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:
chiffchaff singing and feeding young
blackbird feeding young
goldfinch feeding young
wren singing lustily
dunnock singing quietly from the gorse
willow warbler - heard only
crow (not hooded, though there are hooded crows on the shore)
common, herring & lesser black-backed gulls all flying overhead
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 2|
|tumbled floodplain oak|
|like Narnia. almost.|
|nice place for a picnic?|
How to get there: