A bee day

I spent a bit of this afternoon looking a the smaller wildlife in my back garden, well bees really. I don’t have many flowering plants in my garden but the lavender bushes are in full bloom at the moment and the bees are going mad for them.

This was the first time I’ve tried a spot of bee IDing and I found four different species feeding on the plants; common carder, honey, buff-tailed bumble and red-tailed bumble. The shot below is a common carder (I think)…

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Orkney: The green and pleasant islands

For the latest trip in my exploration of the Scottish islands I traveled up to the far north and beyond, to visit the intriguing archipelago of Orkney. After my numerous trips to the west coast islands, it was somewhat of a surprise just how different Orkney is to the often impressively bleak and majestic Outer Hebrides. The islands are primarily comprised of low, green rolling pastureland with only a few higher hills topped with heather moorland and no mountains to speak of with the exception of those on the Island of Hoy. The only real ruggedness comes in the form of the high rocky cliffs that occur frequently along the coastlines. There are very few trees and most fields are enclosed by wire fences rather than hedges, giving the landscape a feel of endless views and huge skies. Under the clear blue skies and bright warm sun I frequently experienced over the course of the week, it was a little paradise of the north.

More like the Hebrides, there are plenty of fine beaches, particularly if you venture on to some of the smaller islands. Sanday has some stunningly nice beaches along its coast and others have a fair selection to choose from too. In addition to Mainland, I visited Westray, Sanday and Hoy, all of which have their own landscapes and feel. As well as those beaches, Sanday is quite flat while Westray is similar to Mainland with rolling green pastures but some of the most spectacular cliffs, while Hoy has the highest hills and is mostly moorland. They were all worth a day trip while the small inter-island ferries gave opportunities to see some of the other islands as I passed on my way to and from those I visited.

The built environment of Orkney also has some jewels, the most lovely of which is Stromness. I certainly didn’t expect to find such an exquisite little harbour town of narrow winding streets, open squares and gaps providing views out to the sea and the islands beyond. I could have spent many more hours wandering happily around.

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Kirkwall, the largest town in the islands, is a little more businesslike in places but also has a few gems and nice pedestrian streets. The Highland Park Distillery is probably the best presented whisky distillery I’ve visited and is worth going to for the buildings alone along although I did make a purchase in the shop too (would have been wrong not to!). The town also has all the facilities you would expect in a much larger town elsewhere in Scotland with a good range of shops and supermarkets. It also has a feeling of prosperity in places with a very impressive looking new school and an equally impressive hospital under construction.

Getting around is easy with quiet but well maintained roads, a central airport and plenty of choices of ferry route from the Scottish mainland. I chose to travel on the Scrabster to Stromness route on Northlink’s MV Hamnavoe. I was impressed with this little ship; it was immaculately presented and loading and unloading were quick and efficient. I should have taken my bike with me too as it appears to be a very easy place to cycle – maybe next time!

Overall, the pleasant nature of Orkney, good range of facilities and the ease of getting around, stops the islands, well at least the main island, from feeling remote and certainly less so than the likes of Harris or the Uists. There’s so much to Orkney that it will take more than this post to cover it and certainly much more than one visit.

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A sense of yearning for nature

In the city, people long for silence. I don’t. I long for the cacophony of the dawn chorus, the raging of the sea thrust forward by a storm, the ghostly call of the owl from deep in the darkness and the howl of the wolf that has so far eluded my hearing. Above all sounds, I dream of the screaming of swifts; on flickering wings, they are bringers of summer, bringers of joy, the ever-flying embodiments of the year at its peak.

I long to see beyond the next corner, beyond the houses, offices and factories. I long for the mountain-backed beach, with electric blue waters lapping on the crystal sands and the well-loved view from an island to the near mainland, a rolling patchwork laid out beyond. I long to wake to the shocking whiteness of the first fall of snow, untouched yet by foot or tyre and to see the rich nordic landscapes of lakes, trees and meadows. Beyond all those sights, I need green; the bright vibrant green of spring shoots, the robust green of summer trees, the evergreen of northern forests but also just the green of wide open fields, the green that brings a breathing out of the city fumes and dust and a drawing in of clean, cool and fresh untainted air.

Behind sites and sounds, I long for the warm, dusty scent of rain on summer ground, the dampness of leaf-strewn paths of late autumn and the first application of sunscreen, promising sunshine through the day ahead and signifying that I’m beyond the worst of the short, dark, cold winter days. For me, though, there is little better than breathing in the air of wild garlic as I cross a bridge over a spring stream; it is a momentary stimulation of a sense often over awed by swirling heady mixture of urban aromas.

Taste brings a different dimension to my longings. I long for a cheese and pickle sandwich eaten on a rambling cliffside walk, a dark and plump blackberry picked from the late summer bramble, a not so wee dram savoured on an evening doorstep with a cherished view but most of all I long for smoky sausages cooked over an open fire out in the wilderness.

I long to be touched by nature, by the rain on my face as I break from a doorway and head out into the open, to feel the air wafting in through an open window on warm summer nights, to feel sand beneath my feet as I run along a beach in the dark. I need to feel the rock as I clamber across a mountainside and sense the juddering of rough tracks as I cycle along forest paths and, yes, I need the feeling of my fingers and toes going numb while I stand in the frozen winter looking for wildlife. There is one touch of nature that goes beyond them all, the first caressing of a strengthening sun on bare skin as the clouds of winter float away. 

Most of all, I yearn. I yearn for the wide open spaces, I yearn for the solitude of the distant and remote, away from the sense-buffeting town and city.  Beyond all of this, I yearn for the wild. An ache comes over me, deep in my back, yearning for all that is lost and all that needs to be reborn. I yearn for a pure nature, untouched by us, a wilderness that is rich and original, one that is as true now as it ever was…a yearning cannot be sated.

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A first blog post for #30DaysWild

The transformation of spring

One great aspect about visiting a local spot throughout the year is that you can really see how the seasons change month by month. Yesterday in the heat of the afternoon I went for a walk around Wybunbury Moss and it was very much in its spring prime with the birds singing, the flowers blooming and the butterflies flitting about. This was in great contrast to my visit in December when the first snow of the winter had fallen, as the two photos below demonstrate…

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Despite the heat, the birds were really were singing loudly and I managed to record nearly 30 species including plenty of summer migrants; willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, whitethroat and swallow. There were also signs of the first young of the year with a family band of long-tailed tits flying along a headline and a great spotted woodpecker feeding noisy chicks in their nest hole.

The walk yesterday was perfect spring stroll in a lovely spot full of signs of the season on the type of day I long for on the cold, short winter days.

CNCV: Oakmere

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers working on some private land at Oakmere. We’ve been going there for three or four years now and have helped to restore a schwingmoor, or quaking bog. Now that we’ve cleared the bog of the larger birch saplings, our tasks are spent ensuring birch doesn’t recolonise and take over again. This is one location were we really can see the difference our efforts make.

The location is also lovely, a lakeside woodland approached through meadows with the bog in the middle. The woodland is full of birdlife and we had great views of young green woodpeckers and listened to the chorus of birds throughout the day.

We finished at about 15:00 after spending the day in the hot sun, so I popped into the nearby farm shop for some ice cream – yum!

Could it be spring?

In many ways hopefully not…but today was a little glimpse through the window of the recent gloomy conditions into what spring could be.

I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers today working on a task at Wybunbury Moss. We spent the day clearing scrub from one of the large fields around the outside of the Moss, helping to keep the meadow wet, and then burning the resulting brash. The wind was keen at times but the clouds broke to reveal both the sun and lovely blue skies.

I usually forget but today I remembered to take along some hotdogs for cooking on the fire – one of my favourite things to do!

Afterwards I went out for a pedal on my bike taking advantage of the lighter evening due to the clear skies and the slowly drawing out sunset time.

It’s not spring yet but today it felt very close – certainly much closer than it has recently.