Thursday, 23 March 2017

Weather and Birdlife

Before we went to Inverness, the forecast had not been encouraging. In the event - as so often happens - the weather turned out to be nowhere near as bad as we had feared and we had plenty of dry, bright and sunny periods. It was however, very chilly with a strong blustery wind taking the temperature even further down. As we enjoyed the riverside of the city, we also had a few light, wintry showers blowing through on the wind.
Luckily, these light showers only lasted a couple of minutes at most and before long, we were back in the sun enjoying the blue skies. Looking north from the castle hill, we had a good view of snow on the distant mountain of Ben Wyvis.
The name comes from Scottish Gaelic for 'Hill of Terror' and at some 3,432ft elevation, indeed it must have been pretty nasty up there in these conditions.
Back down to the riverside and we were delighted to see a couple of birds which we are not used to seeing in our home area. Firstly the Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix). Thought for a long time to be at best, a sub-species of the more usual Carrion Crow, Hooded Crows have now been classified as a completely separate species. Easily identified, they are almost all-over grey, except for the head, wings and throat.
Looking out over the fast-flowing water, we noticed an extraordinarily beautiful duck swimming strongly against the current and diving repeatedly for food. This was a male Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula). This is a far-north breeding duck and first nested in Scotland in 1970. Being a tree-nesting duck, they seek out large holes in old tree trunks in which to build their nests. Only around 200 pairs breed in the UK but their numbers are boosted in the Winter to around 27,000 individuals. The male is a stunning bird but they are rather shy so it was not easy getting a shot of this chap as he paddled further away from us.
All in all, it had been a very nice, short stay in Scotland.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Inverness

Malcolm and I got back yesterday, from our short break in Inverness. Having only ever driven past the city on our way to or from somewhere else, we thought it might be nice to spend some time there to explore a little and we were right!
Regarded as the capital of the Highlands, the city is dominated by the river from which it takes its name. The river Ness was certainly full and flowing rapidly beneath the many bridges crossing it.
Overlooking the river, it is hard to miss the Castle on top of its cliff.
Despite appearances, the castle was only built in 1836, but occupies the site of an earlier fortified structure dating from the 11th century. The new castle is home to the Sheriff Court and as such is not open to the public.
At the front of the building, stands a dramatic statue of Flora MacDonald, Jacobite heroine and helper to Prince Charles Edward Stuart as he fled from defeat at the battle of Culloden.
From this vantage point, we had a great view over the river to the south, taking in the Scottish Episcopalian Cathedral of St. Andrews.
More tomorrow...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Daffodils

This morning was dull and the wind much colder than we've enjoyed over the last few days. But, ignoring the chill in the air, we set out to check on the progress of the daffodils on Shipley Hill. We were not disappointed.
Where only a few days ago, Snowdrops carpeted the woodland floor, Daffodils have now taken over.
The display is far greater than last year's rather skimpy show.
Golden flowers seem to fill the whole hillside.
Further round the hill, we encounter a patch of cultivated Daffodils with even bigger, brighter blooms adorning the entrance to Home Farm. It was all very Spring-like, in spite of the chilly wind.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Bulbs and Blossom

Despite the chilly breeze this morning, the sun was shining and it was a glorious day for getting out and about. Malcolm and I set out for a walk around Shipley Hill and then onward to Osborne's Pond. On the hill, the Daffodils are now in full bloom.
This year's Snowdrops are all but finished now, so the appearance of the Daff's has filled that particular niche. Everyone else seemed to be out and about too on such a beautiful morning but at least it was quiet among the trees.
Last year, the display of Daffodils was rather disappointing, but they are certainly making up for it this year with wonderful drifts of nodding, yellow blooms to stimulate the senses.
A lack of wildfowl meant that all was quiet on Osborne's Pond and as we turned our feet towards home again, we passed several trees in full bloom. The Blackthorns and some early Cherry trees were looking spectacular in the sunshine.
This cherry tree, close to Shipley Lake, was particularly beautiful and full of Honey Bees taking advantage of the sunshine and an early source of nectar.
That needs another picture...
Home for coffee I think!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

More Spring Flowers

Today's theme was going to be 'Spring Bulbs', but despite the beautiful sunny weather, it was so windy, that it proved to be quite difficult to get a good shot of the Daffodils blooming on Shipley Hill. So instead, I focused on some other Spring blooms making an appearance at the moment. Firstly, the Blackthorn blossom opening in the hedgerows.
Set against the deep blue sky, these snow-white flowers are usually among the first to greet the new season and this year, they seem to be quite early.
Quite beautiful!
Along Slack Lane, the Gorse is also blooming.
This prickly member of the Pea family is quite capable of flowering all year round - even in the depths of Winter - but in the early Spring sunshine, their bright yellow flowers are a most welcome sight.
It was too windy this morning to appreciate their coconut scent, but that leaves us something to look forward to next time - hopefully the Daffodils will get a mention next time too!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ducks and Ponies

We started our walk yesterday walking along the Nutbrook Trail which took us past the fields where the Wildlife Trusts Konik Ponies are being grazed. On the rise to the side of the path, the ponies were keeping one eye on us as well as taking an interest in the horse and rider which had gone on ahead of us.
One pony decided to come further down the slope to find more, fresh grass. As it came closer, we could appreciate its lovely, thick, shaggy coat, necessary to keep it warm in the chilly wind.
Having found a particularly juicy clump of grass, it cropped it close then stood chewing for a few minutes with a satisfied look on its face.
All the while, its mate was keeping a sharp look-out from a higher vantage point as we continued on our way up the hill.
Having spent some time appreciating the Snowdrops and Daffodils on Shipley Hill, Malcolm and I were getting a bit chilly to say the least. So we headed for home and the promise of a hot cup of coffee. On the way home, we stopped at the small lake which acts as an overflow to Shipley Lake, to look at the small group of Gadwalls which have set up home there.
Seen from a distance, Gadwalls (Anas strepera) seem to be rather dull, grey and uninteresting ducks, but seen a little closer and in good light, the drakes plumage has some beautiful barring and speckling as well as the distinctive black rear-end and bill. The female, while looking more like a mallard, has a fine yellow/orange bill and is noticeably smaller. Their 'quack' is very different too. Quieter and rather more croaking than the Mallard, it is distinctly frog-like.
With fewer than 2000 breeding pairs in the UK, they are on the conservation 'Amber List' for species with an 'unfavourable' conservation status. Their population increases in the winter to about 25,000 individuals. This RSPB video is from Vimeo...

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Early Spring Flowers

At long last, we managed to get out and about once more this morning. After several days of bad weather and 'other things to do', we thought it was time we checked on the progress of the snowdrops on Shipley Hill. We were not disappointed.
It has been very wet over the past few days and yet more rain is forecast later today, so it was nice to be able make the most of this brief window of fine weather. The only fly in the ointment was the stiff breeze which continues to make things a little difficult.
Nodding in the wind, these little marvels are always a great sign that winter is on its way out. Here, on the northern side of the hill, large mats of Snowdrops were standing up bravely in the wind.
A little digital 'bloom' makes them seem a bit ethereal.
As well as the Snowdrops, the Daffodils are also making an effort to open their colourful blooms.
Again, it was a little tricky getting a sharp picture thanks to the breeze.
Back home and in from the cold, we are greeted by the spectacularly red colour of our Amaryllis blooming in its pot on the kitchen windowsill. A gift from our friend Jayne, last year it produced one flowering stem with three individual flowers on the top. This year, following much nurturing and feeding, it has produced two flowering stems, the first of which has four flowers on it with the second one waiting for its moment of glory. I have removed the anthers from the ends of each stamen before they produce huge amounts of pollen and make Malcolm sneeze! This also seems to prolong the flowering period, so that's another plus!