As promised, here is the concluding part of my look back at last year through the columns of Border Country.
Early in the month, I had a memorable weekend at Eyemouth where I was entertained watching piratical gulls stealing tourists’ fish suppers and not so entertained by a two-hour boat trip through a plague of jellyfish on seas rough enough to make Captain Ahab queasy. Later, I had a walk along the Tweed near Walkerburn, where I discovered an interesting collection of unusual plants near the remnants of the old cauld, including Viper’s Bugloss and Pale Toadflax. Nearer home, a walk along the flooded banks of the Ettrick had me flushing a huge dog otter from close to my feet and, of course, my camera was still in its case. A nice display of the big blousy pink flower Musk Mallow was found on the verge of the busy A7 between Selkirk and Ashkirk – a garden escapee which turns up in the wild from time to time.
On a day when I was desperate for inspiration I paid a visit to Haremoss reserve near Ashkirk and ended up with more than I could cope with! I watched a wolf spider battling with a moth, photographed heather flies for the first time and saw a whole family of the secretive water rail – another first. On a memorable trip to Fruid Reservoir on a gloriously sunny day, I saw no less than three ospreys. By the end of the month, the heather was putting on a spectacular display, none more so than on Greenlaw Moor, where it was a sea of purple as far as the eye could see.
As autumn approaches, a walk round Selkirk Hill provided much to confirm its status as a prime wildlife habitat. Treats on display included the plants Devil’s Bit Scabious, Sneezewort, Harebell, Eyebright, Greater Spearwort and, of course, the heather which was just passing its best. Many bird species were seen and a fine specimen of Orange Birch Bolete, fungus topped off an excellent walk. Later, an outing to Alemoor Reservoir on a fine late summer’s day provided mixed emotions. I saw lots of wildlife, but the lochside was marred by litter and fires left by unthinking anglers and picnickers. The homeward journey gave me great views of a merlin near Clearburn Loch.
The warm southerly winds at the start of the month brought not only warm weather but a profusion of butterflies and some rare migrant moths from the continent. One of these is the Vestal which I caught in my moth trap for a new county record and another was the Death’s Head Hawkmoth which turned up in a Hawick garden and proved to be a very rare record for the Borders. During the middle of the month there was still a few Red Admiral butterflies around feeding on fallen fruit. By knocking a small hole in my garden fence to allow access, I was rewarded a couple of nights later by a visit from a hedgehog after a couple of years’ absence.
Cauldshiels Loch provided the venue for a lovely autumnal outing with breathtaking colours early in the month, where lots of birds were on display, from jays to cormorants. My garden moth survey came to an end for the year with more than 500 moths trapped and released and several new records achieved for both my garden and the county. A visit to Lindean Reservoir this month was rewarded by my first ever sighting of a rare Great Grey Shrike. The bird hung around for several weeks, much to the joy of local birdwatchers. Another highlight of the month was the day a huge sea trout landed at my feet while I was photographing the fish jumping at Murray’s Cauld near Selkirk. After lots of deliberation as to what to do with it, I finally released it back into the river after remembering I was being watched by CCTV cameras.
Early in the month I visited the beach at Berwick where many winter waders were on display including sanderling, bar-tailed godwit and purple sandpiper. By the middle of December, the first real snow of the winter had arrived, bringing birds flocking to garden feeders, especially blackbirds (I had more than 20). High river levels had washed away long sections of my favourite stretch of riverside walk. On the run up to Christmas the weather turned milder and the snow disappeared, exposing many daffodil shoots several inches through the ground – a promise of better days to come.