You know who you are! The bird watcher who dismisses starlings or corvids (except ravens or choughs) or the bird that is ‘just a gull’.
When we start looking at nature we are drawn to the conspicuous, the brightly coloured, the easily identified and as time goes on these become mundane and we start to look for the unusual. So, when you can recognise all the 59 species of UK butterfly it is time to start on the previously dismissed moths! Here’s a moth for beginners — easy to recognise because of the face hidden in its markings — can you see it.
See the profile of Mrs Punch or Mother Shipton after whom it is named — the Mother Shipton Moth. One of the 133 larger, day flying moths to start spotting. It shows some of the features which usually distinguish them from butterflies: resting with it’s wings flat; antennae feathery or rod-like, curved and without a knob at the end; and back and forewings linked together.
Once you’ve checked out all the larger, day-flying moths you can start on the tiny ones and the hundreds of marvellous night fliers! When someone says “it’s just a moth!” ask which one!
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.
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 —
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!