Friday 30 August 2013

Bye Bye Birdy

Many summer holiday visitors have been leaving Blair Atholl over the last few days, and with the dismantling of the horse trials it has gone quiet. But this is not just because all the people have gone, many of the summer bird visitors have flown off too. Suddenly we notice that there's no oystercatcher piping or sandpiper peeping. The swallows have been flocking for a couple of weeks now, but are almost ready to go, and will be followed soon after by the house martins.

Huge numbers of swallows congregate on phone wires at Old Blair. They flock together like this prior to the start of their journey.

Swallows head to South Africa, where they can continue to feed on insects. Although it seems to us as though they go to Africa fro the winter, in fact, they only come here to breed, spending much more of the year away. The abundant insect life that we have in the summer helps them to rear their chicks successfully. Swallows mate for life, females choose males depending on the length of their long tail feathers - those with the longest tails are the most sought after! Most pairs will raise 2 broods of chicks while they are here, but mortality will be 70 - 80% in the first year. The migratory journey is particularly hazardous. If they survive to the next year, young birds will return to the same place that they came from, e.g. your garden.

Friday 2 August 2013

The Buzzing of the Limes

The grounds of Blair Castle have many common lime trees (Tilia x europaea), including the wonderful lime avenue drive up to the Castle from the village. This was planted way back in 1737, though some trees have been replaced since then.

Lime avenue from Blair Castle to Blair Atholl

The lime trees are now flowering, and this provides an absolute late summer feast for many of the smaller nectar feeding insects, such as bees, wasps and
 moths. Walking underneath the trees you can hear how alive the canopy is with beasties - the air is literally buzzing above your head all the way up the avenue. The flowers are pollinated by these insects and the resulting seeds have a special wing which allows them to sail in the wind to find new places. These seeds look nothing like the green citrus fruit called a lime - the tree's name comes from Linde, the German word for rope, because ropes used to made from the inner bark of the lime tree.

Lime flowers

Lime fruits and the lime nail gall.
The fabulous lime hawk moth, sadly not found in Scotland,
but common on lime trees in the southern half of Britain