A natural six months


That’s another year nearly gone so it’s time for me to look back at some of the things which have captured my attention and have been committed to print in my weekly waffling in this column.


The year started with winter yet to rear its head. A lack of frost and snow combined with temperatures into double figures to continue to confuse much of our wildlife. On New Year’s Day I encountered a covey of grey partridges in the Yarrow valley – a species which is becoming harder and harder to find these days. After a plague of coal tits at the garden feeders, things settled back into a more familiar pattern. By the second week the first snow had arrived. As the thaw set in I took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, logging 28 individuals from 12 species during the allotted hour.


With the thaw, my regular garden visits from a fieldfare stopped, but the local great spotted woodpecker population began drumming in earnest. My monthly wildfowl count produced around 40 wigeon at one of my sites. This attractive small visitor from Scandinavia is our only grazing duck and it whistles! By the middle of the month the first oystercatchers had arrived on my patch, heralding the coming spring and my local cock chaffinch had begun his annual “Corbie” wake up call by tapping on the window above my front door at first light.


The year’s first serious garden tidying up session was accompanied by an ever-present robin. The fortnightly moth trapping evenings of the season drew a complete blank due to frosty conditions. In snow and sleet, I set out to seek out either some lambs or daffodils to photograph, but only succeeded in acquiring a soaking. My first moth of the year– a Dotted Border – turned up on its own. Bitingly cold winds combined with sleet and rain continued right through the month with no sign of the arrival of spring.


The month started as its predecessor ended with snow on the hills and a freezing wind. I did find my first lambs, but other spring signs were still to appear. It wasn’t until the middle of the month that things started to improve gradually. A rare velvet scoter turned up on the Tweed near Innerleithen and a lady at the end of my street had a regular visiting waxwing which I managed to photograph. My moth total reached three compared to 83 for the same period last year! Spring appeared briefly on the 19th, but it didn’t last long.


As the month started I had an enjoyable dawn walk through a local estate to carry out an annual breeding bird survey, logging such goodies as whitethroat, blackcap, jay and a new one for this patch - red-legged partridge. I launched an appeal for readers’ cuckoo records from the Borders. During a holiday in Arran, our old and arthritic Border collie “Tibbie” was attacked by a red deer hind and badly shaken. A blackbird moved into one of my garden nest boxes and began laying. My moth trap yielded a good crop of orange and black sexton beetles, but little in the way of moths. I managed to turn up a day late for a guided walk round Murder Moss reserve.


After repeated attacks by carrion crows on my nestbox, containing the blackbirds, I rigged up chicken wire barriers to try and keep the remaining two chicks safe. In long awaited glorious sunshine, a barbecue at an idyllic riverside spot at Boleside near Galashiels, was interrupted by someone practising a bugle close by, cavorting teenagers with a lilo, a rampaging Labrador and a screaming horde of black-headed gulls. By the month’s end, the crows had succeeded in emptying my nest box of its baby blackbirds and I had received fifteen cuckoo records, many from areas where they had been absent for a few years.

Next week, I’ll cover the last six months. In the meantime, a Merry Christmas to all readers and correspondents.