This is my favourite time of year; the days are getting longer and it’s already light well into the evening, there are often warm and sunny spells of weather, and our woods are carpeted with beautiful blue flowers.
Most people would call the flowers in the image above bluebells, but in Scotland they are also known as wild hyacinths because Scottish bluebells are a different flower altogether. The blue flower that appears in ancient woodland in spring is the Hyacinthoides non-scripta (below, left). The Scottish bluebell is Campanula rotundifolia which flowers in the summer and is also known as the harebell (below, right). If this leaves you feeling somewhat confused, you are not alone. A public poll conducted by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh found the ‘Scottish bluebell’ was second only to the Scots Pine as the nation’s favourite plant but sparked debate about which species of flower voters actually meant.
Large colonies of bluebells (wild hyacinths), comprising millions of bulbs, are particularly associated with ancient woodland because they take many years to become established.Traditionally, bluebell sap was used as an adhesive, in making arrows and in the book trade, while crushed bulbs were a useful source of starch for stiffening cloth. Bluebells have magical associations too. Anyone picking bluebells risked being spirited away by fairies and hearing a bluebell bell ring was said to herald a visit from a malicious fairy. Perhaps more usefully, a garland of bluebells was thought to compel the wearer to tell the truth.
Nowadays, bluebells are a protected species and the concern is more about their loss as a result of damage to woodland from development and trampling feet than their use by fairies to trap the unwary … but still, better not pick them, just in case.
January in Scotland is frequently cold, dark and dreich. Sometimes it snows, often it rains. It can be stormy too. It is the middle of winter after all, so none of this is a surprise. But when the clouds clear and the sun shines, the winter landscape is spectacular, especially on crisp, frosty days. Our local Ben Venue below, for example, looks majestic cloaked in snow rising above the blue waters of Loch Venachar.
Not convinced? Then have a look at this wonderful short video of the beautiful wintery Scottish landscape from rewilding charity Scotland: The Big Picture. (Did that mountain hare just wink?)
You can find out more about Scotland: The Big Picture online here.
Much of the local wildlife is most active at night so it can be hard to spot. Occasionally, however, we are treated to daytime sightings of some usually elusive creatures. In the first video, a golden-ringed dragonfly performs its mating dance at the edge of the river near Tigh a’ Mhaide, beating its tail in the water at the river’s edge until its mate arrives.
The young pine marten below has discovered a liking for peanuts and is hogging the bird table outside the kitchen window to get its (more than) fair share. Pine martens are often nocturnal visitors to this window ledge but it is unusual to see one in broad daylight like this.
There is wildlife aplenty at Tigh a’ Mhaide and in the surrounding area but many of our resident or visiting creatures are shy – or nocturnal – so spotting them isn’t always easy.
However, thanks to a wildlife camera in the woods, we’ve recently been treated to images of foxes, deer and a local badger.
We’ve even caught a fleeting glimpse of a passing otter which came almost nose-to-nose with one of the foxes before retreating hastily to the river. There are an estimated 8,000 otters in Scotland, living along the coasts or beside clean rivers and lochs and although the population is flourishing, it was still a surprise to see one.
Our most common visitors are roe deer. Along with red deer, these are native to Scotland and are a common sight.
There was great excitement here last month when we were joined by four young Khaki Campbell ducks (actually, three ducks and a drake to be more precise). They have kept us entertained, and on our toes, as they have adjusted to their new life on our duck pond.
The drake quickly earned the nickname McQueen, after US actor Steve McQueen’s famous, fence-leaping, motorcycle stunt in the 1963 film The Great Escape. In our McQueen’s case, the leap was wing-assisted rather than motorbike-assisted. Happily, we persuaded him back into the enclosure in which the ducks spent their first few days here while they became accustomed to their new home.
Pine martens are native to Scotland but are an uncommon sight. About the same size as an average cat, the pine marten is now a protected species with only an estimated 3,700 adults in Scotland.
Numbers declined dramatically in the 19th century when they were frequently killed by gamekeepers on sporting estates to stop them eating the young pheasants being reared for shooting. But they are again appearing in areas where they were once common and the native woodlands around Tigh a’ Mhaide are a perfect environment for them. They are beautiful creatures with their dark brown fur, long bushy tails and creamy yellow bibs.