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May 2009

1st - Quite a number of Common Blues are seen in the garden at the moment, with a total of three at least. Also the Whites are very apparent at the moment, though other species are not particularly plentiful yet. The temperature rose to 20 C in the afternoon, the first day of 2009 to reach this milestone.

2nd - A juvenile Wood Pigeon was seen in the garden today.

3rd - The buttercups on the Westwood are now starting to come out. However in the garden the Crab Apple is now finished flowering, after a fortnight of what was a fantastic spectacle. In compensation the Apple is now in blossom though, and is flowering perhaps better than it ever has.

Huggatedykes & Millingtondale - A jolly fine mornings walk in the heart of the high Wolds, with the beauties and joys of spring moving along apace in this productive and well managed landscape. It was quite breezy this morning, but a warm sun meant that the birds, and warblers in particular, were in good song with Willow warblers, Blackcaps, Yellowhammers, Linnets, Goldfinches, & Meadow Pipits heard along our walk. There were also good numbers of handsome Swallows hunting around the freshly out cattle, and as the sun caught the back of the Swallows you could see a fantastic deep purple tint to their upper feathers. Another welcome ornithological sight and sound was the presence of a few Curlews, a sound which is no doubt becoming increasingly common again in this area of the High Wolds. Of other interest today included some newly flowering Cowslips in the sheltered valleys, and the Gorse, encouraged no doubt by the warm sun, was wafting its scent strongly and filling the air with a beautiful perfume. Another welcome observation is that the butterflies are now starting to appear in increasingly larger numbers and diversity, with sightings today including Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Large and Small Whites, and the first Skipper I’ve seen this spring. A lovely and interesting walk.

4th - The garden Hawthorn is just starting to blossom.

6th - Saw my first Swift of the year this afternoon. Also the Cow Parsley is becoming increasingly abundant around the town and the local countryside.

7th - Local Laburnum’s are just starting to flower. In the afternoon I saw a Swift over the garden.

North Cliffe Wood - Went to see the Bluebells at North Cliffe wood this morning, and we were not disappointed. Last year we didn’t see them at their very best, but there’s no doubt we got it spot on this year with a glorious carpet of blue in many glades around this lovely little wood situated just to the west of the Wolds. The weather was also wonderful today, with sunshine, and a surprisingly warm wind, and it was just a delight to be out and about, with the fantastic blooms to please the eye, and the never ending chorus of warblers to entertain the ear, this particularly true of the Willow warblers, and to a lesser extent the Blackcaps.

Growing amongst the Bluebells was Greater Stitchwort, or at least I think that’s what it was, which with its delicate white flowers contrasted perfectly with the Bluebells. We also saw some Primroses & Wood Sorel still in bloom, and many of the trees are now in flower, with Sycamores & Oaks particularly noted. Indeed the Oaks are now in fresh green leaf, which leaves only the Ash remaining bare in the local countryside. There is no doubt that summer is nearly upon us now, a fact which is further demonstrated by that traditional harbinger of summer, the Mayflower, which out on the heath is now coming into bloom. Also out on the heath the Gorse is still in flower, though many flowers have now gone over, and there were a few butterflies around too, including Whites, Orange Tips, Peacocks, & Speckled Woods. Of further note today was the sighting of a flock of Swifts over North Cave Wetlands as we drove home, and we also saw some House Martins gathering mud from beside the road. A very pleasant morning indeed.

8th - The first Ash trees are just starting to leaf around the area, and the neighbours Clematis is now looking wonderful, with a long hedge of pink flowers. In the afternoon I heard some Swifts screeching over the area, the sound of summer time. Also in the afternoon some heavy showers bubbled up, some containing hail.

10th, Travelling up & arrival at Lone Pine Lodge - Set off from home at 5am and made good progress on the early morning Sunday roads. The initial part of the journey was uneventful, but coming over the Pennines was one of the highlights of the journey, as we left behind the lushness of the vales and low dales, and entered the barren world of the uplands. Indeed many of the trees up here were just starting to come out, and around some of the farmhouses there are still some daffodils in bloom. A few moorland specialist birds were spotted as well as we continued our journey, including Curlews, Redshanks, & Lapwings. Once over the Pennines we started to northwards, passing through the pastures of Cumbria, and then up through the Southern Uplands of Dumfriesshire, and South Lanarkshire. The weather, which up to then had been largely cloudy, became increasingly bright north of the border, and indeed it is perhaps the first time I have seen the Southern Uplands without a mantle of grey cloud, or monotonous, steady drizzle. They are in fact quite handsome hills, and though many have a view to the contrary, I for one do not mind the patches of dark green plantations which dot the rounded hillsides, and I think they add contrast to what would otherwise be a barren and desolate moorland landscape.

Eventually we traversed through these hills and descended into the Scottish lowlands, passing through the city of Glasgow with no event. Once through this grey city one feels that they are on the final straight with just the winding roads of Loch Lomond and the passes of Ranoch Moor and Glen Coe to negotiate, which with every passing mile draw you deeper and deeper into the heart of the Highlands. The pass of Glen Coe was not as striking as it was the first time I saw it last year, partly due to less dramatic weather conditions, as well as a sense of anticipation on my part on this occasion. Nevertheless it was a fine sight and once through Glencoe you know you are just a short hop from our final destination. We arrived in Fort William around noon, but because we couldn’t arrive at our holiday lodge until 3 pm we decided to spend a couple of hours at the Lochaber farm shop and then at the Nevis Gondola station, where we watched a multitude of competitors and amateurs taken advantage of the first day of this seasons downhill cycle route.

After a few hours there we finally made our way to Lone Pine Lodge, our habitation for the next week. The lodge itself is spacious and nicely furnished, but it is the location of this property which makes it so outstanding, and beyond our best expectations. The views over the Great Glen, Leanachan Forest, and the snow covered peaks beyond cannot be beaten, and I think no property in Lochaber must have a better view of Ben Nevis. The mountains are looking wonderful, with a mantle of snow, and indeed I would say that the snow line is lower than it was last year, with even enough still on Aonach Mor to allow some very late season ski-ing. The lodge is also very private with no near neighbours and is surrounded by woods, grazing fields, and trout ponds.

In the woods Willow warblers & Cuckoos can be heard, with the occasional Buzzard passing over too, and in the grazing fields large amounts of gorse dot the landscape providing a spectacle of bright yellow flowers, not to mention a pleasant perfume which hangs in the warm evening air. These in turn attract Orange Tip butterflies which are often seen fluttering around the property. From atop the hill behind the lodge the views are even more outstanding than those from the balcony, with panoramic views over a large area of Lochaber, and even as far as Mull to the south west. This is a truly special place and the week ahead is most promising indeed.

11th, Fort William - After getting up at 7am I found that we had no electricity, and we would remain without until at least mid morning. We were not alone in being without power which was a relief after I had feared that we had somehow overloaded the Lodges fuses or something. After enjoying a cold breakfast we made our way down to Fort William to have a quick look around the centre, which was much as it was last year, though a few shops have since closed down. The souvenir shops seem to still be doing sterling trade though, as do the outdoor lifestyle ones. After finishing essential shopping we returned to the lodge and decided we would enjoy a lazy remainder of the day on the lodges balcony, as it was such a gorgeous warm and sunny day. We really have had some jolly good fortune with the weather yet again, for after all this is supposed to be one of the wettest areas of the British Isles.

However I wasn’t completely inactive all day and I did enjoy the odd short walk around the lodge, which really is surrounded by some of the most pleasant and beautifully rugged countryside you could wish to find. Indeed while walking around I spotted a Merlin hunting in the area, a new species for my life list. It is a surprisingly small raptor, perhaps no larger than a Blackbird, and has a similar appearance to a Sparrowhawk in terms of colouring and markings. This species is a moorland specialist and is usually quite elusive, making the sighting a particularly welcome one. A pleasantly peaceful day, though tomorrow promises far greater toil as we intend a day of cycling in the Leanachan Forest. I thoroughly look forward to it.

12th, Leanachan Forest - Went for a cycle through the Leanachan Forest this morning, setting of at 10am and completing over twenty miles. The route was much the same as last year, though we had to take a different return route as they were logging along the main forestry road. The weather was absolutely perfect today, with not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature around 60 degrees. Our journey was accompanied by a near constant chorus of Willow warblers, as Chaffinches, Robin’s, and the odd Cuckoo from time to time.

Indeed we actually saw a couple of Cuckoo’s on some telegraph wires at one point, the first time I have actually seen a Cuckoo up close. We also had a quite close encounter with a Buzzard, which was particularly striking with a contrasting plumage of golden brown hues. A few butterflies were additionally encountered today, though nothing of any particular note, and we also saw a single Roe deer in the wood. Wildflower observations in the wood included Wood Sorel and even some Wood Anemone’s growing, while out in the clearings the gorse & broom gave splashes of yellow in the woodland clearings. On our return we stopped at the Lochaber farm shop, where we enjoyed a drink and a bite to eat, I having some wonderful Orkney Ice Cream. A fine way to end a most enjoyable cycle in this gorgeous forest.

13th, Ardgour, Morvern & the Isle of Mull - Went down to the Isle of Mull today, setting off at 7am and catching the Corran ferry over to Ardgour and Morvern. I had hoped to visit this wild and remote peninsula at some point, and though we only passed through the relatively populated and visited south east of the area, it nevertheless was very impressive, with wild and rugged hills. On a gloomy and drizzly day I would imagine it would be incredibly bleak and foreboding, and I can only imagine the wildness of the far western reaches of the region. However the main purpose for our trip was to drive to the Isle of Mull, which meant we had to reach the small harbour at Lochaline. From here we caught the ferry over to Fishnish, located on the north east coast of the isle of Mull. The trip was no more than twenty minutes and soon we disembarked and headed for our first port of call at Tobermory, the famously colourful harbour. This was a pleasant little place, with a few interesting shops, as well as a raft of touristy trinket stores.

From here we headed northwards and into the interior of the island, partly in the hope of seeing a Sea Eagle. We unfortunately were not successful in this end, but nevertheless it was jolly nice to see the glens and mountains of this handsome isle. After spending some time exploring the island, and enjoying the fine weather at a lovely spot on the north western coast, we headed for home, though we had to wait an hour in Fishnish for the ferry. However the weather was so pleasant it was just nice to sit and wait at the harbour, and there were also some bird feeders at the Harbour CafĂ© which attracted a number of finches, including some fine plumaged Siskin’s. It’s strange to see these winter visitors to the Wolds in summer time. Eventually we arrived back at the Lodge at 5pm ending a very enjoyable day.

14th, Nevis Ski Lift - Went on the Gondolas today, though we had to wait a bit because high winds had caused the closure of the lifts temporarily. The Snow Goose visitor centre at the top hasn’t changed since last year, and is still a pleasant place to enjoy a snack and a warm drink with a fantastic panorama over the Lochaber region. From here we could also a spy our holiday cottage on the opposite side of the valley, as well as seeing distant sites such as the Isle of Eigg, and the Cullins of Skye. The wind was quite gusty at the top, but nevertheless we braved it and went to the viewing point which gave further fantastic views over the region. We could also see the Cairngorms from here with their snow covered plateaus.

After spending a couple of hours up here on the slopes of Aonach Mor we eventually descended, though the wind had picked up again and the gondola on a number of occasions was swaying in the crosswinds. Indeed by the time we reached the bottom the lifts had again been closed for any upward travel, and looking back we timed our visit perfectly. From here we returned back to the lodge, though we did briefly stop at the Farm Shop for essential supplies, and I again enjoyed some Orkney Ice Cream. Fantastic stuff.

15th, Moidart, Ardamurchan, and Sunart - Went with Dad, whom arrived last evening, to explore the most western reaches of the British mainland. We first made our way up to the monument to ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie at Glenfinnan, but due to the unreasonably high visitor charge we didn’t stop to explore. From here we went up to Lochallort, and then turned southwards into the region known as Moidart. The coast around here was gorgeous, with spectacular views across to the isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck, and distantly Skye. Rum is a particularly impressive isle and looks wild, rugged, and mountainous.

Continuing our journey south we arrived at the small castle of Tioran, pronounced ‘Cheeran’, historic home of the Clanranald up until the mid 1700’s. This castle was located in a wonderfully scenic spot on a small tidal island, with the island itself covered in bluebells, as well as patches of Primroses amongst the rocks. After concluding our visit here we headed into the wilds of the Ardmurchan peninsula, an area of which I had a taste of when we drove through Morvern the other day. This was even more spectacular than the other day, with the coastline particularly stunning. Eventually we reached the western most point on the British mainland at the lighthouse located on the Point of Ardamurchan.

This ‘Egyptian style’ lighthouse, the only one of its type in the world, is located on a very windswept spot but afforded wonderful vistas across the Hebrides and the Atlantic ocean. To the north lay the isles mentioned earlier, whereas to the south lay Mull, Coll, Tiree, and the Treshnish Isles. To the far west you could just about make out the shape of the isle of Barra. At the visitor centre we enjoyed a nice cup of hot chocolate and a flapjack in an old converted stone farm house, which was nicely appointed beside a small SW facing bay. After here we headed home passing through Sunnart, Glen Tarbert, Ardgour, and eventually over to Corran. Along our return journey we saw a male Hen Harrier at one point, the first I’ve seen since Orkney. A fine ending to a very enjoyable day.

16th, Lone Pine Lodge - We had a lazy day on our last day up here in the Scottish Highlands, though Dad and I did go down to Fort William for some shopping supplies for the return journey tomorrow. The weather has certainly turned now, with the mountains shrouded in a cover of grey cloud for most of the day, and some bits and pieces of drizzle in the air. Feeling quite chilly as well with a blustery breeze. In the evening we went for some fish and chips at the Little Chef up the road, which was very nice indeed. A pleasant way to end our holiday which has been very enjoyable with plenty of interest and memorable experiences.

18th - Arrived back from Lochaber yesterday. The countryside has moved on a little since I left, though not dramatically as I believe the weather has been fairly cool and showery while I have been gone. However the Westwood is now in flower with the buttercups, and the Hawthorn blossom is now fully out, both in the local hedgerows and in the garden. However the Horse Chestnut blossom is now just going over. Out in the fields some of the grass has been cut for Silage, the Barley is now developing whiskers, and though the Oilseed Rape is still golden in the fields, it is undoubtedly now beyond its best. Thundery showers during the afternoon.

19th - Lots of Swifts now in the skies above the house, with the sound of their screeching frequently heard throughout the day. A fledging Blackbird was seen around the garden, and the Starlings & Magpies are still frequently seen feeding on the lawn, looking for worms and leatherjackets probably. Like yesterday there were some thundery showers in the area during the afternoon.

20th - A Chiffchaff was heard calling for much of the day today. In the afternoon I also saw a newly fledged Collared dove, and there some heavy showers too.

24th - In my garden bed I have noticed that the flower spikes of the Foxgloves & Red Hot Pokers will soon be coming into flower.

26th - A handsome male Bullfinch was seen outside the Major’s home this morning.

27th - Saw a newly fledged Starling being fed on the lawn this afternoon.

28th - The hedgerows are still a riot of colour with the Cow Parsley & Buttercups now in full flower. The Elderflower is not out yet though, but looking at them I think they should be out within the next week, especially as a spell of warm and sunny weather has been forecast.

29th - Very warm today, up to 22 C. In the garden the Bullfinch pair were both seen and heard today, and at one point a Kestrel was seen hovering over the area.

30th - In the garden I noticed the first flower head of Elder coming out. The Bullfinch pair were around again today, and a young Starling was seen feeding on the lawn, without any adults with it.

31st - The Great Spotted Woodpecker visited the bird feeders a number of times today, as did a couple of juvenile Starlings.

Nettledale - Finally got back out into the Wolds after my trip to Scotland two weeks ago. The countryside is looking wonderful and idyllic now, with Cow Parsley by the roadsides, along with flowering Hawthorn, and Buttercups in the grass. The weather was also gorgeous today with temperatures approaching the seventies and not a cloud in the sky. At Nettledale itself the Yellowhammers & Willow warblers are still in full song, with other birds seen including Linnet, Pipits, & Martins, though unfortunately we didn’t have any luck in spotting the local Redstarts today. The sun also encouraged out the butterflies, including a number of 2009 firsts such as Small Copper, Red Admiral, and most notably Painted Lady. The Painted Lady butterfly has been much in the news recently with widespread reports of an eruption of this migratory species in other parts of the UK, and without doubt they have now reached the Wolds. There arrival is the more welcome after two very poor summer’s for this most attractive of butterflies. Other butterfly species seen today included Whites, Blues, an Orange Tip, & a Brimstone. A lovely mornings walk.