Off Canvas

It is sad to be locked down and unable to visit family and friends, but how lucky we are to live within in a beautiful landscape. The lockdown has given us some extra time to watch out for wildlife very close to home. There have been lots of interesting wildlife reports from all over the area.

The year kicked off with some very early sightings, Snowdrops out by Rose Cottage on the 9th January and bees on the Mahonia in Tricia’s garden on the 23rd January when she also briefly caught sight of a Painted Lady butterfly. That was exceptional but it probably was our warmest winter on record and last year was a great Painted Lady year, so perhaps a survivor from last year rather than the first butterfly of 2020!

Over the winter it has been good to hear that there have been occasional reports of Woodcock and Stonechat on the hill. Another exciting development has been the reports of sightings, of a Red Kite by numerous people including Steph, Ian, Iona, Grant, Sarah and Gordon, both around Abernyte and Ballindean. It was first noticed at the beginning of April. That is exciting because - after consulting with a historical atlas of breeding birds - it appears that if Kites are living around Abernyte this could be for the first time since the mid 19th Century. It is great that we have so many raptors living around the Sidlaws, once persecuted, they are making a comeback. Another bird making a comeback is the Magpie, Jessie Smith had one in her garden in Abernyte for the first time ever and they have also been seen in Ballindean.

The first over-wintering butterfly sightings of the Spring were a Peacock on 20th March and a Small Tortoiseshell in Gordon’s garden on the 23rd March. There was a very early sighting of the Orange Tip, sighted at Smithy Cottage on 8th April where Mairi and Stephen “noted an Orange-tip feeding on our Aubrieta in Abernyte”. They were also seen by Trefor in Kinnaird along with the lovely Comma on 23rd April and just a day later a Comma was also seen in Abernyte.

Diana was delighted to see an Orange Tip in the garden at Hillhouse on the 12th May as she had not had one before. The weather has been great for seeing Orange Tips this Spring and they are still around in good numbers today, 18th May. Like the Peacock butterfly before it, the Orange Tip has been extending its distribution. When (older) local residents were young there were probably no Orange Tips in Abernyte. Now they are among the commonest species in the Spring. An interesting observation in our own garden, the male Orange Tip butterflies congregated around a patch of Honesty plants, and examination showed that there were in fact eggs there laid by the female butterflies. Although, fortunately, the classic foodplants for Orange Tip - cuckoo flower and Garlic Mustard (Jack by the Hedge) – are still fairly common along the road verges, they will also lay eggs on lots of other plants belonging to the cabbage family such as Honesty and Dames Violet.

At one time we would probably have been seeing many more Common Blue butterflies than we do now. Now we have to go to particular sites to see them, on the hill for example where the flora has been less affected by changes in agriculture. This is because the foodplant that they need for their caterpillars, the common Birdssfoot trefoil, is no longer common. Once distributed along road verges and field edges, spray drift from arable crops and nitrogen run-off encourages the more rampant plants such as hogweed and vigorous grasses. The Ladies Bedstraw, Crosswort, Birdsfoot trefoil, Yarrow and Water avens, which are still to be seen on the road verge between Abernyte and Kinnaird, are increasingly endangered. Those flowery verges provide a corridor for wildlife like the Common Blue and the Orange Tip.

The Covid-19 lockdown has been a great opportunity for looking at wildlife in the garden and on our permitted exercise walks of course. Directives from the various wildlife charities and organisations are clear that it would be an unnecessary risk to health and transmission of the virus to carry out survey work elsewhere. Frogspawn was noticed in Kinnaird and Abernyte around 18th-20th March. While digging in the garden on Tuesday 25th, a lovely day, I was pleased to hear our first spring migrant of the year, a chiff-chaff singing from one of the birch trees. I didn't hear it the next day so perhaps moved on to some more mature woodland preferred by chiff-chaffs.

Willow warblers aren't usually far behind and indeed they were heard at Hillhouse on 15th April. Also, there was a male Blackcap singing on the Glebe on the 11th April.

Linda reported seeing House Martins for the first time this year near East Newton on Tuesday 14th April. Last year she first spotted them on 5th.

The first bat of the year was also flying around the house at Infield during the second week of April.

A swallow was seen over Abernyte Farm on 22nd April and at least two on the following day, 23rd April. One swallow may not make a summer, or even Spring, but two certainly did. We have also heard from Hillhouse that House Martins were seen on 21st April. There were also Swallows there on 23rd and on the same day Estelle was delighted to report that Swallows have re-appeared at one of their nesting sites at Ballindean, they were taking up residence in Kinnaird as well.

We don’t know how much longer Lockdown will continue, but hopefully we will all be able to get a bit further afield before long. In the meantime, lets focus our eyes and lenses on wildlife close to home, and it is amazing what will turn up. Keep safe at home!