Most locals I meet have been complaining about the weather in August, and in very strong terms, too! It has certainly been rather a strange month, often overcast, but having just had another first- hand report of the effect of the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha on the North of Scotland, I can only say that I am very glad I was here!
The sun seems, anyway, to have come back for a little while at least, and on Sunday I was dozing in the shade after lunch – well, actually obviously not really dozing as a quick movement caught my eye. I was looking straight up at the underside of the eaves above the French windows that give on to the terrace; that is if you still call them eaves if they are made of brick? Anyway, there hanging vertically above me, upside down, was one of our geckos. It was quite still for a while, then suddenly scooted forward at speed, till again it stopped dead, and waited, motionless again. I have no real idea what enables them to hang, apparently effortlessly, upside down, but whatever it is, I find it remarkable that they can suddenly "switch it off" for split-seconds as they run forward. A hugely impressive feat, if you think of it in human terms.
Earlier that day, I had paused beside our annoying little pond; (I have mentioned this before!) With the greater rain this August and lower temperatures it has not dried out this year, so I have not managed to give it a good clean, and I was standing beside it wondering for the thousandth time what we should actually do with it. Again, something caught my eye; this was, perhaps a bit of wood, where there is not normally one – but this bit of wood had several conspicuous white dots. And then it moved – so it was not a piece of wood!
I got out the inevitable, invaluable book, and have decided that it can only be the young of the "lézard ocellé", which has noticeably white spots. According to the same authority, the adult can grow up to 60 centimetres in length! Mine was lurking at the foot of a rockery-cum-shrubbery, and I can only suppose that perhaps its parents lurk there too – veritable monsters at the bottom of the garden! One of my dictionaries indicates that "ocellé " means "spotted", which seems eminently satisfactory – at least as far as the young are concerned.
About three weeks ago, I spent a few days at a lovely campsite in the hills. There are some nice walks around the site, but they are rough and steep, and as the weather was warm, I got pretty hot while following them, and cooled down in the two streams which flow through the valley. They are real mountain streams, and the water is cold, so you have to be fairly hot to want to get in. One pool is quite small and totally natural, with only room to swim a couple of strokes, but it is very pretty in its setting of rock and bushes, and on its margins I had noticed at least one of my favourite insects – loved even beyond the butterflies which I have written about before!
This one is very like a damselfly – (shame Bruce has not written about them yet!), but it flies more slowly, more obviously beating its four wings than the rapid dart and hover of the dragon – or damselflies ever allows you to see. It is the colour which is remarkable, as it is a deep, almost electric blue, and the wings, which you see clearly in flight, are black, shot with the same blue. This, I think, may be the male, I saw greener individuals which I believe may be the females. Both sexes, if this is the case, are territorial, as a little way downstream from the pool where I had my quick, cold dip, I sat for ages on a rock and watched one quietly. It rested on a waterside plant or twig, making sorties out over the amber-coloured shallow water. I presume it is carnivorous, and was catching small flies, but I never really managed to see the prey before it was caught! Once or twice it dipped down to the gently-rippling surface of the stream. If another of its own species ventured over the same small pool, it was immediately escorted back upstream, but when the big, noisy dragonflies flew past, they were left alone. Discretion, it seems, is the better part of valour when they pass by!
I have decided, partly on the basis that these lovely insects have very definitely coloured wings, that they must be the demoiselle agrions (calopteryx virgo), but am happy to be corrected! Later that afternoon, I swam in the much bigger, man- made pool beneath a fine waterfall. The back of the pool was set into the hillside and was very well-vegetated, and it was here that the pond-skaters tended to congregate. I swam repeatedly, very slowly and as low in the water as I could, and watched from the surface, the closely-crowded pond-skaters and the agrions, as these beautiful creatures made their brilliant, fluttering sorties out over my head – and the dragonflies, like helicopter gun-ships, zoomed by. What a wonderful way to spend a hot afternoon.
I have mentioned our kitchen sink before; it is quite a good viewpoint over the front garden, although its bars, practical enough in this warm climate, make you adopt some odd angles if you are following a bird as I was yesterday. This was a young redstart, still with fluff between its growing feathers, and as "the book" says that young black redstarts are distinctly sooty, and this was not, I have to conclude that it was the "ordinary" redstart, of the same species which had killed itself, some readers may recall, against the glass of the French windows. This is presumably the product of at least a second, maybe a third brood of the summer.
But as far as some of the birds are concerned, we are rapidly heading into autumn. For at least a couple of weeks now, the migration of the bee-eaters has been in full flight over our garden. This is another creature with whose beauty I am somewhat obsessed, and I am constantly grabbing my binoculars, in the hope of getting a really good view. The perfect vision of a bee-eater is another example of the dazzling beauty of the natural world which surrounds us, and I am anxious to see it again. So far it has eluded me, but I will see it yet!