I feel it in the air, the summer’s out of reach

So, I made  another visit to my lovely John Muir Award (JMA) area of Loch Lomondside as autumn approaches. See my plan for the JMA challenges of discover, explore, conserve and share. Starting from Milarrochy Bay, I walked south taking photos of various plants and at my photo points as well.  On the way back to Milarrochy Bay from Balmaha Pier, I made a time lapse video of the walk with my little SJ5000 camera on a stick – more on that later.  It was sunny – almost too sunny for some of the photo points, but no complaints: was summer ever really within reach this year?

I think I’ve now lost count of the wildflower species I’ve noted (and, mostly, photographed) since the start of spring, it’s really amazing what variety can be found close by this delightful stretch of the West Highland Way through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – there’s a job for me on a rainy day, counting them! A continuing challenge, though, is getting them correctly named and then learned.

With  autumn drifting closer, I saw lots on my last visit: Devil’s-bit Scabious, Common Knapweed, Yarrow, Bell Heather, Heather, Wild Carrot, Enchanter’s-nightshade, Marsh Woundwort, Hedge Woundwort, Harebell, Nipplewort, Goldenrod, Common Cow-wheat, Self-heal, Stone Bramble.  I checked on my Guelder-rose – the little berries are coming along though not yet red.

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There was more oak mildew as well, though I didn’t visit ‘my’oak tree  as I hadn’t brought my complete anti-tick kit with me.   Late afternoon seems to be a time I often walk this walk; it’s quieter and the views are brilliant across the loch.

Heather is a Scottish icon, typically pictured flowering en masse on our hillsides.  I think (!!) there are two types in bloom in my area: Calluna vulgaris – Heather, and brighter Bell Heather, Erica cinerea which flowers earlier.  It was great to see the rocky exposure near Balmaha Pier turned to purple with both types on show.

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Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) is one of the pleasures of this time of year, its mauve/blue seems to echo the bluebell colour of spring.  It’s an amazing wee flower – some look quite different from others (?gender?) though all seem popular with insects.

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The Hedge and Marsh Woundworts are interesting with their orchid-like flowers. Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is the beetroot coloured one, while Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) is more lilac. They’re both easily seen by the path.

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Enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) was first pointed out to me by a young colleague, H,  in summer 2012 as we were walking along the path (the path, my little exploration zone).  Several wildflower sources describe this plant as ‘easily overlooked’. It’s certainly not easily photographed! It was still flowering away in the shadows on my last visit, but the photo below is from July.

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I did say I was not doing umbellifers, but the gorgeous Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) deserves special treatment.  I took a nice photo (of flower and insect) here  in August 2012 so I’ll just repeat that one, even though I got some more the other day!  The seed heads are pretty spectacular when you look at them closely: below is an immature one I saw – shows it really was sunny on my last visit!

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The Wild Carrot seed head reminds me of the challenge of recognising your plants at different stages of their year. With the Devil’s-bit Scabious, some of the heads are not yet fully flowering just now and are lovely, a little bit like a bramble fruit.

The time lapse movie made walking from Balmaha Pier to Milarrochy bay is great fun to watch at the computer, but as yet I’ve not worked out how to transfer it to this blog in a viewable fashion.  Videos need to be from You Tube (as I do not pay for my WordPress access): so far so easy.  But uploading the file directly or uploading from iMovie both give a blurry result so I must consult my friend T, who is responsible for tempting me to buy the camera in the first place! He’s very knowledgable.

This blog is serving me as a supplement and a complement to my little John Muir Award Record Books, which I love to write in (I’m on number 4). It’s a way to share, of course: the award asks you to discover, explore, conserve and share. I made up some sheets of July and August wildflowers using own photos taken in my little area; these are an aid to my learning, so I’m sharing the pdfs here: Summer wildflowers1Summer wildflowers2 and Mountain bog Cashel. I put links to two sheets of spring wildflowers (pdfs) in a post entitled “Blinding light through fading grey..”, published in mid-May.

Spotted this link in JMA resources section:  it’s  called ‘5 ways to wellbeing’  – Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give.  Reading the little notes, I can’t believe how well it fits my JMA plan! Find it by searching at issuu.com or see embedded link below. The JMT has ‘fleshed out’ the 5 areas to show how different groups could use the JMA to achieve these – see here.

“But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks”. John Muir in “Mormon Lilies”, San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (part 4 of the 4 part series “Notes from Utah”) dated July 1877, published 19 July 1877; reprinted in Steep Trails (1918), chapter 9. (I like that phrase in bold above, but some of  the rest of the piece, not so much!)  Some of my volunteering this year has been about  supporting  access to the outdoors by less well represented groups. In my plan I have something like ‘walk in the NP with…. others’ and ‘appreciate and understand’:  and while these appear in the ‘explore’ corner of the plan, they are also about sharing. The nice folks at Education and Outreach within the National Park offered the chance to volunteer in support of visits by Deaf Blind Scotland and by Greater Pollock Integration Network.  Both of these visits involved walking in my JMA area with some of the group members, so that let me better appreciate and understand the landscape through the senses of others: humbling.

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When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this

When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this…

The most recent visit to all my special places on Loch Lomondside was accompanied by some wistful thoughts; we’ve had a lovely sunny few days and yet: half way through August, school holidays over and a hint of changing colour on the odd tree.  It was delightful, as always,  to greet the plants, to get to know some new flowers and to stand among my oak and its neighbours, listening.

There’s lots to learn about this photography lark! How hard it is to get all the things right at my chosen photo points: height, direction, angle of elevation to reproduce the same view each time.  But I am pleased to have a record for myself of how slow spring seemed and how the green masses burgeoned  in summer along this stretch of the West Highland Way between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay.

This is a video (no moving images!) of changes at my 5 photo points between April and August, points chosen to help me appreciate and record seasonal change for my John Muir Award.  I’ve picked just one image from each month at each place. Comparing two or three individual images actually looks better and the separate images are sharper! Never mind. I decided to keep it simple, no fancy transitions or anything. Listen to the authentic sounds of waves lapping the loch shore!

It’s a strange sort of stasis just now, and yet I am still seeing many new things as the summer (“summer”??!!) advances.  So not stasis, then.  One of the things I saw on my last visit was a distinct white/silver tone to parts of ‘my’ oak and its oaky companions: and worse, the white/silver effect is on the once-lovely brighter green of the Lammas growth leaves.  It appears to be a mildew, as predicted by my knowledgable friend, Ranger  A.  Here’s a picture:

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I imagine these wonderful oak trees can put up with quite a lot.  I hope they can – since I started my relationship with this one it’s been the target of hungry caterpillars, had many of its hard won leaves eaten, devoted much energy to sprouting anew at Lammas and now it’s being visited by a mildew, it appears.  Maybe it will feel the strength of my optimistic affection when I am next there!

On the flower front, DSCF0567it’s still that old Coldplay song: they were all yellow...although some were not.   I’ve noticed another ‘new’ flower (for this beginner), the aptly named Goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea – several iSpotters have identified mine as that particular species of Goldenrod; there are many species and subspecies. Now I know where it is, I’ll try to look for and photograph the salient features next time.   Goldenrod to the left.

There was another yellow flower, again new to me, but definitely a type of Hypericum (St John’s Wort), I thought.  After reading through sites and keys, I decided it was either Perforate or Imperforate, so put it on-line to see if iSpotters could help me.  As I write, there are two views – it’s either Perforate or Imperforate!  The distinguishing features of each require me to get into more detail (than I understand or have the capability to photograph) so I’ll just add the photos for the moment:

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Other beautiful things abound in varied habitats of this amazing place. Lots of Meadowsweet (Filiparia Ulmaria) is in fluffy cream blossom. I’ve been enjoying staring closely to find out out why it looks fluffy! And how lovely are the remarkably bright scarlet berries of the Stone Bramble, Rubus saxatilis.

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The sunny bank where the stone bramble resides is noteworthy (for me) in sheltering among its rises and dips a large number of different wildflowers  so far this year: Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Bluebell, Primrose, Wood Avens, Water Avens, hybrid Avens, Common Dog-violet, Common Cow-wheat (and more I’ve not noticed or remembered) as well as ‘my’ Guelder-rose and other shrubs and trees.

Just to make up the colour range on my last visit to the woods, there were Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Wood Crane’s-bill (Geranium sylvaticum).

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Unlike many professional photos, my distinctly amateur images of plants often show, confusingly, the stems, leaves or flowers of others.  This profusion of loveliness is a bonus, though.

The Guelder-rose whose fortunes I’ve been following since April has had a mixed spring and summer: new fresh leaves, then the attentions of the caterpillars!  But there were flowers atop the lacey leaves, and now the berries are developing. Photographed on 27th June and 12th August.

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The variety of habitats in a small area is another revelation to me: the bog plants above Cashel are very close to my area of focus on Loch Lomondside, as are the varied environments of the eastern approaches to Conic Hill.  A late July sunny-day walk up to the summit of Conic from the east side gave me Eyebright (below), Water Forget-me-not, Ragged Robin (bottom of two), Meadowsweet, Self-heal, Wild Angelica, Bog Asphodel, Bell Heather, Common Spotted-Orchid and more – drier stoney places, moor, wet ditches, boggy bits, it’s all there.  It really was sunny!

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I suppose there is a conspicuous omission from all this plant learning (or trying to learn) and that’s the umbellifers: the ones with umbels!  Maybe Meadowsweet is counted here – but at least I’m pretty sure of that one.  Wild Angelica I think I know too, but I am uncertain of many others and since some  dangerous poisonous plants look so similar, I’m leaving them – wild carrot, hogweed and the others –  for another time!

Conservation update:  I’ve managed two days as a practical conservation volunteer with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in August, one at Critreoch Wildlife Site very close to my chosen John Muir Award area,  and one spraying Japanese Knotweed (Invasive Non-Native species or INNS) around Loch Earn.  The INNS work is surprisingly good fun – in spite of the sweat-filled rubber gloves and the green paper onesie! (Definitely no photos.) That day, the team drove round the loch from patch to patch and we met both visitors and local folk who congratulated us on fighting the good fight! Thanks to NP person G, leader on the day. Dealing with INNS is one of the five challenges in Wild Park 2020, the National Park’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

At Critreoch, where the target is to nurture a species-rich grassland, the volunteer group carried on with bracken bashing, fencing tasks and some removal of young alder under the guidance of Ranger A, who explained why we were doing what we were doing at every turn – brilliant!  Such was the growth of bracken covering up underlying features, I didn’t manage to get to the stream where me and another vol had worked on the previous practical conservation day there in June!  So I don’t know yet if/how our construction survived the rain. My fellow volunteer, lovely L, is cropped out of this photo but it shows the thigh-high bracken being bashed.  I came upon a miniature lichen landscape on a fencepost top and thought it absolutely beautiful.

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You will keep forever, I’ll bury you like treasure

And so to bogs… Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time leaping from tussock to tussock, squelching through wet  springy moss  and sometimes up to knees or thighs in glaur – all while passing through our mountain bogs.  When making my way to or from a hill top, I haven’t always observed what’s growing in the boggy bits – you know what it looks like and what it means (getting wet!) but you take it for granted. A visit with friend L to the area just above the Cashel Native Forest on Loch Lomondside a couple of weeks ago gave me a chance to look at some special features of a mountain bog habitat in light of my current John Muir Award efforts to learn more about the natural world – my plan can be seen here.  It was beautiful – the dry air vibrated with various buzzings, with the calls and flight of meadow pipits and the more distant ‘seeps’ of buzzards. We saw a ringlet butterfly and a dark green fritillary as well – thanks to iSpotters for supporting me towards clearer ID!  The plants were amazing in mid July, we saw bog pondweed, bog asphodel, what I used to call bog cotton  (Hare’s-Tail Cottongrass), bog myrtle, heath milkwort and common lousewort (in that order, below). IMG_2213 bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum IMG_2219 IMG_2225 IMG_2212 IMG_2210 And we saw a lot of moss. bog- moss Sphagnum ssp IMG_2215 The moss is amazing stuff: some mosses can hold many times their own weight in water, they’re like sponges.  Dead sphagnum moss can accumulate slowly in an acidic environment where the organisms that normally break down dead plant material cannot live, and it forms layers of peat which can be several metres deep. Many interesting flora and fauna can be found on and above the peatlands, including plants which are carnivorous (they trap flies on sticky hairs of the leaves) to provide additional nutrition needed in the nutrient-poor peaty soils.  I’ve not got a photo of a sundew, but we took some of Common butterwort on Mull around midsummer: they’re not very good photos, I am afraid! DSC_0977 butterwort in flower Mull hill

Peat bogs currently** act as carbon sinks, so we really need to look after them; and by storing large amounts of water, bogs can slow down run-off and help limit flooding after heavy rain events:  both functions are about the cheery topic of climate change and increasing the resilience of natural systems in the face of this challenge. Reversing the effects of previous drainage projects, ending commercial peat extraction and limiting – and making good –  the extra erosion caused by overgrazing are all ways to safeguard this useful stuff.  See  here for news of collaboration to restore peatlands among SRUC, LLTNP and Luss Estates. Objects and indeed bodies can be really well preserved in peat: see here for Ötzi’s story, he is one of several famous European bog bodies.

“Our mountain bogs” is one of the 5 ‘wild challenges‘ in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP),  Wild Park 2020, where it sets out projects to conserve the biodiversity. BAPs had their origins when some countries committed to take action on threatened species and habitats in the wake of an international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with the UK signing at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

There is a European framework for species and habitat conservation, UK – wide and Scottish protection / conservation legislation and also a Scottish set of priorities responding to the UN CBD ‘Aichi’ biodiversity targets for 2020 (named for the area in Japan where the targets were set during the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity – UN CBD). The ‘Aichi’ targets are short and easy to read: see this webpage  for the list of 2o established in 2010.  All of the planning around BAPs recognises the positive impact on economies and on wellbeing of conserving our natural capital for the future. Naturally, though, there is concern in some less developed countries about the worldwide importance placed on biodiversity, perhaps, as it might be seen,  above food and industrial development.  

In Scottish terms, earlier documents on biodiversity gave rise to the so-called ‘biodiversity duty’, a legal duty on public bodies (e.g. local authority, health board); that could be seen as bolstering the efforts set out within the important BAPs.  The recent document 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity (published in 2013) ( find it here),  states that the Aichi targets of UN CBD 2010, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 (published 2011)  “call for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore the essential services that a healthy natural environment provides”  because previous targets set for 2010 were not met.  A further Scottish Government document, “Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020”  (available herewas published in June 2015 and describes priority projects to meet the targets within ‘Six Big Steps for Nature’ (e.g. Step 1: Ecosystems Restoration; priority project: restoration of peatlands).  It’s within this context too that we might consider reintroductions of species: after all, restoring the ecosystem and ecosystem services can mean restoring its former members!  Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has a section on its website about reintroductions: here, including minutes of meetings of the National Species Reintroduction Forum.

** Update: But for how long?  See news from RSPB regarding recent research:  climate change threat to uplands

I found reading around BAPs really interesting  – I only hope my extreme summary is reasonably accurate!  But back to my special John Muir Award area by Loch Lomond: the NP’s other ‘wild challenges‘  are red squirrels; invasive non-native species (INNS); black grouse; and woodland habitat network.   It was nice to think about my own engagements with some of these NP conservation causes: I am a certificated sprayer of INNS, and have spent some volunteer days removing rhodies by the lever and mulch method (does your back in!); this year I’ve been fortunate to see lots of black grouse (without getting up early!), all of them males strutting their stuff/white tails; red squirrel are quite easily seen in local forests; and my ‘Track a Tree’ project as part of my John Muir Award efforts involves getting up close and personal with my oak tree and its surroundings as the seasons pass – our woodland habitat network!  However, one of the things I increasingly think about is what stage in habitat succession we choose to conserve – and why! IMG_2206

I was wondering about the road that lies ahead,

in my mind I heard the wisdom of the master….

“Every leaf seems to speak”   – John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938).   This last couple of weeks I’ve made visits to my special spots on Loch Lomondside (selected for my John Muir Award focusing on the seasons) and found myself again greeting familiar plants; none has answered back, so John Muir probably didn’t mean this literally!  But the leaves do speak in their own way.  They attest to changes in the amount of  daylight they receive and to the changes taking place inside maturing plants as they prepare to set seed, and changes inside trees as they respond to a drop in green surface area from which to synthesise food, that reduction caused by caterpillar damage. At least that’s how it seems to me… it appears that the oaks have experienced Lammas growth. It’s quite exciting to see this after spotting the numbers of busy caterpillars in early June. I don’t know what the science says to that, though. These photos were taken on 21st July.

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Spring has definitely given way to something else, but July has been a little disappointing as a summer month!  It’s made me wonder what lies ahead in August. The beautiful woodland along the West Highland Way between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay is brilliant green with yellow patches – so many of the flowers I’ve seen in bloom are yellow – look how they shine for you.  There’s still the carpet of low growing Common Cow-wheat, and now there’s Honeysuckle and Nipplewort and Slender St John’s-wort and Creeping Yellow-cress.

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Creeping yellow cress Rorippa sylvestrisThe non-yellow plants are pretty in July: purple and pink flowers are out, with Self-heal, Common Spotted-orchid, Hedge Woundwort, Common Knapweed, Yarrow and Tufted Vetch.

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hedge woundwort  Stachys sylvatica

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The small band of wildflowers that I recognise is growing by means of trying to learn new ones while retaining  a handle on the ones I think I learned previously!  Using iSpot has been a great help, as people consider  your identifications, offering agreement or not.  Some contributors remind me of important distinguishing features!  I know, though, that I can be a bit blinkered  continuing to be convinced of an ID even when evidence against it is mounting…. and keying out each one is challenging as I don’t always have the vocabulary for that.  Wildflowers and how they change over the weeks has been one of the revelations so far of my JMA efforts, it’s such rich habitat  around the trees of the oak woodland.  I hope these IDs are correct – time will tell. I have no regrets about the focus being a relatively short stretch/small area along the WHW – getting to know it better is brilliant.

My photo points continue to provide amusement for passers-by and some frustration for me!  July has been green, green, green. I remember so vividly being delighted by the spring signs here on 16th April: but each individual plant had grown and greened up hugely by 15th July! And look, two sunny days, though not in a row, of course.

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The little island keeps changing too, not least because of the way the water level varies. Vegetation change is prominent when you compare these images from 20th May and 15th July.

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I’m delighted  to have enough photos of my chosen points to see real differences across the growing season so far.

I took a walk with a friend up the track at Cashel one afternoon.  It always surprises me that it is so calm and quiet up there, we talked for a while about what we saw and what was growing.  The mountain bog environment is represented by cotton grass, bog moss, bog myrtle and bog asphodel, to name some of the easy ones to see.  How close to my Balmaha to Milarrochy Bay area this is, yet it’s such a different habitat.  Both are important though, figuring in plans to protect and retain their biodiversity.

On one of my visits round my photo points, I took along the little video lapse camera (on a stick) and had great fun taking short movies under water in the loch – the waterproof case worked well.  I want to use to show some features of the woodland, to show a walk along the WHW path.  I tried that but found the position of the stick wasn’t quite right that time! The search for the best method of showing little videos on this blog – eight shots of a photo point, say, stitched together – continues and I think I’m getting somewhere, so more on that soon.

Reading recently has taken in Biodiversity Action Plans – BAPs: the international and European agreements that fostered these plans and the identification of priority species, and the steps local authorities have taken to develop and implement their plans.  My John Muir Award  area is  part of  Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park  and the NP BAP for the current period is called Wild Park 2020 – see http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/wildpark/.  More on that later.

Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise

Well, plenty of sun to see, though not actually rising when I saw it!

June was to be 30 days wild, according to the twitter hashtag: I didn’t manage 30! I did fit in some practical conservation volunteering on two days (9th and 10th June) at wildlife sites with members of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Ranger team. Conservation is especially important to the John Muir Award (JMA) this year, with an audit of what JMA candidates do. As part of my plan for the JMA, I am choosing volunteer projects close to my special JMA place, the woodland between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay by beautiful Loch Lomond. The overall theme for me is seasons:  I love to see the landscape change as the months pass, but I want to learn more and to be a better informed and  more careful observer. Simple!?!!

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Wildlife Sites: Day 1

Critreoch is a lovely spot, a tract of (mostly) semi-natural grassland with the West Highland Way to one side and Loch Lomond to the other. There’s no signage or car parking so people who discover the Wildlife Site probably enjoy it in peace. The site has a pond – there are very few ponds in the area, unless you count the very big one called Loch Lomond! (Yes, I know, different habitat….)

The site is managed for biodiversity by, for example, cattle grazing in winter to keep bracken in check (with some human help on the bracken front too), and cutting back emerging alder before they can escape upwards and grow despite the attentions of the on-site roe deer. Critreoch is valued for its rich (in terms of flora) grassland habitat, relatively rare in the area; its species, especially invertebrates of the pond and meadow; and its use as an educational and kids’ event resource. There was a lightly trodden desire line path through the site visible that day.

I had a great day’s volunteering. One team  helped with some fencing work near the loch while another team trampled bracken. A third team (that included me!) tackled an in-burn construction task to safeguard the inflow of water to the pond: it’ll be interesting to see how the changes we made have fared in the face of the power of running water on the next volunteer day there, 4th August.

Wildlife sites: Day 2
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Aberfoyle Community Wildlife Site forms part of the flood plain of the River Forth. Rabbit Hill at the NE of the site has a mountain bike trail for skills development, but the rest of the site is managed for wildlife. This volunteer day let us get on with some of the tasks identified during an earlier one in May. The picture above was taken in May at the site: drastically cropped to avoid identifying people! Ben Lomond is in the centre background.

Boundaries of the site are the cycle path, the River Forth and the burn at the car park/western end. Public access to the site is marked by gate posts. It’s an important community resource, many dogs are walked! There are a variety of habitats: it is less wet towards the north and west while the boundary area along the River Forth in the south is wet grassland. An area near the centre of the site is marsh, with plants such as meadowsweet and valerian while in the centre there is also wet grassland/woodland carr, a potentially rich habitat with scattered alder and willow. Invasive plants have become a feature, though, with spirea (a shrub, member of the rose family) in large clumps in the centre of the site and encroaching rosebay willowherb towards the north. A footpath along the burn and the river is probably the most used route within the site, although ‘desire line’ trodden paths can be seen.

Volunteer teams that day made a drainage ditch, dug away overgrowth on a section of made path, and refurbished (see below) the signage/gateposts. Another great day of volunteering. IMG_2110 IMG_2114

Similar but different!

The biodiversity of both these sites may be partially attributed to human actions over time, so there would be loss of that diversity should management not take place – grassland can quickly change!. Both are relatively isolated areas of grassland in an increasingly wooded landscape. These two pockets of grassland could be seen as fragile because of their separation from other areas of similar habitat. Both sites are close by protected areas such as Doon Hill SSSI in Aberfoyle and Rowardennan Woods SSSI in the case of Critreoch. The Aberfoyle site is three times the size of Critreoch and has easy access from the car park and cycle path. Unlike Critreoch, there is a made path round the Aberfoyle site. Critreoch has no access infrastructure except a platform at the pond.

Seasonal change is central to the three conservation days I’ve had at these sites so far this year. The low levels of early spring growth on the marshland in the centre of the Aberfoyle site allowed us in to remove an old fence in May – and we were lucky it wasn’t too wet at that stage. The nesting season has prevented work on invasive bushes at that site and further work on some trees will have to wait till ‘the back end’ – till the plants are near dormant. At Critreoch, the June day allowed some bracken trampling before it grew to waist or hip height. All this is obvious of course, but having seasons in closer focus has made me more aware.

Both sites are really lovely, though each has a different feel. I’ve enjoyed learning about them so far and it’s satisfying to do practical conservation  volunteering any time, especially in my John Muir spring.

Meanwhile, back at the woodland….

My lovely guelder-rose has been eaten!  On 8th June, I saw  a few caterpillars and by 27th June, the impact was clear: lace leaves as a backdrop to the opening blossom!

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As the weeks pass, the flowering plants of the woodland are changing – and some are harder for me to recognise!  The greenness of the woodland  is almost overwhelming, and the carpeting colours seem strongly yellow from the modest common cow-wheat to the brilliant, showy yellow iris on the marshy bits. As earlier flowering species set seed, their appearance becomes a new mystery: at the bottom is the seed head of water avens, still lovely on 27th June.

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This midsummer, a few days on Mull was a lovely wildlife experience – as well as  a good trip away.  I surprised myself by looking at what’s growing on the hills and coasts of Mull as often as I scanned the skies for the big birds. I tried to get pictures of plants in flower like butterwort, lousewort and tormentil that I saw on the hills and bird’s-foot trefoil and thrift by the coast. The emerging orchids, the heath milkwort and the many many yellow iris were wonderful. Some photos below.

Mull shore rocks thrift

Mull shore rocks birds foot trefoil

Mull upland wet ?tufted vetch

When the rain washes you clean….

You’ll know….

There was a sunny evening in early June – just as well, since my plans for the day were scuppered by a car problem. I had intended to meet friend S in the morning for a visit to my lovely woodland, my special oak tree (I’m following it for the brilliant Track a Tree project) and my photo sites.  The morning light was one of the things I wanted to catch – but that was not to be!  We all finally got together for a long walk around my John Muir Award area between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay in the evening. For the Award, you have to discover, explore, conserve and share your own little bit of wildness  – see my plan for my study of seasons and seasonal change.

I must have looked quite at home in the lay-by, waiting for the AA, in my hi-viz vest and with binos and camera.  I  watched a buzzard close by, some hunting wagtails and  some geese.  I learned what I could about what was around me! It was a nice morning, no rain, so that helped. Here are three photos:

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The hawthorn at the end of the lay-by was in gorgeous bloom, the lovely pink colour  gives the whole bush a vanilla hue, different from the creamy white at the start of blossoming.  The roadside plant with little white flowers is garlic mustard.  The flies were spectacular, there were lots of them and they favoured the sunny side of the lay-by tree.   I discussed them later with S, they weren’t known to him at that stage. I’ll put a photo on iSpot for help.

The flies are Rhagio scolopaceus, downlooker snipe-fly,  thanks for help, iSpotter.

Seasonal change is moving along nicely – and it was still not raining. Wild garlic now had its lovely dome of stars, a change from the folded flower of four weeks ago (photos early May and early June on Inchcailloch). The fragrance seems to be brought out more by the rain.

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Reaching the woodland by Loch Lomond, the globeflowers by the shore close to the West Highland Way were still a sight to behold.

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The OS maps show a dun or fort (an antiquity) in the woodland.  There is information about it at The online catalogue to Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage.   The site defines a dun as  “A building or settlement enclosure with a thick drystone wall, generally circular or oval in plan, usually sited in an elevated position.”  While making our rounds we went to see the remains and found them quite overgrown -and found litter too.

Ian McCalllum G62 8HL

Exploring the woodland round ‘my’ oak tree, it was clear that caterpillars were at work. S advised they were of various types including winter moth, november moth and feathered thorn.  The woodland had turned into ‘looper’ central!  And the oak leaves were suffering.

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oak

The light coloured caterpillar, the feathered thorn, is pretty well disguised especially when it’s on bark and twigs. My Track a Tree oak tree looked much like last time, about 2 weeks before – but maybe less luxuriant and full?  If that was actually the case then the caterpillars were to blame; time will tell if the oaks hereabouts have a later burst of growth, the Lammas growth.

The woodland still looks beautiful, though.

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I took photos at my photo points, and it was a shame to have missed the light of earlier in the day, not least because photos into the sun in the west are painful on the eyes! But who’s complaining this year about the sun??!!

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This is the little promontory by the WHW on 3rd April and 8th June.  I’ve got 6 views over that period of each of my points, and I suppose the challenge is to keep up the record keeping! (Also to improve the fixing of my so-called fixed points!) I plan to make more/better movies and to integrate more sound recordings: I have woodland birdsong recorded in the area round the tree, so I hope that gives some atmosphere! It’s all  quite a learning curve.

The changes in the wildflowers are really interesting: with each visit the balance of the different species changes. My strategy with wildflowers is to try to keep the knowledge of the ones I know and to add a few more at a time (while still checking back to the known ones!). I may not know very many, but my list is growing all the time. This visit, a notable change was the red campion which was out in force now. Wood avens (below right) had appeared, while water avens (below left, earlier photo) was still out.  An intermediate hybrid of the two was seen as well, it’s in the bottom photo.

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wood avens

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The bluebells were still blooming and lighting up the woodland, this one was positively shining. Carpets of yellow cow wheat were out and S swept them for the pug moth that uses the plant. I think the cow wheat is common as against small, based on the ‘eyelashes’ of the calyx where it meets the flower.

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Catching up on my John Muir-related reading: the little book from the JMT 1992 conference at Sabhal Mor Ostaig remains to be finished. Looking up the flowers and trying to ID them in photos takes up quite a bit of time! Planning a food packaging audit as well….

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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