Wednesday, 14 August 2019

So Tiny, So Beautiful

I need to return to a topic I wrote about a short while ago - Skye's wild flowers. I was bemoaning the fact that there seemed to be fewer wild flowers blooming year-by-year. Maybe I was a little hasty with that post, as we have had a wonderful summer of colourful roadsides, with, currently, the knapweed, doing spectacularly well.

I will add, though, that I saw only a couple of common spotted orchids this spring, and I've only seen one single spear thistle locally, to the chagrin of our chaffinches, who love to eat the seeds. They are not exactly rare elsewhere however!

My daily morning dog-walk takes me along a mile or so of the local road. While the moors, which are grazed by only a thin scattering of nomadic sheep, are all but bare of our common wild flowers, the roadside verges are akin to a wildflower nature reserve. Here is the road just along from the Barn - look at all that knapweed...

... and the grasses are shoulder-high.
(Cupar looks a bit bored). 
Today, I decided to take a closer look at some of the flowers. The delicacy and daintiness of the most common of flowers is quite spectacular. Being tiny is clearly of massive importance of these plants. Maybe there is a lesson for us all there somewhere? Forget the bigger picture, it's small things that matter most.

Just one knapweed flower - of thousands!

Ever taken a close look at a roadside flower?

How dainty is the meadowsweet - and it smells wonderful too!

Friday, 2 August 2019

Roskhill Birds

My last post here was largely negative, so I thought this time I would be a bit more cheerful. Here's a post about the bird and baby bird situation in and around Roskhill.

My desk (and computer) stand just inside a ground floor window, with, only a few feet outside, our bird feeders hanging on the branches of a tree. The tree provides safe cover for a multitude of garden birds, and we keep the feeders stocked with peanuts and fat balls.

We don't attract any rare or unusual species, but the feeders are extremely busy, and our visitor list is quite long. I'm not a twitcher, so may miss a few, but at various times of the year, in the garden, we see:

  • house sparrow
  • dunnock
  • wren
  • starling
  • blackbird
  • song thrush
  • chaffinch
  • greenfinch
  • goldfinch
  • blue tit
  • great tit
  • coal tit
  • robin
  • siskin
  • blackcap
  • wagtail
  • collared dove
  • rock dove

Locally, but almost never in the garden, other birds we often see include:

  • meadow pipit
  • sedge warbler
  • wheatear
  • redwing
  • mistle thrush
  • swallow
  • cuckoo
  • snipe
  • curlew
  • lapwing
  • heron
  • jackdaw
  • hooded crow
  • raven
  • buzzard
  • sparrowhawk
  • various seabirds (I'm not good at identifying seabirds...)!

...and vary occasionally a golden eagle or sea eagle will overfly. Just a couple of times, I have seen a hen harrier over the Roskhill moorland.

Now as for nesting birds - our garden has a number of shrubs and trees. Then we have two nest boxes which are favoured by great tits, and the Barn has various holes and gaps in the roof and soffits. These locations all provide good homes, and this year in particular we have been delighted to see a big increase in numbers of breeding house sparrows. The starlings, blackbirds and great tits have been very successful too, and the robins have done especially well (three different families managed to tolerate each other to bring off broods at the same time).

It is not difficult to spend too much time looking out of the window...

Just one on this occasion - a blue tit.
 Often there are at least half a dozen birds at this feeder at the same time.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

New-builds on Skye

Another 'plot for sale' sign has just gone up in Roag. Roag is where our Summer Cottage stands. Ten years ago, there were around 18 houses in Roag. There are 29 now.

At the height of summer, with the roadside grasses waving in a gentle warm breeze and a crystal blue sea sparkling in the midday sun, it really isn't difficult to understand why people fall in love with Skye. There can be few who would question that Skye is a sensationally beautiful place.

No surprise then, when some visiting people think how nice it would be to have a house here. Well, I'm just about OK with that, too. I'll assume these people have thought about all the many pitfalls, like winter, for example... and how Skye is a very long way away from everywhere...

But, not put off at all, these people look for a house. They are not going to live in it of course - just come and stay in it from time to time. They don't like the houses that are already here. They are all far too pokey and have funny sloping ceilings and even open fireplaces. Oh that won't do at all. 'There are dozens of building plots for sale - we'll have to have one built'.

I now move into history-lesson mode...

Skye residents in the 1800s lived in crofting communities. These communities were known as townships, and are not at all like the nucleated villages found in England. A Skye township would typically consist of a dozen or more crofts. Each croft was an area of land, maybe as little as a couple of acres, to as large as maybe twenty acres. The resident of the croft (the crofter) would build their home (croft cottage) on their land, and they would use the land to grow crops and keep a cow or a few sheep to keep the family fed. This results in original croft cottages usually being quite a long way apart from each other, and a crofting township can stretch a mile or more along the township road.

Time moves on.

Crofting on Skye still happens today, and the Crofting Commission proudly upholds many time-honoured practices regarding land use. However - though sometimes a legal nightmare, croft land can be de-crofted. This means a crofter can sell off a building-plot-size piece of his land, and the Highland Council - keen to uphold the Scottish Government's desire to 'repopulate the Highlands', seem all too willing to grant planning permission for almost anything to be built almost anywhere, gradually filling-in the large gaps between original cottages with new builds.

This is Breakish, in South Skye, photographed when I had a helicopter trip over Skye in 2011.
Here, each croft is a strip of land which would have gone right to the shore.
Notice that almost every croft has at least two houses on it now.
Returning to our 'people'...

They buy their 'ideal' building plot with sea view.... 'It was so cheap'...  not noticing that it is six miles down a single-track road, has smelly cattle standing up to their knees in the bog just next door, and is at least a mile from the nearest water main or electricity supply. Never mind, a £££ few thousand soon sorts out the services. and rural smells are what it's all about - right? Shame about the single track road though... Planning permission is easily sought, and yet another monstrous 2-storey, 5-bedroom, 3-reception room, housing-estate-style mansion gets built.

How this kind of building 'fits in' with the local environment or 'compliments' existing housing defeats me - but the planning people say that's what it does.

Our 'people' now come and stay in their new house for a few weeks in late spring, when the wind is chill, the mist is low on the hills, and the persistent drizzle patters irritatingly against the huge double glazed windows.... 'I'm not so sure I like it here'...

And another unwanted, un-needed, ugly new-build goes up for sale...

Monday, 1 July 2019

Visitors from the Softy South!

It's a loooong way from the softy south to Skye, so we really don't expect many of our smog-smothered friends to take a break from their stressed-out lives to fight their way through the traffic jams and head north to visit us.

Mostly, Sue and I are content to keep up with our southern friends by travelling ourselves to visit them. We are OK doing this, as we are comfortable in the knowledge that we will soon be escaping from the southern heat, pollution and crowds and coming back home to our peaceful little patch of heaven on earth.

But last week it was a HUGE delight to welcome to Scotland my long-time friends Sara and Rod (plus pooch, Lucy). They stayed at the Old Bakery in Strathpeffer for most of their visit - because our cottages here were already booked before S&R planned their visit. But we were able to put them up at Summer Cott for just one night during their stay, so they had an all-too-brief 24 hours or so on Skye.

As it happened, their visit happened to coincide with one of the warmest days we have had up here for years, so they now wonder why we spend so much time talking about the cold, wind and drizzle.

I do hope their short visit will have spurred them on to consider coming again in the not too distant future. We might be even able to lay-on more typical weather next time!

With Sara, Rod and Lucy on the Roskhill allotment
Note the sleeveless shirts and cloudless sky....

In search of a cool walk, we headed into Dunvegan woods

Cupar expresses his disdain of Lucy