Saturday, July 21, 2012

In and Out Internet

Saturday was an uneventful day at work other than the appearance of my new 'Anti-midge Hat'.  I saw these for sale in the shop that sells everything, and as they proudly boasted being 'NATO Approved' on the bag decided that was good enough for me.  There is a pic below where it becomes apparent the 'Anti-midge Hat' is in fact just a mesh bag, maybe it even had oranges in once who knows?  It certainly works, with it on you can watch and sneer at armies of midges amassing outside it, inches from your face but totally impotent, ha!  The flaw comes when you want to do something, like do some work, and realise you cannot see properly, hardly at all in fact.  Still if just sitting motionless outside doing nothing in particular is what you have in mind I suppose its a great buy! 
I have found out how to resize images on this new laptop, using Microsoft Office Picture Manager, whatever that is.  And today the Internet is back in Scotland, yesterday it was on holiday or strike, we are never sure, but today it is back so I will attempt to upload more of my backlog of Scotland pics..... before it goes off again!
I cannot wait to see how they load all those logs onto that little boat!
House prices are very low in Scotland.

The village shop/post office/cafe/vets/garage/video store

Ferry to the isles

Hooded crow (Corvus cornix) a special Scottish bird
The Midge Hat, works but I best not wear it in the Co-op! They might summon a SWAT team, and I be knocked to the floor, my Maris Pipers rolling everywhere.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Divers at the Double

Having not seen too many red-throated divers since being in Scotland we were rewarded today with a double sighting of a pair of them.  Firstly a pair took off from a Loch giving us a good view of that weird droopy neck flying style of theirs.  They circled higher and disappeared but another pair put in an appearance from our magic birdwatching balcony this evening!  Sitting serenely in the bay while garrulous gannets plunged in after fish all around them, the divers exuded a regal air, especially with that uptilted bill posture they always adopt.  Too far for a photograph though, but here are a couple more from the last couple of weeks, uploaded now I am back in the computer age!
Hmm, well there were going to be a few photographs but the Wi-fi has reverted to the speed of an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping so just this one will have to do today!  :D

Heather, Hills, and Irn-Bru, I must be in Scotland!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A While In Argyll

After a week of no Internet access up here in the Outlands of Remotia Scotia I am finally back online with a new shiny laptop, hurrah!  It was a week that brought the bird sightings list up into the 60s, and the insect bitings list into double figures.  I have now been bitten by every genera of fly in the book, quite a collection of attractive red weals on my hands, arms, and face.  Any patch of skin that is exposed for more than a few seconds in fact is likely to be bitten, which makes answering a call of nature a fraught affair!  Rather than try and remember what has happened this week I will simply post some of the pictures and let them tell the story...
The view from the kitchen window of Loch Fyne

Gannets dive-feeding in the Loch, taken from the veranda while having a sundowner.

Logging is a major source of employment.

Multicoloured lichens grow everywhere in amazing shapes and forms

Me, hard at work at a vantage-point!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A First Week Of Firsts

It has been a week of firsts, the first osprey, the first golden eagle, the first drive in the Land Rover, and I got my first tick.  Never having had one before I was a bit disappointed in how small it was, barely a couple of millimetres wide.  Not much to brag about there, ‘Ooh I had this tick, big as a badger’, that sounds good in the pub, but  ‘I had this miniscule dot on my leg and under a magnifying glass it was actually a tick’ sounds ridiculous.  My £8 ‘Tick Lassoo’ tool proved useless, but a pair of tweezers extracted the offending arachnid and a flush down the loo ensured it has stuck its chops into its last leg. 
The Land Rover I have christened Ffyona, after Ffyona Campbell.  The number plate is FFA and I seem to remember a woman called Ffyona Campbell who walked round the world or something.  That sounded like a good Scottish name as well, it rhymes with ‘Iona’ for a start, the quintessential Scottish island, all though apparently she came from Buckinghamshire!  I took Ffyona out for a drive (the Landie, not Ms Campbell!) and she is fine on the open road and rumbling along tracks (which, having walked round the world I suppose Ms Campbell is too). 
It was in town where I hit a bit of bother.  Into a busy Co-op car park and it was apparent Ffyona has a turning circle somewhere between a Jumbo Jet and the Ark Royal.  Doing a three-point turn to get into a space was another first!  Still she was not built for mincing about at the Co-op, but bowling along dirt tracks which she is great at.

I suppose I ought to keep a bird list for Scotland , out of interest, and a quick tot up reveals it is on 38 now.  The highlights have of course been osprey, golden eagle, and peregrine.  Some Scottish specialities have been hooded crow, and breeding goosanders, common sandpipers, and red-throated divers.  After searching various near-inaccessible Lochans as part of the survey I was finally rewarded with the sight of a family group yesterday.  For reasons of client confidentiality and keeping such information from egg-collectors I cannot obviously reveal the whereabouts of the Lochan.  Not that it would do them any good if they knew, being on private land miles from the nearest track in the middle of the mountains.  In fact I am sure the divers did not see me, I noted from afar through a telescope, but if they had would probably have thought “Where the hell did he come from?”
Seeing them there like that, even if only briefly, was like a scene from Seton Gordon’s books of my youth come to life.  I thrilled to the tales of this be-kilted hairy Scotsman striding the highlands observing what seemed like mystical birds to me.  I only had Thorburn’s paintings of these fantastic creatures in the Observer’s Book of Birds to form a mental image from.  Then later of course we are used to seeing red-throated divers around England’s coasts in winter, many Scandinavian birds swelling the population.  They are drab, grey things though, not like the pristine dandies I saw yesterday in their sleek silver balaclava and red cravat!

On the day we saw golden eagles some other interesting wildlife showed itself too.  An unusual  rove beetle (Staphylinus caesareus) raced across the path to attack a crane fly, while a green-eyed horse fly (Chrysops relictus) hitched a ride in the land rover until duly evicted.  On the flower front the hillsides were swathed in foxgloves, like Scottish versions of Flanders poppies, sprung up after the upheaval of clearfelling.  It was towards the end of Wednesday though when the most memorable sight occurred.
Foxgloves flourishing where the firs have gone!
It was a still, breathless afternoon.  The distant gronking of ravens over the hills carried down to us as if they were in the next field.  Then an osprey appeared, fifty feet above the loch, with silent languid wing-beats.  Head turned down to face the water, becalmed like a huge dark ice rink.  An eye honed to minute tell-tale signs suddenly saw something and the wing-beats stopped.  Wings folded like a fan, the osprey fell from the sky in a vertical lightning dive.  It disappeared from view in tremendous splash of spray, momentarily a creature of the water not the air.  Then it rose with massive beats of the wings to launch its newly doubled bodyweight back into the air.  There could be no second chance, all or nothing or it would become waterlogged and remain among the fishes, as food itself.  With a heave it was out and the last part to leave the water were its talons, grasping between them a fine fat trout.  Once clear of the water the osprey shook itself, like a dog from nose to tail, water drops flying off all around, and carried its prize away.  It had been a privilege to see one of nature’s greatest spectacles unfold before our eyes. 
Another of Scotland’s great natural spectacles is one I would rather not see, its celebrated clouds of midges.  How can something so tiny cause so much misery?  Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ is supposed to be the magic deterrent.  The story is that a salmon fisherman, slathered in DEET, took his wife out in the rowing boat one day and was astonished that not a single midge bothered her while he was still being bitten.  She had Skin So Soft on and allegedly the practice soon spread among the fisher-folk.  It was even on sale in the chemist’s here on the insect-repellent shelf!  I have tried it though and it works, but needs reapplying every ten minutes.  I can only guess that Mrs Salmon-fisher either had a massive tub in her handbag or some other factor was in play.  Maybe she smoked a pipe, or gargled Glenfiddich, who knows!   
Besides midges there is also the mosquitoes, and the horse flies, and the clegs, oh and of course the ticks.  With arms, legs, and neck festooned with an array of bites maybe I should keep a ‘What I’ve Been Bitten By’ list too.  I’ll see what takes chunks out of me tomorrow, then make a start!  :D
Rove beetle assailing a crane fly
Ffyona enjoying the view!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tickling the Lizard!

Leaping out of bed like a leopard, all excited about the first day in the field this morning, I was disappointed to see the inclement weather front set in.  I had of course been going for a quick swim in the Loch before breakfast but had to cancel that plan, ha!    After muesli for me and porridge for Neil (he likes to get into the whole ‘Scottish’ thing!) we set off for the first vantage point survey.
Once there though it was obvious the only thing that would be surveyed from there for some time would be mist and rain, so we went to one at Kilmory instead.  I got into position, chair, telescope, rucksack full of nosh, all sorted, and Neil went off to look for red-throated divers.
I settled down and scoped my 180o survey area, not a bird to be seen.  Behind me were two spindly birch trees, left by the loggers in this recently felled area.  In front was a vast expanse of spruce trees, brash and new self-sown saplings.  Good habitat but the birds did not want to be in any of that did they.  No of course not, the only birds in fact that seemed to be left on earth today all wanted to be in those two trees behind me, not really in my survey area.  Should I move the chair, just to have something to count?  That would be terribly irresponsible though, and the vantage point was where it was, nailed down by GIS and not to be fiddled with.   Anyhow it soon became apparent that after alighting on the tree they would soon fly overhead too.  So I got to hear them, then see them fly over my head to see if they were what I thought they were, which of course they were because I am just soooo good (and I peeped anyway!)
I rang the Communicare thingy on my new work phone which kept going ‘Beep’.  These were office emails and I must get used to being ‘in the office’ even when I am not!  One beep was on my phone, from Steve Haynes back home to tell me he had picked up a dead gannet.  I convinced him to get it in the freezer before it went whiffy, and I would stuff it next month when I got home.  It will look good on the bar at Church End Brewery that.  A strange episode this might seem to some, but all in a day’s work for a birder!
Of the birds themselves I saw ravens, hooded crows, lots of lesser redpolls, the males resplendent in bright pink bibs, a solitary siskin, and some buzzards braving the blustery heights.  I saw some interesting other fauna as well, a scorpion fly landed right on my telescope case, and a common lizard came out to bask on a bit of bark to my right.  He was quite the prima donna and posed for a quick snapshot, and even allowed me to tickle his tail!  The day remained overcast but hopefully tomorrow it will be fine and sunny and the skies filled with golden eagles, that would certainly tickle my tail too!  :D

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scotland Sojourn

My new job as an Ecologist with Thomson Ecology has brought me to Scotland for a few weeks.  Carrying out surveys of both black and red-throated divers, golden eagles, and black grouse in particular, with notes of everything else that happens along!
Scotland gave me a typical Scottish welcome, driving rain, scudding cumulo nimbus clouds, and a dark grey wash to everything.  It was like driving through an old black & white photograph!  I stopped on the shores of Loch Lomond for lunch, but the weather put a dampener on my photographic aspirations and I just grabbed a quick shot for the record.  I picked up my first Scottish ticks of the trip there, a common gull came by to share a corner of my sandwich, and a blackcap sang from a bush.  On the road again and into Argyll proper I got a year tick too, a gannet flying along the shore of Loch Fyne.  A little further on and I soon had more of a Scottish speciality tick, a hooded crow sat on a rock, I was beginning to like Scotland!
I found the cottage fairly easily, and Neil, my colleague, even more easily, he was on the settee watching the Simpsons.  Good, so we shared the same sense of humour, that might come in handy with all this rain!  A quick munch and a can of McEwans (yes I know but when in Scotland.....) and we studied the maps, made a plan for the morning and called it a day.  Not before I had added another speciality Scottish creature to my list though - the dreaded midge!  I only nipped out to the Land Rover for a minute, one minute!  In that time I was bitten almost to a pulp by these voracious beasts.  That Avon 'Skin So Soft' better live up to its reputation, but I think it has got its work cut out!
Loch Lomond, I am sure it is usually in colour!