Butterflies

Summer Treasure Hunts!

Where are you two going?
Looking for Butterfllies, are you coming?

Duke of Burgundy Butterflies are rare these days but thanks to the communal spirit of another amateur lepidopterist we find them easily and in return point out an equally rare corn bunting, singing his heart out trying to be noticed.

A Corn Bunting singing from the tallest elder in the hedge of a chalkland cornfield, like a jangling bunch of keys, you will know it if you ever hear it.

The Marsh Fritillary we found for ourselves in a bog below Cader Idris in Snowdonia — no one there to help!

Nearby was this beautiful flower that likes to have its feet wet — it is said to be common but I’d never seen it before —

Buckbean or Bogbean, from a distance you might think that you have found a new orchid but each flower of the spike has 5 symmetrical petals with strange lacy outgrowths and big juicy trilobed leaves that don’t obviously belong to the flowers until you trace them back under the boggy base.

Despite recent sunny weather it seems to have been a slow year for butterflies but in the last few days Painted Ladies have arrived all the way from Africa, one of only two migratory butterflies that we see in the UK. No Clouded Yellow as yet.

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Architecture

A Tale of Two Loos!

You can tell a lot about a place when you visit its more intimate corners.

I was recently caught short at Braemar Castle in the Highlands of Scotland.

Overlooking a magnificent stretch of the River Dee one could imagine a member of the royal family fly fishing in these beautiful waters. Location, location, location! The 17th century interiors were closed to us due to Covid but the downstairs, outside loo had kindly been left open by the community charity which leases the building from the Farquharson clan leader and works to maintain its fabric. They must all work very hard — in lots of places the rendering is parting from the underlying higgledy-piggledy masonry which is crumbling in the elements — one can feel the old place sucking up all the money and efforts of the volunteers that tend it!

The state of the loo said it all!

Down in Fife in the town of my ancestors (and Bill’s youth) we visited the museum and public library.

Here we enjoyed the magnificently renovated basement lavatories with their tactile, sensuous mahogany seats and splendid door furniture. All resplendent in an aura of chlorine and civic pride.

The gents was equally spectacular though my companion was reluctant to photograph the facilities. The librarian swelled with pride as we congratulated her and admitted that because it is a listed building it had been a meticulous and very expensive refurbishment (£2,500,000 from Fife Council).

Well done Kirkcaldy!

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adventure, Birds, Ecology, Scotland

Isle of May

The Isle of May is in the North Sea, 5 miles from the mainland of Scotland, off the East coast in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, we visit it in May and the ocean is like a mill pond.

Looking back towards the mainland and Anstruther.
Our boat lands in the natural inlet amidst a colony of artic tern.
Arctic Tern with attitude
The grey seals in the inlet can’t be bothered to move. This is where they come to breed but most have gone now.

As we head off up the footpath to the side of the island favoured by the seabirds, because of the high cliffs, a cloud of kittiwake announce themselves — lots of birds say their name but none as clearly or as often as the kittiwake! There are two species of Kittiwake in the world — the black-legged and the red-legged. They are thus easily spotted and identified and are enchanting little gulls.

The British Kittiwakes are Black Legged

There were more than 3000 breeding pairs on the Island at a recent count but they do not restrict themselves to off-shore Islands — we saw them on cliffs in Dunbar.

There are about 200,000 seabirds on May which is less than a mile long and 1/3 mile wide, and we have come to see some of the ones that we do not see on the mainland, up close, and to appreciate the scale of the seabird colony.

Puffins

The puffins, there are about 40,000 pairs, nest on the grassy tops and that is where the rabbits come in. They dig the holes that the puffins populate.

Puffins looking out to sea, waiting for their mates to return from sea with their bills loaded with sand eels.

They are very alert — their young pufflings are very vulnerable until they can fly and swim. Airborne predators can reach the island like this Greater Black Backed Gull.

Opportunist Predator

The next layer down in this colony are the auks — the Razorbills (about 3000 breeding pairs) near the tops of the rocky cliffs and the Guillemots (23,000 breeding pairs), lower down nearer the sea.

Razorbills with the heavy duty bill.
Guillemots nearer the water — the one on the left is a Bridled Guillemot
Guillemots

On the sea, bobbing along in twos and threes are Eider drakes like these fine fellows, we stepped over a number of their mates incubating eggs in rocky crevices along the foot path.

Eider duck
Near the harbour inlet some Shag are nesting.

As we leave, the boat circumnavigates this magic isle so that we can see the dramatic sea cliffs from below and we can really appreciate the safety they afford to the hundreds of thousands of nesting birds. Nobody climbs them to collect eggs any more. But, no longer manned, the lighthouse and the foghorns still protects shipping in the Forth as they has since 1635!

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Sheep

First and Last

Yesterday a sudden and sad thing happened. Our first lamb and oldest ewe died.

Orphaned and raised in the house and then the yard, long before it was tarmacked.

I made foolish promises to her at that time but I kept them! Here she is after her retirement bathed in evening light in the twilight of her days.

She died yesterday, on the farm, as promised — from birth to death she had personal attention and we shall all miss her demanding, cantankerous ways. She was an object lesson in how not to treat a domestic animal! Always first in and last out — if danger threatened and the flock ran away Aby ran towards the back door.
Only a few days ago she broke into the barn knocking things over and messed where Bill was destined to tread. Relaxed mother of 10 lambs all were delivered by the back door.
RIP Aby (2008-2021)
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Cornwall, Ecology, nature

It’s a Miracle, but not in Cornwall

It may look like Cornwall but you can tell it’s not Cornwall because there aren’t any people, police, naval ships, radar installations, helicopters or motorcades. And no G7 demonstrators — a beach near my daughter’s Cornish home has been piled high with the undead bodies of middle aged ladies dressed as dead mermaids! All very artistic. No, this is Wales, this week at Cwm Tydu and I had no idea that this part was so beautiful.

Rain Forest!

One or two midges by the stream and butterflies in the meadow. Best of all (you may remember how long I hunted these last year) there are choughs! Spotted by chance and very active probing for ants on the grazed sward, just as they like it, courtesy of wild ponies.

Its a shame their bills and feet are so muddy, you can’t see how vibrantly red they are. Never mind — the news is good about these rare birds because the previous day we saw a chattering of them swooping above Bird Rock, north of Aberystwyth showing the splayed, finger-like feathers at the ends of their wings– seems their numbers may be on the up.

Mud is the order of the day — here one of the many house martins at Aberaeron harbour is collecting mud to build his house.

The common whitethroats are displaying.

Everywhere there is the hum of bumble bees making the most of this years blooming of the dog roses.

This one has so much pollen in her sacks it is a miracle that she can still fly — but then wild life is full of miracles.

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adventure, Birds, Scotland

Mull

Mull is one of the nearer Inner Hebrides islands off the west coast of Scotland and must have had a long, lonely winter with travel restricted and it’s normal waves of challenging weather piling in from the North Atlantic. As we had travelled northward, although already mid-May, there was snow on the tops of the hills from the Lake District onwards.

To reach its weather scoured hillsides we took the ferry — sadly confined to our vehicles — we could only look up at the sky but the skies in Mull say everything!

View back towards the mainland.
Greeted by the harbour hoodie!
We pass the photogenic hulks and the Sun comes out for a moment!
Generally it is chilly — but the restless climate is never the same for more than 20 minutes!
This red dear stag is waiting for his antlers to grow and is the reason the fences are all six feet high!
There is an icy blast — here’s Linda, dressed appropriately and keeping moving…
Looking brighter?

So we attempted a long held ambition of mine to visit Iona, a smaller island off the southern most tip of Mull, famed for its spiritual intensity (and corn crakes –double whammy!)

Waiting for the ferry — actually they are pretending not to be interested in Robson Green in his new fishing togs (over Bill’s left shoulder) about to be tossed in the elements to make a film about lobsters.

The area on Iona covered by iris beds where the crakes used to hide and make the tourists jump with their strange calls seemed, to our birders, much reduced from their previous visits — there seemed to be very many sheep and the sward everywhere we looked had been grazed to within an millimetre of its life during the long winter. Doubly disappointed we did not stay long.

Bill, having given up on the corn crake, looks for something more transcendental!
Back on Mull — every cloud… the kiosk on the quay — note the 1/2 lobster and chips — we had scallops and chips (to share) — very good!
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adventure, Travel

Scotland awakes!

Just returned from a long awaited tour of Scotland and the North-east — booked 2 years ago and generously kept open until restrictions were lifted — we were on tenterhooks until the very last minute as Miss Sturgeon would not give the go ahead until a couple of days before we were due to leave — in consequence it was very quiet, no one else seemed to have realised it was open. Under the circumstances that suited very well!

First to Troon to stay with old friends and to look for the black guillemot in Troon Harbour, and what did we find? Seals — one luxuriating in the warm fishy shower provided by a fastidious fisherman cleaning out his hold —

— disporting herself in the soft foam like a L’Oreal advertisement only pausing to snap up the occasional lump of dead fish.

Harbours are strange magical places — full of ghosts that drift in and out on the tides –always looking towards the weather which usually threatens ominously.

Only partly materialised — the phantom crane in Ayr harbour — come to think of it there was a strange chill in the air!
The skeleton dock and the mysterious black guillemot, that somersaulted like an Olympic swimmer doing a turn, showing his scarlet legs then disappeared for ever.

That night, storm clouds gathered over Arran as four adults from two households (and from 3 different nations of the UK — which complicates things enormously) gathered and without guilt or fear of prosecution — the future was bright!

Next stop: Mull.

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Birds, Ecology

Cuckoo!

Just after dawn this morning we witnessed something very odd and heartening.

Everyone knows how the wicked cuckoo preys on the poor little birds (reed warblers, dunnocks, meadow pipits), laying an egg in their nests which hatches into a monster that evicts the other natural nestlings and grows huge on the tireless efforts of the adoptive parents.

This morning we heard the first cuckoos, up in the forestry. There were two males vying for territory, skirmishing in the treetops. Here is one.

The two birds had quite distinct calls so we could monitor their conversation! Both had the striped breast that is said to mimic a sparrow hawk — a cunning ploy to frighten the prey hen bird from her nest and give the female cuckoo time to lay.

The little birds out and about today were mainly willow warblers and robins but whichever they were some of them were not afraid of the cuckoos.

In fact groups of little birds were attacking the relatively huge cuckoos and driving them off their perches so… Not just feckless victims!

Heroic little birds.

Robin
Willow Warbler
Grey Wagtail with attitude!
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Humour, Medical

NHS’s famously flexible workforce

When I was a houseman my legs were blebbed and bubbled by the bites of the fleas from the feral cats that lived within the hospital grounds — but things have moved on.

Hospital cats are now more professional — they have come in from the cold, are properly trained and equipped, have regular health checks and probably mandatory immunisations (long before the other staff!)

The thing about cats is that you cannot exclude them if they don’t want to be excluded and some cats just have a vocation! So the NHS works with them, not against them.

Somewhere in Britain, probably everywhere in Britain, Buster here (or a cat like him) guards the confidential waste in the office of the emergency department. He keeps his wits about him as he dissipates the stress of staff, his mouth shut, the perfect confidential mentor and counsellor but as a member of the occupational health psychiatric team, as you can see, he does have his own panic button.

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Ecology, nature

Orgy on the Waun

Lovely day in Mid-Wales with a strange sound drifting over the forestry pond — like softly spoken geese. Not geese, not any bird, certainly not cicadas on this chilly, bright spring day. They are the muted tones of amorous amphibians — lovelorn toads!

Thirty, maybe fifty, in the pools of sunshine around the margins of the upland pond.

The smaller, more numerous, males clinging,piggy-back, onto the fecund females, bulging with eggs. Others joining in and some with their heads above the water calling.

See the strings of fertilized eggs and (below) an exhausted male!

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