This midsummer is just murder

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I can hardly remember the ground being so saturated for midsummer. Luckily, we seem to have escaped the worst of the country’s flooding so far, but another deluge on top of such waterlogged ground could prove disastrous.

A couple of weeks ago, while walking along the south shore of St Mary’s Loch, I spotted an unusual pink flower growing in the rocks by the lochside. On closer examination it turned out to be a lovely double-flowered aquilegia (Granny’s Bonnet).

The species is a great favourite in our garden and I thought this particular variety would be a welcome addition. Being an obvious garden escape, it would not be taking anything from the wild if I took some seeds. Unfortunately, they weren’t ripe, so a return visit was made at the weekend to harvest some.

It was dull and drizzly and the midges were fierce as I set out along the foreshore to locate the plant.

I was amazed at the amount of growth which had occurred in just two weeks, with lots of new flowers such as foxglove and valerian towering above the rampant grasses.

The noisy sandpipers which had harried me the last time had departed, having successfully reared their unseen brood, leaving a pied wagtail to hawk for midges along the water’s edge, making no impression whatsoever on the miniscule millions.

Nearing the spot, scissors at the ready, I approached confidently to nip off a few seed heads. Half an hour later I left empty-handed, having completely failed to locate the plant amongst the burgeoning undergrowth. Oh well, maybe next year!

The journey wasn’t completely wasted, however, as on the way home I encountered a bird I hadn’t seen in the Borders for more than five years. Driving over the Swire road between Yarrow and Ettrick, I saw a large light-coloured bird circling above the roadside ditch about 100 yards ahead.

Pulling into the side and reaching for my binoculars, I was delighted to find myself looking at a stunning short-eared owl (picture, top of page). I watched it quartering the rough heathland for about 15 minutes before it disappeared over the nearby hilltop.

I used to see them quite regularly in the upper valleys when there were plenty of young plantations, providing lots of rough grassland for the birds’ prey – mice and voles, to multiply. Now the trees have grown up and the canopy has closed, excluding the light, killing the grass and destroying the habitat favoured by the small mammals.

This week’s picture sums up perfectly this summer’s atrocious weather.

It was taken along the riverside near my home last week and shows two bumblebees sheltering from the elements under the huge flowerhead of a melancholy thistle plant.