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Eskrigg: a squirrel lover’s dream

Back in 2013 I stumbled across what has come to be a favourite spot. I was accompanying my husband on a business trip at the time and during the day, while he worked I was free to explore the local area. We were staying in the exotic climes of the Scottish Border near Carlisle and it was late February-early March. As you can imagine, the weather was not always kind and I spent much of my time pottering around the Solway firth looking for good birdwatching spots where I could observe the murky shapes of waders through the mist from the relatively comfortable confines of my car. I also made a trip to WWT Caerlaverock where I was greeted by the astonishing spectacle of 35,000 Barnacle Geese gathered in the fields, great flocks of Yellowhammers in every hedge and masses of Whooper Swans to boot. Despite enjoying all of this, my top spot was elsewhere: about half a mile outside Lockerbie, opposite the Garden of Remembrance for the dreadful air disaster of 1988, lies a small patch of mixed woodland called Eskrigg. The 7 acre site is run by the local Lockerbie Wildlife Trust and is a haven for all manner of species, but it was here that I first photographed Red Squirrels and it remains a favourite spot today.

Red Squirrel, Eskrigg

The reserve itself is beautifully kept with well maintained paths, regularly filled feeders and a couple of small but immaculate hides offering close encounters with the wildlife. The first hide overlooks a small loch an which is home to a surprising number of Mallard considering its diminutive size, as well as a pair of Mute Swans. To either side, a plethora of seed and nut feeders invite a wide variety of small birds including but not limited to Chaffinch, Siskin, Robin, Greenfinch, Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Nuthatch and Willow tit. Red Squirrels also make use of the box feeders which provide their own form of entertainment with different individuals climbing in to the feeder by varying degree in order to stuff their cheek pouches. Emerging, they scamper away to find a suitable hiding place for their cache.

Burying nuts!

It is difficult not to be enamoured by their endearing antics, even when fights break out among them. They chitter at one another in high-pitched, aggravated tones whilst chasing each other up, down and around the tree trunks at high speed in somewhat farcical fashion.

Peek-a-boo!

On my most recent visit to Eskrigg, I was pleased to see another demonstration of the area’s biodiversity, the weather conditions had been perfect to encourage the growth of masses of fungi. Of course, the part we see is the fruiting body and so while these mysterious species have been there all along, only when they produce their fruit bearing toadstools are we able to see them in all their glory. The mixture of trees in the woodland including pine, beech, birch, hazel, oak and others allows for a particularly rich variety of fungus species too, as many are dependent on a specific tree species. Eskrigg is definitely a place that I would like to visit more often and I will always try to fit a stop into my journey further north when I can. If you’re in the area, why not pop in and see for yourself?!

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Glorious spring flowers

There can be few things more uplifting after a cold, dark winter than British spring flowers heralding brighter weather ahead. Don’t get me wrong, winter has it’s merits, but for me spring is a time for fresh starts and there are few more glorious than the beginning of the flowering season for a great number of our native plants. I thought I’d share a few photos from my recent local wanderings which encapsulate just a couple of my favourite finds this spring.

I’ll begin at the beginning with one of the earlier species to flower, the Wood Anemone which, in the right conditions, can carpet a woodland floor to much the same effect as the Bluebells do later. These dainty flowers are also known as Wind Flowers for their propensity to nod at the slightest breeze. They are an excellent source of nectar for the earlier of the bees to emerge too and here I’ve captured a Bee Fly feeding on one.

 

 

Next to my County flower, the Pasque flower. I was really thrilled to find these in huge numbers at a site not too far from home. I was a little late visiting this year so have singled out one flower for this image but hope to capture them in all their carpeting glory next year with any luck. In the meantime I will definitely keep it on my must visit list as the year progresses to see what other wildflower wonders it holds in store. I am really fond of these rare little flowers, a relative of the Anemone above.

 

 

 

My next flower to share with you is the Cuckoo flower, Cardamine pratensis. This little member of the Cress family likes damp spots and when left to it’s own devices can create quite a stunning effect turning a wet meadow pale pinkish-white with hundreds of flowers. The plant is one of the food plants of the Orange Tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines which takes the latter part of it’s Latin name from the first half of the plant’s. The petals have a delicate veining which I have tried to capture by focusing on a single bloom within the flower stalk.

 

 

Another flower of which I’m particularly fond is Greater Stitchwort. It has lovely white flowers and reminds me of country walks as a child. The common name is supposedly derived from the very fine stem of the plant which is said to fit through the eye of a needle. I thought I’d try something a little different for this shot and so, using the dappled light of a woodland floor and a heavy dew to best effect, I exposed to create a slightly ethereal bokeh effect in the background which I really rather like.

 

 

A flower which I hadn’t photographed before this spring was the Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium). I found some growing alongside Bluebells in a local wood and loved the shapes it created with it’s searching tendrils and the wonderful colour combination. Here I’ve used the Bluebells as a backdrop for the Vetch.

 

 

Next has to be another favourite of mine, the Green-winged Orchid. I have written about these before and cannot help but take more photos every year when I find them, they are just SO beautiful! I am often asked why they are called “green-winged”, the answer lies in the green stripes on the outer petals which are harder to spot on some of the darker colour forms. I am incredibly lucky to have a fantastic spot for these gorgeous flowers within walking distance of my house so I can’t leave them out!

 

 

Lastly, who could miss the Bluebells!? Almost synonymous with spring in a British woodland, these stunning flowers are at their best when the weather is warming and the first of our new season butterflies emerge. Who can resist a Bluebell with a butterfly on it after all? My final two images of spring flowers are of Orange Tip and Green Veined White butterflies on British Bluebells.