David Adam Gallery
David Adam ..... Scottish creative artist ...... author of Wildsketch ..... social realist in Postcard from Brechin
Studio and Wildsketch journal
Studio and Wildsketch journal
The feeling of Summer at a fading end, with the inevitable fall into Autumn, comes as a sensation felt rather than as a dramatic change to nature and the landscape. These seasons merge through gradual changes in the flora and fauna of the land until they assume a definitive cloak that marks their very nature.
The spiky tips of Soft Rush tingle with burning bronze, and the once bright fronds of Bracken darken into an acrid frown, and the purple flowers of Ling flush with seedy intent until buzzy bees bumble no more to their sweet attention.Nature draws breath as living continuance falters and a rosy yawn fills the hills and glens of Scotland.
The sense of breathing in that expired excitement of life and reproduction stills the frantic mind into thinking about what has come and gone. The gregarious Sand Martin has vacated its burrowed 'warren' in the sandy cliff by the burn, and dozens of House Martin gather alongside the twittering Swallows as they ready themselves for the cloud dancing flight southwards.
Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher have long since left the moors of Angus, but a pair of Golden Plover still view the hospitable coastline, some twenty miles away, from the lightning scoured hill tops that have been home during the past few months. On my approach, they skirt low over the moor in fast flight then land to wait, as if reluctant to depart until that instinctive, launching moment of migration comes along; push comes to departing shuv for most wildlife on the high moors but some residents thole the hardships all year round.
Our Angus based Golden Eagles endure many hardships but have a healthy population that occupies most but not all of the possible territories available for nesting. These eagles are at the geographical margins of existence in Angus yet defy all statistics by producing more young eagles than in other parts of Scotland. In my opinion, their absence from available territories or suitable habitats can indicate historic or ongoing persecution or disturbance due to changing use of the land like mountaineering or hill track construction or wind-farms.
Wheatears have, in the main, gone but some are still to be seen on the highest tops during passage migration. Ring Ouzel are still about feeding on Rowan berries, and the ubiquitous Meadow Pipit gathers in the lower haughs of the glen but again some are still on the high moors. Adders are still to be found basking in sunny spots and today, as I was crashing through the sheep trodden Bracken, a very handsome, grey coloured male was coiled in bask mode but rapidly vanished into the undergrowth with a rasping hiss; they have over one hundred ribs that flatten in order to absorb more radiant heat ..... luv 'em.
The glow from a late lingering dawn tinted the sky with warmth and from within that serenity came a perpetual call from a raptor of sorts; a yelping, begging call that lasted for minutes but nothing was seen. Lengthy gazing finally revealed a Hen Harrier breaching the skyline with wings held in that crucified shape ..... how appropriate. Whether the call was actually a young harrier's begging call or not I am unsure, but implied hunger and loneliness marked the atmosphere in the glen.
I hear and read enough about carbon release from peat affected by muir-burn but, in my opinion, the cumulative effect of naturally caused peat exposure far outweighs any man-made problems. I frequently visit an area of peat erosion of at least one hectare in size that has been exposed naturally by wind and weather over the centuries, but another contributing factor is the 'hoof-fall' erosion from Red Deer herds that frequent this area. Hundreds of gouging hooves trample the tender peat surface, no doubt releasing much more carbon than your average year's muir-burn on this highland estate.
The pointed beasts of the hill have changed too, from rounded, growing antlers covered in velvet skin they now sport burnished bone ready for the battling rut a month or so away. Stags have put on weight, and just seem to wait for something that comes like an express train over the hills ..... the hormone rush that sets the hills alive with booming roars ..... can only come too soon!it.
During August the moors of Glen Mark are dyed purple with the flowers of Ling heather and the unrelenting hum of busy honey bees fills the air. This year's show of heather colour seems to be the very best, as far as my memory recalls, and every footstep through the heather releases a cloud of pollen dust. Nevertheless, the healthy heather seems to betray the welfare of its main resident, the Red Grouse, and today very few birds flush at my feet.
My middle of nowhere destination is Naked Hill with its ancient, ruinous bothy and then finally Braid Cairn, the bulky, domed neighbour of Mount Keen. Fog cements the higher moors in a disorientating grey murk that hides my line of sight to the bothy and a wait for an hour in dew filled cloud and biting midgies drew my patience out to the limit of endurance until, finally, the occluded sun-god accompanied by a light wind burned the fog off to reveal acres of bog entrenched purple and the tiny granite bigging a mile or so away; a wet slog ensued.
Miles from anywhere, this bothy is hewn from the land. The roof, long since absorbed by nature, would have been log joisted and covered in heather turfs. The door aperture is small but the lintel is still standing and the only evidence of what it was used for is drilled into a granite wall block ..... an iron ring cleat for tying a pony or dog to. Stalking comes to mind first of all, but then the extensive wrought iron fencing in the surrounding area may imply another use as a worker shelter, or maybe it was used for illicit whisky distilling but there is no ready water supply and the stonework finish too laboured.
Many of the granite blocks are dressed but no fireplace or chimney flue is now obvious. The blocks may have been brought in by pony sled or brought down from the rocky exposures on nearby Naked Hill then dressed on the spot. This bothy in the middle of boggy nowhere has always intrigued me and can be seen from the south, east and west on this open area of rough moorland for miles around, but this is my first visit. Two neuks are in the wall next to the door maybe for candlelight and a massive, door sized granite slab lies astride the door aperture outside, all strange and mysterious to me ..... what hermit had dominion here ..... I wouldn't mind, far from the madding glen crowds, and in for a bothy nicht.
Braid Cairn has several tops to its domed bulk and those tops are scoured flat like the granite boulders that deck the surface heath of Crowberry. Very healthy looking Mountain Hare love this hill that sits at just under Munro level and many of the tumbled slabs shelter the beasts from the foraging attention of the eagles that live nearby. The hill is an attractive stop-over for Wheatears and Golden Plovers during migration, and I have wondered if Dotterel also pay Braid Cairn a visit during arrival in May or departure in September. Ptarmigan have frequented Mount Keen but I have never seen them on Braid Cairn despite finding feathers here.
Well nothing was really interested in flying around today except a distant sighting of a Golden Eagle, an inquisitive Red Kite, a Kestrel, several Wheatears and Meadow Pipits plus one Kestrel sized falcon that looked like a slender Peregrine with long, narrow wings. I am convinced that I saw a Hobby in this glen a few years back, but my record was thrown out by the Angus rare birds panel. I think that the Hobby has bred further north so vagrant birds might appear in Angus and expert 'birders' have confirmed that with independent observations recently.
There are areas of moorland in Angus that just seem barren of life. If there are no Red Grouse or Mountain Hare present then foraging raptors are not present. This area east of Braid Cairn rarely sees a hunting eagle because there is nothing to hunt ..... why waste time. The Mountain Hare are atop Braid Cairn and the Red Grouse, to my ken, are just absent. Eagles are more likely to be seen where grouse populations are higher and I do know that resident eagles in this area frequent neighbouring 'grouse only' shooting estates, in fact the breeding eagles from a 'rewilding principled' Glen Tanar estate in Aberdeenshire pop over the boundary, more often than not, to cadge prey from a 'grouse only' estate in Angus.
The history of moorland is fascinating and how it changes at nature's and man's behest. Near our bothy lie the twisted bars of wrought iron fencing, some five feet high, that run for miles around various estate marches and the purpose was to keep deer out or, indeed, in. Many of the iron bars are drilled into large boulders then hot leaded into place, unfortunately the boulders have to be set on unstable peat foundations, so no matter how strongly built the iron work is, the fence continuity is fugitive when one boulder topples or sinks; a very time consuming and costly fence no doubt and presumably originating from the Victorian era. One disused deer jump allowed deer out, but not into a fenced off enclosure or estate, and I do get the impression that deer evacuation to protect grouse populations from disease vectoring Tick is nothing new ....
A blue and purple hum surrounds my outstretched soul. I feel singing space all around with no visible source. The heathery glen becomes a cathedral of space where cosmic voices utter sweet melody. Peer the purple Ling for busy bees but nothing shows. The hum grows in the stillness until it cushions out all sense of hurt or regret or love or hate. A thousand thousand wings buzz the ethereal blue hum for miles around as nature's honeyed voice calms the land.
And I imagine, a paper boat, on a sea of purple sound becalmed yet soaking in the ripples of the scented hum, and the flora and fauna float amidst the aromatic mists of celestial, hot blue ..... blue melts into purple and then hazy heather becomes miraged sky. Mother nature gives the Scottish moorland an engorging magic in August which fills the rolling hills with sublime, coloured music in a worldly unique experience never to be forgotten. Chromesthesia is a term for those unusually gifted souls who transmogrify sound into colour.
Across that landed sea roam herds of Red Deer. The stags are on the high moor drifting with the wind to flee the flechs, and the hinds with their piping calves are on the lower slopes where succulent grass feeds the young venison. The stags move like a dishevelled army over the peat hags, their bony antlers adorned with ripped velvet skin that tickles at the spiked seed heads as they nibble squeaky grass with trophy heads bowed low.
Ling pollen dusts my boots and snuffs my nose but high above, riding filtered blue, soar the eagles in tandem beauty and feather swishing silence. One is clearly in a moult process where pairs of wing feathers are renewed over an extended period. Both slip into the landscape effortlessly, no wing flaps, no effort, just rock steady flight ..... the mark of a Golden Eagle on a hungry mission.
Heading up steep slopes can be Adder tricky, heading down slopes is better as one can see more, but the eye level ledge where the snake basks can sometimes be out of sight from below and my boot is always too late in finding out. Leather meets scales at an awkward step near a rocky burn and the dark, snake head venoms back to launch an attack, forked tongue flicking.
The slinky beast escapes after licking Vibram sole and my heart stabilises back down from a thousand beats a minute to assimilate that snake infused pint of adrenaline ..... phew. By the way, big Adders are usually quite calm but the wee ones are the feisty ones to watch out for. When I was a wee boy, sixty years ago, I mind of stepping on one in Glen Lethnot ..... it rose like a stick on its tail, mouth wide open with white fangs dropped while launching at me like a missile, missing my nose by petrified inches.
Under the heat of blue, the glen surrenders itself to a lazy haze and the shorn ewes sprint into a new lease of life, minus their pounds of worthless, claggy wool of-course. Nearby, a Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting congregate amongst the scorching Bracken fronds to fiddle around for caterpillars and insects. The bitter sweet smell of spores mixes a perfume with the soapy stench of lanolin from the sheep, and there we have it .... the Angus glen in August with no mention of Red Grouse or the Glorious Twelfth.