Tuesday 30 June 2015

Your Local Patch (Scotland by Rail - a bit of Garelochhead)

Most of us have our favourite spots in nature - wild places, grand places, peaceful or secluded places, spread across the country or even the world. But there's a huge amount to be said for also getting to know our local 'patches', places near our home or our place of work. They don't have to be nature reserves, they probably normally aren't. Maybe the cycle path behind your office, or the bit of waste ground on the edge of the station car park, or the graveyard by your mum's house. They're places we visit regularly and that we come to know well.

Each time you visit your patch you're excited to see what's new: have any unexpected migrating birds showed up; is the elder in full frothy white flower yet; is the dipper back building its nest under the footpath bridge; are the orchids blooming down by the stream; how are the butterflies after all that rain... The more intimately you get to know your patch, the more interesting it becomes.

One of my patches is in Garelochhead, 8 miles north-west of Helensburgh, in Argyll & Bute. At the west end of the shore is an area of young woodland, meadow-scrub, stream and stream-floodplain. It's small, would take only five minutes to circle if you weren't stopping to look. It's used by lots of dog-walkers and people walking from the shore houses to the village shops. It has a bench and wide views down the Gare Loch to the fascinating comings and goings of Faslane naval base. You might see a seal swimming in close at high tide, or a gannet diving far off, beyond the submarines. It completes the character of the shore - a scattered row of lovely old houses and gardens, all individual, and this little patch of wilder nature.

The woodland is mostly oak with some rowan and birch, all are fairly young. Off-path the grasses are long and filled with wild flowers and insects. In spring the bluebells bloom, many of them our native English bluebell, rather than the problematic Spanish invasives. I see small fish in the stream and often a dipper bob-bobbing on smooth pebbles before bubble walking along the stream bottom.

In winter fieldfares and redwings might be in the trees, and a mistle thrush defending the berries that it claims as its own. Just across the road in more mature woodland I hear tawny owls calling. If you're lucky a raven might fly over, high up. In spring and summer the midgies are bad (bad for humans that is, but invaluable to wildlife) and house martins and swallows swerve and swoop overhead, taking full advantage. 

In the times of worst flood at least a third of the area has been submerged under a mingling of sea-loch and stream water, and a mental mingling of exciting and scary, because you can't hep but think of the homeowners nearby.

This morning I visited, along with the midgies. I saw these birds:
song thrush
chiffchaff singing and feeding young
blackbird feeding young
goldfinch feeding young
house martin
wren singing lustily
dunnock singing quietly from the gorse
willow warbler - heard only
collared dove
feral pigeon
crow (not hooded, though there are hooded crows on the shore)
common, herring & lesser black-backed gulls all flying overhead 

18 species.

There often also pied wagtails, chaffinch, sometimes greenfinch and bullfinch. Every so often a great spotted woodpecker.

Why not visit this patch of mine: get the train to Garelochhead and walk down from the station. Buy a picnic in the local Spar or treat yourself in Cafe Craft. Bring binoculars for the birds and an i.d. book for the flowers.

And then find yourself one.

common gull, not always common (Amber Listed)

at times all the land in this picture has flooded apart from the much elevated bit at top left

on the top of those fuzzy long leafy things, those two fuzzy light things with fuzzy red bits barely visible - they're goldfinches

the stream

the stream 2

tumbled floodplain oak


like Narnia. almost.

nice place for a picnic?

How to get there: 

ScotRail runs regular trains on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig. Garelochead is an hour from Glasgow Queen Street. Timetables here.

Friday 12 June 2015

Isle of May, May-June 2015 - the sketching

From May 30th to June 7th 2015 I was on the Isle of May in the outer Firth of Forth, staying in the IOMBOT's 6-bed Low Light lighthouse accommodation. Our group comprised me, Keith Brockie (One Man's Island, Return to One Man's Island) and four others, all of us painters, sketchers, photographers. 

We were there for exactly the same week as the 2013 and 2014 but this time things were quite different, a biting wind blasting the island and every bird & human on it. We still worked outdoors - it's hard to bear being inside when you're over there, there's too much to see - we just had to employ a lot more clothes. For several days I was in thermal, normal and waterproof trousers, plus five layers on top.

I didn't mind the wind, I love wild weather. I find it inspires me far more than blue sky and sun. And an extra treat - the two Anstruther to Isle of May boats were unable to sail on our intended departure date so our stay was extended by a full day and a half.

This week on the May is the most productive week of my year: daylight from half five in the morning until ten or eleven at night; dramatic landscapes and wildlife everywhere you look; other artists to discuss it all with; 92,000 pairs of breeding puffins! This trip west winds made working from birds on the cliffs close to impossible a lot of the time so I looked more at landscape.

- Details of how you too can visit are at the end of this post. 

- To stay up-to-date with island happenings, subscribe to the excellent SNH National Nature Reserve (NNR) blog - www.isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com

To watch the island on webcam, live, click here and here.   


My previous Isle of May blog posts and artworks:
2013 - http://landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2013_06_01_archive.html
2013 - https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/dead-puffins-live-puffins-an-artists-first-view-of-the-may/
2014 - https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/no-rain-leos-blog-post/


My fellow 2015 Isle of May'ers, alphabetical to avoid insult. You know what creatives are like:


My 2015 artworks
- pencil, pen, watercolour, ink


several spot-the-artists;
one spot-the-photographer;
one spot-the-extremely-well-camouflaged-seabird-researcher.


spot the nesting tern (Arctic)



spot the nesting eider


spot the artist. spot the extremely-well-camouflaged-seabird-researcher!

Italian artist on the moon

spot the sketchers

spot the photographer


Getting there:

Trips to the Isle of May are by boat from Anstruther in Fife using the May Princess or the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) Osprey, and from North Berwick in East Lothian on a Scottish Seabird Centre RIB

All details are here - www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/isle-of-may/visiting

To watch the island on webcam, live, click here and here.  

Do visit.