David Adam ..... Scottish creative artist ...... author of Wildsketch ..... social realist in Postcard from Brechin
Studio and Wildsketch journal
Studio and Wildsketch journal
The noose around nature's neck seems to tighten each time I visit the Angus glens and hills. Munro baggers by the score besiege Scotland's mountains with eroding footfall to tick yet another summit that was much the same as the last one they ticked. Dog walkers transport their mutts for miles in order to besmirch the landscape with bagged up dog shite left like a gift to the gods to last forever by the path side, and 'couldn't give a monkey's fart' neds carry drink cans from their designer cars to drink, then dump on the glen's grassy verges.
Folk visiting the glens of Angus who usually would not throw down banana skins or orange peel or boiled egg shells or apple cores onto the town pavements think it fit to chuck it into the heather where no-one will see except their negligent consciences. And, it is not only townies on a visit to the glen that do this, estate workers cowp stuff as well, grouse beaters are famed for chucking their bottles of 'highland spring' into the great outdoors.
I have even picked up cannisters of rodenticide used by game-keepers to control rats, just thrown down or stuffed into rabbit burrows ... and I won't even start on spent shotgun cartridges or bullet casings. Fencing contractors hired to erect moorland fences are just as bad, off-cuts of wood and wire are left and old fences are knocked down onto the moor to rot; the number of times I have tripped on discarded or old fence wire. Flow in nature's footsteps, let's be sympathetic to raw creation and not throw discarded damnation into Mother Nature's future.
The delight that all nature can bring to the human heart is immeasurable and today my heart swelled to find something new ..... a Northern Brown Argus butterfly and its larval food plant is confined to the Rockrose that is flowering right now at certain locations. I also discovered what I presume to be a Mason Wasp; one of these beasties floundered on the track after recently emerging from pupation. The Syrphid family of flies are those that imitate wasps and one that I find on the higher moors is the Bog Hoverfly, a big, bumbly black and yellow job that buzzes like a bee.
Ah, if all else fails, excitement wells up inside when seeing a Golden Eagle, and I've seen a few. The feeling is always majestic and awe inspiring for some inexplicable reason, but I do have to work hard to get results. Today, with fifteen miles under my belt, this beauty creeps up behind me in surprise and the bird looks like a three year old that is moulting as some wing primaries are missing and the tail has vestiges of the white ring.
The eagle gives a growly look at me when performing a fly past, then cuts into the strong westerly to side-glide along the ridge. After a scouting soar over some peat hags, that declare Mountain Hare territory, it flaps heavily into thewind stopping for a breather on a grassy slope, then restless with nagging hunger flies on. My heart flies on its wings for moments then lonely sadness tugs a tear into the winds of farewell.
Later, high above the madding crowd in the glen car park, an eagle soars ..... no-one saw ..... and that just about sums up the shortcomings of many visitors to the Angus glens.
My favourite wildlife combination is the Golden Plover and the Dunlin. Both are tag partners in the game of survival on the highest moors. The tiny Dunlin is clever because it uses the taller Golden Plover as a lookout and guard. Where the watchful plover goes the shadowing Dunlin is there busy foraging over the moor for insects maybe one or two metres away, but when the plover calls then takes flight the Dunlin also calls then flies in a knee-jerk, synchronous movement.
I love this show of dependency that one bird has on another, but is it interdependency. The plover doesn't seem to benefit from the Dunlin but occasionally the plover does dart forward to pick up a missed grub or insect from the busy, bill proddings of the Dunlin, so maybe 'large' does gain from 'little' in some 'parasitic' way. An interesting extract from British Birds states that the Dunlin is also named the Plover's Provider or the Plover's Page or, in Iceland, the Louthrall (Plover's Slave), and, otherwise, locally called Ox-bird or Sea-snipe, Stint and Red-backed Sandpiper.
Here on Invermark estate, and also on Gannochy and Millden, in the Angus glens there has been considerable activity on the tree planting front with many young plantation areas fenced off to make them deer proof but that fencing also deters the marauding Red Fox which just might be attractive for nesting Hen Harriers and Merlin or, as it is now, suitable for Stonechat, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and all grouse. The plantations here seem to support some native tree species and are of a small size that will not be detrimental to the foraging needs of the rare Golden Eagle or be a blot on the landscape.
I saved a Slow-worm from the madness of ignorant souls and untrained dogs that were following me down the track today on the road back to civilisation. (yip, Brechin more civilised than the glen today!) It seemed frozen in its tracks so a nudge and a shuv coaxed the beastie to escape certain death as I have seen many whacked to death by stick wielding yobos in the misconceived and ignorant notion that Slow-worms are venomous Adders, or chewed by uncontrolled dogs, or carelessly run over by vehicles.
Vehicles were parked up everywhere today, and yesterday seemingly. On Invermark, cars were parked on blind bends, over field entrances, even abandoned in the middle of the road so a tight squeeze was necessary to get past ..... just as well no heavy vehicles, farm or fire appliances needed access. The problem has been exacerbated by the Retreat museum closing as it acted as a tourist divergance and car park.
The solution ..... requies more parking space at alternative walking venues like Millden and Gannochy further down the glen. The bottle neck at the glen road ends, like Invermark and Glen Doll, will continue to increase until other areas are offered up for parking and recreational access ....
Full blog at davidadamsketchbook
The cradle of the glen nestles many sleeping babes, for the stillness of morn belies the rustling of life. Sheltering in the twisted kows of the shadowy heath cower the Red Grouse with their chicks, unseen by many but providing prey to the few. A Common Buzzard hawks the heath above, then slams talons into a fidgety chick and that chick's first flight rises in bleeding spirals over the glen void, until stripped bare of life by a hooked beak on the high slopes of the glen.
Higher still, the Mountain Hare bonds with sooty peat in a cavernous hideaway and, again, is unseen by many but is prey to the few. A hag perched white carcass from Winter wrestles with the heath bound, green fingers of the Blaeberry plant and no doubt this hare fell prey to the eagle that occasionally raids the moor here. Ironically, the carcass has two shotgun cartridges decorating its bones; a symbol for the past methinks as Mountain Hare are now legally protected in Scotland.
Certainly a vestige from the reptilian past scuttles like quick-silver through the burnt ashes of some recent muir-burn and it too buries its presence within the bouldered peat. I wait, and wait, until the scaly revelation comes in the shape of a Common Lizard. Cautious wonder peeps forth a dinosaur snout, then dragon legs and tail, then eye to eye predatorial exchange; and, in another age, would we be its prey?
Lush heath, now peppered bright mauve, darkens with every passing cloud and borders slopes swaying with all sorts of grass and, like a sea, the land moves with fresh green and last year's crippled beige. From within those coils of grass the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary flies an orange dance o'er the glen and the Northern Eggar caterpillar creeps a rhythmic, sequential flow along the Ling shoots, and then onto a sunny boulder to dream of busy flight o'er the moor next time around.
Back on the wind ravished plateau a hidden Golden Plover seeps a piping call into the breeze where the sound dissolves to the moorland world. Perceived predator I am and the diverting call pulls me this way ..... then that way ..... leading on to nowhere; a place we all know too well. Somewhere in nowhere a churring and tiny Dunlin rises at my feet to flit and twist in time with the bowing grasses that wave their stalks at the ubiquitous moor.
My great grandfather was a shepherd in the glens of Lethnot and Effock, just over the hill from here, so the land must be familiar to my soul and that maybe is why I am here, ignorant of the need for the undiscovered elsewhere; here is just fine. At the crooked head of Lethnot lies an old stalker's path which leads onto the Shank of Donald Young revealing the site for the Battle of Saughs that took place between the good men of Fearn and the Cateran cattle raiders.
History lends its name to all the hills and gullies hereabouts; Bank of Robert Shiell presumably refers to the one time factor of the northern part of Dalhousie estate, of which Hunthill estate was once part. The name of the aforementioned Donald Young who died during the battle is commemorated by naming the hill shank after him and the hill called Gibs Knowe no doubt refers to the surname, and strangely enough my great grandfather was a Gibb ..... ah, my claim to geographical ancestry might be in that missing 'b'.
As morn grew thin the waking Kestrels rose in a clamour of vocal hysteria and jousting play-fights. An aerial spectacle of dive-bombing, chasing and mock attack thrilled the skies over the glen. I reckoned that three families have been successful in the upper glen which is very good considering the downturn that the Kestrel has suffered in many lowland places. My sketch is from a promontory overlooking the glen and a favourite perch for raptors.
My search for Merlin was fruitless at one of the usual nesting locations but a surprise was in store for a new location revealed itself by the copious amount of prey plucking sites, good Ling coverage for nesting and a late remaining Merlin fledgling that took to the glen voids with that ear piercing, characteristic 'ki-ki' call. This tiny falcon has proven to be very fickle, not only are they hard to find but they willingly move nest locations making traditional recorded locations seemingly void therefore yielding inaccurate monitoring statistics.
A wandering Peregrine Falcon sailed past the sea of grass where I stood, took a look up then down at me, then scratched its head and continued westwards on a peregrination. I expected, in an optimistic way, to find young Peregrines at a certain crag where I observed occupation in the Spring but nothing showed except fulfilment of my growing pessimistic attitude that certain grouse shooting estates have little tolerance for the falcon's presence ..... prove me wrong please.
And on that subject, I discovered that rank heather banks on the steep slopes near the crag where Peregrines were seen in January this year have been burnt out. Whether this is categorised as indirect raptor persecution under disturbance or not, springtime muir-burn so close to any raptor nesting location must be suspicious when it is undertaken when birds are incubating eggs and are at their most vulnerable to disturbance.
.Full blog at davidadamsketchbook
So, Mike Groves and I have been out adventuring for two days now in the Angus glens checking on Merlin fledglings and Golden Eagles (under licence) in a post lock-down squeeze to monitor breeding success ..... yet I am constantly thinking of snakes in the grass and creepy-crawly blood suckers as a divergence from raptor study ...... emm, raptor study, snakes in the grass and blood suckers all seem to group together to ring bells from the nefarious, slander soiled past offered up by some local raptor study group members
Anyway, Mike has worked relentlessly to obtain his licence to monitor Merlin, Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle through conscientious hard work and the drive to walk miles in exploration to find new breeding sites for raptors in Angus. I am proud to say that one new site has now been added to the breeding list for Merlin after I came across a male Merlin defending territory against a Golden Eagle earlier this year.
Merlin fledglings are now flying well at most Angus sites with their dispersal into the big, bad world close at hand but parent birds are still catering for the increasingly adventurous juveniles. The young falcons tend to group together for the first days after leaving the nest, then slowly their ability to maneuver air around feathers increases until independent departure of the natal area is tempted. Fate is tempted, for only a small number will survive their first winter.
Below a shady Rowan tree we find the plucked and stripped carcass of a young crow that has probably been taken by one of three Golden Eagles seen today. Eagles will eat anything that crawls, flies or indeed swims this amazing Earth of ours; Badger, Red Fox, Water Vole, Rabbit, Salmon, Roe or Red Deer, Mountain Hare and, of course, the Red Grouse forms the staple diet when eagles are feeding their chicks. I mind investigating one eyrie (out of breeding season) many years ago to find a neat stash of grouse wings stuffed around the back of the eyrie.
The crow had been plucked by a raptor and gauging by the amount of grey feathers mixed in with black I am guessing that this crow may have been a hybrid between the all black Carrion and the half grey Hooded, as I have seen the odd Carrion with grey patches of plumage in this area. Some of the feathers are at the pin stage of development which means that they are still in the quill growth sheath indicating a juvenile or a moulting bird.
The Tick population in this glen area must be enormous this year as I have never seen so many cling to my trouser bottoms as I trudged through heather or grass. Time was consumed in picking off hundreds of nymphs every fifty paces, or so, along a deer track and I can only surmise that most deer, hare and grouse on this moor are covered in the wee blood suckers that can vector Lyme disease in humans and Louping Ill in hare and grouse. As I have experienced, fenced grouse moor shooting estates with no deer have substantially fewer Ticks and, consequently, many more grouse.
On day one of our Merlin counting the weather was untypical of July with foul sleet showers ending in frozen hands, wind beaten eyes and a bashed moral but day two gave us reasonable weather while lowland areas, from hence we came, were drenched in stormy cloud bursts that washed thundery grey over the land ..... Scotland always lives up to its reputation for grandstand weather.
Full blog at davidadamsketchbook