Saturday, 21 April 2018

m.o.m 's 90th

M.o.M or Meg o' Monymusk, Mother of Mary (and not Mary's old Mum) turned 90 recently. There was a week of partying to celebrate this, and Mary and I drove up for the weekend. It was great fun and the weather gods were particularly kind. I think they must have been honouring Margaret as the North East, unusually, seemed to get the best of the weekend sunshine.

MoM moved to rural Monymusk some years ago. Then much later Karen and Andy moved in and bulldozed her cottage to the ground. But not before building this all-mod-cons lovely new house in its grounds. (Alexa has mastered the light switches, but seems to have the interactive capacities of a retarded PA. It's so kind of Karen and Andy to be teaching this artificial intelligence how to manage and adapt to the real world.) Being the last to arrive at the party we were housed in the caravan, otherwise used for book storage. I really hope that toilet was plumbed in. (Kidding!)

K&A have bird feeders set up outside the kitchen window. I was delighted to see lots of the usual garden birds alongside quite a few woodland visitors I haven't seen before. The largest (after a strutting pheasant and his entourage) were Great Spotted Woodpeckers. I have only heard these in the past and never seen any up close. They were kinda skittish but would fly in, get some food and then fly back out to neighbouring birch and pine trees and do very typical trunk climbing and beak-hammering stuff. The above photo, although out of focus, shows the 2 red patches: on the back of the head and below the tail. Bigger than a blackbird, slimmer than a pigeon.

tree sparrow

the yellowhammers preferred foraging on the ground

I was also very impressed with the small pond in the back garden. There are scores of newts and some newly laid toad and frog spawn. (Frog in bundles, toad in strings.) It's only a few weeks since it was covered in ice but is already hoaching with bugs, beetles and fish. Unfortunately some larger fish and toads were removed in a massacre a while back, most likely by an otter or mink. Later in the season dragon- and damselflies should appear. We saw whirligig beetles, diving beetles and waterboatmen. And the newts were very keen to get their pics taken...

palmate newt (ho ho)


coal tit

this was the only blackbird I saw all weekend
should have made a greater effort to focus on it!

great tits seemed to be the most regular visitor

Margaret and Andy seem to have joint custody of this drone.
Great fun to get an aerial perspective of the place.

first swallow of the year

So on Saturday afternoon we went for a run up Bennachie. We often do a run round Pitfichie and Cairn William, smallish hills on the other side of Monymusk, but since Caroline, Will and their sons were going to walk up Bennachie (5miles away) we opted for that too but gave them a head start. The weather was glorious and I carried far too many extra clothes in my backpack, uncertain that we were definitely out of winter and into the spring proper. I have experienced colder Summer days in the North East. I think it was the best weather in Scotland that weekend. 

Mary led the way and initially we ignored the signs for the direct summit route, taking a more circular path off to the right hoping it would climb slowly. Then after about a mile of that, returned and took the summit route. Maybe halfway up we bumped into Alison. This was unplanned and unexpected as cousin Alison had flown up to join the celebrations but without giving anyone the heads up. She had booked into a local B&B and was just getting some exercise in before announcing her arrival, so it was fortuitous to bump into her here. We chatted for a bit till C&W returned from the Mither Tap (isn't the Doric charming?) and we chatted some more before we all headed on our ways. 

There are several subsidiary tops with well groomed trails between them. We set off to work round them and covered most of the ground but after about 5 miles Mary's knees started playing up so we limited the run, returning to the car by a different trail, as recommended by the woman who offered to take our photo on the summit. I have a feeling she might have been just taking a pic with her kids in it so we could admire them later, as she missed our feet and kept the kids quite central.

pan from subsidiary top

Mither Tap - you can see this giant nipple from miles around.

Margaret and Donald freebasing

hang on are we still up the hill?
I think someone has been shuffling the photos.

The pheasant comes a running when he hears Andy shaking the seed-bag but was not so keen when he saw myself lurking in the garden with a camera.

Andy and Mary talking newts.

This was the only long tailed tit I caught on camera,
though there are plenty about. They tend to appear in gangs of 5 or 6.

Ms Pheasant.

flash on

The men were out listening to owls (tawny and barn) and watching for shooting stars. It was a good clear sky but nothing much was spotted. Lovely to hear owls hooting and screeching, but how one gets them to pose for photos is beyond me. Might have to tether little stunt mice to the fence posts. (Sad emoji.)

flash off

we also checked on the newts and sure enough they were still there,
probably wondering why it was light all of a sudden. (Headtorches.)

Meanwhile those radge Hunter girls were drinking quite a lot (considering Mary is teetotal most of the time) and dancing and singing. I left them to it and retired to the caravan which resembled a fridge that had fallen on its side. The cold night air was very refreshing and during one visit to water the daffs I noticed the sky was glittering with a million points of light. I got my camera out and took a long exposure. Just checked and it was 8 secs at f5.6. I used the top of a fence post to steady the camera on, pointing straight up. Unfortunately it needed more than 8 secs despite the skyfull of stars. All I can find (after any amount of adjusting the contrast) is a rather ordinary plough (below.) Next time, tripod, a couple of minutes exposure and sober! (ish).

The next time I went out to check for owls was the dawn chorus which was almost too raucaus. I wasn't particularly hungover - we were fed so well most of the whisky and wine got soaked up very well, thanks Karen! However the tweety birds were going mental and really, you'd think they hadn't done the same peep show just 24hrs earlier. I shot some film mainly for the sounds but suspect it was the audio equivalent of the plough and only the plough, and all the more distant birds competing and badmouthing each other have disappeared leaving just the blue tit cheeping in the tree next to the caravan-fridge.

dawn chorus: 5.35am

noisy neighbour

early morning wood-pecker

in its natural environment

coal tit and siskin

female and male siskin

It was really great to catch up with so many of Mary's family, something long overdue. Margaret has already made a video of it all and I should do the same just as soon as I get the time. Loose plans have been made to make more trips and see everyone again later in the year. I spent a lot of the time out in the garden taking pics of birds and pondlife and look forward to returning and seeing more of the same later in the year. Huge congrats to Margaret on her 90th year, still going strong!

oh and the first butterflies of the year, just to round off the trip!
Saw 2 small tortoiseshells and this peacock.
(That's not a peacock it's a butterfly!)

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