Wednesday 17 July 2019

A home from home

As I alluded to in the previous post, the cottage we were renting for the second week of our holiday was quite quickly described as a 'home from home'. However, some of the reasons for this weren't simply the obvious ones, and I thought I'd take a moment to share my wonder and astonishment with you.

The cottage had been chosen for its location (on the shore of Loch Fleet), access to instant walks (from the door) and with the opportunity for lots of wildlife watching (Loch Fleet is a National Nature Reserve). We tend to reason that we will be spending most of our holidays outdoors so, whilst 5 star luxury is all very well (and Our Lass leans more towards this point of view), it is not the be all and end all.

I must also admit to a shocking lapse in my research of the area. The dune system to the east of the cottage is, as I eventually realised after I had booked the place, Coul Links. Yup, the one where an American businessman wants to build a golf course and rip up a Ramsar site, a Special Protection Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. So, whatever the outcome of the public enquiry (and I sincerely hope that nature triumphs over financial greed), we were able to visit the place in all its untainted glory. Chillingly, whilst at the property, it was revealed that another coastal dune system in Scotland which had been developed into a golf course (owned by that well-known American businessman Donald Trump) had lost its SSSI designation due to habitat degradation. Maybe we will learn something from that experience? 

In the above photo (cropped from Google Maps), the Loch Fleet tidal mudflats and the adjacent pine woodland can be seen. The cottage is located just above the word 'Landsat' in the legend at the bottom. Coul Links are located to the south of the estuary on the North Sea coast.

The cottage is called 'Oystercatchers', birds which are no strangers to the garden of Tense Towers. As we unpacked our luggage, the calls of Skylark and Curlew rang out over the nearby fields and seals drifted by in the distant loch. At this point, you would be forgiven for wondering why we needed to fork out to stay somewhere that seemed so very like home!

As I mentioned earlier in the blog sequence, the area is one which we normally whizz by on our way elsewhere, the A9 between Inverness and Wick hugging the western shore of the loch. We are of the opinion that it doesn't take very long, or the need to go very far from the beaten track, to find stuff to capture our interest.

The bathroom of the cottage was another reminder of times past. The tiling and the cupboard design were oddly familiar, and it took me ages to realise that they were very similar to the styles we chose for our first family home, way back when. No photos, I'm afraid. Cameras and bathrooms, I don't think so.

Browsing through the fulsome tourist information and local guides of the area kindly provided by the owner, we discovered this wee gem. The significance of its presence only being realised when read in conjunction with the cottage information.

So, for a while, this had been a railway cottage, a fact which resonated so deeply with me as I grew up in a disused station house by an old branch line in County Durham.

The Dornoch Light Railway booklet went on...

But sadly concluded, like so many other railway stories, with...

There were a couple of photos in the book which, although they didn't show the cottage, were taken in the immediate vicinity:

Nipping outside, I was able to bring a couple of those views up to date:

And a few minutes on the internet unearthed an old map from the time when the railway was still in existence.

As a child, I do remember the sound of goods trains rumbling by in the night, as by the time I was aware of such things, passenger services had been withdrawn. I was able to visit the signal box whilst it was 'live', before the track was finally dismantled and all that was left was a wide ribbon of impoverished ground, disappearing to the north (to Durham) and the south (to Bishop Auckland). Little did I realise at the time, but all the wild flowers I subsequently found were only there because 'waste' ground doesn't attract herbicides and fertilisers. I grew up watching the slow wilding of the area, as Nature reclaimed the land from industry. Not to mention all the insects and birds which this unkempt carpet supported. Bearing in mind where I have ended up and the urge to protect wild places that burns so passionately within me, I am welling up just typing this.

In case you fear that I am being a tad melodramatic here, let me just say that in May, when our friends Helen and Jeff visited from New Zealand, Jeff mentioned a news report he'd seen which featured my childhood home. Quite how this had come to his attention on the other side of the world, I do not know, but I had been blithely unaware of it, so was very grateful for the opportunity to view it.

Here are a couple of photos from the report, the first pre-Tenselet, and the second post-Tenselet. I will have to ferret about in the back of a dusty cupboard to find an in-situ Tenselet one, so bear with me.

Isn't life strange?

Sunday 7 July 2019

A few Fleeting moments

And so to Week 2... in the cottage we had not visited before.

It was a revelation, a real home from home, just not in a way I was at all expecting. But more of that another time.

Here's the view across the garden, down to Loch Fleet. A turn around the garden produced a Painted Lady butterfly, and then we settled down to unpack.

Later in the evening, as the tide went out, we took a walk down to the loch and along the shore to the coast. Seals and Shags (though they could've been Cormorants), made an interesting silhouette on a sand bar.

We discovered a huge beached jellyfish below the strand line...

and countless fragile shells of echinoids.

As we walked back to the cottage, the setting sun cast a few last rays on the underside of the clouds, and our nightly routine was once more accompanied by the sound of Oystercatchers and Curlews. 

Happy sigh.

My foible and other animals

The one slight complication in taking a fortnight's holiday spent in two different cottages was that the changeover schedule for Week 1 was Friday to Friday, but for Week 2 was Saturday to Saturday. This did, however, present an opportunity to spend a Friday night at the Nethy House Cafe and Rooms in Nethy Bridge, en route between the two cottages.

After a leisurely drive across the Snow Roads through the Cairngorms National Park, we immediately went to check out the bog pools and lochans nearby for any potential odes. The pools which normally hold White-faced Darter were absolutely bereft of dragons and damsels, not even so much as Large Red Damselfly. We had slightly better luck at the Garten lochan, with half a dozen Four-spotted Chasers, a dozen or so Large Red and a couple of distant Northern Damselflies. The highlight was probably the (maybe Small) Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly which was seeking shelter from an unseasonally cool breeze.

Eventually, we gave up the unequal struggle with the weather and went to check in to our room, well, after tea and cake, obvs.


Later in the evening, the sun did put in an appearance, so we pottered around the village and discovered that a wildlife pool by the sports pitches was still busy with Large Red Damselflies and, be still my heart, plenty of Northern Damselflies.

By the River Nethy, a lone Dipper sat for ages in the fading light, which at least put the compact camera to the test. Well, it's an image.

The next morning, before we ventured back to the A9 and headed for Inverness, we had a brief visit to the wildlife pool again. In the early sunlight, it was teeming with damsels, including this mating pair of Northerns.

We took a rest halt on the journey north when we reached the Black Isle. Parking in Rosemarkie and walking along the beach to Fortrose and Chanonry Point. Plenty of folk were gathered at the Point in the hope of seeing dolphins, but there was no cetacean activity that we could see. By the Fortrose golf course, I was able to photograph a rather patient male Linnet, which rested on a wooden rail for a sufficiently long time to allow me to randomly press buttons on my compact camera.

Stuff On My Phone (25)

This post could be sub-titled 'Aberfeldy Reprise', as this morning I discovered a couple of panorama shots on my phone which I had completely forgotten about. I was obviously too concerned with the compact/DSLR debate and it slipped my mind that I had taken these phone images on our last day in the cottage near Aberfeldy.

So, here's a view of Keltneyburn Nature Reserve, with Our Lass trying not to do her Monarch of the Glen impersonation.

And this one is from the bedroom window of our cottage, facing the hillside, rather than the view from the opposite window which looks out over the Tay valley. 

Swallows, House Martins and Swifts flew overhead. The Swallows were nesting in the small barn on the left. The bushes in the left hand corner of our courtyard contained a Dunnock nest, whilst at the base of the bushes behind our car was a Willow Warbler nest. The Tree Pipit sang all the live long day from the top of the tree on the right. Families of Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Pied Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Redpoll, Great Tit and Redstart flitted to and fro through the garden. Oh, and occasionally, a Brown Hare would scamper through the courtyard. I didn't have time to look at the Tay valley.

Saturday 6 July 2019

Eggs, more eggs and roe

We had been in the cottage for a few days before I noticed that, on one of the windows, an insect had laid some eggs. By the end of the week, I was checking several times a day to see if they would hatch. On the morning of our last full day, as I opened the curtains, there were lots of tiny caterpillars crawling every which way, and no doubt wondering where all the vegetation had gone. For some unknown reason, one caterpillar didn't make it out of its egg case.

We ventured to Keltneyburn Nature Reserve, and wandered through the wildflower meadow and around the overgrown pool which, even on a dull day, was alive with Large Red Damselflies. There were plenty of orchids too, but this one had us scratching our heads. It was definitely one we didn't know, but recourse to the internet could only narrow it down as far as a Butterfly-orchid. Whether it was Greater or Lesser we couldn't be certain, as the flowers need to be open so that the angle of the pollen sacs can be checked. Oh well, that'll be a job for someone else on a sunny day, then.

As we sauntered back through the meadow and its long grass stems, I spotted what at first I took to be a damaged seed head. Closer inspection revealed it to be a Bufftip moth, with its excellent birch twig impersonation. I couldn't immediately explain why it thought that a blade of grass was a better place to be, until I looked closer still. It was a female and she was egg-laying! Wow!

Now, the food plants for Bufftip caterpillars are mostly trees, so it really is a mystery why this one chose a meadow for her eggs. The nearest trees were several metres away, a long journey for little legs!

We then pootled up a track by a burn, until the urgent need for tea and cake overcame us. But not before we had seen this rather dapper beetle and a pair of Roe Deer grazing in a meadow.

A cunning plan with one small flaw

I had been rather looking forward to a bit of quality dragon time, yet here we were, five days into the holiday and not the merest sniff of a big ode. To be fair, the weather didn't lend itself to the occasion and I gazed wistfully at the forecast, trying to spot a couple of hours of warmth that might tempt a dragonfly into the air. The hottest day of the week was going to be Wednesday, but we had a funeral to attend that day, so I was just going to have to take my chances. We were keen to revisit a set of pools on a hill in Glen Lyon, and ever the optimist, I convinced myself that the cooler conditions would actually help, as any ode we found would be less energetic and more photographable in such circumstances.

Our departure on the trip was delayed by a family of Redstarts, a pair of adults feeding three or four young, not far from the cottage's garden. 

Eventually, however, we set off, winding our way along the narrow road which runs up the glen, and arriving at the local Post Office/village shop/tearoom just as lunchtime hove into view. Quelle surprise.

After a hearty soup and sandwiches combo, I was settling the bill and having a conversation with the owner, when she mentioned that the route we were intending to walk was through an area of forest which was being felled. O-oh! So much for my plan. This forced a quick rethink, and we opted to walk on the other, pondless, side of the valley, rather than waste the trip.

As we wound our way higher, through blocks of coniferous and deciduous planting, there were views up and down the glen. But it wasn't until we were in a more mixed and varied habitat that we began to see and hear more wildlife.

A female Northern Eggar moth

A Slow-worm
On the drive back down the glen, we spotted a view which neither of us recalled seeing before. Across the River Lyon, on the opposite hillside, was a series of waterfalls and a rather picturesque old bridge.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

You red that write

After our inadvertently-lengthy hike, on the following day we opted for a gentler plan. We took the short drive to Cluny House Gardens, almost a bit of an annual pilgrimage for us, to wander around a steeply-sloping site full of lovely blooms. The weather was still keen on being rain showers with sunny intervals, but that did have some compensations.

There weren't many hoverflies around, and although we did see our first ever Tree Bumblebees, insects were quite hard to find. During one particularly-extended Our Lass/Himalayan Poppy moment, my attention was eventually taken with a spider and its web. Then it was time to spend a bit of quality time with the garden's Red Squirrels.

After lunch, we returned to the Birks Cinema, for the afternoon showing of 'Rory's Way', an aged-Hebridean-goes-to-San-Francisco story starring Brian Cox. The demographic of the audience was quite interesting too, as we were very much in the lower 5th percentile. When the titles came up and the rating was shown as "infrequent strong language, moderate sex references", an elderly female voice happily called out "Oh goody!"

In the evening, with a little more sunshine, we headed back out to the Moness Gorge to investigate a flower we had seen a few days earlier. At that time, we had been unable to capture decent images of the plant, as it was tipping down with rain. When climbing the hill behind the cottage, a distant flutter caught my eye. I managed a couple of photos of the bird in question, which turned out to be a male Redstart. 

Once in the woodland and narrow paths of the gorge, we soon re-found out target plant, two specimens of a Bird's-nest Orchid. We were rather chuffed to have spotted and eventually identified them.