Sunday, 16 February 2020

A big "Hello" to Flora

Almost exactly two years since we first went to see Isla (pictures here) Issy and I were back in Lavenham to meet her half sister, Flora, who will be joining the family at the end of the month.  The weather couldn't have been more different to last time, given that Storm Dennis was starting to make itself felt, but the excitement at meeting our new family member was just as great as before.  We now have two weeks to re-puppy-proof the house, having almost got back to normal after Isla's arrival.  (She still has a penchant for raiding the kindling basket, meaning that it needs to be kept out of her reach.)  Despite the inevitable chewing of fingers, clothing, furniture, cushions, etc. - and the endless puddles on the floor - everything is worthwhile given the pleasure and companionship which a dog (or two) brings to the house.  Roll on February 29th for the arrival of our leap-year pup.

The breeder, David Knight of Waterside Gundogs, holding Flora's sister - Abby - who he is keeping.

The following two pictures are Flora's yellow brothers, both of whom are looking for a good home.  The one in David's hands is the "big boy" of the litter; the other is more delicate, with absolutely beautiful markings.

Having just been fed - and with the strong winds of Storm Dennis howling outside - the pups were understandably keen to go back to snoozing under the heat lamp.  Given the conditions I didn't blame them one bit.  Flora is the yellow pup on the left in the first picture.

Fingers crossed that Isla and her new playmate will actually get on.  Whatever happens, you'll be able to read the full story here...

Monday, 13 January 2020

Scotland 2019 25: Glen Feshie

Having had our fill of red squirrels (is there such a thing?), we asked the wardens at Loch Garten about potential walking locations in the vicinity.  It was a very hot and still afternoon; and, since we had lots of time to kill before heading towards Fort William, the recommendation was to head for Glen Feshie.

As well as being a great place for a walk, the area is also an impressive example of what can be achieved with "rewilding".  For many years Glen Feshie was managed as a deer forest: indeed, it was here that Edwin Landseer painted his most famous work, Monarch of the Glen.  Management in favour of the deer meant that the traditional pine woods were dwindling; but, starting in 2004, there was a concerted effort to cull the deer population and return the area to its natural state.  The absence of deer meant that Scots pine, birch and juniper saplings now had a chance to grow without being eaten, and the woodland is gradually re-populating the hillside as a result.

As with Mar Lodge, there was evidence that 2019 was going to be a bumper year for fungi.

The temperature in Glen Feshie reached the low 30s on the afternoon we visited: plenty hot enough to melt the tar in the road, as I discovered.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Happy Second Birthday to Isla

Our little pup is two today.  A birthday tea, complete with special doggie cake courtesy of Andrea, John and our "best mates" Dillon and Daisy.

Daisy decided that the cake needed to be guarded - just in case...

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Scotland 2019 24: Loch Garten red squirrels

While eating lunch at the Loch Garten visitors' centre, we received notification that there were red squirrels on one of the feeders at the back of the building.  Time to drop sandwiches and pick up a camera!  None of these pictures are going to win any prizes given the cluttered background, peanut feeder and obviously man-made perch (antlers don't grow on trees, and cable ties aren't normally found in the wild).  This doesn't stop the little beasties from being utterly adorable, though, and I cherish the half hour or so I spent photographing them.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Scotland 2019 23: Loch Garten birds

Our next accommodation after Pitlochry was in Ballachulish (near Glencoe); but, because of the expanse of Rannoch Moor, there wasn't an obvious direct route between the two.  The choices were to go south, via Crianlarich, or north via Spean Bridge and Fort William.  Since we had the whole day for the journey, we decided to take a slight detour and head up through Aviemore to the Loch Garten Osprey Centre.  The eponymous birds have nested in Loch Garten every year since 1954, and the RSPB have installed a "nest cam" so that the chicks can be observed at close quarters without being disturbed.  Sadly the birds didn't return in 2019, but our visit was far from wasted.  Loch Garten is in the Cairngorms National Park, and its ancient Caledonian Pinewoods are ideal places to spot two of Scotland's iconic species: crested tit and red squirrel.  After the damp squib of Mar Lodge Estate, we had high hopes that the glorious sunshine would gives us better luck this time.

I spotted a red squirrel running across the track, but didn't manage to photograph it.  Perhaps our optimism would be justified after all?

The Visitors' Centre at Loch Garten is absolutely brilliant, with plenty of opportunity to watch the comings and goings on the various feeders.  Photographic conditions weren't ideal, unfortunately, with extremely harsh back-lighting and perches which were obviously man-made.  Even so, our patience was rewarded - briefly - when the feeding station was visited by one of the local cresties. 

Other visitors were siskin, chaffinch, great tit and a juvenile spotted woodpecker.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Scotland 2019 22: Rannoch Moor

Having got cold and damp walking through the Mar Lodge Estate, the following day dawned with clear blue skies, virtually no wind and a predicted maximum temperature well into the 30s.  Given that we still needed to escape Pitlochry because of the Blair Castle Horse Trials, we decided to head west on the banks of Loch Tummel, Dunalastair Water and Loch Rannoch to one of the most remote tea rooms in the country at Rannoch Moor Station.  OK, so the official excuse was that we wanted to go for a walk on the moor and in the woods above Loch Laidon, but who can resist the Rannoch Station Tearoom?  It was so good that we had to visit it twice, in fact: once on arrival (when the cakes were still hot from the oven); and again after our walk for a belated lunch.

The last time we visited Rannoch Moor was by train back in 2004, when it was wall-to-wall low cloud and rain.  Fifteen years later, it couldn't have been more different.

Any hopes of capturing a picture with a train going over the viaduct were dashed when we spotted that the line was closed for maintenance work.

It was incredibly hot and very hazy for the walk, but the area was surprisingly free of midges - especially given the conditions.  Not ideal for landscape photography, unfortunately, but the lack of cloud made it obvious how close Rannoch Moor is to Glencoe, which was clearly visible in the distance.

There was some respite for the heat in the woods, but this was more than made up for by having to climb up a gradient.  No choice but to turn around and head for the tearoom.  Again!