New finds and stunning rewards


Here we are again at my annual look back at the Borders countryside as observed through my weekly ramblings. This week I will review the first half of the year and I will conclude next week.

JANUARY: The month started with just the remnants of the December snows left, but a trip to St Mary’s Loch revealed that it was still mostly frozen, so winter was still very much in business.

By mid-month the snow was back and I was caught in a blizzard on a hillwalk near Selkirk, but I managed to get home safely. A soft westerly wind by the month end shifted the snow enough to allow me to drive to Caerlaverock wetland reserve near Dumfries to enjoy the barnacle geese invasion. On the homeward trip I was lucky to catch the amazing aerobatic displays of several hundred thousand starlings as they prepared to roost near Gretna.

FEBRUARY: An amazing sunrise and later the same day an even more stunning sunset had me reaching for my camera travelling to and from work.

The first signs of spring were evident early in the month with a few birds trying out their songs, woodpeckers drumming and the first snowdrops appearing.

The annual spectacle of spent salmon dead on our riverbanks was very obvious this month.

A moonlit walk with the dog had me surprising a pair of otters in the mill lade close to my front door. My new moth trap attracted my first two species of the year – chestnut and pale brindled beauty, pictured top of page.

The oystercatchers returned bang on time and I had a reed bunting visiting my garden feeding station on a regular basis.

MARCH: The month got off to a good start for me as I discovered a rare relative of the snowdrop called spring snowflake in a St Boswells woodland which turned out to be only the second record for the county. Later, readers sent in reports of colonies they had seen but most were in or near gardens, so were not classed as naturalised. I also discovered a new colony of white butterbur on my home patch, which was also a new location for this rare native of the mountains of Europe and South West Asia.

By the end of the month I had seen many birds which had returned after the recent snowy weather including lapwings and pied wagtails, while others such as mute swans and dabchicks were already displaying and repairing old nests.

APRIL: Sitting quietly by a local loch, I was rewarded by witnessing only for the second time in my life, the courtship ritual and final mating act of a pair of mute swans. My passion for surveys was enhanced by the start of a weekly moth survey in my garden. The first warm weekend of spring had me out on my bike enjoying the songs of the first chiffchaffs and newly arrived willow warblers. At the month’s end I spent some time in the bird hide at Bemersyde Moss, encouraged by the apparent return of the nesting colony of black-headed gulls, which once numbered over 14,000 pairs, after an absence of several years. Sadly, they later moved on.

MAY: After an incredibly dry April, May got off to a flyer with butterflies, bees and birds all enjoying a good start to the breeding season.

On a cool, blustery day, I explored the magical valley of the Douglas Burn deep in the Yarrow hills. One of my more unusual experiences occurred when I was invited to attend a mammal trapping session on a local farm, checking the contents of 40 previously set live traps. Three species of mice and vole were caught, logged and marked before being released – all in the interests of science. By the end of the month the bird breeding season looked quite good except in my garden where both nest boxes were occupied by wasps.

JUNE: “Summer” got under way with rain and gales. The latter were much in evidence during a walk through the woodlands behind Old Melrose, where flying debris and loud cracking noises made the experience quite scary.

Later, I was fascinated to see the changes in wildlife over the years in a glen in Yarrow after the sheep were replaced by mixed forestry.

Gone were the cuckoos and green woodpeckers, but new were tree pipit and nuthatch. I was really pleased to discover that a spotted flycatcher had nested right by my front door, but gutted to discover later that all four eggs had been predated.Part two follows next week.

z Wishing all Border Country readers and correspondents a happy and peaceful New Year.