Wildlife delights after Highland holiday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a glorious week in the Highlands amidst snow-capped mountains and azure blue lochs (I know it’s unbelievable!), it was back to reality at the weekend.

The temperature plummeted from 23 degrees on Friday to six on Saturday, getting this year’s “summer” back on track.

Once the overgrown garden was back to rights, I couldn’t wait to revisit my favourite riverside haunt to see the changes there.

Since my last visit, all the vegetation was about a foot taller and the spring flowers were replaced by a stunning display of summer blooms, predominantly red campion, leopardsbane and stitchwort.

The usual bird cherry trees were covered in cotton wool webs, created by tiny ermine moths to protect their thousands of caterpillars, which go on to completely defoliate the trees.

It always seems to be the same trees and it doesn’t seem to do them any lasting harm.

Sitting on a riverside seat enjoying the tranquillity, I heard an odd cooing noise from the wood behind.

Last year it had been visited by a cuckoo for the first time and I wondered if it was back.

The call I heard was a bit croaky, but definitely not a wood pigeon or collared dove.

I had a quick look round to make sure nobody was about and did my cuckoo impression by blowing through clasped hands.

Amazingly, within seconds, a male cuckoo flew over my head and disappeared into the wood at the other side of the river – result!

Thinking that was the highlight of my walk I headed for home, but more was to come.

At a bend in the river I heard a great commotion from the opposite bank.

Two pairs of common sandpipers were extremely agitated, jumping up and down calling loudly.

At first, I thought that one pair must have had chicks and the other pair had moved into their territory, but the fracas seemed too long and frantic.

I watched for several minutes through my binoculars until eventually I saw the cause. A stoat was weaving in amongst the rocks and vegetation, obviously looking for hidden chicks.

I was struck by the bravery of the adult birds which were acting like decoys, trying to draw the predator away from their offspring.

Eventually they succeeded and I saw the stoat slink away up the bank through the undergrowth, empty-mouthed.

A few minutes later, a couple of tiny fluff balls emerged from a cavity under some rocks.

Yes, it was good to be back on home ground again.