09 December 2012

A trio of ice spikes

Just over a week ago we had the first really cold night of the winter, so I put some trays of de-ionised water on our front doorstep where there is a bit of a breeze.

The next morning one of the trays had three ice spikes in it. As these spikes form due to pressure of expanding ice forcing water up through the last point in the surface of the ice to freeze, I was surprised that such a small amount of water could support three spikes.

Two of the spikes were still open at the top when I took the above photo at 9:15am. The temperature continued to be below freezing point, and by lunchtime the spikes had grown further and then closed at the top, as can be seen in the photo below which was taken at 1:00pm.

Below is the central spike, 33mm high...

...and the left-hand spike.

Several ice spikes had also formed in an ice cube tray. The tallest can be seen in the photo below and was 44mm high.

More pictures can be seen in the ice spikes section of our main site.

24 November 2012

That ash tree again

This afternoon we just happened to pass that ash tree again (see The rise and fall of trees) at the perfect moment.

21 November 2012

Waxwings again?

This morning I had to go to the west end of Glasgow, which is quite close to the Clyde. Waxwings tend to follow the Clyde, so on my way back I thought I would choose a route that would take me past some possible waxwing sites. Last week they were reported from a street that we passed just half an hour later, so I was optimistic when I saw a flock of birds flying backwards and forwards between the trees ahead of me. Just before I got close enough, they all flew away behind some houses. I managed to find a way through between the houses and found that every tree was crowded with... fieldfares.

I should have been satisfied with that, but of course that wasn't what I had hoped to see. Continuing on my way, about a mile further on, I could see ahead of me some trees where I had seen waxwings about 4 years ago. They were covered in brown leaves...

...but as I drew closer I realised that the waxwings were just sitting very still.

I counted a total of 184 birds. A very satisfactory conclusion to the morning.

Unfortunately the weather was dull and I didn't have my best camera with me, but for pictures of waxwings in our garden in 2001, see our waxwing pages.

For some excellent pictures of waxwings on Fair Isle, see

October 25th 2010. A day we'll always remember

Hey Dad... this is like fishing for birds

Henry and the waxwings - hand-feeding again

Waxwings in my hand - video

Bohemian waxwing feathers

10 November 2012

The rise and fall of trees

Back in February I posted a page in memory of the Chilean Firebush on Eigg, which blew down in the January gales. Nothing but a stump remained.

But when we returned in October, we were delighted to see new shoots appearing straight out of the bark of the tree.

We hope that this tree may eventually grow back to its former size and splendour.

Meanwhile, I now fear for another of my favourite trees - this ash tree which grows close to the main road a few miles north from where we live.

Let's hope this new ash disease can be controlled before it reaches mature trees like this, which are part of our treasured landscape and would take many years to replace.

07 November 2012

An old railway line

Last Saturday we were on our way to Aberfoyle for a walk when a dark cloud loomed over the road ahead, encouraging us to head in a different direction. By doing so, we discovered the start of a hitherto unexplored path near the village of Buchlyvie. We had no maps of this area with us, so we set out on a mystery walk.

The path headed east for a short time, then curved gently round to the north-west. Judging by the GPS track and the extremely straight path which now stretched ahead of us into the far distance, it seemed likely that this was an old railway line.

After about 2 miles, we came to a bridge over a small river, which seemed like a suitable point to turn back.

On our return to the car I crossed the road to the gate of the house opposite. "One guess as to the name of this house," I said. It's "Station House!"

On returning home we discovered that this was indeed part of the railway line to Aberfoyle, which closed to passenger traffic in 1951, and we had started from the location of Buchlyvie Station.

Yesterday we decided to do the next section, starting from the site of the old Gartmore Station and walking south until we reached the bridge which was our most northerly point on Saturday. The path starts from a section of the road to Aberfoyle which has more recently been bypassed by a viaduct which spans both the River Forth and the old railway.

Passing under the new road section, the path continues across the River Forth by means of a new bridge,

and then passing an old railway hut.

After crossing another new bridge over the Kelty Water, we arrived at the bridge crossing the Auchentroig Burn which we had reached on Saturday from the other direction. Then we retraced our steps to Gartmore.

I looked at the gate of the cottage we were passing as we arrived back at the car. "One guess as to the name of this cottage," I said. It's "Station Cottage!"

So the railway, now replaced by a path used only by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, lives on only in the names of houses, old bridges in varying states of repair or replacement, and a few relics here and there.

1927 map

Old pictures of
Buchlyvie Station
Gartmore Station
Aberfoyle Station

30 October 2012

Spinning spider

Eigg is one of the few locations in Scotland where the Daddy-Longlegs Spider, Pholcus phalanginoides, has been found.

In Britain this spider is quite common in the south, but is only found indoors, though it may be found in caves on the continent. It has an unusual defence mechanism; if disturbed, it rotates its body at great speed so that it becomes blurred.

We found these spiders in the house on Eigg where we were staying last year, and again this year. This year I managed to make a couple of videos of them using this defence behaviour in response to my hitting the wall close to their webs:

By slowing down the videos, I was able to discover that the spider in the first video rotated about 8 times per second and the second at about 5 times a second.

It is sometimes stated that these spiders are one of the most poisonous spiders in the world, but their fangs are too short to penetrate human skin. Fortunately this is a myth. For more information see

28 October 2012

Eigg animals

We have just returned from a holiday on Eigg.

Actually the first week wasn't supposed to be a holiday, as we were looking after a whole lot of animals for some friends who live there and were going away.

First, there was Culach, the dog

and Rosie the cat

who helped to look after the goldfish.

Then there were two pigs,

two goats,

four geese,

five ducks (of which this is the youngest)

and lots of hens, bantams and guineafowl.

Fortunately both they and we survived the experience.

We spent the second week in peace and quiet at the other end of the island.

26 June 2012


Two weeks ago we decided to go to the coast and look for some of the coastal flowers now out. The rocks were covered in flowers, particularly Bloody Cranesbill, Bird's Foot Trefoil, Sea Campion and Thrift.

Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum - below) is native along this part of the coast, though it also occurs as a garden escape.

This was the first Small Tortoiseshell butterfly we had seen this year.

Another Tortoiseshell butterfly had alighted on some Thrift (Armeria maritima). Although Thrift is most often a coastal plant, it can also be found growing on alpine ledges in the hills.

Sea Spurrey (Spergularia sp.) was growing along the edges of the shore.

Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) was exceptionally brightly coloured, with more orange flowers than usual.

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

This was only the second time I had seen Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) in Scotland. It grows mostly in the west of the UK, often near the coast.

The leathery pointed leaves of Sea Sandwort (Honckenya peploides) formed large patches near the top of the beach.

01 June 2012

Wild orchids in May

Here in Scotland we think of the main orchid season as starting in mid-June, but after the recent hot weather I wondered which species I could find already in flower in May.

No surprise that the first was the Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula), near Aberfoyle on 22nd May.

More of a surprise, on the same day, was a number of Lesser Twayblades (Neottia cordata) on the Menteith Hills.

On 25th May we found some Northern Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza purpurella) coming into flower near Fintry.

By 26th May, large numbers of Heath Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata) were in flower on the lower slopes of Ben Lomond.

Just in time, this Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) at Dumbrock near Milngavie managed to open one floret on 28th May.