Outdoors column: Out in the cold but bird watching in comfort

This cuckoo flower, so named as its flowering coincides with the arrival of the cuckoo, was a bit premature.
This cuckoo flower, so named as its flowering coincides with the arrival of the cuckoo, was a bit premature.

The remnants of the heavy overnight rain were just fading as I set out on Sunday morning for my usual riverside walk up the Ettrick Water near Selkirk.

Just as the sun was breaking through, I saw one of the most welcome harbingers of spring – the first swallow.

I know it doesn’t make a summer but it’s a step in the right direction.

It was hawking for gnats with a small group of sand martins which arrived a week or so previously.

Keeping a tally of all the birds seen or heard certainly focuses attention on the seasonal changes which take place.

Oystercatcher numbers have dwindled to around twenty from their peak of almost a hundred, while singing chiffchaffs have gone up from one, a week previously, to eight. This is a bird which is definitely on the increase.

Close to the river, I heard the song of the first willow warbler, on the opposite side – another spring milestone.

In the same location, by the path, I stopped to photograph a strange lemon-coloured slime mould growing low on an alder, when I was surprised to notice some cuckoo flower in full bloom.

So called because its flowering period coincides with the arrival of the cuckoo, this particular plant was a bit premature.

A few days prior to this, I had another enjoyable walk along the banks of the Tweed between Innerleithen and Cardrona.

The path follows the track of the old railway and has been tarred, making it particularly pleasant when other footpaths are wet and muddy. Unfortunately it was cold and wet and the elevated pathway is exposed to the wind whistling down the valley.

I stupidly chose to walk it the wrong way, into the wind and rain.

It is a perfect linear easy walk, with a regular bus service at both ends so you can travel back to your starting point in comfort if you so wish. It’s only a couple of miles long and great for the less able. One thing to remember is to keep checking over your shoulder for cyclists who can suddenly appear behind you with no warning.

Finally, on Sunday I popped into the Born in the Borders tearoom at Lanton near Jedburgh and spent an enjoyable half hour watching on the big screen, the local osprey sitting at its nest.

With latte in hand, bird watching doesn’t get any better than this!