Black-and-white pavement artists

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AS I write, we are entering our second week of glorious weather. Last weekend I was at Oban and I could hardly believe that shorts and T-shirts were the most popular mode of dress on the esplanade in mid-March!

The highlight for me was seeing a real speciality bird of the west coast at amazingly close quarters. A colony of black guillemots (picture, top of page) has taken to nesting in drainage pipes on the esplanade wall, near the cathedral. These beautiful little black-and-white auks with bright red legs and gape were displaying on the pavement, completely unconcerned about passers-by.

At high tide, some were popping out of the holes, dropping into the water below and chasing one another under water. The speed they “flew” beneath the surface was breathtaking to watch from above, as they zigzagged through the clear water.

Back home again, the weather has brought out lots of butterflies from their winter slumbers, but moth numbers have been disappointing in my garden moth trap. So far, only three species – chestnut, clouded drab and Hebrew character have been recorded.

On Sunday, there was a cooler breeze than of late, but it was still sunny as I took a trip to St Mary’s Loch, to see if I could spot any of the recent spring migrant arrivals, particularly osprey and wheatear. I stopped on the hill road between Ettrick and Yarrow, known as the Swire and switched off the engine to have a listen. I expected to hear at least skylark, meadow pipit and perhaps lapwing, as the latter used to nest here. The only sound was a distant calling cock pheasant – very disappointing. No wheatears were seen either!

It was fairly quiet at the lochs as well, other than the sound of the motorbikes. I did see some goldfinches and siskins around Tibbie Shiels Inn and a few black-headed gulls and oystercatchers around the lochs, but that was about it.

One result of the long dry spell was evident on the face of the hill behind Cappercleuch village. Recent grass fires had blackened the ground over a huge acreage, but it would have been mostly dead grass and bracken that caught fire so there should be no lasting damage, and it was too early to cause problems for nesting birds. However, it must have been quite spectacular at its height and a bit scary for those living nearby.