Riverbank ramble is full of surprises

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Of all the wildlife habitats within walking distance of home, the riverside always comes up tops in my book. Whatever time of year I visit, there’s always something new to look at and it is never the same twice.

On a recent early morning stroll, my first photo opportunity arose on the mill lade before I even reached the river, when I discovered that the pair of swans which normally nest on a nearby estate pond, had walked their youngsters to the lade, where food was more plentiful. The adults were extremely protective, especially against the dog, but I managed to get passed the hissing pair and their five fluff balls without incident.

The river seems to smell different in the early morning and there was great activity from the water-loving birds. Sand martins skimmed the surface catching flies and it was good to see them back on my stretch of river, as recent flood erosion has exposed a fresh sandy bank, which they have been quick to exploit for nesting. They used to nest here many years ago, before rubble flood banks were built, forcing them to move on. Concerned readers have been in touch about the potential loss of sand martin habitat on the Tweed where similar flood prevention measures are planned. Let’s hope those concerned are aware of the consequences of their actions.

One of the river’s noisiest summer residents is the common sandpiper and I was fortunate to get quite close to a particularly agitated one sitting on a stone in the river, which posed long enough for me to get a picture.

A riverside willow was just as noisy as I passed close by, but the perpetrators were much smaller than the sandpiper. I had to stop and try to identify the birds concerned. All were brown, but they were all calling differently. Eventually, I sorted them out into three different species of warbler. The whitethroat was easy from its distinct pale throat and tuneless “whet whet whet” alarm call. Similarly, the sedge warbler with its prominent eye stripe and demented song was easily distinguished from the familiar willow warbler, which was also present.

Further downstream I accounted for the three other members of the warbler clan usually spotted on my patch – the chiffchaff, blackcap and garden warbler, so it had been a productive saunter.

One bird which I have been particularly pleased to see more of this year is the spotted flycatcher. In recent years it has been very scarce and I could hardly believe my luck when I discovered that one was nesting in the pyracantha just beside my front door and had laid four eggs. Imagine my disappointment, a couple of days later, when I found that the nest had been predated and all the eggs broken and the contents eaten.

Sometimes watching wildlife can be a bit of a roller coaster.