Friday, 31 July 2015

Mountain hare survey

I joined the mountain hare survey team again today.  We walked up Lammer Law once more, stopping to enjoy the views to the north, across the Firth of Forth, over to Fife.

The landmark twin chimneys of Cockenzie power station were visible - as always.  But not for much longer.  They are due for demolition on 26 September.  The event seems to have taken on the morbid attraction of a public execution.  Tickets have been sold.  I think there has even been a raffle to win the right to press the 'exploding' button.  I am glad we will be away.  I am rather fond of the twins, and will miss them.  Certainly the landscape will not look the same without them!
The ling heather is not quite flowering, just a few plants, here and there.  The colour across the hillsides is coming from the bell heather.  
I had to look up this little cluster of delicate loveliness.  I have seen it before, lots of times, but never bothered to find out what it is.  I think it's reindeer lichen, Cladonia portentosa.  The end of each little spear does resemble reindeer antlers.
And I certainly had to look up this next specimen, because I had never seen it before.   After some enquiry, I now know that it is stag's horn clubmoss.  There wasn't much of it, but in the photo below it is lining a tiny, cosy little cubbyhole in the bank, which some small creature has been nestling into.  Maybe a leveret.
 The fresh green foliage across the hillsides is bilberry. 
We saw five hares today.  I saw four, the others glimpsed the fifth.  This is a poor photograph because I don't have a strong zoom lens on my point and squirt camera, but it's good enough to prove that we were looking for, and saw, the mountain hare!
As we came off the hills we saw a charm of goldfinches, swooping around over the bracken, and then large drops of rain began to fall, just as we reached the car.  Excellent timing!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Coastal walk from Gullane to North Berwick

By the time I have walked about four miles, my toes are screaming at me - it's the arthritis, you see.  One of the joys of being that little bit older than I was.  However, for a long time, I have been keen to walk along the beaches, and follow the coastal path, between Gullane and North Berwick. So, having worked out the tide times, I decided today was the day, and off we went.
Below is our starting point, the bay at Gullane.  It's a lovely beach, very popular with dog walkers. This is looking east, the direction Tilly and I were going to take.
Looking back, up the Forth, the unmistakable bulk of Arthur's Seat, and Edinburgh's skyline, just clear enough to see.
For most of the walk, there is the choice between wandering along a series of beaches, or following a path along the top of each.
There's no denying it, at heart I am a shell-seeker.  I have loads of shells at home.  We lived on one of the out islands in the Bahamas for a just over a year, a long time ago, and that's when I started collecting shells.  Although, when I was a little girl, I did have lots of the pretty little pink thin tellins, which I found on holiday.  They are the kind children use to decorate boxes, along with pale yellow periwinkle shells.  
There was the usual amount of stuff washed up on the beaches.  Some of it was fair enough, a few lost lobster cages, and an unfortunate seaside bucket, but there was far too much rubbish, left behind by careless visitors.  I even saw a big 2 litre water bottle, covered in barnacles!  That would have been knocking around, without the slightest trace of decomposing, for at least a year!
There were a lot of jellyfish.  I looked up this rusty coloured one because I hadn't seen it before  I think it's a lion's mane jellyfish, and the violet coloured one is the bluefire jellyfish.  
We passed some great rock formations,
and there were some seriously good waves.
Lots of wild flowers, including this Scottish lovage, which I haven't seen before.
 and wild strawberry, which tasted as good as it looked!
The beach below is Yellowcraigs.  It was pretty busy today!  The sun was out for the first time in quite a while.
The waves were pretty big, especially for small children.  These two young boys were psyching themselves up for this wave
 and then thought better of the next one!
In a world which is rapidly changing, there is something very reassuring, almost endearing, about the British at the seaside.  It just wouldn't be the same if they didn't cart the windbreaks, buckets and spades, and folding chairs along, to keep themselves amused and comfortable during their day by the sea,
and not forgetting the football, of course!
Not a moment too soon, North Berwick appeared on the horizon.  My feet were screaming at me, but we had another couple of bays to go.
But, hooray, 6+ miles and 3 hours later, we arrived.  Mr Gaucho met us and we went to our favourite Steampunk, for a cup of coffee, a very good savoury muffin, and some restorative wafts of thyme, lavender and curry plant, growing alongside the tables outside.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Nature's colours

The sea might have been cold and grey today, but the rock face at the top of the beach is always bright and cheerful!
You've got to admire the optimism of these plants, clinging to the rocks and crevices, finding precious little sandy soil to grow in!
And talking of optimists .....  I am not sure if this raft has just arrived on the overnight tide, or maybe someone is planning an adventure later today!
On the headland, the ling heather, behind this pretty pink cross-leaved heath, is just about to come out,
and the lovely bluebell of Scotland, the harebell, has been flowering for a few weeks now.
I love the fuchsia colour of the bell heather, and the very soft mauve tinge of the unglamorously named pignut - below.  It's such an unfortunate name for a very pretty, delicate flower.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

What larks!

Don't miss this!  Wherever you are in the world, you can get BBC iPlayer, Radio 3's Words and Music programme.  Today it's about the skylark.  Hooray!

Sunday walk

We had expected endless rain today.  The weather forecaster's charts showed a pretty grim Sunday, so to wake this morning to glorious sunshine was a real bonus!  Time for a walk.  

Mr Gaucho dropped Tilly and me on the other side of the village, to the south-east and the first third of our walk was in new territory.  First we came to a ford, where the lane collided with the River Tyne.  We crossed over by footbridge and then along a path which followed the river, back towards the village.  It was a lovely walk, quiet and peaceful.  
There was quite a lot of the invasive Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, growing along the river bank.  It is a handsome plant, a relation of the Bizzy Lizzy (which I have never liked), and I would rather it had confined itself the Himalayans, as it is a troublesome thing. It spreads quickly and effectively, and studies have shown that it can dramatically reduce the diversity of our native species, competing successfully for the attention of the pollinating bumblebees.
There was lots of the gentle meadow crane's-bill too.  I think its a fabulous plant.  I love its colour and the fragility of the petals.
We passed a single giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, which truly is a giant.  It towered over my head.  It is another invasive species, particularly undesirable because of the chemicals contained in its sap which can burn the skin, causing on-going sensitivity to sunlight.  I would think that this plant has been sprayed with Roundup, in an attempt to kill it off.  I haven't had the opportunity to look at one at close quarters before, so I found it rather fascinating.
We crossed the River Tyne again, and a kingfisher darted up river, in a dazzling flash of iridescent turquoise.  I waited around for a while, hoping it would make a return journey, but no luck!  

It was lovely to walk along by the river, its waters deep and dark, almost black in some places.  I was reminded of a poem my cousin, Mark, used to recite when we were at school. 'A Boy's Song' by James Hogg (1770–1835).  I can still remember the first verse!

Where the pools are bright and deep,
Where the grey trout lies asleep,
Up the river and over the lea,
That 's the way for Billy and me.

These pale purple flowerheads belong to the creeping thistle.  It's a plant we see everywhere. Non-spectacular, almost boring because is so common.  However, look more closely, and marvel at its design and beauty.
As the river footpath reaches the village, it passes Preston Mill.  This was East Lothian's last working water mill, quaint with its Dutch style conical roof.  There has been a water mill here since the 16th century, although this building dates from about two hundred years later.
Despite the gathering clouds, the rain has not come.  We walk on, up and over the hill, and home.