trying to vacate the scene as quick as its languid wing beats could take it. Puzzled as to the gulls' over-reaction to a possible predator, I carried on scanning the area and belatedly cottoned on to what was happening.

Looking back over the bay towards Applecross, we could see the real culprit, a White-tailed Eagle, which was being harassed by most of the gulls and waders in the area, if not the whole of Wester Ross.

A first for both of us, which had us grinning like lunatics for the rest of the day.

Daucus carota - it's a tonic

The call of the keyboard has been less strident of late. Or perhaps now that our holiday is over and dimly remembered at an ever-increasing remove, the more normal humdrum noise of life just drowns out the creative sounds.

During the intervening time, I've tried to start a few blogposts, even managing several paragraphs with one attempt, but my heart wasn't in it.

But, today, I recalled a photo I had taken whilst journeying through Torridon, so I thought I might gently breathe a few kindling words over it, to bring a smouldering desire to flame.

Now, which jewel in wildlife's crown could drag me from this apathetic torpor? Which exquisite species would be able to banish the blues and bring some boyish enthusiasm back to my world?


Azure Hawker?

Golden Eagle?

Pine Marten?

Killer whale?

Take a bow if you said "Carrot cake!"

Mind you, the view from the cafe was pretty special too.

I've said it before, but if you're ever in Torridon, it would be worth your while visiting the village shop!

Thursday 4 June 2015

What. A. Day

At the beginning of the month, thanks to Mrs UHDD, I discovered that the Wildlife Trusts were running a project throughout June, to encourage folk to connect with nature. Now, although late to this particular party, I&T thoroughly supports this endeavour and has been contributing to '30 Days Wild' on Facebook.

If I manage to line up all my pixels, today's offering will be this blogpost, as Day 4.

Things got off to a flier, this morning, when a pair of Common Redpolls landed by the roadside outside our rented cottage in Badachro. Seems they were after the Dandelion seed heads for breakfast, which I imagine is a bit like eating muesli along with the contents of your duvet. Still, Mr Redpoll was looking particularly resplendent in his rouge outfit.

Then we were off to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Britain's oldest NNR, for a day of walking and nature watching. First up was the Woodland Walk, a mile's saunter through changing habitats with splendid views of Loch Maree in the distance.

Amongst all the Wood Sorrel, Milkwort and Bluebells was this flower, which I think is Yellow Pimpernel. It's such a striking colour that I doubt that anyone has to try very hard to seek it here or there, not like its Scarlet cousin.

As we climbed higher through the woodland, the air was full of birdsong: Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Wren and Robin. There was one other call that I didn't recognise, and it took me a while to track down the source of the song. High up at the top of a dead pine tree, was sat a small bird that looked a bit like a pipit. Now, I've never heard a Tree Pipit before, but this seemed the most likely option (it wasn't sat in a meadow or on a rock). Indeed, when I asked the helpful folk in the reserve's Visitor Centre, they confirmed that my guess was correct.

Further along the path, a movement at our feet resolved itself into this tiny froglet.

In the afternoon, we took another walk in the eastern part of the reserve. Whilst visiting this small pool, I finally started my 2015 dragonfly season by spotting four Large Red Damselflies which had just emerged.

Driving into Kinlochewe for our evening meal, I suddenly noticed a moth clinging to one of the windscreen wipers. When I parked the wipers, it disappeared, but on arriving at our destination, I discovered this Fox Moth sheltering under the rear of the bonnet.

Hey, it's a bit fab when the wildlife comes looking for you!

Tuesday 2 June 2015

A torrid 'un but oil ends well

Halfway through our week's break on the west coast of Scotland, we decided to spend the day touring around the Torridon area.

But before we go there, here's a gratuitous shot of a Grey Heron from early this morning. Big lens and dressing gown outdoors, not a good look.

As we drove the single track road to Torridon, the weather began to deteriorate. We donned waterproofs and set off around the edge of the loch, then picked up a footpath that took us back towards the village in an anti-clockwise loop. Our Lass spotted an interpretation board for a clearance site, Fasag, where the tenant crofters were evicted from their land by the owner in the mid 1800s to make way for more profitable sheep farming. As she walked around the ruined remains of several scattered crofts, I beetled about in the damp grass.

I think this is a Violet Ground Beetle (£1 coin for scale).

 And this is a Violet Oil Beetle.

Who could blame a deity for having an inordinate fondness?

Monday 1 June 2015

Worts and all

Temporarily forsaking Orkney for the similarly-weathered west coast of Scotland, Our Lass and I are taking a short break to overdose on natural history, gardens and, possibly, cake.

An evening wander along the single track road that passes the front door of the cottage we're staying in, produced a small colony of Round-leaved Sundews, which had Our Lass doing a little jig in the middle of the road. As we made our way back for a well-earned mug of Ovaltine, we stopped to listen to a Sedge Warbler calling from a clump of Gorse and Birch. A Sparrowhawk shot over our heads and, as I turned around to allow my gaze to follow it, I noticed that behind us there was a halo around the sun.

Today, whilst the meteorological runes were not in our favour, we gave up on any hope of finding early odos and simply appreciated some of the local flora growing by the side of a path.

This is Butterwort, an insectivorous plant, which likes to have its cake and eat it, by also being pollinated by insects. Hence the long stalk to the delicate blue flower.

And here's Milkwort, a strikingly blue flowered plant. I'm not sure if this is Common or Heath, but I am certain that I've never seen it growing in such profusion before.

Finally, this is a Lousewort (again, not to species, I'm afraid), and friend.

Oddly, I completely forgot to photograph any of the several clumps of Liverwort that we saw, so perhaps I should've entitled this post 'Worts and nearly all'.