Hungry falcon was in a flap over food

On a long weekend trip to Aberdeenshire we were lucky with the weather once again for a visit to the St Cyrus area on our last day.

Thursday, 23rd August 2018, 5:23 pm
Cinnabar Moth caterpillars

We set off for our short walk from the pretty village, passing Scotston of Kirkside farm and downhill to the visitor centre above the beach at the national nature reserve.

After a pleasant break in the sunshine and a look around the centre where house martins were flitting about, we set off on the soft grassy path beneath the cliffs at the Heughs of St Cyrus. Lots of other folks were enjoying this lovely morning and taking time to stop for a chat with us.

We walked along, listening to the mewing of buzzards high above the cliffs, with many lovely wild flowers by the path – white and red campion, mouse-ear hawkweed, ragwort, pink yarrow, yellow loosestrife and the beautiful blue clustered bellflower. In among the ragwort, with meadow pipits moving around the thick undergrowth, we spotted many brightly-coloured black-and-yellow-striped cinnabar caterpillars. These caterpillars feed on the leaves of this poisonous plant and retain the poison in their bodies, even when they have turned into the beautiful black-and-red cinnabar moth, quite often mistaken for a colourful butterfly.

Further along this easy path, nestled at the base of the steep cliffs, is the site of the Old Ecclesgreig Church with its well-kept ancient burial ground and a long history of worship dating back to the ninth century. In a faraway corner of the churchyard enclosure there is a very substantial little building, used during the early 1800s as a watch hut by recently-bereaved families to guard against body snatchers.

After taking time to have a good look around we were startled by a loud shrieking above us, and what a delight – a baby peregrine falcon calling loudly for food with its parent flying around the crags. We could see this young falcon on the nest quite clearly, even without the aid of binoculars – what a racket it was creating.

This short walk was taking longer than anticipated because of the enjoyable wildlife sideshows.

So, onwards along the track behind the dunes, passing the abandoned salmon bothies near the shoreline with the sound of oystercatcher and curlew, to reach the exceedingly-steep zig-zag path up the hillside.

Lining this path were another lovely mix of flowers – wild pansy, lady’s bedstraw, forget-me-not, sow thistle, great mullein, vipers bugloss, tufted vetch, wild thyme, common restharrow and all colours of foxglove.

Stopping to take in the view back towards the sea and have a well-earned rest before heading for a cuppa, we agreed this was a magical place with a dramatic backdrop of towering cliffs and crumbling crags.