Bald blackbirds and digger wasps

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Welcome to the second part of my look back at the Borders countryside as seen through my weekly musings in this column.


Rain at the start of the month put an end to a prolonged dry spell. The great tits in one of my nest boxes hatched successfully and I was intrigued watching blackbirds “sunbathing” in my garden.

I received a photo of a rare albino mole which led to several reports of a similar nature from readers. A reader from Lilliesleaf sent in a weird picture of a bald blackbird which resembled a miniature vulture! Towards the end of the month I rescued a baby stoat from the Bowden to Melrose road.


Reports of bald “blackies” flooded in from all over the Borders. I had an interesting walk over an award-winning local piece of moorland, which is only grazed in the winter, to allow the native flora to flourish during the summer.

A pair of little egrets was seen by a reader on the Tweed near Sprouston and I saw my first kingfisher and small copper butterfly of the year on the same day. Other butterflies were few and far between. A dead mink on a road near Selkirk indicated that this unwanted species is still present in the area.


A reader sent in an unusual picture of a leaf-cutter bee that had made a nest in the end of a plastic garden hose. Occasional reports of hummingbird hawkmoths were received. On a wonderful walk near Newstead, I encountered a new plant to me, broad-leaved ragwort, and spent a fascinating half-hour watching digger wasps catching flies and carrying them into their tiny tunnels on a sand bank.

A reader sent in a picture of a red underwing moth (top of page) which turned out to be only the second record ever for the Borders.

Wasps were an absolute menace this month and as summer drew to a close, the berry crop seemed to be bigger than ever.


I began collecting Nature’s harvest at the start of the month, but found the elderberries of poor quality and the brambles squishy and hard to locate.

I found the Leader Water Path which runs from Leaderfoot to Earlston, opened earlier in the year by the Earlston Paths Group, and was most impressed.

A good run of salmon and sea trout was on display at Murray’s Cauld near Selkirk. Huge house spiders were much in evidence towards the end of the month in the Corbie household, as they cruised the floor at night looking for mates.


I spent an amazing hour on the banks of the Tweed near Abbotsford, watching an otter diving for fish.

The first reports of visiting waxwings were beginning to come in. A visit to Bowhill estate was rewarded by some breathtaking autumn colours, especially around the lochs. Around the middle of the month, I saw my first waxwings of the year in Selkirk when about 100 birds descended on a local garden to feast on yellow rowan berries. Similar sightings flooded in from all over the Borders.

A visit to Berwick produced great views of waders on the shore, particularly sanderling.

An exhausted waxwing was handed in by a reader to the Arthurshiel Rescue Centre, where it quickly recovered and was released after a few days of TLC. I almost got snowed in at Pitlochry as the month drew to a close.


The month started as it was to continue, with deep snow and Arctic night-time temperatures plunging as low as -18C.

With two feet of level snow, getting around was difficult, so garden wildlife tended to attract most of my attention. Unusual visitors such as yellowhammer and brambling kept me watching the busy feeders.

In the countryside other birds were being seen in unusual locations, such as woodcock, red grouse and even skylarks. A brief thaw in the middle of the month got rid of most of the snow without too much fuss, but within days it was back again, ensuring a white Christmas for most of the country.

Things will be back to normal next week and in the meantime I would like to wish all Border Country readers and correspondents a very happy 2011.