Country Diary - Moving house but memories stay

Before I move onto the countryside goings on back here at home, I must tell you about a couple of other Isle of Mull encounters.

In May and early June, cuckoos are everywhere on Mull, calling, their repetitive and hollow sound resonating from trees, glens and the telephone wires running over moorland, which seem to be one of their favourite spots. At the sound of one calling, we stopped to watch it, perched on the line, wings drooping, throat inflating with each call and tail sweeping back and forth. Suddenly, below him was another bird, flying low over the moor and rough ground, scouting for undefended nests to sneakily lay her eggs in. I had seen many meadow pipits in this area, so that was probably her target. She was very hawk-like in appearance, with her small curved beak, pointed wings, barred chest and grey back. Even the flight pattern was similar.

While she went about her business, he suddenly dropped down to the ground from his lofty perch. When he flew backup on to the wire, he had in his beak, a huge hairy caterpillar. He gave it a rough shake, before biting one end and squeezing it, causing a drop of something to be ejected. This behaviour, which is to rid the caterpillar of its toxins, is the reason that they are able to eat the these unpalatable creatures, which are avoided by most birds and so, neatly, they have this particular food source almost to themselves - clever stuff! Mind you, it would take more than that to get me to eat one!

There is no garden created as wonderful and varied as nature’s plantings. Everything growing in the perfect conditions and environment to suit its needs with the most marvellous, random mix of colours and forms. One day, while otter-spotting on the coast, I sat down to wait and watch for a while. Beside me was a rocky hummock, covered in mosses and small plants and topped by a fantastically gnarled, and stunted hawthorn tree. The more I looked at it, the more I saw the variety of plants, squeezed into every crack, dip or crevice in the rock. Everywhere that there was an inch of shelter from wind and spray, had a tiny plant, crouched low for protection, obstinately hanging on to its own small scrap of soil; custard primroses next to tiny emerging golden tinged ferns; pink thrift; stonecrop; among the grasses at the base of the rock, the tiniest of wild pansies, spreading silverweed; marsh marigolds, and behind me a backdrop of an ocean of bluebells. All of this woven together with the textures and tones of a dozen greens.

With the otters a “no-show” for the moment, I rose and walked on, so taken with the view along the coast to Duart Castle and the hills beyond the strangely coloured sea that I forgot one of my own rules. Settling back down on boulder by the water’s edge, I glanced back along the coast. There, about twenty feet out in the still water almost exactly where I had been admiring the wildflowers less than ten minutes ago, was a fishing otter - as I know from experience, you should always look back as well as ahead! Otters can emerge from sleeping spots or holts on the shore, seemingly appearing from nowhere. The wind was blowing the wrong way for a close approach and soon he melted away again into a jumble of rocks and overhangs. As compensation, the next day I was to spend three and a half hours following him and got some wonderful views. My last words to my husband as I went out were “I will only be half an hour”. He knows better than believe that and when I arrived back, he had made his own dinner. My usual “didn’t know I had been gone that long” was was greeted with a raised eyebrow. He knows his place in the pecking order on Mull!

Talking of pecking, the great spotted woodpeckers in my garden have now fledged their young. This year, there appears to be only two “peckerettes”, as I christened the youngsters last year, and already the parents seem to be getting a bit fed up with their constant demands. Distracted from my work, I watched the female and one youngster, both on the nut feeder. Although perfectly capable of feeding itself, the youngster still tried it on, begging to be fed. One sharp peck from Mum and it tumbled to the grass below where it sat for a moment looking a bit put out. Tough love!

Back home, mid-June brought out the “May” blossom; on Mull, the beginning of June, and the oak leaves were only just unfurling their bronze-tinted leaves and the ash showed only little feather dusters of finely cut leaves.

West or east, Scotland offers so much.