Nature delights whatever the weather


It’s been a bit “tousy” in recent weeks, with yet another gale battering us into submission at the weekend.

There’s one creature which seems to revel in these conditions and it never ceases to amaze me to see them in action.

During the gale before last, which was the really bad one, I opened my bedroom curtains at its ferocious worst to see the sky filled with crows. Despite gusts at around 70mph, they were wheeling and diving with gay abandon, seeming to be having the time of their lives.

I know artists always like to put a few crows in the sky on paintings to illustrate windy conditions, so it is not a new phenomenon.

I wonder if there is a purpose to it or are they just thrill seeking?

Sunday was wildfowl survey day for me and as I trudged round Lindean reservoir, desperately looking for a duck to count, I came upon an obvious result of the recent gales. One side of the old corrugated iron boathouse had been completely blown out.

I know the angling club has been desperately trying for years to get a replacement, so it looks as though it might happen sooner than they thought.

In a way I will miss the old one as it features in many of the landscape photographs I have taken of the loch over the years.

With only four goldeneye ducks on the water, my attention wandered elsewhere to look for wildlife interest and the most obvious evidence were the countless molehills bordering the footpath.

These seldom-seen creatures are remarkably numerous and the spoil heaps are the only clue to their presence. Their activities are equal in earth-moving terms to the construction of the new Borders railway, but scaled down to brute force and no machinery.

Fore limbs are used to dig, shearing soil from the sides of the tunnel with alternate strokes. Hind limbs are used to brace the mole’s body against the tunnel walls. The mole turns round, scoops up accumulated soil with its fore limbs and pushes it along a previously-dug side tunnel leading to the surface. The soil is pushed out above ground to form a molehill.

Moles are active both by day and night, and many of their tunnels are permanent.

These they patrol regularly to scoop up any worms or other invertebrates, which may have fallen in through the roof. Moles sometimes collect and store them alive in special chambers. An incredible 470 worms have been recorded in one chamber.

Although living in a subterranean world of permanent darkness, these fascinating creatures still manage to fall prey to things such as owls, buzzards and stoats during their few visits to the surface.

They usually live for about three years unless they encounter the arsenal of the human mole catcher, which is usually either poison or traps.

The damage they cause to agricultural land, lawns and gardens is well documented, but do they have any redeeming qualities?

Of course they do! For a start, the earth from mole hills is greatly valued by gardeners as a potting material, because it is finely broken down and free of wireworms and insect larvae that might damage the roots of young plants and they also prey on many harmful insect larvae such as cockchafers and carrot fly, while tunnels help drain and aerate heavy soils.