Wednesday 29 April 2020

One good thing - 29th April 2020

After the rain earlier in the week there's been a real acceleration in growth and greening.  The branches on this Larch tree were an intensely bright green against a blue sky.

Overnight the blossom and leaves on some, but not all,  Geans (Wild Cherry - Prunus avium) have opened - soon the trees will be a mass of white blossom.

The sunshine and fresh growth on the grass is certainly suiting these little fellows, they're growing fast and noticeably bigger than the fragile newborns of just ten days ago.

Monday 27 April 2020

One good thing - 27th April 2020

After more than five weeks with no rain, the sunset on 26th April promised a change in the weather - and so it's proved.  A cold northerly airstream has taken temperatures down and it's been a day of heavy showers and bright sunshine - typical for April really.  This should turbo-charge growth in the fields and gardens - and, unusually for Scotland, rain is a good thing and welcomed!

Sunday 26 April 2020

One good thing - 26th April 2020

Today's "good thing" was waking up after a night spent "wild" camping in the back garden under a tarp on another micro-microadventure, finding myself comfortable, warm and rested and the first thing seen on waking was a Song Thrush hunting insects on the grass not 2 metres from me - what a privilege.

Saturday 25 April 2020

One good thing - 25th April 2020

The weekends bring opportunity for longer walks - today's an 18 kilometre walk across the Correen Hills in glorious spring weather, and not another person seen on the whole route.

The soundtrack was all moorland birds - Curlew, Snipe, Golden Plover, Red Grouse and a constant stream of Skylark song - just wonderful.

Friday 24 April 2020

One good thing - 23rd April 2020

A spring day of shimmering warmth, temperatures more usually associated with high summer and a gorgeous afterglow from the sunset - these are all good things.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

One good thing - 22nd April 2020

The sky overnight 21st to 22nd April was something really special.  A bright but breezy day turned to a still, clear evening.  Two hours after sunset and with a frost setting in there was still plenty of light on the western horizon.  I rigged a camera on a tripod set to manual focus, wide aperture and exposures of 5 seconds in the hope of giving an impression of what the eye could see.

Somewhat later the light had receded and the night sky had developed into a wonder of pin-sharp stars, and one very bright plant - Venus.

At 2300 Venus was so bright that it was casting a shadow; it's the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon and a fascinating planet - its brilliance due to the reflective quality of the toxic cloud cover - and a planet where a day is longer than a year.

We saw a number of satellites crossing the sky and several of the Lyrid meteor shower before finally and reluctantly coming inside some time after midnight.  Most of the evening had been spent just absorbing the brilliance, clarity and enormity of a night sky - there are times when the sheer majesty of it is almost overwhelming.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

One good thing - 21st April 2020

Yesterday's "one good thing" was all about water and the clarity of the river Don, today it was all about the sky.

We spent the late evening of 20th April outside trying to spot some of the shooting stars from the Lyrid Meteor Shower, and also watching the satellites of the Starlink constellation as they passed high to the south west in line astern.  It was a beautifully clear night with no moon....

...and quite different by early morning with a thick mist subduing the colours.  But slowly, the disc of the sun appeared as a faint glow, the mist gained a bright tension......

...before dissipating as if it had never been.  As soon as the sun hit the grass several Skylarks took off with an outpouring of song.

From dense mist to intense blue cloudless sky had taken less than twenty minutes.  High pressure and an easterly airstream have given these very dry and cloudless conditions for a week over the northeast of Scotland, intensely blue sky and brittle-bright light - it's a joy.

Monday 20 April 2020

One good thing - 20th April 2020

As we complete four weeks of lockdown, I'm continuing to looks for "one good thing" about each day to counter the relentless 24 hour news cycle of death and economic bad news. And, despite everything, there's good things to be found.

One of my regular daily walks takes me along two stretches of the River Don - and it was the river which caught my attention this evening.  A winter of comparatively little snowfall and an exceptionally dry spell in which we've not had meaningful rain for well over a month have left the  Don at a very low level.

In fact I can rarely remember the river to be as low at this time of year, and certainly not to run just as crystal clear as it currently is.  The River Avon in the Cairngorms flows off granite and is famed for the clarity of its water .  The Don which also flows from granite hills but which have a peaty overlay is running it quite close for clarity at present.

Which is probably quite good news for this pair of Goosanders (Mergus merganser) but maybe not for the Brown Trout and Salmon which these sawbill ducks feed on.  The sky above the river was full of Swallows this evening, and there was the also the trilling call of a Common Sandpiper, another recently returned summer breeder.

One good thing - 19th April 2020

The weekend gave opportunity for a longer walk, and one which has been on my list to do for some time.  The enforced restriction to local ventures has focused me on exploring more of what's on the doorstep.  Setting out from home I intended to follow the cattle droving route which linked Rhynie to Alford - though my route would do it in the opposite direction to the drovers.

A short walk along minor roads reaches Terpersie and the small "castle", a 16th century tower house restored to habitable condition which is the earliest dated example of a Z-plan design in Scotland.  Terpersie marks the end of the public road and the start of a hill track leading over the Correen hills.

A long but easy climb on an old track goes up past old quarry workings on a gentle spur to reach the lowest point of the Correen ridge at about 450m/1475ft near Badingair Hill.  The view back is expansive but the whole of the Howe of Alford is hidden from here.

Looking east it was apparent that lots of the snow has been stripped from even the highest Cairngorm hills in the fine and sunny weather which has so far characterised April, the giant Ben Avon holding most patches.

Across the watershed of the ridge a fine view opens up into Strathbogie with Tap o'Noth very and it's huge hillfort very prominent.  Another hillfort site, Carn More, can be made out as a pale mound just beyond the right hand of the wind turbines.

The view is undoubtedly changed by the turbines and the large solar energy array - this is the compromise to be considered if a move to a low-carbon energy economy is to happen.

The drove route leads down past Carn More to the village of Rhynie, it once linked Rhynie with the cattle marts at Alford and Lumphanan.  My route went down to the base of the hill and then I headed west (right in this image) to link farm tracks towards Clatt.....

...with it's pretty church (which has a Pictish symbol stone incorporated into a boundary wall).  This was a 15km walk and a good one.  I'm glad that staying local prompted me to walk this track, next time I'll follow the drove route to Rhynie itself.

Sunday 19 April 2020

One good thing - 17th and 18th April 2020

In the fine weather of the last few days the pace of Spring growth has been really noticeable, and it's surprising how even this early in the Spring that there are pointers to late Summer and early Autumn.

This barley was sown a little over three weeks ago and is already sprouting as green shoots.

The rows sown by the seed drill are readily apparent even at this early stage.....

....and from a distance form a soft green haze across fields which will be golden in late summer.  I took a series of images over a year to show this cycle in 2017-18, it's a joy to watch the wheel of the seasons turn in this way.

In the woods the early Spring flowers are out and as yet the trees aren't in leaf but here too is a pointer to late Summer.  The stalks growing through this clump of Wood Anenomes are Wild Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) and they're just pushing out leaves.

A few years a go we planted a hedge at one side of the garden, the shrubs were chosen to give shelter and to benefit wildlife, there's a mix of Hawthorn, Hazel, Beech and Blackthorn.  This year is the first time we've had blossom on some of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) bushes...which should hopefully mean a crop of Sloes in autumn.  Most will be left for the birds but there may be enough to make a bottle of Sloe Gin!

Thursday 16 April 2020

One good thing - 16th April 2020

Under the current restrictions it's not possible to make backpacking or sea kayak trips, but that doesn't necessarily mean that camping is completely off limits.  During a lovely evening I decided to pitch the tent and camp in the back garden, the most micro of "microadventures".  There's normally very little noise from passing cars where we live, but even for here the lack of traffic was notable.

I settled in at my usual bed time and slept really well, woken just once when one of our neighbour's cows decided that she needed a drink from the trough over the wall at was so quiet I could clearly hear the water gurgling down into one of her stomachs!

I woke to a somewhat grey and damp morning, but also to a glorious dawn chorus of birdsong - which is surely a good thing.  I got up, walked all of 20 metres to the house to shower and get breakfast; and then was back at my computer working.

As the lockdown has now been extended a further three weeks, I plan to either camp or bivvy once a week in the garden - a micro-microadventure.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

One good thing - 15th April 2020

The skyscapes over the last 24 hours have been absolutely beautiful.  Sunset on 14th April was characterised by streaks of cloud lit to vivid shades of orange, pink and gold.

The final crescendo a searing ember glow which perfectly silhouetted a stand of Larch trees on the skyline.

Today's skies saw an unusual pattern of high clouds, I think Cirrus and Cirrostratus, forming bands across a blue sky.

Near the edge the clouds were starting to form a pattern which looked more like Cirrocumulus.  These patterns were above us most of the day as a cold front approaches the north of Scotland - I expect tomorrow's skyscape will be somewhat greyer!

Tuesday 14 April 2020

One good thing - 13th and 14th April 2020

The warm weather over the Easter weekend has really set the Spring flowers on their way here in Aberdeenshire.  Just a couple of days ago the first of the Wood Anenomes (Anenome nemorosa) began to flower, on this evening's walk they are everywhere in the woodland and along the banks of the River Don.  Optimised to flower before the trees have their leaves in order to get maximum light, Wood Anenomes are a flower I love to see in Spring - a sign of warmer and longer days to come.

Although well behind the west side of Scotland, the Primroses (Primula vulgaris) are flowering too and attracting the early butterflies - I saw a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock butterfly feeding on the Primroses on this sunny bank. 

On yesterday's longer walk the unmistakable coconut scent of Gorse (Ulex eurpopaeus) filled the air along a forest track which was in full sunshine.  A shrub which can be a problem and which forms thick, prickly and impenetrable growth, it does provide good cover for some bird and animal species.

It's been a couple of days of arrivals and departures too - the weekend saw long skeins of Pink Footed Geese pass overhead.  Throughout the winter the flocks have been a familiar sight and sound on the farmland but these were flying high, still climbing and straining northwards - going home to Greenland and Iceland; I'll miss their wild music until they return in Autumn.

The geese have been replaced by summer migrants coming home, a few days ago the first Sand Martins appeared over the River Don, yesterday the first House Martins and this morning the welcome warbling chatter of the first Swallow to arrive back here - about six days earlier than the average date we see them first.

All in all there's been some really good things over the last two days.

Sunday 12 April 2020

One good thing - 12th April 2020 Easter Sunday

A great thing about today was that the Easter Bunny (having been given "essential worker" status in some parts of the world) was able to get around and leave eggs for the smaller members of our community to find whilst on their daily exercise. :o)

Saturday 11 April 2020

One good thing - 11th April 2020

One of the good things about today was the clarity of the air on a warm and sunny day; the colours were really "zinging" everywhere; overnight the gorse seems to have burst into flower and the grass seems to be really getting going.

My walk today took me around some of the country lanes and minor roads almost devoid of traffic.  Colours everywhere I looked - this Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) was really vivid against the pale shades of the sown fields.  But the colours, fine as they might be, weren't the best thing about today......

Without doubt, the best thing about today was the privilege of being the only human witness to the emergence of new life.  This lamb was born in a neighbouring farmer's in-bye field just as I was walking past.  I stopped to watch from a distance which wouldn't disturb the ewe and was relieved to see that everything proceeded smoothly.  This image was taken less than 20 minutes after the birth; the lamb on it's feet and cleaned by Mum and another ewe, herself heavily pregnant.

On Easter weekend, bombarded by the relentless 24 hour news cycle of death during the Covid-19 pandemic, here was a counterpoint as a new life took it's first steps in the world - and that's certainly "one good thing".

Friday 10 April 2020

One good thing - 10th April 2020

The warmer weather of the last few days has really brought on the Spring flowers; these Crocus planted at the edge of a woodland entrance are a cheerful sight.

Along the banks of the River Don wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are a riot of yellow.  One name for these native daffodils is "Lent Lily" because of the association with Easter celebrations, so it's fitting that they're at their best this weekend.  In the foreground, the first of the wood Anenome (Anenome nemorosa) was fully open in the sunshine.

Also along the Don, the first of the Lady's Smock, or Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratenisis) are flowering in a damp area.  This year they've definitely bloomed before the first Cuckoo has been heard, in fact the Sand Martins have only just returned to Aberdeenshire.

All around a wet flush in nearby woodland I found these attractive plants.  I couldn't find them in any of my wildflower guides, but a neighbour has them in her garden and identified them as Pulmonaria or Lungwort.  As this piece of wood is fairly close to the village of Alford they're more than likely garden escapes but are certainly doing well.

It's really good to see all the Spring colours starting to replace the bleached winter shades.

Thursday 9 April 2020

One good thing - 9th April 2020

Over the last couple of days our neighbour's Aberdeen Angus cattle have started to calve.  Most of the herd are still indoors as there's not quite enough grass growth to put them out to just yet, but once the new Mums have settled with their calves, they're being moved to the field behind our house.

It's great to have them back - the field has seemed very empty through the winter!

Wednesday 8 April 2020

One good thing - 8th April 2020

The full moon of  the night of 7th-8th April was termed a "pink super moon".  The super moon part is because the moon is within 90% of perigee - the closest approach to earth of its orbital path- and therefore the full moon would appear to be larger and brighter than the average full moon. In fact the moon is 40,000km closer to the earth than at average orbit, and this was the closest "super moon" of 2020.

The "pink" term refers not to the colour of the moon but is a name given by native American peoples to the April full moon, which occurs at the same time as the flowers of Moss Pink (Phlox subulata) bloom on the plains of central and eastern North America.

Over Aberdeenshire high cloud built during the evening but there were some nice views as the brilliance of the moon created a rainbow corona as it shone through.

2020 will also see a "blue moon" on 31st October when there will be two full moons in the month (and so 13 full moons in a calendar year) - an event uncommon enough to be "once in a blue moon".

Tuesday 7 April 2020

One good thing - 7th April 2020

On my walk this evening, the Rooks nesting in two tall Scots pines were making a tremendous noise.  One of my bird guidebooks describes Rooks calls as "around the nest, deep "comfortable" caws and croaks; typical "craa-craa-craa".  Frequent, loud and far-carrying high "crroo-crroo-crroo, choked trumpeting notes, musical squeaks and squeals; deep mechanical wooden rattle in flight" - which is varied for sure!

The naturalist Sir John Lister-Kaye has studied Rooks at his home near Beauly for many years and has identified nearly 30 different types of call made by these fascinating birds, most linked to specific behaviours or situations.

What was happening this evening appeared to be more dispute than comfort calls, and stopping to watch soon revealed the source of the commotion.  Whenever a bird or pair left the nest, one particular bird seemed determined to steal sticks from their nest for its own nest.  The outraged owners would snatch back the stick and the whole process would start again.  Whatever the purpose of this behaviour, it was certainly entertaining for a human!

Monday 6 April 2020

One good thing - 6th April 2020

The best thing about today has been the variety and quality of light throughout the day and into the evening......

Early morning saw showers and stroboscopic lighting effects in the wake of a cold front which passed over northeast Scotland overnight.  Clouds racing overhead alternately lit the view with dazzling, intense colours, then switched off the light to leave a muted version of the same scene.

After a mainly bright and breezy day the wind dropped towards evening and a slow-burn sunset underlit a cloudbank with gold and bronze.

Tonight's full moon was high in the sky before sunset, adding pale light to the most delicate of pink shades in the air.

While back to the west the cloudbank dissipated in the cooling air as if it had never existed, leaving just a hint of the sunset projected into the sky.

As I type this post a full hour after sunset, the same piece of sky is a colour somewhere between jade green and lemon; gorgeous but beyond the camera to capture.  The light (in Gaelic "solas") has absolutely been one good thing about today.

Sunday 5 April 2020

One good thing - 5th April 2020

Being restricted to walks from the house has prompted exploration of some of the tracks which lead off my "normal" routes.  Some are half-hidden and rarely used except by wildlife.  Sometimes they just peter out in the forest, or lead to a dead end.......

...but sometimes after following these forgotten tracks for a distance there's a new angle to explore...

....and a new way to link up routes and tracks which I'd probably never have found otherwise.