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It has definitely been too long since I’ve written anything. Most of you will know that the main reason for this is that I have a new job – owning and running (in partnership with my mum) a small cafe in a tiny village in the north west Highlands of Scotland. As well as being an engineer (or “modelling consultant”), I’m now a professional cake baker, barista, cafe worker and administrator. I’m also hoping to get out hiking enough to get my Mountain Leader qualification so I can be a professional mountain/hiking guide.
But this post is not about any of those jobs. This is about my latest professional detour. I’m now a professional ornithologist! I’ve just spent 2 days conducting a moorland bird survey. This is actually the second time I’ve done it this year, but the last time someone else did half (or more) of the work. This time I had to do the whole thing on my own. So,….. 2 days, 43km walked, 350 miles driven and a blissful 22 hours of not having anybody else near me! (much needed now that I share a house and work in a cafe every day)
I saw (or heard) a wonderful range of birds including meadow pipit, skylark, stonechat, ring ouzel, wren, redpoll, sandpiper, greenshank, golden plover, buzzard, cuckoo, snipe and possibly a golden eagle (it was too high for me to identify properly) and less possibly a merlin (too far away). The big red dog Merlin was not able to come due to ground-nesting birds. I think I would’ve seen some grouse and more snipe if he’d been with me.
I also saw some lovely flowers (I haven’t been out much this year so have been missing the procession of things flowering), butterflies, moths, a caterpillar, spiders, trees and rocks. I also saw loads of red deer, including one young calf, one Cheviot sheep and lamb and a few (luckily friendly) cows. I don’t know my cattle breeds very well, sorry!
Here are some pictures for you, to hopefully appreciate (and maybe be jealous of) my “office” for two days.
This should really have been posted in March, but since I have a little time now and still really want to talk about this stuff, I’ll post it now. Hopefully there’ll be a couple more coming, about the progression of spring here. So, for now, pretend it is still March and enjoy the first feelings of spring in the NW Highlands!
I went back to Australia in late February for a three week holiday. When I left Scotland it was very much winter.
When I returned, suddenly it was spring. I felt like I’d missed the change. The weather was warmer and felt more stable. Daffodils were blooming. Birds were singing. And new plants were starting to sprout.
I loved the winter here, but realised how static everything had become. Hardly any birds and a relatively small range of plants (and them not changing much).
My first few walks were an absolute treasure trove of finds. The first thing to catch my eye was Hare’s Tail Bog Cotton (Eriophorum vaginatum), which I’d not seen before and took quite a lot of effort to identify (mainly because I was describing it over email from memory!). When I took the camera back out to re-find my Bog Cotton (or Cottongrass, as it seeems to be properly called), I also found an Emperor Moth cocoon (Saturnia pavonia). Still haven’t seen one of the moths yet, but they are very beautiful (see here).
This was all on the fairly standard boggy ground. The next day I headed up to the hill where the rocky cliffs provide both shelter and richer soil. The primroses were already flowering, and lots of the other early flowering plants were poking their leaves out for the first time.
There were also some lovely young ferns, some bright new clubmoss and even a bog thistle (I think).
I’ve been learning a lot more about my mosses and lichens recently, partly as they were one of the few things left in the winter, but also because there is some new growth at the moment which is quite striking and interesting.
A few days later and all of the trees were budding. I’ll need to do some more work next year to be able to identify these by bud. At least I could recognise a willow! (I think . . . now I’m doubting myself!) I also saw my first frog of the season, plus what looks like some half developed tadpoles (probably killed by a recent frost).
Stay tuned for the next installment (from April) of the progression of spring!