Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Garelochhead BTO BBS bird count - first cuckoo

The reason:
 To Garelochhead by train for less than twenty hours. I was there to carry out number 1 of 2 annual bird counts on my British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) square. Count 2 must take place at least month after count 1, so it'll be towards the end of June. Ideally both counts would be earlier but bad weather prevented me from venturing into the hills a few weeks ago when when I had first intended.

My allocated square kilometre is in the hills between Garelochhead and Loch Lomond, not super-high but it feels quite remote and I see very few other people up there. The lack of litter is telling, I found only one piece, a now-deflated helium balloon.

looking north

spying on Jennifer, having her coffee
Glen Finlas reservoir, Loch Lomond beyond

deep peat pool, crystal clear

deep peat pool, crystal clear, zoomed in

The birds:
The variety of birds on my square is very limited. There are always lots of meadow pipits and lots of skylarks (though not as many as meadow pipits). Most times also ravens (maybe two, three, four, five). Always lots of sheep. Today all I had was meadow pipit and skylark, and lots of sheep. I saw three ravens tumbling on an opposite hilltop, but they were outside my count time so didn't, ah, count. 

The walk up from the road isn't bad. We heard our first cuckoos of the year, at least three individuals calling, one from woods above, two from valley below.

List of all birds seen/heard:
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Coal Tit
Green Woodpecker
House Martin
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Meadow Pipit
Willow Warbler

18 species

The rest:
A caterpillar.

name the caterpillar

name the (same) caterpillar



And boggy, heathy, hilltop flowers starting to bloom. They'll be much more abundant when I return in June.

blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Thanks to David for i.d.

heath milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia). I think.
but possibly common milkwort (Polygala vulgaris). ?

ribbed bog moss, (Aulacomnium palustre). Thanks to David for i.d.

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Crysosplenium oppositifolium). I think.

marsh violet (Viola palustris). I think.

On the summit plateau we separated for Jennifer to walk a longer return route whilst I counted pipits. As I was finishing the sun emerged from its cloud cover and I found myself in the most wind-sheltered spot of the morning. I stopped and sat and sketched, drinking Earl Grey from my flask.

If you're interested in finding out more about taking part in any of the BTO's volunteer surveys I'd urge you to do so. It's great fun, you learn lots, and there's the feel-good factor. The data is invaluable to understanding and protection of nature. Some free training courses are available.

How to get there:
ScotRail runs regular trains on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig. Garelochead is an hour from Glasgow Queen Street. Timetables here.

My BBS count square is a ten minute drive or a several mile walk from the village.

station view

station tunnel, at night looks like *space* station tunnel

swallows by station

station planters, spot the honey bee

www.helloartisans.org.uk, as part of ScotRail's Adopt A Station scheme

Garelochhead shore

Monday, 11 May 2015

To house a hedgehog - Forth Hedgehog Hospital

Tonight we received our new hedgehog, Daisy.

Daisy was very underweight when found last autumn but thanks to the commitment of Nadia of the Forth Hedgehog Hospital she now weighs more than a kilogram. I want to draw attention to the work of the hospital does, and the easy steps we can take to help reverse the serious decline of our hedgehogs before they vanish from the UK completely.

Nadia's hospital is a registered charity in Rosyth, Fife. This winter it rehabilitated twenty-one hedgehogs, including Daffodil - blind in one eye, found outside, in daytime, in our garden last autumn. Daffodil is now strong and fit and regularly returning to Nadia's garden.

If you've found a hog in Fife you can phone Nadia for advice. If you're not in Fife, Google "found a hedgehog" and you'll see lots and lots of info and people to contact.

If you have a garden, or know someone who does, PLEASE:

- leave some long grass, log piles, wilder patches.

- DON'T STRIM, MOW, BURN, SPRAY without first checking for hogs (and frogs, toads, nesting birds, moths, etc)

- consider building or buying a hog box.

- don't put up fencing that prevents all entry and exit - leave a few small gaps at the bottom or cut a hole or two.

- put a plank or shallow sloped edge  in your pond to save hogs from drowning.

- consider putting out cat food each night.

- put out a shallow basin of water for drinking.

- look at this link to see why these things matter - www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk/endangered.php.

- Please share this post and encourage others to help.

Some links:

Figures are variable but all agree that hedgehogs in the UK are in serious decline - 30% or more have gone since 2002. Please please take a few minutes to read the links below. It's so easy to do little things that can really help.

How many are left? - www.hedgehogstreet.org/pages/how-many-are-left-.html

Found a hedgehog? Should you do something? - www.hedgehoghospital.org.uk/when-to-call.html

Buy or build a box? - www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk/houses.php

Please click 'like' on Forth Hedgehog Centre's Facebook page. Please do consider supporting your local hog rescue centre. Help needn't always be financial - cat food, bedding material, hog boxes may be just as welcome.

Please have a look at the Hedgehog Street campaign - www.hedgehogstreet.org

Building a home for Daisy:

There are lots of options for building or buying a hog home but please go for practical rather than too slick or gimicky: if you build your own, for example, a hog probably won't go near it if it's been painted or preserved or built from treated wood.

Here's mine, following the excellent advice at www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk/houses.php.

And Daisy being given the key.

Thank you for helping.

Good night Daisy.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Scotland by Rail - Garelochhead - 5 destroyers, 35 birds

(My first post under Abellio's ScotRail. Many thanks for continuing support of my ongoing Scotland by Rail work.)

from Garelochhead shore

The village:
A regular spot of mine is Garelochhead, where my soon-to-be-in-laws are. It's only an hour from Glasgow yet feels very west coast, very Highland - refreshing rains, beautifully rich sunlight, carpets of green mosses, lichens dripping from birches. And midgies in summer...

From Garelochhead station walk down the steep road (there's no other way) passing various characterful stone homes until you're in the heart of the village. There's a little shop to buy supplies, or a three minute walk in the direction of Helensburgh gets you to the excellent Café Craft.

Walks & police & plastic:
You can walk as far as you want along the east shore road towards Helensburgh, or the west shore road down the Rosneath Peninsula. Be especially careful on the Rosneath route, the road is ropey - narrow and pathless in many or perhaps most sections. Views are beautiful whichever side you choose. On the Rosneath side you have the interest of looking across to Faslane, and don't be worried if a police car stops to ask, "How are you?".

I was through primarily to carry out count no.1 of my twice-annual BTO BBS bird count. For those less birdy that's the British Trust for Ornithology's Breeding Bird Survey. Volunteer counters are allocated a 1km square and twice during the spring/summer breeding season count the species they see on their patch, following various rules to ensure continuity of results year after year. My BBS square is in the hills between Garelochhead and Loch Lomond.

Unfortunately the forecast was wind, rain and poor visibility so I had to postpone my count. Instead I made short walks around the shore and cleared one full bin-bag of plastic from the garden. The amount of plastic that blows and flows to the head of the Gare Loch is quite incredible. When you look at the high tide line it can be hard to spot much that's natural -weed or driftwood- among the mounds of brightly coloured pieces. Plastic bottles and, for some reason, little plastic sticks like those of cotton buds, seem especially in evidence.

It doesn't put off the birdlife though. During two hours I counted 35 species:
Black Guillemot
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Coal Tit
Common Gull
Feral Pigeon
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Tit
Greylag Goose (domestic)
House Sparrow
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Hooded Crow
Canada Goose
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Grey Heron
Herring Gull
Long-tailed Tit
Red-breasted Merganser
Song Thrush

And my first frogspawn of the year, in puddlepools by the cyclepath. I've seen it there every year.

Naval goings-on:
This was an especially interesting weekend to be on the shore. An operation of some sort was basing itself around Faslane and over two days we watched a Trident submarine, five huge destroyers, a chunky red-cream helicopter and a whole flotilla of smaller naval and police boats.

More walks:
Although I didn't make use of the following fact on this particular occasion, Garelochhead isn't just about the shore. It's a gateway to smaller hillwalks on the Rosneath peninsula and to longer taller ones in the hills where I do my bird count. The Three Lochs Way winds from Garelochhead north to Arrochar & Tarbert and eventually to Inveruglas, towards the northerly end of Loch Lomond; and south to Helensburgh and eventually to Balloch, at Loch Lomond's base.

ScotRail - adopting old station buildings:
I can't talk about Adopt-a-Station when it comes to Garelochhead because no station building there has yet been adopted. There's a lovely signalbox currently derelict on the platform if anyone's interested...

N.B. Although no building has been adopted, in September 2014 the Helensburgh and Lomond Artisans Association volunteers began gardening at the station. Bulbs should be blooming soon and a barrel train planter is timetabled to chuff its way down from Lower Cabrach in Aberdeenshire shortly.

warships and crow, pencil in sketchbook

"please adopt me"

from platform to Garelochhead

views around the town

views around the town (2)

trying to i.d. a goldeneye


How to get there:

ScotRail runs regular trains on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig. Garelochead is an hour from Glasgow Queen Street. Timetables here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Scotland by Rail (and bus) - Rosslyn Chapel & Roslin Glen

sketch spot above the River North Esk

Scotland by Rail (and bus), thanks to ScotRail.
Rosslyn Chapel & Roslin Glen, Roslin

The village of Roslin lies a couple of miles south of Edinburgh and a couple east of the Pentland Hills. Roslin Glen skirts around its edge, a beautiful tree-filled valley, cut deeply into the land by the River North Esk. World-famous Rosslyn Chapel (The Da Vinci Code, as if you didn't know) nestles above the glen, only a minute from the village.

Lothian Buses no.15 service (Prestonpans to Penicuik) runs half hourly from city centre to village - along Princes Street passing Waverley Station, up Lothian Road, through Tollcross, Morningside, past Craiglockhart Hill, crosses the Edinburgh City Bypass, into the shadow of the Pentlands passing the entrance to Hillend Ski Centre, calling at University of Edinburgh's Easter Bush Campus, eventually reaching Roslin. A really interesting journey. Beyond Roslin, Penicuik is where the bus turns to run its journey in reverse.

I caught the no.15 from Home Street, just beyond Tollcross - a fifteen minute walk from Haymarket station. Half an hour later I was in Roslin village.

First, to the chapel for a meeting and tour in prior to a sketching course I'm soon to run there. The whole place is great - the chapel obviously, intricate and ornate carvings adorning every surface available. The visitor centre too, with information panels, activities, touch-screens and a nice shop. And the cafe (!) with beautiful views across the valley.

Roslin village and Pentlands

A short walk downhill from the chapel is Rosslyn Castle (originally 14th Century, now ruined apart from a 17th century section open as rather special holiday accommodation). My path followed the tight curve of the River North Esk as it wove a meander around the castle. I chose a spot over the river and settled to paint. While I sat I had coal tits, great tits, blue tits foraging the trees around me. Nuthatches too, but heard rather than seen other than once or twice a brief silhouette. Their call - variations on a slightly metallic 'chriping' whistle - www.xenocanto.org. Dippers were back and fore on the water often.

Rosslyn Castle

below Rosslyn Castle

Rosslyn Castle

Rosslyn Castle

River North Esk, watercolour, 29x24cm

spotted a blue tit

thinking of becoming a wildlife photographer

dipper. spot its white eyelids

3 to 4pm I was back at the chapel taking part in a photoshoot for the Glasgow Herald. It's a treat to sit and sketch in a place like that. Here's the result:

pencil in sketchbook
pencil in sketchbook

pencil in sketchbook

Then two more hours of exploring before the 6pm bus home. I walked back into the valley, past castle, upriver for a mile or so. The Friends of Roslin Glen do a great deal to manage and care for these woods. I saw tens of bird boxes; bat boxes; recently laid native hedging.

below the castle, pencil in sketchbook, 30x21cm

The path continues much further but time and lowering light meant my turnaround had to be around the ruins of the Roslin Gunpowder Mills. These mills provided powder and explosives for mining and quarrying for over 150 years, as well as for the Napoleonic, Crimean and First and Second World Wars.

The return to the bus avoids a nasty stretch of road by climbing the 129 steps of Jacob's Ladder, built by Boy Scouts in 1913. You're then on a lovely footpath, lined high by old beeches, looking across the treetops of Roslin Glen below. A lovely place for a picnic, or to sketch, or to read, or to just look. A green woodpecker laughed down in the valley. At the end of the path is a set of small cemeteries, then Rosslyn Chapel, then you're back in the village.

If you've time before your bus The Original Rosslyn Hotel is a place to wait. It's the little one-storey bit on the right that you want to sit in - cosy and relaxing, real ales, coffee and cakes, hot food.

There are lots of footpaths in the area. I'd recommend you start at the Chapel by buying the Roslin Heritage Society's 'Roslin Rambles' leaflet. It's really good, has a nicely presented and useful map and lots of historical snippets. It's only a pound. Or you might be able to be order a copy in advance by contacting the Society here www.roslinheritagesociety.org/pub.html


How to get there:
ScotRail runs regular trains to Edinburgh from all over the place. Timetables here.

Lothian Buses no.15 (15A on Sundays) runs from the city centre. Timetables here. Route maps here.
N.B. From 29th March 2015 the no.15 service will be replaced by no.37.

Lothian Buses currently cost £1.50 per single journey, £3.50 for a DAYticket, info here.
Or you can ask to add PlusBus to your ScotRail train ticket at time of purchase, info here.