Thursday, 11 May 2017

Cuckoo Update - And The Allotment

In may last post, I expressed my concern at the lack of cuckoos here this year. Seems like I was a bit ahead of myself - we are hearing a cuckoo every day now, and as ever, they are cheerfully waking us up at 4.00 every morning. Hmmm... However - I remain certain that there are fewer of them around this year than in previous years.

As to the allotment - we have been enjoying a period of dry and mostly warmish weather for the last few weeks. This has enabled me to get on with all the planting, and I am now pleased to report that I have peas, runner beans, broad beans, carrots, onions and potatoes all planted and, in some cases, showing above the ground. I also have baby plants of sprouts, broccoli and kale in the cold frame in pots, all waiting until they are big enough to be planted out. That just leaves the swede, which I will be planting in a few days time.

It's a lovely time of year on the allotment - as it all looks so neat. As the spring turns to summer, our very long hours of daylight encourage incredibly rapid growth of a jungle of weeds of all shapes and sizes. Having an allotment which borders rough grazing and open moorland doesn't help - as the unwanted plants all grow there unchecked and eagerly spread their seeds onto my carefully cultivated plots. Every year I vow that I will make a big effort to keep on top of weed control, and I haven't really won the battle yet... so maybe this year..?

Here's a couple of pictures of the bare, weed-free beds, taken a couple of days ago...

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Birds on Skye

I enjoy bird song, and like to watch our garden birds, but I am far from being a fanatic, and struggle to identify any feathered friend which is 'out of the ordinary'. Serious bird people should consider redirecting to the excellent 'Skye Birds' website right now...

Now, with the serious twitchers gone, it's hello to you slightly less 'birdy' people...

Here at Roskhill, I have a couple of feeders dangling from a tree just outside my study window. The feeders contain peanuts and fat balls, and I very occasionally throw a few kitchen scraps on the ground beneath the feeders. In spite of Roskhill being a very small human residential community, lying within many acres of heather moorland and rough grazing, our garden attracts a wide variety of what might be considered to be 'garden birds'.

Our garden 'regulars' include the inevitable blackbirds, and we almost always have a robin or three. Chaffinches are common, and there is almost always a dunnock hopping about under the feeders. The tit family are represented by great tits, blue tits and coal tits.  We have a few house sparrows and an occasional starling and song thrush. This year, we have been seeing an increase in numbers of goldfinches and greenfinches, and siskins are also quite common visitors.

As for larger birds - two-tone hooded crows are always around - and tend to be more gregarious and bolder than their all-black southern cousins, and collared doves are visiting more often these days. . We occasionally get a glimpse of a sparrowhawk.

A short walk up the road takes one out of the gardens and into the moor. Here, the 'little brown jobs' are meadow pipits and sedge warblers, while buzzards and snipe are often seen - and heard - in the sky. I am sure there are other birds about, but I lack the skill to identify them. However - in spite of us being less than a mile from the sea, it is rare to see any seabirds here at Roskhill.

One last word goes to the Cuckoo. Since we moved here in 2008, we have learned to expect several cuckoos to start to 'sing' in April every year. They would then lay their eggs, and young cuckoos would be hatched, and would then depart in July. This year, 2017, just one cuckoo arrived in Roskhill, and sang for a week or so. This one bird seems now to have moved on. 2017 could be the first cockoo-less summer we have had here. What a tragedy it is, that man has had so much influence on the wildlife on our planet that such a familiar bird as the cuckoo is now risking extinction.

My fuzzy photos are of a few Roskhill birds - pictures taken through my double glazed study window.

Two goldfinches (look carefully...)

Male chaffinch

Blue tit


Coal tit

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Out With The Old...

The other day, and with a little sadness, I bade farewell to my trusty Citroen Berlingo van. We had been together nearly seven years, and in that time had travelled approaching 100,000 miles together. Much of the time, the cargo area only carried Cupar's dog-crate and my tool boxes, though in summer, a lawn mower, strimmer and other tools would also be carried. At other times, the van had been pressed into service to transport various items of furniture, DIY materials, and huge quantities of shopping bought on trips south or to Inverness.

The Berlingo has never once let me down, but with its increasing age, I had become more and more aware that expensive repairs were inevitably 'just round the corner', so a replacement vehicle was sought. I find it invaluable to own a van. It is so easy to simply pile any kind of stuff in the back in a way that I am quite sure would not be possible with a hatchback or estate car - even a big one. Additionally, the Berlingo is a very convenient car-like size on the road, is adequately comfortable to drive, and very economical on fuel.

So, it will come as no surprise that its replacement is a near-identical sibling. Yes - the Berlingo is still in production, albeit with a few completely un-necessary updates to equipment such as air conditioning, a digital radio and reversing sensors... But the engine has also been updated and is now Euro 6 compliant - so although a diesel - it is not the 'dirty' variety that we currently read about so much.

Here's my 'spot the difference' photos of the old and the new. Not too difficult to see a different registration number - though my 200 XMF plate was also on the 'old' van until a week or so previously.  The slightly more observant may notice that the 'new' van is silver - not white. I am no longer a 'white van man'...! Lastly - yes, the new van is badged as a Peugeot Partner, and not a Citroen Berlingo. The two are, in all but name, the same van, but I was not able to find a Citroen version of the age and specification that I was seeking, so for the next few years at least, my workhorse will be a Pug, and I hope will prove as trusty as the outgoing Citroen.

The Old...

The Old...

The New...

The New...

As a footnote - it is interesting to see how much greener Roskhill is looking today than it was a week ago when the first pictures were taken!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

They're Back!

Skye Winter is turning into Skye Spring. Mostly, this just means that the drizzle is slightly warmer and the wind gets a chance to blow daffodils about, and not just blow at dead grasses. But Spring also brings a noticeable increase in traffic on the roads. The visitor season is upon us again. Brand new shiny rental cars trundle in convoy towards the most infamous beauty spots and attractions, vying for space in the tiny car parks, and struggling to pass the inevitable camper vans which lumber along even more tentatively than the rental cars.

Since almost the entire Skye economy is fed by the tourist industry in one way or another, the permanent residents do not complain too much about the summer invasion. Litter, inconsiderate parking and dangerous driving antics are the topics most likely to raise a comment. We know we have our cosy homes to retreat into when the weather is inclement and the B&Bs have pushed their visitors out for the day. We face the queues at the Co-op with a smile, and avoid the now overcrowded pubs and restaurants. Most of us know some secret places where we can get away from all the cameras and foreign voices.

For Sue and I - the visitor season is a pretty busy time. We look after our self-catering cottages ourselves, and that includes all the admin, all the washing and ironing, all the cleaning, and all the gardening and maintenance. As Sue has her homecare job, I take the lion's share of the chores. In a move to reduce my workload in future years, we are planning to offer Rowan Cottage for sale later this year and cut back to running just two cottages of our own. We have no idea how readily we will find a buyer for Rowan - some properties linger unsold for months and even years. I'll write more about the sale in due course.

But, dear readers, don't be put off by what I write! Skye is a wonderful place to visit, with spectacular scenery everywhere, which gets better every bend you go round. Come, experience and enjoy - but be sure to book your accommodation well in advance, and see if you can seek out some special secret parts of Skye for yourselves...!