A passion for nature

Tag: nature

Dark green fritillary

Fritillaries and fascinating fungi at Glenshee

The oystercatcher was agitated by my presence, and its piercing ‘kleep, kleep’ call rang around the grounds of Glenshee Parish Church by the Spittal of Glenshee. This bird was a concerned parent with young hidden in among thick grass nearby and was keen to see me off the premises.

The boundary wall of the church made the perfect look-out post  for the oystercatcher to remonstrate against my presence, so I conceded to its will and left the bird in peace, hoping the concealed youngsters will survive the gauntlet of predators and reach adulthood.

Oystercatchers are good parents, and this bird reminded me of an instance several years previously on driving slowly along a small road near Braemar when an oystercatcher suddenly appeared right in front of the car and madly flapped and dragged its wings as if injured. The oystercatcher was not hurt, but had chicks hiding in the grassy verge and was feigning injury to try and draw the intruder – in this case two tonnes of trundling metal – away from it youngsters.

The basic urge of parental protection is a trait found in most adult birds, and as I headed up towards nearby Gleann Taitneach, a diminutive meadow pipit fluttered close above my head as it, too, made its displeasure known at my wandering too close to its nest hidden somewhere nearby.

A heavy rain squall swept across the glen, soaking me through before I had the chance to don waterproofs, but the grey clouds quickly parted and sunshine danced across the landscape once more. The warming rays of the sun brought out a dark green fritillary butterfly, which skipped across the heather and grass in an energetic flight.

Despite the confusing name, they are beautifully patterned orange butterflies, forever on the move and hard to approach close because of their innate wariness. This one spiralled down to the ground and came to rest in among a tangle of grass. I was keen to take a photograph but knew the only possible approach was to carefully crawl along the ground so as not to disturb it.

This presented a dilemma, for the ground was a minefield of cow pats, but throwing caution to the wind, I eased myself gradually along the grass, trying to avoid the dung in the process. The ploy worked and I was able to crawl within a few inches of this tangerine dream to capture it with my camera.

As I lay on the ground, I noticed the cow pats around me were adorned with clusters of glistening toadstools, which I think were a species known as Deconica coprophila. Many types of fungi prosper in dung as it makes an excellent growing medium, rich in nutrients. The fungal spores are eaten by the cows when grazing, which are then excreted, enabling them to germinate and spread. It is a marvellous example of nature at its most ingenious, evolving clever strategies to ensure the optimal conditions for survival and the means to colonise new areas.

Five-star review for ‘A Scottish Wildlife Odyssey’

I was thrilled when my new book – A Scottish Wildlife Odyssey – recently gained a five-star review from Scottish Field magazine.

The review said: “I dare you to open this book up to any page, read the text with fresh new eyes and not fall in love with the way Keith Broomfield has painted the Scottish landscape with words.

“He has thoughtfully captured his rambles across Scotland, from the bottom all the way to the very top in Shetland, recounting the diverse and exciting wildlife he spotted along the way. From the urban fox to the minke whale, Keith Broomfield tells all their stories with equal enthusiasm.

“A Scottish Wildlife Odyssey is among my most cherished styles of book; filled with bewitching ecological descriptions, supplemented with knowledge and facts about local wildlife that is shown rather than told and complemented by sketches of the flora and fauna. This is one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year.”

Opportunity knocks

It’s all about finding the right opportunity – and this pair of red-breasted mergansers fishing close to the shore at St Cyrus had certainly found that.

Despite the air being still, rolling breakers were crashing into the shore with some ferocity. But the power of the surge had created a small protective sand bar a short distance further out, which in turn provided a calm channel close to the beach.

It was here the mergansers fished, a good spot for catching small flounders, and where gulls had also gathered close to the water’s edge. I’m not a regular enough visitor to St Cyrus to know whether this narrow channel is always there, but I suspect not, for the coast here is such a dynamic environment, constantly scoured by the tidal currents, wave-topped seas and the outpourings from the nearby River North Esk.

I was here bright and early, the sun just having risen above the far horizon and there was not a soul about. The mergansers fished for several more minutes, the pair frequently diving together in unison. I wondered if there was teamwork going on here, with both sweeping the shallow channel in a broad front so as to flush out flatfish buried in the sand.

On the distant cliffs, fulmars prospected their nesting ledges and a short while later a stonechat alighted on the branch of a washed-up tree trunk right in front of me, before flitting away across the sand-dunes.  This was wildness at its best, but it was time to go, for I was keen to explore nearby Johnshaven.

Bur shortly after drawing away from the St Cyrus nature reserve visitor centre, I brought my car to a juddering halt. A grassy field adjacent to the lane was full of curlews, their long-curved bills silhouetted against the low winter sun. It had been a while since I had seen so many of these wonderful birds together at one time, content in the company of their own kind as they busily probed for worms.

Curlew numbers are in freefall, resulting in the bird being described as ‘the most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK’, and as I drove away once more, I pondered for how much longer it would still be possible to witness such large groups as this.

Just as how the mergansers had found opportunity at St Cyrus, then so too had a pair of turnstones I discovered  soon after on the quay at Johnshaven. Turnstones adore fishing harbour quaysides, presumably because there is shellfish detritus left behind by fishers after landing their catch.

These attractive little waders breed in the Arctic, and are clearly opportunists too, seeking out good places to forage in winter before embarking upon their daunting migration back north. But then again, many creatures are opportunists in their own way, but as the plight of the curlew shows, that doesn’t always ensure survival in a rapidly changing natural world.

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