Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Yesterday I walked...

...through howling wind, it tossed the trees and the birds were silent. It was in the gloaming, the night was falling, the sky was textured clouds with lowlights. And the wind was blowing.

It seemed to infuse my dog with a madness, he raced along, twisting and looking at invisible things, getting more and more excited with the madness of the wind. There was very little roaming (in that gloaming). The silence was non-existent, rushing air was too loud for the world to be called silent, but there was a sense of living creatures being hunkered down. The sheep were in the woods for shelter, their eyes staring out at me and the dog as we passed, and I heard some rooks, but all else was silent.

It is weather for hunkering down in, don't waste your winter energy in fighting the wind and the rain; energy is too precious and no weather lasts forever, right? I tried to howl, but the wind was louder than me and more magnificent too, but it was wolf weather right enough. My dog sat and watched me, head tilted to one side before leaping in the air. The weather excites those that do not need to fear it.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Wren

And what of the soul song of the wren? The wren has a sharp alarm call, and a song to wake the deepest slumberer into light and joy and beauty. But what of it’s soul song? The wren needs no reminder that it is a wee bird with an ability to sing louder than birds four, five times it’s size; this is the wren’s gift. I wonder why it sings so loud? As a modest bird that tends to live in the brambles, maybe it’s so that the song is worth travelling for. Not for this bird the risk of chancing an encounter – shout it loud and shout it long and thE the song will reach the furthest corners of the earth. All will be aware of the wrens presence, despite the small size.

And so speaks the soul song of the wren. For, just as people, all animals and indeed all plants will have a soul song that speak of their reason. I speak of the overall impression and that thing inside that makes them Troglodytes troglodytes, Hylocomium spledens, Felix sylvestris grampia, Quercus petraea, Homo sapiens. This is the soul song, and it’s individual as well. Like the lone whale with the wrong song, we all sing our own tune and sometimes it’s with joy and sometimes it’s with longing for companionship, but we’re our own entire person at the end of the day.

And what of spirit animals? What animal speaks to you? Just think and be in nature and one will come to you. I do not know the traditional sense of spirit animal, I have no shamanic training and I know there is a lot more to it that what I know, but the animal that's part of the soul: that to me is a spirit animal. For me, I’m no eagle, souring high above all others, I’m no red deer, roaring in the hills and battling for supremacy. I feel more of an affinity with the more secret animals: those that slumber through the day and come alive under the night stars. My animals, one of my own finding and one that I was given: Lutra lutra and Felix sylvestris grampia. Otter and Scottish wildcat. I accept them both with an open heart and know that they speak to my soul.

The otter, the spit and the twist of water in animal form. The secret mammal of our watercourses, elegant and ruthless as a hunter. Lively, with time and energy to waste in play and loyal to cubs, to young, to places and sites. Dextrous, solitary as adults, chancers that will take that chance and turn it into something more beautiful. The otter.

The Scottish wildcat. We’ve gained possession of an  animal that is not ours, it’s no more Scottish than we are: by accident of birth and by absence of habitat, this is the remnant population and so we name it Scottish. The wildcat. Fierce, passionate, never seen, alone but never lonely. A cat and therefore playful, a terrifying hunter and proud.

The habitat of both is also mine: to be by water is where my heart finds peace, and to be amongst the moss dripping oaks of Sunart is another kind of heaven. Add water: a loch, a river; add the woods, the trees and both parts of my spirit are home.  Everywhere I have ever been that I have been happiest are places where these combine, where the water flows through the forest and the forest meets the loch. This is my, and my cousins, the otter and the wildcat: this is our heaven. 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Howling for the Future

The wolves are back.

Returning to our souls and our minds. We're starting to walk on the wild side with the wild walking with us.

No longer content with being fettered, we're seeking the hidden old ways.

To be with nature as one, we know, nature needs to return

No longer the tame and the safe and the hindered

We want to welcome the fierce, the wise, the wary

Compromises are no good no more, we need more and more and more

More wild
   More forest
      More trees
         More hidden
            More secrets

                  More wolves

They're back, howling on the hills, raising the hairs on our necks, stirring our souls, unsettling our thoughts; they're back.

And we fling up our arms and dance with the wild side

And our souls rejoice.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Away with the Fairies

Yoga tonight was an incredible experience. I was lifted, joyful, into the pain of my muscles and the weight of my ambitions. I want to reach up, my back wants to twist, my hips to stay centralised. That stretch, such pain at first, but on the second, third time starting to feel more like a part of me and the reach, the twist, power becomes more of a potential.

I was lost in the moment, trying so hard to do the wrong pose right. I was lost in my muscles, but in this sea change inside of me I was wanting to push myself harder and harder. I want to find peace in my ability to move again; winter may be coming but I don't want to lose myself again. I want to know my muscles, and know what they're capable of. I want to know my feet and trust them, trust the strength, trust the sensitivity and trust their ability to keep me upright. Same with my back, my hips, my arms. I feel like through these yoga sessions I can rediscover myself.

There might be pain tomorrow, but it will be worth it. There might be pain the day after as well, but again, it will be worth it. In the re-stretching of myself no pain will be beyond the reward.

Driving home I sang all the songs I could think of. At the top of my voice. And when I got out of my car I jumped, for sheer joy. Joy of being here, joy of healing, joy of time passing and life moving on. Joy for a good day at work, joy for the snow, for being safe, for knowing wonderful people, for being part of life's great adventure again. I may have been slumbering this last year, but I feel awake again and I could sing and dance with the joy of it.

Come and experience this wonderful yoga too! Charlotte Turner leads classes in Inverness, Drumnadrochit and Abriachan. Highly recommended.   

Monday, 30 November 2015

Tracking and Tales of the Forest

I've been sitting on this post since July. A long time. I find it harder to write about particular times and things and this was a week spent in the woods, learning how to become more of a part of nature and to ease the separation of the soul.

It's difficult to write about this event because it's so close to my heart. I experienced an awakening of the senses, time spent with strangers (and one very special friend), relearning the secrets of the wood that I thought I already knew. Listening, listening, listening and learning to trust senses other than sight.

Learning the technique to walk silently through the wood, causing minimum disturbance. Learning to see more with the eyes without having to constantly move the head. Learning to find the stillness inside. There was a sense of community too, a sense of being together in the woods, and also alone. Activities were about being alone. Build your own shelter, out of sight of others. Find your own sit spot, out of sight of others. Track, seek, find, relax, sleep, be.

I built a shelter out of branches and a fallen over Scots pine. It was nestled in the crook of the branches below the canopy. A wren watched me build it and grew used to my presence. My shelter wasn't very good, I will freely admit that. It was holey, and too open and I didn't manage to create actual bedding so I wouldn't have managed to stay warm, but I did want to try it and so I allowed myself my sleeping bag, on my bed of heather, and I slept. I slept so well. There was something about being cocooned in that shelter that I don't think I've ever experienced when sleeping anywhere else, even in a tent. Don't get me wrong, I'm a good sleeper, in fact I would go so far as to say it's a skill I have, to be able to sleep anywhere, but this was something else. A sleep of the mind, body and soul, perhaps?

So I slept. Some time later I was woken by a living alarm clock. The wren, the same one as the day before was alarm calling about a metre from my head tchickk chicckkk chickk chtckk so much louder than a body that size should be able to produce. I sleepily  checked the time - 5am. Thank you, I said, but could I just borrow your space for a couple more hours? The wren left (I think, I couldn't see him for the angle of where he was and the room available to me) and I slept again. He returned at the back of seven and woke me again. This time I got up and made my way to camp. Refreshed, exhilarated and excited. I love my tent, but this was something else. Imagine being woken by a wren!

So, tales of the woods. It's a new world out there, one that my eyes were closed to. To be able to be a part of nature is something hugely special. I have experienced wonderful sit spots since then, found salvation for myself in those times of peace. I can not recommend these techniques more. Why not look into this and try and find out more? I was led on this week by Ludwig Appeltans from Earthways and we had Greg Somner and Dan Puplett as trainers. There is also an online programme called Kamana which is available for free at first. Well worth a go! 

Have you tried these techniques? Let me know! 

PS. I apologise for the poorly written post, but this year has been the least productive in terms of posts since I started the blog and I figured a post was better than none! 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Storied Memories

“We cannot live fully without the treasury our ancestors have left to us.” – George Mackay Brown

Folklore and the importance of.

I speak of what I do not know. I do not know the tales of my local area. I believe they have probably been lost a long time ago. There are a few places in Britain where the past seems to seep into modern life, as if our ancestors haven’t quite lost their grip on us mortals. Orkney is one of those places (the Outer Hebrides are another, and Kilmartin Glen a third) and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit a wonderful story telling couple for Peatfire Tales

We were taken into a time not so long ago, and one which could almost have been true. But whether the stories were true or not detracts from what it was all about. It was about a connection to the past, and tales that our grandfathers might have listened to, when they sat at their own grandparents fire on Orkney. The tales, are probably not all that different around the world, but they give us a connection to a place and to a time and for that they're special.

It is easier to learn the tales of these northern places. The places where there seems to be more of a hidden life in these glens, within the tumbling waters and under the gentler light of the northern sun. The lands still hold the memory of what they once were; there are fewer housing estates, fewer mines, although the damming of the lochs and the planting of the plantations have done what they can to obliterate our past. The glens still hold the secrets: it's there if you know where to look. It was there in the raven's eye which caught mine as it was riding the wind at the top of Stac Pollaidh, it was there in the wren that woke me from my sleep in my one outdoor shelter. It was there when I swam in the Allt Ruadh last wednesday, taking half an hour to get in the water, and being unable to leave it once I was in. It was there in the tumble and splash of water, in the wren's warning click, in the midges, the heather and the blaeberries. The tales are still there; they are just waiting to be heard.

The tales of your place. Do they hold you? Can they be heard? Are they still there amongst the grass, in the canals, the whisper of the water voles and the calls of the peewits? Just don't let them disappear - that's my only word of advice for today.

Monday, 24 August 2015


"The essence of Orkney's magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light." - George Mackay Brown

A friend and I finally made it to Orkney. We have been talking about visiting for the past three or four years, but life always got in the way, until now. Life did it's best to keep us out, however, but between interviews and trips to Mongolia we managed to squeeze in a wonderful four days of heaven. 

The islands were magical. Lots of sky, long horizons and an overwhelming feeling of history pressing down on us. These are the islands where the neolithic, the bronze age, the vikings and the moderns all interact and day to day life encompasses all of the human epochs. 

Stones of Stenness: massive, beautiful, I imagine the fire in the centre lit. People's faces shining in glorious tones of reds, oranges and yellows. The setting sun echoing those colours from the sky. I imagine drums beating, dancers moving with the rhythm of the earth and a higher state of mind being reached. 

Maeshowe: The ages press down on you here. The rocks hold the secrets that we can only dream of. From prehistoric times, to Viking graffiti, Maeshowe holds the tales of the people. An ancient cathedral, whose majesty feels almost empty with ropes and torches. Imagine light from bare flame, flickering and jumping into the reaches of the ceiling. Imagine entering, bent before the gods, through a nine metre long tunnel. Imagine lifting your skirts so you didn't trip. The setting midwinter sun, from the hills of Hoy, shining down the tunnel to reach the furthest cairn. Imagine how that would feel. The miracle of light in the darkness of the earth. 

The Ring of Brodgar: Huge, massive. And still mighty in its half collapsed state. Imagine (it's almost too difficult to imagine), but try to imagine people within the circle. The stones standing new and proud. Imagine the feelings coursing through the group and they celebrated...what? We do not and cannot know, but we can imagine and you will know, when you are there, what feelings behold you, if you let them and put down your camera and your mental tick box of places you have been and allow the earth to connect and to tell your soul what it wants from you. 

Skara Brae: No matter what the guide books say, I found it harder to imagine life in this underground than I did to imagine songs and celebrations of the standing stones and the chambered cairns. Maybe my imagination prefers to be unguided. But, no matter what I say, the potential for modern living within the walls of Skara Brae are immense. Fill those beds with heather and furs. Set that fire from within the hearth. Place your lobsters in the pools in the floor and furnish your dresser with your plates and knives. Put the precious items up high, out of reach of the bairns and light those tallow candles in those hollows. Your neighbours' doors are shut; it's just the family at home here now, and we can relax, and we can work on the things we've been working on. Yes, even though I find it hard to imagine the darkness of the passageways outside, I can imagine what it was like once the stone door was pushed closed, and once the fire was lit and the kids were asleep. For, we're all the same are we not? Although 5000 years and a language may separate us, if we were to meet today we would know one another as kin. 

Maybe that's the truth I seek. We are no different, so the graffiti we leave is as precious as theirs. We are all human, and we can think of us and them, but that's as wrong as doing the same for humans and animals. We are all the same. We sleep and dream, we wake and breathe. We fight, and tease, and love and hate. We eat, we have preferences, and we have good and bad in all of us. For we are all the same. 

When we left the evening tour of Maeshowe the sun sank beneath the horizon. We rose the following morning to see the same sun rise and we watched from the Ring of Brodgar. Five thousand years of tourists speaks volumes of the place's worth. Land with water on both sides, a thin peninsula. Once I was told that this is where the fairies live, for this is where the gap between their world and ours is thinnest. I keep this information, because one day it might be useful. The sun and the moon. I watched the sun set again from a beach on Sanday. A rainbow, the biggest I have ever seen, and a glorious sunset. 

I'm sitting here. The sun has just dropped below the horizon and the clouds are in every shade of yellow, orange, pink, purple, gold, blue imaginable. The buildings are silhouetted, but the land is still green for the light has not yet gone from the world. 

The peewit is calling, but not because of me, for I've been here a while, hidden in this grass, and it has only just started. Perhaps it too is mourning the day ending.

There's a rainbow behind me. It echoes itself several times over, reflected also in the sea and it is entire, which I've not often seen and it is a dreamlike rainbow. 

I'm thinking of crofters that would have lived here in a but 'n' ben and how they would have reacted to this night? Would nights like this be commonplace? No, never, every farmer is a romantic, though it may be buried deep inside. No man can work like farmers do without a certain quality and I doubt that quality would ever allow a beautiful sky to be ignored. 

The rain is decreasing, the peewit has stopped calling and the chill is returning. I feel like I'm being watched. Every stone seems to quiver at the edge of my eyes. Once fully looked at it stills and becomes stone once more. Shapeshifting. 

The colours of the clouds have deepened, intensified. The day here is over, but somewhere else it's just beginning. Arise, awake, return once more to this world. Leave Maeshowe, leave Quoyness, return once more to the here and now. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Shooting Stars

Last night I slept outside. Not for any particular reason, I'm off to Orkney tomorrow and I'll be sleeping under canvas (plastic) for the next five nights anyway, but the night felt so good and to be indoors seemed so wrong that I pitched my tent and slept out.

My tent (a Nordisk Svalbard 1 man, if you're interested) is my absolute dream of a tent. It's got a small footprint, but it's big enough for me and my big rucksack. I can sit up in it (no more trying to get dressed in a semirecumbent position!) and it has a wee porch just big enough for a pair of walking boots. I bought it from Tiso, if you're interested in the same one!

Anyway, so last night I was out in my tent, in my winter sleeping bag (yep, okay it's August, but it's Scotland and it was forecasted to get down to 6C last night (it actually went down to 2C, but I'll come to that!), and feeling cosy, when I was alerted to the fact that there was a meteor shower forecast, starting just after 11pm. So I opened up my tent. This is another wonderful thing about my tent, is that I can open the doors and lie looking out at the sky without having to contort myself into crazy positions to do so. In other words, the door opens at the head end.

So, I opened the door and in that same instance, a shooting star shot past. Huge, slow but fast and hugely dramatic. I lay there with the door open, watching for more. It was the Perseid shower, meteors from the comet Swift-Tuttle, and they always occur at around this time of year (how does that work? No idea, ask an astromoner, not a dreamer!) and although a wee haze formed in the sky, blotting out some of the paler stars, the main meteors could still be seen with ease. There were other wee shooting stars, frequently passing and they were great, but the real drama was created by the larger meteors which appeared every 5 to 10 minutes, and were glorious. One, so bright, looked orange, without a doubt the largest shooting star I have ever seen.

I left the door open and must have fallen asleep while looking out at the stars. I woke again, and felt the cold. Without bothering to check the time I started to shut the inner door when another meteor shot past, they must have been ongoing most of the night, and here I was, dreaming under the stardust. It turned out my cat had crept into my tent, and was sleeping beside me. I let her be, and left the outer door open, leaving a gap in the inner so that she could get out when she needed, and I slept again. The cold and the shooting stars went hand in hand, as the clear night was the reason I could see the stars, but the lack of clouds meant the heat of the earth was dissipating. Last night I was glad of the cold and of seeing the stars.

I woke up to sunshine and birds singing. Opening my tent again, the world was more familiar and there was a gorgeous dew glistening in the 6 o'clock sunshine. Another start to a beautiful day, but I feel a bit luckier than I did yesterday, a bit more part of the world, and a bit blessed. Shooting stars, eh? Definitely worth the cold night.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Notes from my BBS Square

I have been carrying out a Breeding Birds Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology in an area near where I live for the past four years. In that time I have noticed some habitat changes which I think may be echoed in the birds that are being observed.

The area is mainly farmland, with a mix of pasture and arable, and has some young (circa 15 years old) woodlands of mixed broadleaves and conifers. This mix of habitats should provide something for everything. Edge habitats often create more potential for species than others, and woodlands interspersed with other habitats are always good for birds, both with providing cover and aiding dispersal.

There is a wet willow woodland, which always has lots of breeding birds and is where I saw my first reed buntings (gorgeous, mustachioed birds) and always has lovely wood warblers singing. Water birds have vanished, probably due to the water becoming more and more overgrown. This I have noticed even in the past four years that I have been doing this survey, but the heron and the moorhen have not been seen in this area since 1999.

Another thing that I find interesting is that there were no wren heard/observed within the area for three years after 2010. Winter of 2009/2010 was the harshest winter I can remember, and in my garden the whole population of wrens perished. They are tiny birds, and they cannot withstand the cold temperatures that we had for that length of time. It was down to -26C, with a mean of probably around -15C for at least a month, with snow lying permanently between December and well into March. Wrens took a long time to re-establish themselves in my garden, and I believe last year or the year before was the first time I'd seen them here since 2010. In my BBS last year and this, I heard several wrens. Could it be that they also took a long time to return after a population crash?

Rook numbers fluctuate hugely. Over 100 for several years, and then drop right down to less than 40. Why? What changes in these seasons? Does the colony become too big for itself and cause the numbers to drop? Interesting though. Of the other corvids, magpies have increased in recent years, with more being seen in the past couple of years than has been seen before. In fact, the first magpie only appeared in 2010.

Linnet were observed this year for the first time since 2004, and this is the first year that I have seen that particular field not grazed down to the ground. The cattle are on it now, but when I did the survey there was a mass of wildflowers in the 10cm long sward. This makes me think that that habitat was better for the seed feeding linnet, and allowed them to breed (or not...there was no evidence of breeding, so I shouldn't really say that!) in the area for the first time in a long time.

The BBS takes place across the country every spring. There are many other surveys that BTO carry out, but if you have any interest in this at all I suggest that you sign up for BTO membership. To be part of this charity is to become part of something bigger than yourself. To be able to contribute to the research into changing populations of birds is huge. Imagine the limitations (costs, time...) of getting paid members of staff to do this work each year, and yet volunteers can do it without too much stress on themselves, and with plenty of pleasure.

It's a lovely thing to be up early and to be surveying. Bird watching is a lovely hobby, and you see a lot more than birds. There was that time that I startled four roe deer, who, quivering with fright, paused before leaping effortlessly away. Within the birds, there were those lovely wheatears, flying along the wall. The lapwings, pee-whiiiit, pee-wwhiiiit-ing their solemn call. The yellowhammers singing with joy for bread-and-cheese and many others. To have the experience of an early morning bird walk is to awaken your senses.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A friend speaks

This is the first inspiration I have had to write for weeks and weeks and it came from a passing comment from a very good friend of mine.

A few months ago, while undertaking my Breeding Bird Survey for BTO, I had a sighting of a bird of prey folding in its wings and dropping. I made quick notes about what I could see and then, having no success finding the information in any books, left it. I'm now sitting here putting the information online, and have come across my original notes. I texted my friend, who is really very good on birds of prey, and asked her if it rung any bells. It didn't, but she did reply with a "sounds like a lovely wildlife sighting. That's what counts" and she is so right!

Sometimes it's easy to forget that it doesn't matter the name, the species, or what the sighting was of. Sometimes it is enough for the sighting to have happened, for you to be privileged enough to see a passing event. It's true of things beyond wildlife, a particular rainbow or moon, or even a raindrop bouncing off a leaf. Sometimes putting a name to it diminishes what you have seen and relegates it to "oh, I've seen one of them before". Not always, but it's good to be reminded not to fall into that trap.

We have become strangers in the world, and our connections to nature become ever more tenuous. The more we put a price on nature, or delimitate the value of wilderness, we lose a little more. Needing to put names to things is part of this, and I was guilty of this when all I was trying to do was match my sighting to a species, so that I could quantify it in my head. Now, it will go nameless, but it will serve as a reminder that to have witnessed is sometimes enough.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Thoughts on Birds

It's that time of year again, when the birds are suddenly everywhere again. The robin singing from the highest twig, the swallows swooping and trilling in what could only be described as joy, the buzzards whealing and whistling, the wren dotting.

It's the influence of Spook that means that more than ever I am convinced birds have moods, feelings and possibly thoughts. I would challenge anybody that had reared a bird to disagree with me, but I have less worries about putting emotions onto birds than I used to. The rook are nesting at the moment, noisy, but I am hoping more controlled this year. I am hoping not to discover any nestlings that have fallen out the nest again. What happened to Spook? I don't know. My last confirmed sighting was in March, and it was while I was out feeding the sheep in the field. I heard him (despite popular belief all rook calls are very different) and called his name Spooky!. There were three rooks flying overhead (him and his two friends?) and one of them came and circled round above me, all the while calling and looking at me. He then flew on to catch up with the others.

He's done that a couple of times, and there are other unconfirmed sightings, but I really believe that he's still alive - if I saw him in March that means he made it through the worst of the winter weather - but he's fully rook now. He doesn't need us, and as he probably won't be breeding this year, he may have travelled far from his natal site (my home!) to adventure (all information from Coombs 1978 - I've not made this up!) but he might return here to breed in his second year. His absence makes sense, as I do not believe that he would suddenly stop recognising and replying to me.

He's astoundingly beautiful in his adult plumage, and I do experience a thrill any time I see a rook now (which is often - I am often happy nowadays!) because I feel like I have a greater understanding of them. I can appreciate their call, their blackness which is actually a mix of purples, greens, blues and intense blackness, their character and their curiosity. I would love to meet Spook again, maybe when he does start breeding he'll bring his young to see me! but I am immensely proud that he's gone. I had a conversation with a SSPCA officer while I was rearing him, and she could not remember ever having heard about a rook having been hand reared and also going out with other rooks, so we must have done something right. Maybe it was the influence of his two friends - the pair that would sit on the fence until he'd had his breakfast and then call him and take him away for the day - or maybe it's because the rookery was just there and because of that he always knew that he was a rook. Who knows. I believe he's out there, still enjoying his flying, and washing in warm weather. He'll still be making those little crooning noises when he's going off to sleep, and he'll still have the joy in his eye. This is what I wish for him, I just hope it's true! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Of Eagles

In my life I have not seen many golden eagles. I could count my experiences on one hand, and there always remained a doubt in my heart that what I was seeing was not a buzzard.

This was true until Friday the 1st of May (ah, a good sign for a month when it begins with amazing experiences!) when I was out planting with my Trees for Life group at an enclosure on Dundreggan called Allt Fearna. We'd just had lunch and the group had drifted back to the tree planting, when I was called back by my co-focaliser, Mick.

"An eagle!" - he knew how much I longed to see eagles, and there one was, off in the distance, though through the binoculars, perfectly clear. This was the best sighting I had ever had. I could pick out the shape of its tail (proportionally longer but less spread than a buzzard's tail) and could see the extremely long fingers on the wings. These are to help it ride the wind, and it was clear by how fast it was moving, just by tilting those fingers a little, how in control of its flight path it was. Compared to a buzzard it was silent, and did not flap. We kept watching, until, without us really realising (the perils of overusing the binoculars!) he sailed right over our heads! Astonishing. It had travelled a distance of at least 700m in a matter of minutes. All without flapping its wings at all.

Full of wonder, we started to head back to planting, when I was called back again with the words of "there's buzzards mobbing an a good demonstration of size", and well, if ever there was an understatement that was it! A good demonstration of size! Well! The buzzards looked like sparrows, tiny, and of no interest to the eagle at all. A couple of buzzards (a pair? - but then one should have been on the nest, no?) were above the eagle and one would swoop and try to hit the eagle while the other held back, and they would swap over again and again. They were high, very high, astonishingly high, and we kept losing them in the clouds, but the buzzards kept at it, didn't let the eagle break free, although the eagle didn't even seem to notice their presence, never mind try to avoid them.

Eventually they disappeared into the clouds and we did return to our planting. It was a good demonstration of everything eagle. Size, features, flight, majesty... The day of the eagles.

It reminds me of spending time hiking with Mick, and talking about eagle sightings. He gets a lot of people saying to him that they hike in Scotland all the time, but never see eagles. His response: do you ever look up?

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Day off

It had been a hard day, things had happened to remind me of last year and times that I didn't need reminded of. I was feeling a bit hopeless and just wanted the walk to finish.

I was in Glengarry, on a day off from work, and walking by myself to regain some energy. Things were not quite going to plan, and I was struggling until late in the afternoon when I found what I was looking for: peace.

It was the wild boar rootings that drew my attention to the area. I followed them down close to the banks of Loch Garry, where there was a heavily mossed log perfectly placed for me to sit on and to gain wonderful views. It was a combination of this, the sound of the water lapping, and the wild boar that first started to slow my thoughts, and as I became more aware of what was around me my eyes opened and I took more in.

There was a bird. It wasn't the only bird nearby, there were chaffinches and great tits singing, but this one had something about it that helped my mind to pause. I suspected that it was a chiff chaff, but it doesn't really matter what title we give it; it was busy in it's own life with little care for anything else.

Seeking, finding and eating. It was constant activity with perfect flow and motion between birch twig and birch twig. It was seeking the aphids, I suspect, that are currently sucking the sap out of the newly emerging buds. Busyness without thought or care for me, or for anything else. It was just working. There was no song, no calls, nothing except for the simple business of finding food.

The scene was not wild, there was a douglas fir plantation, a fence, wind turbines on the hills and buoys in the loch, but it did not matter. That day it was the peace and wildness inside that I was needing to find, and that bird was the perfect trigger to calm and reassure me of my place in the world.

At times I believe we all need to allow this calm to soak into our bones. We need to breathe again without pressure, and it can be hard to find out how to do this at times, but there's always a way, there will always be a trigger to peace. We just need to open our minds far enough to find it.

Friday, 10 April 2015

New Feelings of Spring

Walking and surveying, surveying and walking.
It feels good, after a winter spent looking out through windows, it feels good to go out and to feel the cold, and the sun and the wind and the rain. Yeah, it feels really good.

The past fortnight has been a good one, surveying has been wonderful. Great landscape, with many wonderful little habits of secret lives there to be spotted. It was there in the otter footprint, in the goldfinches fighting, in the wren singing. How is it that such a tiny creature can have such a massive voice?

In a friend's garden, in the middle of Glasgow, we saw a wren. She jumped with joy for it was her that enabled the wren to be there. She who planted the plants that made the habitat. That brought the hoverflies and the beetles. When she first arrived in the flat, the only avian visitors had been pigeons and magpies, now with the return of the wren it felt like something was spreading.

During the surveying, I saw a pair of long-tailed tits gathering nesting material. One had long filaments of fine grass in it's beak; the other, some mosses. It was a lovely moment, to imagine these items going in to form one of the most incredibly beautiful nests. I've never been lucky enough to have seen one myself, but I like that there's a whole lot of magic still out there to be discovered, or not.

I saw a grey wagtail pair doing the same. The river they were on was slow moving, and it was where tree roots were growing down a rock face and ivy was growing up that they were building. It was hard to tell what plant was which from a distance, and they disappeared in amongst roots and rocks with their bounty. It was the movement that caught my eye. Something moved, I focused, and it was a couple of birds. That flash of yellow had made my mind up before I even picked up my bins, but the binoculars confirmed my first thought: grey wagtails. I've only seen them once before, in Glen Cannich on a mountain burn. Then, as now, I was entranced. They were so busy with their task - collecting moss - and they were building in such a supremely safe place, that they were not bothered by my presence on the other side of the river at all.

It feels like everything is building just now. Growing and building and creating new life and new lives. I feel like that for myself personally, and being out surveying again gives me a wonderful sense of hopefulness. Where I was, there was an extraordinary amount of rubbish clogging up the grass verges, in the hedges, in the rivers, but still there was life and it was impossible to feel too disappointed when everything else seemed to be going so well! Life prevails, no matter what.

Hope you all have a lovely easter break and enjoy the sunshine!!!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


This is the wind to stir things up.
This is the one that wakens the earth.
Pulls the dead leaves away from the snowdrops.
Blows the debris off the tree and makes it's blood flow.
Reminds the roots what they're there for.
Brings the sun to the fore, and gets the earth ready.

This is the time to be awakened.
Now winter's slumber is coming to pass.
The world is coming alive again.
The air is bringing some warmth and the sky is bringing energy.

This is the wind we need.
The one that will blow the cobwebs away.
The one that will wake us up.
The one that will make the world change.
For it's spring that's coming and spring that will waken us and life that will make us look forward with joy.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


My job at the moment is very much an indoor job, but unfortunately I am not very good at being indoors! Two parts of the business, the office and the shop, lie across a car park, and while you may not think a car park is the most wonderful place for wildlife experiences, please let me share some with you today.

We've recently been having a lot of heavy winds. This has calmed down recently, but the first wee story definitely involves high winds!
Picture the scene. The car park (and indeed the entire business) lies at the bottom of a long valley that the wind travels down. We're at the height of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, and so the winds can be fierce. The silage shed is big, green, and to the westerly edge of the car park, and it shelters the place from the worst of the wind.
Anyway, I arrived for work the other day in high winds. And as I was arriving at the silage shed which is where I normally park, little figures on the roof of the shed caught my attention. Black, but small, I instantly knew they were jackdaws. A family group, five of them. What caught my attention was the behaviour. They were obviously trying to leave, but the wind was rather off-putting so firstly one would take off, try to stay airborne, and then drop down to the roof again, out of the wind. Three times this happened as I watched, as three different birds tried to fly, but their courage alone was not as strong as the wind and they just had to keep trying. I had to go up to the office first, which I did do, quickly, and as soon as the shed was in view again I checked for the jackdaws, but they were all gone. Although the wind had been too strong for them independently, together, they managed to defeat it.

I like being taught lessons by animals!

There's a chirpy wee chappy that's been visiting us in the veg porch recently. A male robin has been discovered in the porch several times recently and he's definitely learning that this is the place to be. There's nothing for him there, no food (I think the food that's in the porch is too big and the wrong type for the robin!), but there's something about it that he likes, and I like him too. Cheeky wee chap, he bounces up to the door on his match stick legs and watches what you're doing with a beedy wee eye. Sometimes he flies in the hatch, taking advantage of the large opening, and he jumps about the baskets. No one had discovered 'deposits' on the veg as yet, but we're all keeping a sharp eye out. I'd rather he had shelter, and we had food than we discovered that we cannot live together after all... So I'm leaving him be just now, long may the alliance last!

I've had blackbirds, dunnocks, footprints of many animals in the snow. It's amazing how many animal interactions we have every day that we miss. I would miss them too if it were not for the longing in my heart for some more wild, more freedom, more sky. The lack of these things is making me restless, ruining my patience, but I think I can last on these small experiences for a little while longer.

How are you faring? Is the winter dragging on, or are you enjoying the outdoor experiences as they come?