Magnificent; And all shining through

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The bad weather stopped for long enough to give me a peaceful couple of hours walking between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay along the West Highland Way on beautiful Loch Lomondside, looking at the spots and the plants I’m monitoring.  Spring definitely suffered some slowing. I’m writing this paragraph on 1st  June and it’s a bit on the cool side!

Exploring seasons and seasonal change for my John Muir Award,  ‘unseasonal’ seems a better word for what’s been happening in the last few weeks. There was a sprinkle of fresh snow on the mountain tops this morning.  And right now, hail showers and very strong winds….

In recent days I could see masses of different wildflowers because so many of the early spring ones and the late spring ones were  out at the same time.  The bluebell is wonderful, lighting up the woodlands now as we go into June.  I spotted a lovely little white bluebell amongst its more typical peers.

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Red campion is looking great beside the bluebell and stitchwort near Manse Bay.

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Resplendent, light-reflecting globeflower, part of lovely big patch beside Loch Lomond.

DSCF0128And I like this picture of cuckooflower, still in full bloom as May came to an end.

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Water avens was a new find for me; it’s a lovely plant but my photos don’t seem to do it justice!

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I’m getting more tuned in to wildflowers –  part of the  plan  that’s guiding  me in my John Muir Award tasks. Still lots and lots to do.

My oak tree, being monitored for the Track a Tree project as part of my JMA efforts, is causing a bit of anxiety: some of the easily visible leaves look a bit unwell/damaged.  I wonder what the culprit is?  I have asked some knowledgable friends and will try to investigate for myself as well.  Oak trees support lots of other life forms – maybe a caterpillar has eaten this leaf, so that a bird can eat the caterpillar, so that a sparrow hawk can eat the bird…Here’s a picture of the damage.  The tree is not absolutely fully in leaf – so probably one more visit before I can tick that box on the Track a Tree website.

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But the tree looks magnificent now, all greenness against the bright sky.                                      Oak giant

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These two photos to show a big change in the tree between 1st May and 20th May.

On my lovely last visit  I recorded more ambient sounds as well as images of my ‘fixed points’ as I walked from one to another.  It’s quite special to get to know an area a wee bit better and to enjoy greeting each place and plant!

One of my regular photo points is a little promontory of sorts, just north of Manse Bay.  With five photos taken over eight weeks, I’m pleased to see the changes but I’m really looking forward to having a lot more photos over the coming months: I’m thinking about how I can create a short movie of these stills (and of other points in sets) and upload it here, complete with ambient sounds from the site. But nothing is as simple as it sounds! The limitations of my photos will be clear to all I would think.  The three photos here are from 3rd April, 1st May and 20th May. The fluctuating level of Loch Lomond is as much a feature as the emerging leaves on the trees.

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What of the other plants?  The guelder-rose has really come into leaf now.  Here it is on 20th May compared with just three weeks before.

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Blinding light through fading grey, ‘Cause even this shall pass away

It’s been a while since the last post and spring has slowed down in some respects – it’s been cooler.  But leaves are fully developed on so many trees.  Weather lore: ‘ash before oak, we’re in for a soak; oak before ash, we’re in for a splash’…. so it rains either way!   ‘Peak bluebell’ 07062013609is still in the future (picture from June 2013) and the globeflowers are starting to show, so there’s lots of spring change to look forward to. I’m still on the case of recording some ambient sounds to add here (alone or as part of slide show) and now have a phone app; struggling with transferring the files to this blog, I suspect I may have to upgrade.  I really need to make another visit to my photo points and monitored plants, whether it’s pouring with rain or not!

Some recent wildflower photos: wild garlic, marsh marigolds, a speedwell (common? germander?), as I continue to try to improve ID skills and recording efforts, in line with my plans for the John Muir Award (see JMA mind map), with its four challenges explore, discover, conserve and share.

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Another bit of weather lore:  ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May is out’.  This one suits Scotland whatever interpretation you put on it.  My understanding is that it refers to mayflowers, the flower of the hawthorn.  But even it you take it to mean the month of May, it’s still a cautionary saying, advising us not to remove layers of clothing too early!  Here’s some hawthorn a few days ago, the little white flowers yet to appear.

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Conservation has a special place within the John Muir Award (JMA), and this year the organisation wants to audit the amount of conservation undertaken by those on the scheme. Part of my JMA plan to conserve is to keep doing volunteer tasks in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park; monitoring plant and animal populations supports their conservation.  I went on a Wetland Bird count in April, always a great day of learning and this one was no different. The figures are sent off to the British Trust for Ornithology.  Experts/volunteers AN and SC as well as experts/Rangers MD and SK were on board – what a team!  As always,  the birds were brilliant.  We saw an oyster catcher perched on a tree branch, that looked unusual to most of us.

The chance to learn about and monitor water voles, an important local conservation story, came up again and at last it was on a day when I could attend the training – for some reason it’s always been on my busy days in the past!!

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We learners  were  helped by a  team of friendly experts.  Entrances to burrows, latrines and runways were all in evidence.  The regular surveys are carried out by the  Trossachs Watervole Project, as part of which I had signed up to monitor mink raft(s) on the Blane/ Endrick system but the initiative has been put on hold for the moment.  In preparation though, the helpful Water Vole Project Officer had taken me on a round of some of his mink rafts, an enjoyable few hours.  Thanks to friend LM for her photos of the water vole monitoring training day.

The Wildlife Site at Aberfoyle is bounded by the River Forth, a tributary stream and the cycle path, part of NCR7.  One of the NP Rangers organised a volunteer day to review aspects of the site’s biodiversity  and  tackle practical conservation tasks.  We started by walking quite slowly round the site which the Ranger plans to work on over the coming months.  One of the volunteers, L, has very good botanical knowledge which I tried resolutely to soak up while she ticked off plants that were on a list from a previous thorough survey.  Later, we removed some plant stems overhanging paths, tidied up growth around benches, removed an old fence and created habitat piles. IMG_2036Another outcome from the day was identifying future conservation tasks, including some that must wait for the end of the nesting and growing seasons.   While working, we uncovered this toad but very quickly replaced the covering material! It was a day that really fitted into the JMA ethos: taking time to get involved in exploring, discovering and conserving. And now I’m sharing this, too.

Seasonal changes on my favourite woodland walk from Balmaha to Milarrochy Bay along the West Highland Way: as part of the ‘share’ part of my JMA on the theme of seasons, I gathered together photos I’d taken of 10 of the spring flowers you find along the way.  Helpful folks have agreed to display the sheet for walkers to see as they pass by. See  Spring wildflowers and Spring_wildflowers2; no ecology or plant lore, just the pictures!

Take a little sunshine, spread it all around

Along came a sunny evening, so another visit to the lovely woodland unfolded.   Binoculars, camera, tripod, notebook….  ready for a May Day tour round my John Muir Award photo points, trees and wildflowers along the path from Balmaha to Milarrochy Bay. 

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The ‘Track a Tree’ oak tree news: many leaves were visible on my oak, though some bud burst was still on show.  The area around the tree was checked again as the Track a Tree site asks you to complete details of flowering plants in the vicinity.  The project gathers information about the timing of seasonal changes, so it seemed a logical addition to my John Muir Award project about seasons.  To do a John Muir Award, you write up a proposal showing how you intend to meet the four challenges – discover, explore, conserve and share.  See my JMA mind map, made to help me with my project.

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The spring flowers were  more abundant than during the previous week; at one spot I could see primroses, dog violets, wood anemones, bluebells, greater stitchwort and wood sorrel within a short distance of each other. Marsh marigolds are out too. The bluebells are not yet dominant, of course.  This woodland  is so special for spring flowers because of its varied underlying geology and soils – the wildflowers add to the already high levels of biodiversity associated with the Atlantic oak woodland.

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wood anemonegreater stitchwortvioletThe other trees I’m observing are progressing into leaf; one is a guelder-rose on a sunny bank beside the woodland path (aka the West Highland Way).  Friend Mark was the first person to point out this particular plant to me, sometime in summer 2011 or even 2010, I think! Thank you!  Here are some pictures of it:

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The first photo was on a cool day – 3rd April.  Husband’s finger is in the picture to try to keep the little branch still!  Tiny buds. The second was on 16th April, already the leaves are bursting out, and by 1st May, the third photo, there was a mass of developing leaf clusters on this lovely shrub. I’m looking forward to seeing the guelder-rose go through its paces in the months ahead.

I’m learning more about the challenges of attempting fixed point photography – and the output might be improving – more on that later. It’s tempting to crop them all to match but I could be left with postage stamps!  I’ve got a wee device to fix to my rucksack straps to record time lapse photos or videos – maybe a couple of these films across the seasons would help show how much things change? I’m still investigating how to do ambient sound recording.  Not having the right equipment didn’t stop us from quietly listening to some great background sounds: all the ones I expected to hear – birdsong, lapping waves on the loch shore after a boat passed by, a dog running through the leaves, distant snippets of walkers’ conversations.