The June Rains

I cannot believe how quickly June has creeped up on us. In one sense this feels like the longest year yet, so much has happened in 5 months and I almost feel ready for Halloween. But on the other hand, where has it gone, I could’ve sworn it was only march…

June is that funny month, is it spring, is it summer? The birds are still nesting, the wildflowers are in bloom, the temperature hasn’t dropped below 10 degrees in almost a month. Later this month, we will have the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. Which really indicates the height of summer, but isn’t summer only starting, we’re only half-way through this years Spring Watch? I have blethered on about this too much to anyone that will listen (i.e. my mum, dad and sister who have each given me a look that suggests I have seriously lost the plot) but these are the things that keep me up at night. 

Anyway, no matter what the season is, for me, what I often associate June with is rain. I remember being 9 or 10 years old, it was the first day of the school summer holidays, my mum was packing our suitcase for our upcoming holiday to tenerife and I was playing in my bedroom with my younger sister. Leading up the holidays, the sun had been beating down on little old Glagsow town, we had been counting down the days to the end of school and endless warm summer days, looking forward to playing with our mates in the garden, riding bikes and learning cool tricks on our trampoline. But day one was a wash out, although we weren’t too bothered, we still had the whole summer ahead of us. I remember that day, watching at the window with my mum and sister, overlooking the street. The sky was full of heavy grey clouds but it stayed bright, and rain battered off the pavement. Suddenly, a roar of thunder rattled the street and an indistinguishable bright light filled the grey sky for half a second. This carried on for a short while while the three of us sat watching, completely fascinated. 

It also reminds me of the summer that I spent working at a forest school, a wonderful job filled with laughter and fun kids and mud (so. much. mud), and seeing as it was june, rain! At the start of the day, the rain wouldn’t bother me, I would build a shelter but not spend much time in it. By lunch time, I would be beginning to feel the cold, but I would fight through it, I would sit in my hand-made shelter and eat my lunch, and I would be ready for the first afternoon session. But by the second afternoon session, I would be soaked through to my skin, my shelter would be leaking and the floor would have puddles. My bum would be wet from sitting on the damp ground or a wet fallen branch. My brain would try and send signals for my fingers to move but they would be stiff and refuse to do anything. June rain is different to the harsh winter rains, it is warm and can be pleasant, but can be relentless and without the proper waterproofs, the cold can seep through to your bones and make your skin numb. After a full day of forest schooling, all I wanted to do would be to get home, have a hot shower, drink some tea and put on my comfiest pyjamas. (I have now also learned that jeans are not to be worn in the rain and the power of some quality waterproofs). 

And today, the 4th of June, feels almost like that day that I sat with my sister watching the lightning and listening to the thunder. The past month has brought dry, hot weather to Scotland, drier than usual. Hot and dry weather is an unusual occurrence in this part of the world, but this is customary for May, and every year it catches us Scots out (and usually gives a few of us some nasty sunburns). Then, in the past few days, the temperature has dropped back below the lovely 20 degrees celsius mark and the clouds have descended. Just in time for the wildlife trusts 30 days wild challenge… 

So sat in my room, eating lunch and watching a netflix show, as one does on a rainy lockdown afternoon, I opened the window to let in some fresh air. The street was quiet, there were no cars, no chatting neighbours. All I could hear was the patter of heavy rain, the trickle of water running down the road and into the drains, the heavy drops falling from the gutter and a lone signing blackbird, hidden from sight but his voice travelled through the rain well. I got an urge to get out and embrace it, so I grabbed my old red raincoat, pulled on a pair of boots and headed out for a walk! 

I didn’t go far, it wasn’t long until my jeans were wet through and my glasses were smeary so that everything looked a little blurrier than usual. But my short walk was incredibly  refreshing. This weeks #wildflowerhour challenge is to identify a grass, I had planned on heading out for a long nature walk to do this until I saw the forecast for today and decided to stay home. But once I was out, I decided why not have a look! 

I came up the main road – on the right, there was a busy road, trucks and lorries rush past, splashing the surface water behind them as they sped. But to the left, an area of grass with some tall sycamore trees. Thanks to lockdown, the council have abandoned their industrial lawn, biodiversity killing, monster mowers and the grassy area here has flourished. So I took some time to enjoy it. The ground was mushy underfoot, the grass soaking up the first decent rainfall in two months. Delicate raindrops had come to rest on the sunshine yellow buttercup petals. Water trickled down the stems of the tall cow parsley, rusting the grass below. As I watched, I came across a small mammal burrow. Small holes in the ground, no bigger than a small easy-peel tangerine were surrounded by dry grass that had been stripped of its outer layer. I don’t know what might be living here, I suspect a mouse, I will need to go back and investigate when the weather is better.

Young Foxglove

Under the shelter of the tall sycamore trees, the rain had softened and I lowered my hood, allowing myself to feel the warm water fall onto my face. The fat green leaves of the trees above me were glossy wet, and in the branches I noticed a house sparrow, carrying a caterpillar or a mealworm from a garden feeder. It disappeared into the thick canopy and came back empty beacked. It flitted off, through the downpour, to a nearby garden, and returned quickly with a mouth full of grubs and back into the thick leaves above me, where I suspect it had a nest full of hungry chicks. I kept walking and headed into a street of bungalows that is well decorated with trees and wildflowers growing on the unattended patches between cars and the pavement. It was still quiet despite the battering rain and as I listened, I heard the scratchy call of a greenfinch from the top of a shrub. On the ground, plants of all shapes and sizes were sprouting up. Tiny blue forget me nots, thick and spiky thistles, and my favourite, a tall, purple fox glove, creeping up through a broken wooden fence. The top of the plant was still very green and fresh but at the bottom, the striking, tubular floors were starting to emerge. Fox gloves are a pollinator favourite,but  unsurprisingly in the heavy rain,the bells remained free of bees for now. I suspect that as the rain calms, this plant will be attracting bees from all over the neighbourhood. 

I returned home soggy and a little chilly. My glasses steamed as I stepped into the warm house and my sister laughed at my rain styled hair-do (not my best look). But I felt so content. I hung my wet clothes up to dry and put on some warm pyjamas. 

As fairly hairless mammals, we are not well designed to cope with the rain. We do, and for good reason, have a tendency to avoid the rain at all costs. Being wet and cold is unpleasant, and you might think that us Scots might be better adapted at dealing with it. Maybe we are, but most of those that I know, tend to keep indoors in downpours, huddled in blankets. If we do have to go outside, we wrap ourselves in big waterproofs and carry large umbrellas. However, stepping out into the rain can be so refreshing! Especially at this time of the year, when the sky is light, there is no wind, the birds are still calling, wildflowers are bursting out of the streets and the rain doesn’t hurt with cold. It is so good for the soul, even if it is only for 20 minutes, and a great way to connect with the outdoor world. Then you can come inside, get changed and grab a mug of something hot.

Doon the Glen

Male Blackcap

Beyond the grey and bustling business estate, Viewpark glen is tucked out of sight, hidden away from the sea of business-people, delivery vans and call centres. I walk through the suited crowd with my binoculars around my neck, and a quite different destination in mind. I walk through the narrow lane and the grey around me dissolves into lush green, the engines are muted with calming bird song, the heavy air becomes clear and the scent of fresh flowers positively overwhelms me.   

I take a sharp left and immediately, a Black Cap welcomes me to the glen. Perched on the tallest branch of a short tree, his chest is puffed, he demands for his beautiful, flute-like song to be heard as he blasts it across the canopy. A breeze ruffles the tree and blossoms flutter to the ground like snow. And with no real purpose, I continue walking.

Bluebell woods

It is spring and the forest floor is carpeted with colour – most striking is the rich bluebells. They speckle the long, thick grass with purples and under the full canopy the calm blue-sky filters through. The sun flits through the gaps, gradually warming the morning air. A peacock butterfly dances past and comes to rest on a grassy sunspot, relaxing its wings and showing off its magnificent eye spots, designed to intimidate avian predators and spectacularly effective at aweing onlookers. 

I head towards the river where the goldfinches chatter and suddenly, beyond the bench, I catch a movement. A long animal, sturdy and brown, unmistakable – an otter crosses the path. It disappears into the grassy verge. Otters are mysteriously charming, and I remember every encounter I have had with one. A conservation success story, particularly in these parts where these rivers were once severely polluted, otters are steadily re-inhabiting these areas, following the fish as the rivers clear.

Orange tip resting on Dames Rocket by the River

I stand silently still, hoping desperately that the otter will remerge. But with no luck, I continue on. I notice that the early morning is starting to disappear from me as I am greeted by a muddy, cheerful spaniel out for its morning stroll. His owner apologises frantically as I laugh. She notices my binoculars and asks what I have seen – I tell her about the otter and she responds with delight. We talk for a moment and she tells me of her memories of the glen – walking with her father, counting birds and collecting feathers. I can see the joy in her face as she recollects. 

It might not be the mountains of the Cairngorms; it doesn’t hold the drama of Glen Coe or the landscapes of the western isles but the Viewpark glen is just as magical. For the local people, a wander doon’ the glen is a daily ritual. Tucked away between upper Uddingston and the M8, the glen is a wildlife haven in an urban ocean. A perfect place to come and experience nature, bask in the beauty and ignite the wild inside.

Black-Caps and #BirdTherapy

As I approached the glen this afternoon, I was immediately welcomed by a melodious, cheerful, flute-like song. I stopped in my path and followed the sound with my eyes, tracing it to the tip of the highest tree. There. A small bird, lightly brownish grey with a distinctive dark cap. I instantly recognised it – the Black Cap. As cheesy as might seem, it brought an immediate smile to my face. Black Caps are one of my most favourite birds. I agree, there is nothing particularly special about their appearance, but their song is something worth stopping to listen to. Its song is sometimes compared to two of other famously talented vocalists – the blackbird and the nightingale (both of whom would probably win a bird Grammy if there was such a thing). The Black Cap is loud, its song carries across the area well – it demands you to stop and listen.

I watched the little bird, a male. I attempted it take its photograph, but it refused to stand still long enough for me to lift my camera and point it in its direction. It danced around me like an excited puppy, fleeting from branch to branch.

But I must admit, its beautiful song is not the only reason I have an affinity for Black Caps. I am currently reading ‘Bird Therapy’ by Joe Harkness – a wonderful book that discusses in great depth the amazing effect that bird watching can have on ones mental health. I can relate to this book greatly – while I am fortunate to have generally good mental health, I like everyone, have times where I feel a little more anxious than usual and some down days. And like many others, I have discovered the fantastically calming outdoor remedy – nature.

The book quite regularly discusses those moments that we have nature that stick with us, the ones that become etched into our minds that we do not let go of. Those moments that we go back to, over and over again. One of these moments for me, involves our little capped songster.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I was looking for a job in the environmental sector (a frustrating process for any graduate). I had at this point decided to go back to university and get my masters degree. I was working part-time in a small super-market, but I found myself with masses of time on my hands. So, I started volunteering at my local nature reserve (I say local but in reality, this was a 20 minute bus journey followed by a 25 minute walk) every Thursday. I was part of a wonderful volunteer team that would meet weekly and do some conservation work around the reserve – I am very grateful for this team. I learned from them every week and this is where my obsession for nature really took hold!

One Thursday, I stood waiting in the carpark at the agreed meeting time for quite a while before concluding that no-one else was going to show up (check your emails kids, sometimes groups cancel…), so I decided to take myself for a good wander along the river. At this point, my bird knowledge was pretty limited, my bird handbook was never far from reach, and often I would spend time flicking through the pages, obsessing over the pictures. In honesty, I don’t remember much of that particular morning. I remember walking along the river, and I remember not being in the best of spirits. I took some time in each of the bird hides, looking out across the wetlands, admiring the birds I didn’t know the names of. I remember the feeling of being very hungry and deciding to call it a day when my legs started feeling like jelly. As I walked along the river, I took a sharp right, back towards the exit, and up the hill. To my right, I heard that loud fluting sound. In the tree, a pair of black caps were resting, right at my eye level. They were beautiful – simple little birds, the male had the distinctive black cap, and the female had the iconic chestnut brown. I remember gasping, excited to have seen a new species and that I was able to recognise it from my book.  And as quickly as I spotted them, they were gone, but that moment seemed to last much longer. It’s cheesy, I know, but that simple of simplest moment brought me pure joy. That for me, was a #birdtherapy moment, a moment that boosted my bird obsession that little bit further, a moment that made me even more determined to go and get my masters degree. It is a moment that I go back to when someone asks me ‘why are you so obsessed with birds’ (which to be fair, happens fairly regularly) and when I feel a down day coming on, I think of how good those blackcaps made me feel that day – that’s when I grab my binoculars and take myself out for a stroll. You never know what bird you might stumble upon.  

What the nurdle?!

We know that plastic and the sea are a bad combo. I think we can all recognise signs of plastic pollution – drinking bottles, plastic bags, fishing ropes etc. If it’s plastic, you can guarantee it’s an eyesore on a beach somewhere. But not everyone will recognise one of the most common forms of plastic pollution that occurs all over the world! It’s a microplastic, but you won’t need your magnifying glass. Once you start seeing it, you won’t stop (trust me, it can become addictive).

So addictive that two years ago, I spent my summer beach hopping around the Firth of Forth with a quadrat and a notebook – nurdle hunting. I was undertaking my masters dissertation, investigating which beaches are most likely to have high levels of nurdle pollution and why. I also spent quite a bit of time reading about this form of plastic pollution and so I have quite a lot of nurdle knowledge that I’m not able to do very much with at the moment (being landlocked in lockdown), so I thought I might as well share it!

What the nurdle?!

Nurdle pollution on Ruby Bay, Fife.

Nurdles are plastic resin pellets or, as they are sometimes called, preproduction plastics. Plastic compounds derive from oil – these compounds are removed from the oil and constructed into the form of a pellet. These pellets are about the size of a lentil, usually 2-5mm in diameter. Quite often chemical additives may be added at this stage to improve the quality of the plastic, or even colourings. From here on, the pellets are shipped, melted and molded into anything that can be sold, for example a hair brush or a bottle! Manufacturers argue that transporting pre-production plastics in this way is the most ‘economically effective way’ of doing so (although I didn’t find any evidence of this in my research).

What’s the problem?!

The problem is, these pellets are so tiny and lightweight that they are easily spilled at all stages of use (esspecially where there are poor handling methods in place) – during manufacturing, transport and use. They spill into drains, roads, railways and in some cases, straight into the sea off the side of boats. And like any other type of litter, these pellets have a way of finding themselves caught in the wind, streams and rivers that lead them straight to the big blue.

Pellets are a form of ‘direct’ or ‘primary’ microplastic pollution i.e. nurdles arrive in the marine environment in the form of a microplastic, rather than being broken down into one. Another example of this type of microplastic pollution is microfibres from clothing that wash directly into the water supply.

Nurdles and other litter!

But no matter the form, microplastics have devistating effects on the natural environments they pollute. The biggest threat of microplastics is accidental ingestion by wildlife. Many indivudals of thousands of species have been recorded to have plastics in their digestive tracts and died as a result. Nurdles bear a strong resemblance to fish eggs and so are potentially more likely to be accidentally consumed. Accidental consumption not only causes damaging blockages in the digestive tract, it tranfers nasty chemicals from the surface of the plastic to the tissues of the animal. Marine plastics adsorb (attach) to chemical pollutants in the water. A small concentration in the tissues of a small animal may be harmless, but when this animal is consumed by a larger animal, the chemical bioaccumulates, moving its way up the food chain and multipling in strength. By the time it reaches the top predator, the chemicals can be in lethal levels or lead to major health impacts (that includes us).

As the use of plastic products has increased, nurdle production has also increased. Studies have shown that between 1974 and 2012, pellet production grew by over 600% around the world! Pellets are used across the globe and are transported across seas. Unfortunately, at sea spills are not uncommon and in some cases, entire crate loads fall overboard and are found washed up on beaches. Pellets have been found as remote at some Hawaiin beaches (and it should be noted that pellets are not produced nor used on any of the Hawaiin islands).

In 1972, two scientists, Carpenter and Smith, first domumented plastic in the marine environment. They studied an area of the Sargasso sea and estimated that there was 3,500 pieces of plastic per kilometers squared floating on the surface. They stated the following: “Most of the pieces were hard, white cylindrical pellets, about 0.25cm to 0.5cm in diameter”. They speculated that these plastic items were the result of the breakdown of larger plastic items, which they very well could be right about. However, I think that this description fits nurdles almost exactly and so the first record of ocean plastics could be nurdles!

It seems crazy to me that this record was almost 40 years ago and yet we have done very little to curb this pollution problem. Carpenter and Smith speculated that plastics could be a growth point for diatoms and bacteria and that if promt changes were not made, we could be facing a pollution disaster… But not long after, another researcher considered plastic pollution to be “nothing more than an eyesore” (Ferguson, 1974). It wasn’t until much later that scientists really started to take notice of plastic and its damaging effects. We now have a much fuller understanding of the problem but our understanding is not complete – there is a great deal of work still to be done to tackle this issue.

What we can do..

Wildlife worldwide is having a tough time right now – climate change, habitat loss, over exploitation and pollution all threaten the existance of our precious biodiversity. Plastic pollution is a careless, avoidable, selfish act and in the times of an ecological crisis, it is just the icing on the cake. Community beach cleans, efforts to reduce single-use plastics and campaigns such as the Bottle Return Scheme are all great and positive ways to tackle plastic pollution. But due to the industraial nature of nurdles, these methods are not so effective in tackling this form of pollution.

There are many researchers out there actively trying to identify nurdle pollution hotspots. This is important as clean-up strategies are resource limited and so by identifying hotspots, these resources can be efficiently allocated. There are fantastic citizen science projects out there that individuals can support by contributing to a nurdle distribution database:

International Pellet Watch

IPW is a programe based in Japan. Individuals can collect pellets and send them to the researchers who chemically analyse them for Persistant Organic Pollutants presence. This data is used to monitor the nurdle and POP around the world!

The Great Nurdle Hunt

The GNH couldn’t be easier to take part in! Whenever you are by the coast or along the banks of the river, take five, ten, however many you want minutes and look for some nurdles – simply count how many you find and submit your findings online! And remember no results is still results. The GNH complies this data to create nurdle pollution baselines and identify hotspots.

Nurdle pollution can be unpredictable. While some beaches may be more vulnerable due to their location (next to a nurdle factory for example), mass and random spillings occur which may affect unsuspecting beaches and so these schemes are very important in monitoring nurdle pollution!

Nurdles amonst beach debris – nurdles often accumulate on the strand line (deposition zone) and on the vegetation line where they get trapped!

It’s a Wildflower Lockdown

Over the past couple of weeks, our streets have burst into colour with the arrival of spring. The cracks in the pavements and the road verges are blooming blues, whites and yellow with wildflowers. I am a bit of a newbie to wildflower ID, so in order to get in some practice, I have taken some time to hunt for wildflowers in my local patch throughout the past few days, and yesterday I sat with my favourite wildflower ID book and wrote some factfiles about each flower I had encountered. Once I began opening my eyes to these flowers, I was blown away by the variety – not every yellow flower is a dandellion and not every white flower is a daisy…

I am spending this lock-down at my family home in Lanarkshire. While there is less bird activity and less wild places than Cumbrae, there is certainly plenty of nature to keep me occupied, and I am determined to discover as much of it as I can during this time, whilst keeping it local.

My wildflower ID book of choice is ‘Wildflowers at a Glance’ by Mabel C. Carey and Dorothy Fitchew. I found this book in a Oxford charity shop in Royal Exhange Square, Glasgow and I paid all of £1.99 for it. This book was printed in 1964 and the first edition was published in 1949. It is a beautifully simple little book with stunning illustrations. I also own a copy of Collins Flowers of Britian guide, but unfortunately, I left it in Millport. For someone with litted Wildflower knowledge, Wildflowers at a Glance is perfect. While it is limited to only 264 species, it gives simply detailed descriptions of the most common species. It is very easy to use and is the perfect companion for any wildflower rookie like myself. As the book is older, I make sure to cross reference my ID’s with online resources such as PlantLife or Wildflower Facebook groups!

In this blog I have listed the flowers I have come across in the past few days with pictures and descriptions. These flowers are common and easy to identify, and each an indicator that spring is in full swing!

Wood Anenome Anemone nemorosa

My instagram feed has been filled with pictures of the little delicate beauty recently. This flower is in its peak season, it is best seen in March, April and May and is found in woodland areas – its flowers love sunlight and come out in the spring before the woodland canopy becomes too dense and blocks out all the sunlight. This species spreads very slowly and relies on its undergroung root system (rhizomes) rather than seeds. Therefore, this plant thrives on undisturbed ground and so is a good indicator of ancient woodland. Insects like this plant, but none as much as the Hoverfly which loves the nectar. This plant as a sharp and musky smell and don’t be tempted to forage this plant because it is actually poisonous to humans! The wood anemomen is part of the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.

The key features of this plant for ID are:

  • White, star-like flowers with 5-8 petals
  • pinkish tinge to the petals (very pink underneath)
  • Single flowers at the head of slender stalks
  • Three lobbed, toothy, hairy leaves growing upright on the stalk
  • Stalk has a red tinge and is hairy!

Lesser Celandine Ranuculus ficaria

This lovely little yellow flower carpets the floor of damp woodlands and hedgebanks. It’s love of damp areas is where it gets part of it’s name – ‘rana’ meaning frog in latin! And ‘ficaria’ meaning ‘fig-like’. It’s root tubers allow this plant to spread across an area quickly and cover the floor with its cheerful flower in febraury through to may. This lovely little flower is often considered a weed in gardens and so is removed. It is also poisoinous to humans and livestock and so farmers may remove it from their fields. However, as one of the earliest bloomers, this flower is an important nectar supply for early pollinators. The lesser celandine is also a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculacaea.

The key features of this plant for ID are:

  • star-like yellow flowers with 8-12 petals, measuring 3cm across, tinted green on the underside
  • flowers grow singly on long stalks
  • small, heart shaped leaves
  • they are sun worshippers – opening up wide in the sunshine and closing over in the shade

Red Dead Nettle Lamium purpureaum

Not dead nor red nor a nettle, the Red dead nettle is sometimes also reffered to as the ‘bumble bee flower’, simply because, bees love it. This plant grows well in grassy areas and can spread quickly and so, it is often considered a garden weed which presents a conflict of interest between gardeners and conservationists. This flower is hard to miss with its deep purple flowers. The Red dead nettle is a member of the mint family, Labiate.

Key features for identification:

  • This plant grows up to 6 inches in height
  • Dull, deep purple flowers and leaves at teh top of the plant
  • Flowers are small, tubular, helmet shaped and bunched at the top of the plant
  • Wrinkled, heart shaped leaves
  • Sqaure and hollow stem

Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta or C. flexuosa

There are two species of bittercress that are fairly similar – hairy and wavy. Hairy bittercress is annual species, commonly found on pavements, bare ground and walls; while Wavy bittercress is less ccommon, biennial or perrenial and prefers moist and shady areas. These species are related to the cuckoo flower, of which the flower is very similar, and are members of the mustard family, Brassicaceae.

The following is the key feattures for identifying Hairy Bittercress:

  • Small, white flowers with approximately 4 petals (hairy smaller than wavy)
  • Rosette of hairy (very small hairs) leaves, pairs of leaflets
  • The flowers form into long, thin seed pods which burst exposively when ripe, assisting the spread of seeds!

Cuckoo Flower (Lady’s smock) Cardamine pratensis

This delicate little flower goes by several names: Lady’s smock, milkmaids and May flower. The plant flowers between April and June and can be found in areas of grassland. This plant is a member of the Wallflower family, Cruciferae.

The main features of this flower for identification are:

  • Delicate, little flowers (3/4 inches across) that vary from white to pale lilac (most common form)
  • The pale petals are veined and can be found growing in clumps at the tip of th stem which is smooth and held upright.

Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

This bright, vibrant flower is found in areas of poor ground in April and May. This flower may also been known as ‘Scottish Tushylucky’. This plant is a member of the Daisy family, Compositae.

  • The main features for identification are:
  • Bright, yellow flowes with thin, dense petals that grow at the top of short, hollow and wooly stalks
  • Large, heartshaped leaves with scalopped edges

Primrose Primula vulgaris

This yellow flower is common but striking. IT can often be found in clumps in woodlands and grassland aresa between March and May. The name derives from ‘first rose’ to emerge, with prim meaning first. This flower is part of the wider Primrose family, Primulaceae.

The key identification features are:

  • Pale yellow, green viened flowers about 3cm in diamter, single flower heads on slim, pale pinkstalks
  • Wrinkled leaves with soft hairs, underneath has dense viens

Forget-me-not Myosotis arvenis

I was excited to find this little flower along the edges of a garden fence. This beautiful little flower appears in April until September. Tiny but tremendous, this little blue flower can be found in grass and farmland. This plant is a member of the Borage family, Boraginaceae.

Key identification features include:

  • Tiny, rich blue flowers with a yellow centre
  • Oval and hairy leaves

Shining Cranes-bill Geranium lucidum

The final flower! This fun little flower can be found in poor qaulity soil and stony areas. The name comes from the ressemblance of the tip of the fruit pods to a long and pointed beak. This flower is a member of the Cranesbill family, Geraniaceae.

The key identifcation features are:

  • small, dark pink flowers
  • in spring the edge of the leaves turn red and by summer the entire leaf will have turned red
  • The leaves are generally circular but lobed and toothed, stemming from a red, smooth stalk

The unofficial first day of spring

Tonight, for the first time in months, it wasn’t raining as I left work. The sky was (semi) blue, there was very little wind and it was promising to be a spectacular sunset! As soon as I got home, I excitedly grabbed my camera and pulled on my wellies, and headed out to my little local patch, Farland Point. Although I had only been inside for ten minutes, the temperature seemed to have dropped again. But still, it was not raining!

As I passed the gates, a rabbit hopped out in front of me and quickly turned and ran up the path before disappearing into the thick hedges. I listened as it rummaged around in the vegetation, there was definitely more than one in there. Out to the east, the sun was beginning to set behind the high hills of Arran. Despite the sky above me being blue, there was a layer of grey clouds amongst the Arran mountains – Arran seems to have its own microclimate. The sunlight was bouncing off the clouds, shooting pink and purples streaks across the sky.

In the bay on a rock, I noticed a resting Mallard, his head peacefully tucked away under his wing. Beside him, a small bird bobbing up and down, up and down. Recently, I finished reading ‘How to be a bad birdwatcher’, by Simon Barnes. This is a book I wish I had read two or three years ago when my obsession with birds was just sprouting (I will post a review of this book soon!). Watching the small bird bobbing, I thought of the section of this book where Simon compared a keen birder to a keen football fan. A dedicated football fan is able to watch their team, from high up in a crowded stadium and recognise and name each player. Not from the number on his shirt, but from recognising the particular player’s movements, shape and behaviours, and the fan does so by practice. I thought this was a clever comparison. When my obsession for birds was starting to grow, I would often feel frustrated when I would see a bird, that I knew I had seen before or read about in my RSPB Bird handbook, but yet I would be not be able to recognise or identify its species. But over the past year especially, I have noticed my skills change. From practice, I recognised this bird as a Red Shank. This bird was in poor lighting and I could not see its distinctive red legs – it just looked like a medium sized bobbing bird! But over the past year, I have watched several Red Shanks display this same behaviour and so this for me was the distinctive characteristic that allowed me to identify the bird. I realised in that moment how much my skills have developed over the past couple of years. So, I wanted to mark the moment with a photo! I lifted my camera, pressed the button, but it did not take. Instead, a message flagged up on the little screen – ‘No memory card inserted’. Ugh.

This was very frustrating – I had opted for the camera over my binoculars. It had been a while since I had taken my camera about and I don’t like to take both as they bash off each other as I walk. But I thought of Simons book – the main message I took from his book, was that bird watching is not about getting the perfect pic, or taking a tally of how many birds you’ve seen – it was to just enjoy birds and enjoy being out in nature. I think sometimes we (myself included) get caught up in the perfect pic or taking tallies and comparing them with friends, that we do forget to just simply enjoy birds and other nature. So that’s what I decided to do for the rest of my walk, and it was exactly what I needed!

I continued walking around the point. In the calm water, I noticed something grey and large bobbing around the rocks. A seal! Despite how common I am realising seals are around Cumbrae, I never tire of them. I let out an audible ‘Ohhh seal!’ as I do EVERYTIME I see a seal (incidentally, Sunday was international day of the seal! Who knew this was a thing?! I like it though).

Over the past year, I have made it a habit to stop wearing headphones and listening to music everywhere I go. As the past two months haven’t had any wind free days at all, I felt like I hadn’t been able to properly enjoy the end of winter/start of spring bird chorus. But tonight, the wind had stopped (or just calmed) and the air was full of bird song from all around me. Recognising bird calls is something I am trying to improve on, it is not my strong suit. I was able to recognise a few calls – robin, black bird, song thrush. Thanks to Michaela Strachan for teaching me that although black birds and song thrush’s have similar calls, song thrush’s repeat their phrases while a blackbird will mix them up and sing them in any order. I stopped on the path, to listen to a song thrush properly when I realised, I was listening to two song thrushes and I seemed to be standing between them. Whether they were singing to each other and quite fancied each other’s songs or declaring their territory theirs, I am not sure. But as we get into spring, I cannot wait to hear more bird song and hopefully learn to identify a few more.

As I came around the point, I noticed a few birds out at sea – Eiders, Shags and possibly some Guillemots. Without my binoculars I couldn’t get a good look at them, but I watched for a short while regardless. Across the field, a Buzzard was soaring, no doubt looking for a meal in the grass and hedges below. And as I came around the bend, a Heron was sitting at the edge of the rocks. I was careful to be quiet, move slowly and not spook the beautiful bird. But I think it spotted my bright purple hat and it flew off across the water. The way herons fly is fascinating – the huge wings, clumsy but graceful at the same time.

This winter has been dark, very wet and very windy. Adventuring and wildlife exploring opportunities have been few (most nights it has been much more appealing to stay warm and dry indoors) which has been so frustrating. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been craving some adventure and some wilderness. But now, although it is not officially arrived, spring is starting to show through. On the side of the road, the daffodils are sprouting (although many of them look damaged from the recent storms) and the sun is beginning to set that little bit later every day. My 20-minute stroll tonight around Farland point is exactly what I have been craving – simple but beautiful. And despite the occasional rain shower, today felt, to me, like the unofficial first day of spring and I am utterly delighted that it is here (almost). Here’s to spring and bird song, and summer migrants – I cannot wait!

Glasgow’s Squirrels (and other nature)

Last week, I hopped on a bus then a subway and took myself across the city for a wander around Glasgow’s west end. The west end is (as west ends normally are) a little posh but really quite lovely. I don’t spend much time there really, but I pop over a couple of times a year for a wander around some of the shops, a drink with a friend or a wander along the Kelvin river.

The Kelvin River on a sunnier day last year

The Kelvin River twists and turns through the North and North-east of Glasgow for about 22 miles before meeting with the Clyde in the west end of the City. Like the Clyde, the Kelvin was a victim of the industrial revolution, but it is on its way back to health! All along its banks, industry’s polluted and interfered with the river and more recently, untreated or undertreated sewage from surrounding communities flowed into the river. Once, salmon and trout were common up and down the river but their numbers dropped when the pollution killed their invertebrate food source and weirs blocked the Salmon from swimming upstream. But now, clean-up efforts have improved the water quality – according to SEPA’s water quality standards, the Kelvin was ranked at a low C (poor) and D (severely polluted) in the year 2000, but by 2006, the river was ranked at A1, A2 and B (Excellent, good and fair respectfully). And so, the fish returned! Now, tucked in the trees, almost hidden from sight, the Kelvin is a great place to watch wildlife right by the city centre.

I got off the subway at Hillhead and headed to the botanic gardens (popping into my favourite second-hand book shop on the way ofcourse). The botanic gardens is a busy park, even on a not-very-nice-cold-January day, it seemed that most of Glasgow and their dogs had come for a stroll in the park. And it’s easy to understand why – it is a lovely park with some pretty cool greenhouses full of exotic, colourful plants and flowers (some so weird you might think have come straight out a Harry Potter book).

Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

The Botanic Gardens are full (and I mean FULL) of some very popular, and if I must say so, pretty cute grey squirrels. It seems that most of Glasgow agrees with me that these squirrels are cute, because quite frankly, they are the tubbiest squirrels I have ever seen. The kind of tubby that a squirrel could only get from being fed snacks (everyday by the looks of it) from people visiting the park. They are also the most confident squirrels I have ever come across – I stood by some trees for a moment to watch a few and get a few photos and after standing for a few seconds, two were by my feet, looking up at me expectantly. I crouched down to get a photo and they didn’t run off scared as I expected, they came closer, twitching their noses and whiskers. They soon clicked on to the fact that I had nothing to offer them and they wandered away disappointed. I stood and watched them for a while longer fascinated, as they dug in the soil with utter concentration. Squirrels are known to hoard food, generally seeds and nuts, and store it in the ground for when fresh supplies are low. This behaviour can have wider ecosystem benefits as squirrels often forget where they have stored seeds and nuts and consequently, they become a seedling! However, this behaviour may also alter the habitat in a non-beneficial way, as they may strip the nuts and seeds from certain tree species, and therefore, alter the composition of tree species in the area.  

Although popular, Grey Squirrels have got a poor reputation – if you were to ask anyone in Britain to name an example of an invasive species, I reckon there is a good chance they would tell you ‘grey squirrel’. While they are cute, and have lovely bushy tails and long twitching whiskers, grey squirrels are bigger and stronger than our native (arguably more handsome) red squirrels. Grey squirrels, originally from North America, were introduced to the British Isles during the 1800’s. Greys have several advantages over the native reds – they are stronger, are able to inhibit a wider range of environments and eat a wider range of food and maybe most importantly, they carry a virus that does not affect the greys, but can be easily transferred to the reds, to whom it is fatal. Red squirrels have disappeared across most of the UK due to the spread of greys and destruction of their habitat. Red squirrels are now confined to a few places across the UK, mostly in the North of Scotland and there are many efforts in place to try and keep these populations safe and growing.

It is easy to understand how well Grey Squirrels are doing when looking around the Botanic Gardens. Grey squirrels do not hibernate, so it was very easy to see them in the bare winter trees. I didn’t count how many I saw that day, but it was hard to take a glance and not see one. The abundance of squirrels in the park demonstrated how well grey squirrels are suited to our natural environment and how in more wild areas, they would easily dominate over the reds.

Robin Erithacus rubecula

I headed down towards the back of the gardens and towards the river. Despite being so close to the hustle and bustle of town, it is quite peaceful down by the river, although in the distance, there is a constant rumble of cars and sirens and city noises. I have walked along the same path a few times at different times of the year. It was the first place I ever saw a kingfisher – not far from the Kelvin bridge, perched on a thin branch in plain sight, the little blue and gold bird caught my eye. I hadn’t been looking for birds, so this was an unexpected delight. I managed to scare it off with my loud gasp as I grabbed my boyfriends’ arm and shouted in excitement ‘kingfisher!’. Every time I now pass that spot, I keep my eyes peeled and hope that it might make a reappearance. Although as I approached the same spot, I quickly realised my chances of seeing one might be compromised as there were some (very loud) works happening on the other side of the river. Although, I shouldn’t be annoyed as it looked like some environmental improvement works!

Female goosander Mergus merganser

A little further down the river, I spotted some goosanders – one male and two females, the male in his striking winter plumage. I watched them for a while, ducking diving under the water when a wren caught my eye. Above me, blue tits were hoping about the branches of the trees and behind me a robin and blackbird sang.

I continued along the path, spotting birds as I went: grey heron, mallards, moorhen, magpie and coal tits. However, as lovely as my walk was, I was very disappointed in the level of litter along the banks of the river. At a weir, I watched as plastic bottles, bags and footballs churned in the water. In trees and under rocks, huge plastic sheets were caught. Glasgow has a long way to go in improving its litter problem. The litter along the Kelvin may have been dropped by passer-by’s, but this is a great example of how litter dropped in urban areas ultimately ends up in natural areas and can be damaging to wildlife and natural spaces.

I intended on continuing along towards Kelvingrove park, but first I stopped at a yellow café (I can’t remember the name, but it was lovely and warm) at Kelvinbridge for a diet cola, a slice of cake and to read my book. It was at that point I realised I was loaded with the cold, so I decided to hop back on the subway and head home.

I think we are guilty of forgetting that cities can play host to some great wildlife and that to enjoy nature, we don’t need to travel long and far distances, way beyond the suburbs. City greenspaces like the Botanic gardens are full of wildlife to be enjoyed and they are so easily accessible – so much so, it seems that many people pass through the botanic gardens as part of their daily commute. Nature has its part in cities, but we just need to take extra care to no do any harm to these green spaces as we go about our busy lives, and that way nature can thrive right bedside us.   

Millport Winter Wildlife

I love autumn. I love the colours and the crisp mornings, hot soup and cosy nights. But, as autumn starts to become winter, I start to notice some changes that I don’t enjoy quite as much. With the early winter nights, I’ve been feeling a bit cooped up and the winter cabin fever creeping in. So today, on my day off, I wanted to make the most of the daylight and do what I do best – wander in nature. I put on my new wellies (a 25th birthday present from my parents – lined and fluffly, they kept my toes lovely and snugg the whole time!) and wrapped myself up in the cosiest scarf I own and I set out!

I didn’t go too far from home but on my short route, I saw lots of great wildlife. I started off by circiling around Farland Point, then heading to Kames Bay and into Millport town so I could do a food shop and then home again! Farland Point sits at south end of the Isle of Cumbrae. It sticks out, as its name suggests, in a point. The views from Farland point are quite spectacular. To the east, it looks out towards the mainland. The most dominating feature being Hunterston power station – a nuclear powerstation in North Ayrshire. To the south, the point looks out into the Firth and on the horizon sits Ailsa Craig – a uninhabited, volcanic island that hundreds of seabirds flock to to feed and mate every year (I would LOVE to visit someday). And out to the east, sits the isles of Little Cumbrae, Arran and Bute. The Arran landscape is stunning – recently the tops of the mountains have turned white with the first sign of winter snow. However today, the sky was a little grey and Arran had completely disapeared from view.

Dunnock foraging in the strandline

On Farland point, one of the locals has set up a bird feeding station where I spent a bit of time watching some passerines feed. The first bird I spotted when I arrived was a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) but it quickly dissapeared into the bushes. I haven’t seen a Song Thrush on the island since spring so I was delighted to see this one – even for a quick second. The feeders were very busy today with Dunnocks (Prunella madularis), Robins (Erithacus rubecula), Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), Great tits (Parus major) and Coal tits (Periparus ater). I watched for a while until I started to lose the feeling in my fingers to the cold and so I kept walking.

Rock Pipit at Farland Bite

I never know what I might spot at Farland point so I kept my eyes peeled as I continued on. The tide was very high when I arrived around at Farland Bite. In the strand line, several Dunnocks were foraging for food and some Rock Pipits (Anthus petrosus) were hopping between the rocks – I sat for a while watching them. Several Blackbirds (Turdus merula) appeared and disapeared while I sat, and from behind me, a robin perched itself on a branch and sang and sang, while the breeze ruffled up its feathers!

Common seal practicing his back stroke!
Common seal relaxing in the chilly winter water!

I continued on to Kames Bay where I saw very few signs of wildlife. But I took my time as I strolled along and enjoyed the waves. I walked around into Millport town and walked along Newton Bay. Not far from the shore, I counted six seals (common I think (Phoca vitulina)) bobbing around in the water. They floated on their backs with their snouts sticking out the water. They felt so close to the shore, and didn’t seem bothered by the people and dogs out enjoying the beach. I tried to keep my distance as I stood and watched. One by one they would disapear under the water and reappear somewhere completely different. I watched on at them, utterly fascinated by how chilled out and relaxed they seemed! I could see their faces so clearly – so beautiful, their big eyes and long whiskers.

After doing my shop I turned back to head home. By the time I returned to Kames Bay, the tide had turned and was starting to head out. This time, the beach was much busier and many birds were out foraging! An individual Snipe (Gullinago gallinago) was dipping its toes in the water, foraging for a late lunch. Four redshanks had gathered – this suprised me – I hadn’t seen more than one Redshank at a time before! Common (Larus canus) and Black headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) were paddling, Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were swimming, Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) were diving and Oyster Catchers (Haematopus ostralegus) were calling! By this point, my fingers were completely numb from the cold so I called it a day and headed home for a hot cup of tea. After a chilly day outside, my head feels clearer and ready for the sun to set at 4pm and with another day off tomorrow, I might just do it all over again!

The isle of Cumbrae is full of exciting wildlife. Despite not going far from the town, I spotted a huge variety of birds today – I am incredibly fortunate to live in such a cool little place for wildlife! Millport tends to be a summer destination and in winter the streets are very quiet – which makes it all the more peaceful for a relaxing day of wildlife watching!

In the garden

I have always been fascinated by the natural world around me and I believe that fascination was founded somewhere very close to home… the garden!

Our family garden is no bigger than a tennis court but yet, it is wildly active and attracts many visitors every day. I think the garden is where I first discovered my fascination of the natural world quite a few years ago. As a little girl, I enjoyed filling my toy pram (my parents had bought it with the idea I might like it for my dolls, but I had better ideas) with worms, snails, caterpillars, bugs and the like. From there, my fascination grew and grew. And today, the garden is still one of my favourite places to fall back into nature (and bonus – I can do it in my pjs!).

Habitat loss is undoubtedly, the largest cause of loss of biodiversity across the planet and urbanisation contributes to this trend. The majority of the human population (>80%) now lives in urban environments. Unfortunately, building of homes leads to the destruction of wild areas that in turn, causes ecological systems to be interrupted. Not only does biodiversity suffer, but people begin living in species-poor environments and grow increasingly distanced from nature and its wonders. Therefore, it is important that we take steps to protect and encourage biodiversity within urban environments, to (attempt to) mitigate this loss of wild spaces and species and reinstate the invaluable connection between people and wildlife. Research has shown, that wildlife friendly gardens is a great way to do this as they can often provide refuge for species that have been displaced. Not only is this great for biodiversity, but we get the opportunity to interact with nature and increase our understanding and appeciation for it, right on our doorsteps.

Like many other garden owners, we keep several fully stocked bird feeders in the garden, all year round – providing seeds and mealworms to our feathered visitors in the snow and in the sunshine. Ofcourse, the most important time to do this will be in the coming months as wild food becomes scarce. The bird feeders are almost always occupied with a family of house sparrows or mischievous starlings. When it is quieter, a couple of blackbirds or a robin may appear for a short while but they will disappear at any sight of the starlings. From the top of the birch trees that line the back of the garden, goldfinches, coal tits or great tits may come down for a quick visit and a bite to eat. Clumsy wood pigeons try to balance themselves on the arms of the feeder, flapping noisily, usually alerting us to their presence. Some of my favourite visitors are the collared doves, that sit graciously on the edge of the bowl. On occasion, we get the rarer visitor, who only sticks around for a day or so, including a redwing that made a very brief, but very exciting, appearance last January.

During my time as an undergraduate student, I had a lecturer, who was incredibly passionate about birds and when he spoke, I realised how little I actually knew about them. I remember doing my first RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, not knowing the difference between a blue tit and a blue MacCaw – I sat for an hour with a cup of tea and I could not believe the variety of birds visiting my little garden. I continued to garden bird watch almost everyday. I quickly became obsessed – I bought books and binolulars and more books. I would spend all my free time flicking through my RSPB British Bird handbook and quizing myself on my bird ID using an app called ‘Tiny Cards’ (a very good app for learning!). But, it was in my garden, that I first truely began to study birds – learning how to identify them, watching them interact and understanding their behaviour. Since then, my bird knowledge has grown significantly and I continue to learn about them daily.

All year round, the garden is alive with birds. In the winter, the starlings flock and in the summer, the fledglings come down to explore their new world. Watching birds feed and play in the garden space is a joyful, relaxing and addictive experience. More and more studies are demonstrating that watching birds and other wildlife has a significant positive effect on mental health. For me, watching birds makes me feel calm and helps me feel connected with the wild world around me. And what better place to do that than my own garden.

A morning at Baron’s Haugh nature reserve

One of my favourite wildlife spots is in a surprising location – tucked in behind Motherwell town, Barons Haugh is hidden well out of sight. When driving along the M74, you might catch a glimpse of the RSPB reserve for a moment and you might never realise what wonders it holds. To get to Barons Haugh, you must enter bustling Motherwell, and you might think you have taken a wrong turn somewhere. The town is lively with cars, trains and people, with the drone of the M74 in the distance. As you head towards the reserve, you enter a pleasant housing area, with a primary school and a few churches, and the buzz from the town centre starts to calm – but still, it feels far from a nature reserve. But then, you take a left turn and the landscape turns from grey buildings and streets, to green woodland – the entrance lined by large oak and horse chestnut trees. The air softens and suddenly everything becomes still except for a squirrel bouncing from tree branches and song-birds rustling the leaves as they sing.

On my first day as a volunteer, the reserve was under a blanket of snow. I helped to repair a fence that had been previously damaged by flooding.

Duirng my time as an undergraduate student, I volunteered at the reserve. Every Thursday for many weeks, I would join a group of volunteers from the local area and together, we would carry out conservation work to support and improve the reserves biodiversity. As a zoology student, this experiences massively enhanced my learning, grew my passion for nature and let me spend time with like-minded people – from whom I learned so much. Much of the work we undertook, focused on surveying the reserve for, and the removal of non-native, invasive plant species, for example, Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoises hispanica, Few Flowered Leak Allium paradoxum, Himalyan Bolsom Impatiens glandulifera and Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum. These species were particularly rife across the reserve, out-competing native species and dominating the soil. We also aimed to create new spaces for nature to flourish and so, we planted wildflower seeds in meadows, and cleared spaces in the woodland as butterfly sun-spots. I learned a great deal during my time as a Barons Haugh volunteer – but one of the main messages I took from my experience, was that you do not have to travel across the globe and break the bank for an incredible conservation volunteer experience. Unfortunately, when I started my masters degree, my timetable did not allow me to continue volunteering at the reserve but I continued as a regular visitor.

Yesterday, I returned to the reserve for a morning of wildlife spotting. Baron’s Haugh runs alongside the river Clyde, as it makes its way west from its source in the Lanarkshire hills, to Glasgow City Centre. The many years of heavy industry in Glasgow and the surrounding areas polluted the river, but as the water quality has improved in recent decades, wildlife has benefitted greatly and today, many incredible species can be seen enjoying the rushing water. Adjacent to the river, the reserve also has great wetland habitats that supports a great number of species, local and migrant, all year round. The four hides dotted around the reserve allows visitors to watch and enjoy the activity on the wetlands.

I arrived at the reserve curious but unexpecting – many exciting species live at Barons Haugh, but they don’t always reveal themselves. I kept my eyes and ears peeled with my binoculars and camera at the ready.

Barons Haugh holds many firsts for me; some of the most memorable include Otter, Dipper (my favouite bird), Great White Egret, Blackcap, Great Crested Grebe and Tawny owl. Much of what I know about local wildlife, I learned at Barons Haugh, including how to tell a Moorhen from a Coot, and a Bullfinch from a Chaffinch.

As I walked down the path from the car park, the first thing I noticed was a dragonfly darting across the path and then resting on vegetation. Last September, I attended a dragonfly identification course, hosted by the British Dragonfly Society at Black Devons RSPB reserve, where I learned some identification techniques. I identified the individual as a male common darter Sympetrum striolatum, due to the dark wing spots and reddish-orange colour. Males also have black spots on the third- and second last segment on their abdomen.

A male Common Darter. When I returned home from the reserve, I submitted a record of my sighting to the British Dragonfly Society.

Despite the sunshine, there was a chill in the air. I noticed some of the trees beginning to change colour. At my feet, some horse chestnuts lay scattered. The sides of the paths were purple with brambles. Autumn is creeping in. Autumn has always been my favourite time of the year – I love the sense of change in the air as summer slips into winter and the wildlife adapts accordingly.

I continued down the path a past a field of cattle. I took a left and headed towards the Marsh Hide, where I was greeted by a couple, both holding their finger to their lips. I quietly approached as they pointed towards the reeds. The man whispered ‘Kingfisher’. I spotted the beautiful bird amongst the long grass. Then, without a warning, it dashed off – a quick, striking flash of blue and it was gone. I sat for a moment watching, hoping that it would return. And then, there it was – perched proudly, displaying itself to us, on a wooden stump sticking out the ground, directly infront of the hide. I couldn’t believe my luck. I snapped a quick photo and as my camera clicked, it disappeared.

Star species of the day: Kingfisher.

(NOTE TO SELF – silence the camera next time, the man and his wife seemed rather unpleased!)

I walked away from the hide incredibly chuffed and inspired by the little blue and gold bird.

I continued along the path watching a magpie hop along the cattle fence. But then I heard it from above – a call I didn’t recognise. I looked up and saw the raptor hoovering above the field, it was so still. I watched in awe as the Sparrowhawk surveyed the area. And as quick as the kingfisher had, it disappeared.

I kept going, watching bullfinches in the branches and stopping at each of the hides. Mute Swans – adults and signits – Cormorants, Black Blacked Gulls, Mallards and Coots dominated the wetlands. One area where I wish to improve my bird ID is wetland birds and, so I watched the ducks for a while, inspecting the shapes and colours of each individual. One bird that I was unfamiliar with was the little grebe. I took a rather blurry photo but it had enough detail to help me identify the bird later!

Unfortunately, there was no sign of otters. I stood by the riverbank for a short while, watching for one to break the surface. I have been fortunate to see otters here twice previously – and with very little effort too. On both occasions, I had been walking by and it had caught my eye as it hunted in the river, dipping under the surface and reappearing a short distance away with its catch.

Towards the end of the path, I spotted another dragonfly, this time it was a female common darter! A paler version of the male, resting on the bark of a tree, against which it was a little tricky to spot. These insects are some of my favourite – they have a fasinating life history and the adults are delightful to watch.

As I turned away from the river, I headed up towards one of my favourite parts of the reserve – Chestnut Walk. On either side, the path is lined with tall Horse Chestnut trees that shade the path from the sunlight. I spotted a squirrel as it darted across one of the branches. I kept my eyes peeled for nut hatches – a species I have not yet seen but I have been told are in the area but, if they were there, they stayed well hidden from sight.

Beyond chestnut walk, it is only a short walk back to the carpark. I sat in the car ready for lunch but inspired and content. I am excited for my next visit to Barons Haugh. Perhaps in a month, when autumn is more established, and the trees are golden or in winter when the ground is frosty, and the trees are bare. But I know, that when I do visit, it will be as exciting and rewarding as ever.