Loch Tay, Falls of Dochart, Callander and Oban Railway

“I’m going to the highlands at the weekend.”

“Lovely. You’ll be looking for a nice loch shore walk then.”

I went to see a physiotherapist last week. He tells me that I’ve done some damage to my Achilles. No hill-climbing until the summer. In the meantime, I have to stand on one foot with my eyes closed. Not all of the time, fortunately.

So – whilst most members of our annual Highland get-together were braving what looked to be fairly tempestuous conditions on the Tarmachan ridge, I was heading for a ‘nice loch shore’ path. I had good company in my infirmity: S was struggling with a dodgy knee and appreciated an opportunity to share a gentle stroll (and also, perhaps, the chance to hit the bar a little earlier than the others).

 Toad

Having been dropped off in Killin, we followed an abandoned railway line down to the loch. In the trees beside it we saw tree-creepers, and in the leaf-litter a solitary toad.

Loch Tay 

The morning had begun very wet, and it still looked very black over the hills to the North, but directly overhead there were gaps in the cloud and blue sky beyond. We were even blessed with a little sunshine. We sat for almost an hour over a brew, sharing our passion for accumulating books, putting the world to rights and watching a cormorant, curlews and golden-eye.

River....? 

The path back towards Killin, boggy in places, followed the river. Downstream of the confluence of the Dochart and the Lochay I’m not sure whether it retains one of those names or if it has already become the Tay, which it will be when it flows from the far end of the Loch at Kenmore.

 Tree 

With the sun shining and dark skies behind, the bare trees were looking very fine, and we paused awhile to take lots of photos.

Trees

Situated in Killin village, the falls of Dochart are well worth a look. From the road bridge I found that I couldn’t really do justice to the falls, even with my camera’s widest zoom, and wondered how a pancake lens would have coped.

Falls of Dochart

From Killin we walked back to our accommodation at Suie Lodge in Luib, via the old Oban to Callander railway line. The first section has been converted into a footpath, part of the Rob Roy way, but even after that had turned to head into Glen Ogle, the disused railway bed made for easy walking with fine views and gentle slopes and just the odd fence to be straddled.

Last of the blue sky. 

Sadly this was the last of the blue sky for quite some time. Rainbows and heavy showers were now the order of the day. We kept hoping that a long enough gap between showers would allow us to get another brew on the boil, but the chance never materialised.

Killin Junction

Platform at Killin Junction.

Eventually, thwarted by a missing bridge over Luib Burn, we diverted down to the road for the last kilometre or so. As we arrived back the weather began to brighten again, but we opted to sit by the log fire in the hotel bar and steam gently whilst sampling some of the hotel’s selection of bottled real ales. It’s hard work this convalescence malarkey!

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Loch Tay, Falls of Dochart, Callander and Oban Railway

Perfect Day

Perfect picnic

I’ve whittled on before about the elements which combine to make a ‘good day on the hoof’. This was hardly a day on the hoof: a short bicycle ride to the end of Moss Lane, a picnic on a bench on the boardwalk overlooking Haweswater and then a circuit around the lake and across the fields and back to Moss Lane. A short walk; very leisurely. Lots of sitting around, lots of blackberry picking, lots of stopping to gawp at nature. But before our jaunt was even half way through TBH had already begun to describe it as a ‘perfect day’.

Whilst we were eating our lunch we were entertained by a multitude of dragonflies hunting over the grassland by the lake, and also watched several butterflies flutter by – a brimstone, a peacock and the only one which had the courtesy to pose for a photo…

Small tortoiseshell on devil's-bit scabious 

…this small tortoiseshell. It was sunning itself on a devil’s-bit scabious, which, from previous visits, I expected to find flowering here early in September, although many of the flowers were not yet open…

Unopened devil's-bit scabious 

…and as many again were only beginning to open…

Partially opened devil's-bit scabious 

It was also no surprise to find grass of Parnassus flowering…

Grass of Parnassus 

…no surprise, but absolutely delightful!

But I was rather taken aback to find this bird’s-eye primrose still flowering…

Late-flowering bird's-eye primrose

…long after it’s usual May and June season.

A picnic with S is a long, drawn-out affair, since he doesn’t like to sit still for too long: a little light grazing, a look around, another morsel of food, a bit more exploring – that’s his modus operandi. He’s keen on company on his mini-forays and whilst exploring we found this…

Hoverfly - helophilus pendulus, probably 

…dapper hoverfly, probably helophilus pendulus, meticulously cleaning itself – first wiping its abdomen with its rear legs, then its face with the front pair. ‘Helophilus pendulus’ is ‘dangling swamp-lover’ apparently. I think Mr Knipe might be described as helophilus. (I’ll leave it to Mike to do gags about ‘dangling’ – he’ll do it better then I will.)

Whilst I photographed the hoverfly, S noticed this female common darter…

Female common darter 

…which seemed very happy for me to get really close to take pictures.

Female common darter again 

There were other species of dragonfly about, big green and blue ones (that’s the official dragonfly fancier’s name for ‘em), but they wouldn’t play ball and land for a photo.

After watching a brimstone several times, seeing it apparently disappear near to a shrub, but then fail to find it’s landing spot, I finally traced one to a spot in the grass behind a bush…

Brimstone 

When we finished our protracted repast and moved on, we found that the common darters were very fond of the boardwalk and would hover just above it before landing briefly, but for long enough for me to get several photos of both males and females, of which this was the sharpest…

Male common darter 

Male common darter.

Strangely, I had a premonition that the dragonflies might not be the only ones enjoying the sunshine on the boardwalk and sure enough…

Common lizard

…there were many common lizards sun-bathing on the timber ‘kerbs’ which run along the edges of the boardwalk. I have occasionally seen them here before, singly and briefly, but this time there were probably about 20 here and we were able to watch them for quite some time, despite S’s best efforts to catch, poke, chase and otherwise rile them.  Naturally, I took loads of photos and will include more in a forthcoming post.

Having expended lots of energy chasing after a brimstone butterfly for a photo, we now watched one alight on knapweed right beside the path. Since it wasn’t buttery yellow, I assume that it’s a paler female. If you look closely you can see the great long, black, bent drinking-straw tongue.

Brimstone feeding 

We’d seen quite a lot of tiny frogs and/or toads in the grass by the shore. In the soggy field at the end of the lake I disturbed a sizeable adult frog, quite pale, almost yellow, with really striking dark blotches, but sadly it had gone long before I had my camera ready.

With lunch over, it was time to consider tea, and to collect blackberries for a crumble.

Blackberrying

In the meadows by Challan Hall, S and I caught one of the tiny toads…

Small toad 

..perhaps we shouldn’t. But somehow, when you’re only wee yourself, there’s something very thrilling about handling the wildlife you see.

Small toad again

Back on Moss Lane, blackberrying and slowly heading back towards our bikes, I was distracted from fruit-picking by these…erm, well, I wasn’t sure what they were…

Field garlic?

I thought of garlic for some reason, and now I think it may be field garlic, allium oleraceum. If I’m right, then these are bulbils, essentially small bulbs. Usually there would be flowers amongst the bulbils, although it being rather late in the flowering season for field garlic, maybe the flowers had been and gone.

Well – no sangria in the park, didn’t need to go to the zoo to see the animals, ‘problems all left alone’? Check. Perfect day? Pretty close.

Perfect Day

Parc du Marquenterre – Our Summer Abroad part 4

P8160144

A bird reserve. One of only two in France apparently (according to the Rough Guide). By the Baie de Somme. When we arrived the tide was on it’s way in and we could see, at the far end of the reserve, a distant cloud of back and white consisting of cormorants and spoonbills.

There was a lot to see and even S managed the 6km circuit of the reserve reasonably cheerfully, after some initial squabbles over our one pair of binoculars.

White Storks

We were fascinated by the storks by the entrance to the park. One pair were clacking their beaks at each other and also throwing their heads backwards along their backs.

Drinking stork

In flight the birds are spectacular because of their sheer size.

Flying crane

Living by the sea, I often see cormorants and I love to watch them fishing in the Kent estuary, but I don’t recall seeing facial plumage quite like this before:

Cormorant

Egrets too have become a fairly common sight at home in the last few years, but I have always struggled to get close enough to get candid pictures.

Scratching egret

Butterflies were plentiful too, particularly speckled woods, but few would land to pose for a photo.

Red admiral

I was excited by this fellow…

Holly Blue 2

….which I think is a holly blue and therefore not something I see regularly.

One of the impressive things about the park was the huge crowds of birds assembled there.

Oystercatchers

This is one tiny corner of a large sandy island which thronged with oystercatchers and …

Avocets

…avocets.

When something spooked the oystercatchers in another part of the reserve we had another demonstration of the size of the population here…

Cloud of oystercatchers

Although, again this is merely a fraction of the total flock which was airborne.

A small green-blue lizard skittered across the sandy path in front of A and I. B was understandably jealous, but then he found a large…

Grasshopper

…grasshopper, which when spooked would hop but then fly a few yards on apparently blue wings.

We also spotted this sandy toad by the path…

P8160173

When we finally reached the area where the cormorants and spoonbills where gathered, the tide had turned and there were fewer birds present then there had been. But they were still legion.

Cormorants and spoonbills

And the fishy smell was almost overpowering.

Egret

Another egret.

Parc du Marquenterre – Our Summer Abroad part 4

Mallards and Toads?

Around this time last year, we had a cracking walk with friends, one of the highlights of which was a mass of frogs in the pond-dipping area at Leighton Moss. On our way out to look at carpets on Saturday we stopped briefly at Leighton Moss to see whether a similar display might be on offer this year.

There was lots of frogspawn….

…but at first we could see no other amphibian activity. In fact, we were about to head back to the car when a movement caught my eye and I spotted at first one frog, then three of four and eventually I think about thirty. They were across the far side of the pool and so not as easy to photograph as last year.

Since then I’ve begun to wonder – are these frogs at all? Given that there was already a substantial amount of frogspawn in the water, and that the pictures I took last year clearly show mottled brown markings and a rough, ‘warty’ skin I think that these might be toads. Probably, for next year, we need to visit a little earlier to see frogs mating. (For fantastic pictures and a very informative post about toads see Cabinet of Curiosities.)

So, we didn’t get so close to the toads (or frogs) but we did have a friendly chat with some very tame mallards in the car park.

Mallards and Toads?