A fond farewell to a warm 2014

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As promised, here is a look at the second half of 2014, as reflected through my weekly wildlife scribblings.

JULY

Having a long-haired dog, the abundance this summer of the “sticky willie”, or cleavers plant, was brought home in spectacular fashion as I was trying to extricate the hundreds of burrs from Treacle’s coat. I had an unexpected visit to my garden by the unusual day-flying Humming Bird Hawkmoth. A scorching hot walk up the banks of the Ettrick produced some photographic firsts for me, including a pair of copulating ringlet butterflies and a common blue with a fly on its wing. On a similarly hot day, Treacle encountered her first red grouse, as well as ravens, wheatear and meadow pipits, on an energy-sapping walk to the Three Brethren cairns near Selkirk.

AUGUST

After a changeable week on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, dodging the midges and thunderstorms, I arrived back in time to capture a moth simply called the Gem in my light trap. It turned out to be a new county record for Selkirkshire. By the middle of the month the swifts had gone and I discovered a strange phenomenon on alder cones by the river near my house. It was a kind of gall similar to witches brooms on birch, called alder tongue, and turned out to be quite rare. By the end of the month I was getting my annual crop of elephant hawkmoth caterpillar sightings from readers.

The sight of these huge and imposing beasties never ceases to have their finders reaching for their preferred Corbie communication method.

SEPTEMBER

Early in the month I had a scorchingly hot walk in the hills near Selkirk. Butterflies seem to have had a good year, particularly small tortoiseshells

OCTOBER

After the driest September on record, October arrived with a splash. The weekend began with almost two days of incessant rain, which brought the rivers into full spate for the first time in months. Early in the year I created a small pond in my back garden and I was delighted to discover that a palmate newt and a toad had taken up residence. Wintering geese were flooding into our region. Wilton Park in Hawick was the setting for a lovely walk to enjoy the spectacular autumn colours and to have the unusual experience of watching a goosander diving for fish, from a vantage point immediately overhead, on a footbridge.

NOVEMBER

The warmest Halloween on record coincided with the last night of the Garden Moth Survey, resulting in more moths in my trap than for many years at this time. A lovely autumnal stroll was had through Speedy’s Wood at Earlston. The chalet village up the Soonhope Burn, behind Peebles Hydro, rekindled memories for me of my days holiday “hutting” in the Yarrow Valley. A wet and miserable walk in thick mist along the Duchess’s Drive at Bowhill was saved from being a disaster by an intriguing look at the micro world of mosses, lichen and fungi.

DECEMBER

The first snow of winter arrived mid-month but didn’t last. A walk round Lindean Reservoir brought home to me the damage which can be inflicted on nest boxes by great spotted woodpeckers. After I had packed away all of my moth trapping equipment for the year and sent in my annual list to the county recorder, I came home one night to find a moth on the window sill at the back door – a new one for my garden list at this time of year. It was a male Mottled Umber which flies in winter (I knew it was a male as the female is wingless).

I hope you have enjoyed my weekly observations in 2014 and look forward to your company again in the coming year. Happy new year!