It’s that time of year already when I cast a glance over the 12 months that have almost gone. Winter failed to live up to its name, but the summer was much more acceptable for a change, making wildlife watching far more pleasant.
To start with, here is a look at the first half of the year.
The year began with a new addition to the “Corbie” household, in the form of a tiny cockapoo pup called Treacle. Little did I know then what mayhem she would wreak for almost the whole year ahead! In the shed I discovered a trio of hibernating small tortoiseshell butterflies in my barrow and I managed to spot a rare visiting glaucous gull on the river in Selkirk. Later, a reader sent in an amazing picture of a heron stalking an egret while an otter popped out of an upturned boat on the banks of the Tweed. Near the month’s end I put up a nestbox with a CCTV camera inside, but the birds avoided it all spring, and I took part in the RSPB’s annual garden birdwatch, logging 39 birds made up of 12 species.
Treacle got her first outing in the countryside after her injections. Her boundless energy and lack of fear produced a few heart-stopping moments as she dashed along the banks of the Tweed at Innerleithen, which was in full spate. While doing a spot of mulching in the garden I disturbed a sleeping toad in the leaf-mould basket, which had amazingly survived my chopping activity with the spade. By the second week, 26 oystercatchers had arrived back on my local stretch of the Ettrick. At the end of the month I found a strange clump of clear jelly with macaroni-like bits through it on a hillside overlooking Loch of the Lowes, which I asked readers to help me identify.
The jelly mass turned out to be the remnants of a pregnant frog which had been eaten by a predator and regurgitated. What I saw were the oviducts which turn to jelly when exposed to water (rain or wet grass). I caught my first moth of the season in my light trap – a Dotted Border. Treacle met her first hedgehog in the back garden and had her first trip to the beach at Berwick, where I managed a spot of bird watching while she tried her hand at open-cast mining in the sand. By the middle of the month, the chiffchaffs were singing, bumblebees were about, and the first frog spawn had appeared in my neighbour’s garden pond. I had great views of a male hen harrier on Langholm Moor while out for a drive. The month ended with the appearance of the first native spring flowers such as coltsfoot and golden saxifrage.
I received word back about a ringed dead siskin which a Selkirk reader had found back in February in his garden. From the ring it was learned that the bird was two years old and was ringed in Peebles. A bit of rock scrambling earned some pictures of a spectacular clump of cowslips in a gorge near Selkirk. (The things I do for this column!) On a magical outing in Yarrow on a perfect spring day, I waxed lyrical about hearing redstarts, curlew and willow warblers and seeing mating toads, peacock butterflies and lots more. Near the end of the month I led an outing to Berwick where almost 50 species of bird were seen, including such gems as long-tailed duck and peregrine.
On a lovely day in the Tweed valley near Thornylee, I encountered two singing tree pipits – quite a rarity in the Borders. I had a nice week’s break in Fife, spoiled only by the acres of oilseed rape which had me sneezing non-stop. A Clovenfords reader sent me pictures of a colony of masonry bees which had set up house in the village shop. Later in the month I marvelled at the spectacular display of wild flowers on Selkirk Hill and managed to get a decent picture of a singing chiffchaff, which I have tried to get for years.
A dawn foray into the woods of Philiphaugh Estate near Selkirk, to carry out a breeding bird survey, was rewarded by some breathtaking scenery and a first-time record for the area of a singing redstart. Later, on a spectacularly sunny day, a lovely walk round Lindean Reservoir was enhanced by encounters with orange-tip butterflies, orchids, a family of mute swans and a chance meeting with another local newspaper columnist, The Pilgrim, whose pup Tam is slightly older than Treacle and provided a welcome distraction. A holiday on South Uist had me yearning for the hills and trees of the Borders, but marvelling at the Machair floral display and birds such as the corn bunting, twite and corncrake.
We’ll look at the second half of 2014 next week. May I wish all readers and contributors a very happy Christmas.