From machair meadows and blonde hedgehogs to cuckoo at home


Having just returned from a lovely week on South Uist, I have to say that it was good to get back amongst the hills and trees of the Borders.

It is amazing how everyday things like that are taken for granted, when you are surrounded by them every day.

The joined-up islands of South Uist, Benbecula, Eriskay and North Uist are virtually devoid of woodland, but the miles of silver sand and wild flower-rich machair meadows have their own special beauty.

I am used to waking up at home to the calls of the likes of blackbirds, crows, pigeons and chaffinches. Up there, it was the sound of rasping corncrakes, drumming snipe and the calls of lapwing and redshank, which came in through the cottage windows at first light.

I also had sedge warbler and twite in the garden, not to mention a visiting hedgehog, which was extremely pale in colour compared with ours.

The best bird was probably the corn bunting, which I had never seen in the Borders, but I even managed to get close enough for a photograph.

My last bird of the week was a white-tailed sea eagle, which I saw flying overhead as I waited in the queue for the ferry back to Oban.

The wild flower meadows were spectacular, although not quite at their best yet, with miles and miles of buttercups, daisies, mountain pansies and birdsfoot trefoil peppered with poppies and various orchids.

Soon after my return, I was informed by a neighbour that a cuckoo had been spotted in woodland by the river, on a stretch much frequented by myself.

I have never seen or heard a cuckoo near Selkirk for many years, so a couple of nights later I went up to check it out.

By now, they are not calling much, especially in the evening, so I didn’t hold out much hope.

About halfway through the wood I heard a hoarse, gurgling call, which I thought had potential.

I did my best cuckoo impersonation by blowing through cupped hands, and sure enough, a few minutes later, I was treated to a flypast by a male cuckoo being hotly pursued by a small unidentified bird.

It was great to have this now rare summer visitor on my local patch and even better to manage a good view of it, however brief.

Let’s hope their numbers will start to recover and once more the Border cleuchs will resound to the haunting call of this iconic bird.

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