Storms that assaulted woodland

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On Sunday, the remainder of the previous day’s light snowfall was frozen to the brick-hard ground as I set out for a walk through Selkirk’s Philiphaugh Estate.

The weak winter sunshine fooled a single male chaffinch (picture, top of page) into thinking it was spring, as he gave it his all with a pleasant burst of song. Two mallards posed on a partly-frozen pond by the roadside, like bookends, which I duly paused to capture on camera.

The open hills around Tibbie Thomson’s grave yielded no birds, so I headed for the shelter of the coniferous woodland. Since my last visit, some felling had taken place, allowing the recent gales to wreak havoc with the remaining standing timber. On one stretch of track, about six fallen spruce trees barred the route, which made progress a bit of a nightmare. Some were high enough to scramble under while others had to be climbed over.

By the end of this assault course my jumper was covered in spruce twigs, which are covered in tiny spikes and stick like glue to anything woollen. I must have looked like a giant hedgehog!

To get my breath back, I popped my folding cushioned pad on a convenient tree stump and poured myself a coffee from my flask. There was no wind, so I could hear all the woodland wildlife gradually coming to life as they grew accustomed to my presence.

A pheasant called close by, I could hear foraging crossbills and siskins in the treetops overhead and coal tits called as they moved from tree to tree.

Tibbie, our collie, lay at my feet and suddenly her ears pricked and she sat up. I heard nothing, but seconds later three roe deer appeared about 50 yards from where we sat and crossed the track, before disappearing back into the thick woodland. I always maintain that sitting quietly is the best way to see wildlife and once again this proved to be the case.

If bird watching in the Borders is your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that the 2011 issue of the Borders Bird Report is available.

Published annually by the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, this invaluable booklet just gets better and better. As well as the usual systematic comprehensive reports of every species recorded in the Borders, there are fascinating articles on such things as the decline of the tufted duck, a black grouse survey and a full report of bird ringing in the region. Illustrated throughout by locally-taken black-and-white photographs, it is a must for anyone even remotely interested in ornithology in our area. To order a copy, send a cheque for £9.50 payable to SOC Borders Branch, to Malcolm Ross, Westfield Cottage, Smailholm, Kelso, TD5 7PN, with your name and address.