Oystercatchers’ spring meeting

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After an unseasonably mild but dry week, last weekend was more typical for mid-February with clear blue skies and a bitingly cold wind – perfect for a brisk walk.

Saturday saw me up my usual stretch of the Ettrick where the riverside snowdrops were at their absolute peak, with their petals fully open to welcome the bright sunshine. The only other flower I saw was the white butterbur, which was just coming into bloom. It is not native but nonetheless a pretty flower when there’s nothing else about.

On the river were the usual goosanders and mallards, and at long last the first real harbingers of spring had arrived – the oystercatchers. Seven had gathered on a shingle bank just below Murray’s Cauld and they will soon be joined by several more before they disperse to breed. They meet every year at the same favourite spots on almost exactly the same date.

Soon their piping calls will be constantly echoing up and down our rivers until the end of summer. It’s funny how you don’t really notice something like that until they’ve gone.

On Sunday, on another lovely sunny day, Peebles was the chosen venue for my stroll. As I set off through Hay Lodge Park, accompanied by a lone singing chaffinch (picture, top of page), I noticed that the daffodils were beginning to bud and it won’t be long before their cheery golden trumpets burst forth to welcome the approaching spring.

The walk by the Tweed below the imposing Neidpath Castle must be one of the most picturesque in the Borders, especially on such a glorious day. The light was crystal clear, bringing several photographers out to capture the scene, and I must say I took my share of images too – it was irresistible.

There was little life on the river, but above the castle a pair of buzzards had found a thermal and were circling higher and higher, calling loudly as they rose. On the top of a riverside alder, a kestrel sat, scanning the rough ground below for prey, the sun highlighting its bright yellow legs.

I followed the river as far as the old railway bridge, which allowed me to cross to the south bank and return to the park. The route was really busy with walkers of all ages (some quite unsuitably dressed!), and it was good to see people out in the countryside enjoying a Borders beauty spot.