January blues

Published: 28th January 2011

January has seen us up and down the country from Glenloy like a yo-yo, anxiously monitoring the weather warnings. When we did manage to spend some time at home it rained for 10 days solid. This at least has had the effect of removing all but the largest piles of shovelled snow. One result of this has been to bring flocks of Siskins onto the garden feeders. We returned from one visit with a bag of surplus niger feed, and the siskins have made a bee-line for these. Apparantly, when it is wet cones close tightly, guarding their seeds and forcing the siskins to look elsewhere. As a rare treat the siskins were accompanied by a solitary Redpoll the other day, although it did not stay around for long. The number of tits is growing in advance of this weekend's Big Garden Birdwatch. There were up to 15 Blue Tits at any one time on the feeders today.
On the best day of the year so far we headed out to the coast and had a walk through the old village of Smirisary down to a small area of beautiful white beach. The tide was right out exposing a pristine stretch of sand, broken up by rocky outcrops. On the rough approach we paused to watch an Otter (our first of the year) fishing in the kelp right next to the shoreline. It was very difficult to pick up in the slight swell, and was only really clear when it clambered out onto adjacent rocks; probably a young female. Eventually, slowly it swam out to further rafts of kelp across the bay, and we lost it (forgetting the binoculars – a very rare event- did not help). Whilst the otter froliced, a large bird flapped across the sea to land on a small island at the far end of the bay. It turned out to be a White-tailed Eagle, our second of the day. It stayed for quite a while providing a distraction from the serious business of otter watching. When we finally made it down to the beach the sand was unsullied, apart from a single set of very well defined otter prints. The tightly cropped grassland above the beach contains the remains of some interesting plants, and this is probably a small patch of machair – well worth visiting later in the year. Scanning the sea produced further goodies – all three species of British diver, with herons, oystercatchers and curlew providing further coastal interst, and Ravens on the cliffs behind. We lingered in the winter sun as long as the tide allowed.
On a recent trip to Auld Reekie we took the opportiunity to pay our regular homage to the Botanic Gardens, this time with binoculars incongruously in tow. We were very impressed by the new Biodiversity / exhibition centre and gateway, particularly the scrummy cream teas in the spacious new restaurant. However, we enjoyed strolling through the gardens rather more, admiring the bare trees and winter foliage and doing a bit of bird spotting. The highlight wasa small flock of Redpoll feeding in the birches, but there were also plenty of Redwings, some bright Bullfinches and flocks of bumbling Long-tailed Tits. Rather more noticable were the extensive results of digging in the manicured lawns – presumably the work of urban Badgers. Quite what the staff make of these shining examples of Edinburgh biodiversity is probably unprintable!
Another sparkly day yesterday, and we eventaully managed to make a rare foray up Glen Loy. There was little bird life about, although a large herd of perhaps a hundred red deer had spread itself over the southern slopes of Beinn Bhan. Angela was on the look out for ravens, with a view to painting some. As we turned back from the linear path we were eventually rewarded by the sight of two pairs, stubbornly keeping to the withered trees of an ancient birch wood. The peace was disturbed, however, by the arrival of an adult White-tailed Eagle that came from nowhere to land on a slight hillock, two -thirds up the mountain side. The ravens circled it circumspectly and landed nearby calling in protest. This made no difference whatsoever to the eagle, and we left it sitting in the red glow of a setting sun.