One of the common traits of human behaviour I seem to encounter regularly is that of not visiting tourist attractions if they happen to be on our own doorstep. From time to time I visit friends around the UK and ask them questions about local cathedrals, museums, galleries or monuments near their home. Very often the response is along the lines of “Oh, well……we’ve never actually been there ourselves, but we’d be delighted to go with you!”.
The area where I live – Aberdeenshire in Scotland – contains quite a diverse landscape. There is a huge variety of flora and fauna, geology and agricultural activity. There are also quite a few castles.
Having been introduced to Scottish castles as a small boy on summer holidays up from England they have never lost their magic for me. Being made to study Shakespeare’s Macbeth at school didn’t hurt either. The darkness of that story brought back so many memories of clambering about on desolate ramparts under stormy summer skies, the musty smell of the damp walls and earth floors in the gloomiest recesses that small boys always seek out.
So this year I’m going to try to make a real effort to see some of these ancient monuments. This isn’t a travel blog, but that’s fine. The ancient castles and buildings have been part of the landscape for hundreds of years and in many cases have had a major impact upon the rural economy and surrounding countryside. That, and those moody battlements and damp dungeons, is what interests me.
Well, actually, there have been a few moths going about for several weeks now to be truthful. However every time I see one fluttering about at dusk the weather seems to change for the worse and they vanish. Last night for example it snowed yet again, and snow showers have been enveloping my house on a razor Arctic wind on and off all day.
Yesterday, in a brief burst of warm sunshine, I found an Angle Shades moth in the kitchen that had obviously decided to nip indoors for a while.
I’ll possibly invoke fierce debate for saying this but I personally prefer moths to butterflies. It’s not that I think butterflies aren’t wonderful insects, far from it. But for me the moths have a greater variety of colours, shapes and forms that I just find more interesting and appealing.
Just look at the camouflage on the moth above. Isn’t that amazing? In amongst some leaf litter you’d hardly see it.
So roll on the Summer evenings and more fabulous insects to observe.
I saw my first House Martin this morning, swooping upwards in front of my window to check out the nest it left behind last Autumn. That bubbling chatter, the acrobatic flight on sickle-shaped wings, and that lovely white throat must make it one of the most charming birds to grace our skies.
Normally at the end of each Autumn, once the Martins are all safely away to Africa, I knock down the empty nests from the eaves of the house. It sounds harsh to make them rebuild each year but I once heard some research quoted on a radio programme that said this helped to prevent a build-up of parasites. The birds bring parasites with them of course but if they build a new nest each time then at least the birds are not inheriting anything from last year as well.
Last year I did not destroy any nests however due to a growing colony of House Sparrows that have gradually colonised previous Martin nests. This has taught me the value of putting up bird boxes under the eaves specifically for the sparrows. Many people in the UK might be surprised to hear that the House Sparrow is actually on the RSPB red list of endangered birds. Often the target of teenage boys with airguns and always a target for the domestic cat, this friendly and companionable little bird now needs all the help it can get. To quote the RSPB :
Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.
So those cheeky, noisy little sparrows we so often take for granted are in fact in real decline. They may not have the grace and panache of a swooping House Martin or Swallow, but they also don’t leave at the end of summer. Mine have kept me company all winter, hopping about on the ledge outside my window. And I am more than happy for them to be there.
Now and again those who regularly enjoy observing Nature find themselves witness to some animal or other in a state of peril. If the danger is man-made, such as an animal entangled in plastic, then the justification to provide assistance is to me at least pretty clear. If on the other hand I witness an animal in peril from a predator then, as brutal as it is, I do not interfere. (An exception is a wild animal at risk from a domestic cat which I consider not to be part of the ecosystem.)
Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it?
I thought so to, until yesterday. Walking along the forest road I encountered an unharmed but motionless smooth/common newt apparently in the process of crossing to reach a drainage channel. (The newt is circled in red in the image.)
So what? This is normal behaviour in the Spring – waking up from hibernation and wandering about to feed and find a mate. But then I ran smack into the glass door of a philosophical dilemma; do I just walk on and leave it to it’s fate at the wheels of the next logging lorry, or pick it up and carry it across the road?
It could be picked off by a predator in the wet grass anyway, so why worry?
I walked on. Then after about 40m I turned around, went back and picked up the animal between two clumps of wet sphagnum moss and carried it across the road. (The wet moss was used to cushion and protect it from my hands. Amphibians are cold-blooded so the heat from human skin can be a shock.)
I had decided that the logging road was man-made and shouldn’t have been there anyway. Although the common newt is, well, common, I didn’t think I’d be doing much harm giving it a little helping hand. And it meant I could continue my walk in peace from my conscience. 🙂
I heard my first cuckoo of the year this morning, sitting in some distant pine trees and flooding the sunlit hillside with the sound of Spring. Alongside the sound of a woodpigeon cooing, a distant lawnmower and the smell of cut grass I’m not sure what could be more evocative.
Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer I suppose one cuckoo doesn’t make a Spring, especially given the recent Siberian weather. Still, it was great to hear and it certainly gives hope. A pity their stay here in the UK is so brief – typically gone by late July/August.
So enjoy them while you can.