Starling hunt turned out a wild goose chase


After checking on the internet to see if they were still around, I set off to Gretna last Saturday to see if I could track down the millions of wintering starlings and watch their amazing dusk aerobatic display.

The sun was still trying to burn off the early morning mist as I set off and on reaching Hawick, the effect was so unusual that I decided to stop for a photo or two. I discovered that the best vantage point was the Homebase car park and managed a few nice shots of the roofs of Burnfoot poking through the sea of mist and some atmospheric landscapes looking towards Ruberslaw, before moving on.

Everywhere, the countryside was absolutely waterlogged after the recent rains and with no sign of a respite, the outlook looks decidedly soggy.

After a meal and a look round Gretna Gateway, it was off to the favoured lay-by to watch the starling spectacle. An hour later, the sun had sunk and so had my hopes, with not so much as a feather in the sky. Sadly, it had been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that’s wildlife watching for you!

One of the few plants still in flower at the moment is ivy and despite being regarded by many as a troublesome invader, its place in our countryside is absolutely vital as it provides food for hordes of wildlife when nothing else is available and its dense foliage protects many creatures from the elements in winter, when most trees are bare.

The next time you see ivy in bloom, look at the leaves on the flowering stems. They are a simple egg-shape, not at all like the more familiar lobed leaves, which we normally associate with the plant. These flowering shoots lack climbing roots and show that it has reached a suitable light spot in which to bloom and need climb no further.

Contrary to popular belief, ivy is not a parasite on trees, but simply uses them to climb up, so that it can present its leaves to the sun. It has its own root system.

Later on in the winter, it will produce black, sour-tasting berries, much loved by birds, such as wood pigeons, blackbirds and mistle thrushes. In fact the name ivy comes from the old Germanic word ifig, meaning bitter.

The next time you are having a tidy-up in the garden and are contemplating removing the ivy from a wall or tree trunk, stop and think about the creatures you are depriving of food and shelter and if it’s not really causing any trouble, give it a miss.