Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Summertime in Lanarkshire (2)

In 1972 Richard Mabey wrote a book called "Food for Free" which was published by Collins. This book has proved so popular it is still in print and Collins also have produced a pocket sized "gem" edition.

Edible Plants

Living in Lanarkshire, the damp conditions beside the Rivers Avon and Clyde provide an excellent environment for many of the plants mentioned in the above book. I have tried some of the recipes in the book including:
  • wild garlic leaves in salads 
  • heather tea 
  • dandelion leaf salad 
  • dandelion root coffee 
  • comfrey leaf salad
  • cooked chickweed
Wild Garlic
Wild Garlic
Many of the flowers can also be found in many gardens so it is not always essential to walk miles to get free food. Although Richard Mabey includes a chapter on fungi, I have not tried to eat any unless bought from a shop.


Summer is also when the birds rear their young. On the River Clyde a female Goosander was on the water with her youngsters. When she saw us she swam to the other side of the river with her goslings.

Goosander and Goslings
The Goosander was quite far away and we only had a compact camera, but we managed to get a blurry photograph. It was quite a cold day despite it being at the end of May and the goslings tucked themselves under mum's feathers to keep warm.

Greylag Geese
A pair of adult Greylag Geese were also on the water with their youngsters and were not afraid of the people walking about.

Mallard Ducks and Ducklings
Yes, summertime is a great time for those who love wildlife.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Summertime in Lanarkshire

May is an exciting month for wildlife lovers as it is the time when new things take place. The trees become covered in leaves, flowers appear and the birds start producing and rearing their young. 

Down at my local bird pond the Mute Swan was still sitting on her nest. Hopefully in the next week or so she will be on the pond with her cygnets.

The Heron was on its usual post on the pond. 

On the other pond, a Mute Swan was also sitting on her nest but there was no sign of her mate. I will keep an eye on this pond to see if the male re-appears. Hopefully no harm has come to him.

Otter On River Avon

Walking along the banks of the River Avon we stopped to have a look over the river with our binoculars. A ripple could be seen in the water but no birds were in sight. As we looked we could see an otter's head appear briefly on the surface before disappearing again. Unfortunately we were unable to get a photograph of it.


As we left the path beside the riverbank we heard a screeching noise in some bushes. As we walked over to see what was causing the noise, two small Polecats appeared with one chasing the other. The one in the rear gave up the chase after a short time allowing the one on the front to disappear into some bushes ahead.

Swan Fight

Our next port of call was the large pond with the nesting Whooper Swan. On our previous visits we have only seen the female Swan but today the male was present.
Whooper Swans
What is unusual about these birds is that they migrate to Iceland at the end of March to breed. However, there are a few Whoopers remaining in the area probably due to them being unable to make the long journey to Iceland. 

Male Mute Swan takes to the Water
Over on the other side of the pond, a family of Mute Swans were having a rest on the grass next to the water. The male Swan decided to take to the water (see above photograph) and as he started swimming, it became apparent he was making for the island where the Whooper Swans were living.

"Just going to sort out these Whooper Swans"
After swimming a short distance, the Mute swan started flapping his wings and flew to the island with the Whooper Swans.

Mute Swan (front) chasing the Whooper Swan.
He then started attacking the male Whooper Swan. At one point the pair flew over to where we were standing .The long grass prevented us from seeing what was happening, but it sounded quite a vicious encounter. 

Eventually the Mute Swan flew off and after a few minutes the Whooper Swan's head popped up from the long grass and he flew back to his island home. The Mute Swan then attacked him again before being joined by the female Mute Swan and the cygnets.

Female Mute Swan and Cygnets
The Mute Swans then all swam off together, leaving the Whooper swans in peace.
Mute Swan Family
The other birds on the pond were swimming peacefully and not showing any signs of aggression towards the other birds. These included Great Crested grebe, Coot, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese.

It had been an eventful day.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Photographs of Nesting Birds

Recently I visited some of the ponds near where I live to see how the nesting birds were getting along. Most of them were still sitting on nests incubating their eggs, although some Coots and Mute Swans had already hatched their eggs and were swimming in the water.

Mute swan Incubating the eggs
Royal Birds

With reports of Eastern Europeans killing and eating swans in the area, the local people are keeping an eye out for any unusual activity. I have also not given the location of the ponds to try and ensure the birds safety. 

The Queen has a prerogative over all swans in the Great Britain. The Swan Keeper also dispatches swans all over the world, sent as gifts in the Queen's name.

Nesting Whooper Swan
The nesting Whooper Swan was unusual as Whoopers migrate back to Iceland in the spring to breed. The one above had not made the journey, probably due to injury. There was no sign of the male Whooper Swan on the day we were there. 

At Baron's Haugh in Motherwell there were some injured Whooper Swans which had not managed to migrate back to Iceland in the spring, so this bird may be one of them.

Greylag Goose Nesting
As we were about to pack up observing in one area, I spotted a Greylag Goose nesting in the reeds. She was well hidden and was only spotted by accident. In the picture above she can be seen keeping a close eye on us. 

Coots Nest
In another pond a Coots nest was in the process of being built. Coots nest on still water to minimise the danger from flooding.

Mute Swan in another pond
In a smaller pond there was only one pair of Mute swans nesting. No other birds could be seen, apart from some Mallard ducks.

The Heron above was seen looking for food, but no nest for it could be seen.

Canada Geese Nesting
Some Canada geese could be seen nesting on a small island, well away from people. A small boat would be required to get to this nest so it should be safe from humans.

Family of Mute Swans
Family of Mute Swans
Family of Mute Swans
The first sight we got of Cygnets was at another pond were two adult Mute Swans were out and about with their young family. At one point they swam close to where we were standing with the scope and the male started hissing at us. We moved back a bit to be less threatening to the birds. 

Mute Swans are very strong and it is not advisable to go near them when they have young. A Swan can break a person's arm with its wing if it feels threatened. 

It was quite a dull and wet day and with the light getting worse, we decided to pack up. We had managed to get some good photos of the birds through my scope, which can be seen above.

I am looking forward to seeing how the birds develop over the summer.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Ancient Woodland Flowers

Today I had my first glimpse of a small number of Bluebell growing in Strathclyde Park in Motherwell. These are beautiful blue flowers which are found in damp woodland areas. Other areas in Lanarkshire where Bluebells are found are at Chatelherault Country Park in Hamilton and Baron's Haugh in Motherwell.

Bluebells Very Common in the UK

Over 50% of the world's Bluebells are native to the UK.They tend to bloom in Scotland in May and provide a carpet of blue flowers which is quite spectacular.

The Bluebells I saw today covered a small area so I will wait for more Bluebells to come into bloom in the next few weeks to get a more spectacular view of them.

Bluebells grow in ancient woodland which is defined as woodland which has been in existence since 1750 in Scotland and 1600 in England.
Close-up of Bluebells
Small area with Bluebells
Ancient Woodland

Bluebells are a good indication that the area is ancient woodland. Since 1998, bluebells have been protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA). It is illegal to collect wild bluebells and sell them for profit. 

Wild Garlic (Ramsons)

Wild Garlic is another common plant found at this time of year, also in damp woodland. It can be identified by the strong smell of garlic and has been popular as an ingredient in cooking since Richard Mabey first wrote about it in his book "Food for Free" in the 1972. 

I have the Collins Gem version of the book and have collected a few ingredients on my walks to use in cooking without poisoning myself!

Wild Garlic
Wild Garlic
Cuckoo Flower
The Cuckoo Flower

The Cuckoo Flower (also called Lady's Smock in reference to the Virgin Mary) is so called because its flowers come out at the same time of year as the cuckoo calls. Both the flowers and leaves are edible and contain large amounts of vitamin C. It is also a flower found in ancient woodland.


While looking at the Cuckoo Flowers we caught sight of two types of butterflies - Red Admiral and Orange-tipped. Unfortunately, they were flying too fast to get a photograph of them.

Our walk around Strathclyde Park and along the banks of the River Clyde did not produce any other interesting flowers.

Greylag Geese and Goslings

On the way back, there an open-air pop concert being held in the Park and the loud music did not deter the youngsters below from exploring the area. 

Greylag Geese and Goslings
The goslings above were swimming about in the water under the watchful eyes of both parents. They seem to nest in the small island which houses the observation tower used in sailing and rowing events on Strathclyde Loch.

Greylag Geese and Goslings
The geese did attract a lot of attention from adults and children and they did not seem afraid of people.

It had been a good day out. 

Further Information

Strathclyde Park: 

366 Hamilton Road


Grid Reference: NS728567