Scotland is one of my favourite parts of the world. It's a stunning country and the provides some of the best wildlife-watching you could hope for. There are so many exciting and rare species to enjoy and RSPB Scotland has a great many of them on its reserves - thanks of course to the support of RSPB members. I first went to Scotland when I was at college, on an eventful study tour. That first trip sowed the seeds for my lifelong love of Scotland with pine martens playing in a wood in daylight; dotterel, snow bunting and ptarmigan feeding just feet away on the climb up Cairngorm and the sight of a dozen or more ospreys fishing over the fish farm at Aviemore where we stayed in the youth hostel.
I’ve been back a few times since, but back in June I was very lucky to spend some time with my RSPB Scotland colleagues on a visit to research and plan content for future issues of Nature’s Home and find out about some of the amazing work going on in Scotland.
My guide for the trip was Louise Cullen, who my team and I work with on Scotland News, which mails to RSPB Scotland members with Nature’s Home. The itinerary was planned for me thanks to the help of RSPB Head of Marketing and Communications James Reynolds, and I couldn’t wait to get up there and find out a bit more about the exciting work going on in Scotland, visit two RSPB Scotland reserves I had never visited before – and to get a behind the scenes look at the simply wonderful Abernethy reserve.A west coast gemThe sun is shining today here at RSPB HQ, so it felt right to blog about my visit to Glenborrodale where Louise and I met up with Site Manager Simon McLaughlin who gave us a tour and showed us what it takes to keep these special places special: a lot of hard work and an intimate understanding of the needs of different species.
While enjoying this view from the top of Glenborrodale, redstarts, tree pipits and wood warblers sang all around
Excitingly, chequered skippers have recently been found at RSPB Glenborrodale. This is a tiny butterfly that flies in late May and June and is only found in an area roughly 50 miles around Fort William. It is as I like to say a real "goodie!”. Not only that, it was the only one of the UK's breeding butterflies that I hadn't seen, so opportunity really was knocking.
The sun shone as we met up with Simon and within minutes, I had fallen in love with this beautiful woodland site on the famous Ardnamurchan Peninsula with views around that took my breath away. The views alone were worth the visit and hearing from a super enthusiastic Simon about the management work needed on this little known reserve to keep it so special, including keeping the invasive rhododendron in check, was so inspiring.
I won’t try and describe the beauty of this fabulous reserve as my photos (above and below) will convey this much more powerfully and accurately.
A chequered historyMy eyes were firmly peeled for a certain fast flying butterfly as we walked through the woods. I scanned bracken fronds in hope, but nothing stirred. Simon was looking hard as well for me but as we came out of an area that he said was particularly good for the skipper, I realised that I may have to face up to not seeing the species again. The only other time I’d ever tried to see it, it rained, so I was thinking a third time lucky was required.
With wood warblers and redstarts singing all around, and an amazing display of lichens (and the rare Wilson’s filmy fern making it onto my list), it was a joy to be here.
And then it happened in one of those fortune-changing moments that nature can deliver so unexpectedly, but that fill you with a rush of joy. I spotted something perched on a bracken frond in the middle of the path up ahead, lifted my binoculars with baited breath and there it was, the chequered skipper finally met my gaze. I was ecstatic and we all enjoyed great views of this pristine, fresh individual basking in the sunshine.
UK butterfly number 60 on the list - thanks to RSPB Scotland and the great management work at Glenborrodale
Further along a second chequered skipper appeared and even tussled with pearl-bordered fritillaries (another rare butterfly – one that is in worrying decline nationally, so good to know it is being looked after here by the RSPB Scotland team).
We also found a golden-ringed dragonfly freshly emerged from a small pool, right by the path. This is another species that we don't get in Cambridgeshire, so I always love seeing them - real beasts!
This golden-ringed dragonfly, one of our biggest species, was showing superbly by the path
It never fails to amaze me, working for the RSPB, just how varied our reserves are and the unbeatable wildlife experiences you can enjoy at them. I had never been anywhere quite like Glenborrodale. Before we left, Simon took us down to the shore of Loch Sunart opposite and showed us where an otter comes to eat fish. Not a bad view at all.
The view over Loch Sunart at Glenborrodale - a haunt of otters and eagles
Come back next week for part two of my Scotland visit where I'll take you behind the scenes of RSPB Scotland's Abernethy reserve - home to the world's most famous pair of ospreys - where the weather wasn't quite as sunny, but the wildlife was hot, hot, hot!
I hope you are having a great July and enjoying the latest Nature's Home magazine! The Nature's Home blog is back and I'll be posting regularly once again. Enjoy some of the amazing reader photos that are flooding in to the Nature's Home mailbox at the moment and hopefully get inspired to get out with your camera yourself.
Mute swans by Julian James
Norfolk hawker by Babs Nicol
Cuckoo at RSPB Burton Mere by Steve Smith
Red kite by Steven Hamman
Cockchafer by Ann Collier
Keep your photos coming please to email@example.com and we'll keep sharing as many as we can, on the blog and of course in the magazine's Your View pages.
To be honest, I know how it went for some RSPB members and Nature's Home readers because some of your results forms, as well as letters, photographs and emails about your Birdwatch have been keeping me entertained during the week. We'll be using a selection in the April issue. As ever, there have been some surprising visitors and plenty of great stories.
It was great to see several of you picking up on my mention of my house sparrow flock in my Editor's welcome in Nature's Home January 2016. Good to know that so many readers also have flocks a ta time when this bird is not doing so well.
I have to confess that I was a bit late in getting the full compliment of birdfood out for the Birdwatch (I always put a few special extras out for the big day!), so I was a bit worried the sparrows wouldn't come. They kept us waiting. It wasn't until the second half of the hour until suddenly starting to pour in to the feeders. We had a final count of 14 which was pretty good considering the mild winter we're having.
Just one starling arrived and in typical fashion, the day after the count they built to three!
Starling by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com) - was it on your list?
The biggest surprise though was a female reed bunting that made a brief appearance - the first of the winter. It's amazing how that concentrated one hour of watching reveals so much action and surprises. I was also very pleased to have a song thrush singing, which is still on territory this morning. He was perched in one of our trees so was a nice addition to the list as well.
There's plenty of time to submit your results, so please do so if you haven't had a chance yet.