Friday, 22 October 2021

Where the sun shines all day

TO Strathspey, where the sun shines all day and indeed half the night, for the swallows are zipping to and fro over the marsh at 10pm.

I feel endangered as I stand on the bridge over the drainage ditch as they fly so close and jink so suddenly to snap up the flies.

Yesterday evening the house martins were gathered on the track down to the Spey, picking up grit to help digest the food in their crops.

As we paused to watch, a willow warbler hopped down through the goat willow to observe us — they are so confiding.

So are the mixed flocks, higher up in the pine forests. Hearing their contact calls, I sank down beneath the tree, made a few quiet whistles and waited.

First came a coaltit, then a crested tit, relatively common at the limit of the tree line, and then a gaggle of warblers tweeting anxiously at the new member of their group below before moving on to the next aphid-laden tree.

The hares have been disturbed by haymaking and are in danger on the roads.

As we approach one grazing on the new grass, where the crop has been lifted, it flattens itself, ears laid back, and resembles an oval mole hill.

These are big brown hares, as found around Henley. The mountain hares, which moult to white in winter, are more compact and live above the cultivated zones.

I have never seen one in summer for their grey-blue coats match the granite boulders of the high tops.

The only time they stand out is if they come down into the woods in spring and stand out as white blobs in the bracken or dry grass.

Beehives have been brought north for the heather blossom but only the bell heather is out, except high up in a sheltered gully, where the granite is so warmed by the high-altitude sun that a micro climate is formed and the purple tips are emerging.

The orchids are still flowering on the marsh and on the tip of one I see what looks like a spider with yellow and black markings but it has only six legs and these have claspers at the end.

It turns out to be a beechafer, from the old Anglo Saxon word for beetle.

Chafers buzz as they fly and the hairy head is supposed to resemble a bee rather than a spider. Either way, a bird would be as confused as I was.

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