Category Archives: squirrels

February into March – The Season Changes

As February draws to a close and March begins, the March wind do blow – we see the tops of the trees sway and branches fall but the birds are busy twittering away and lining up nesting  materials.

There is also a squirrel in our garden – maybe one of the baffled ones? (see photo) who is tearing at the piece of netting lodged in the tree at the back of the garden – nest materials for her also perhaps?

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The primroses are in flower and the bulbs are beginning, dwarf irises and early dwarf narcissi as well as cyclamen coum flower. Symphitum of all varieties including Ibericum; tuberosum; ibiriceum; flower ready for the early solitary bee with the long proboscis that feeds on their colourful tubes. Also beginning are the Pulmonaria we have ‘raspberry splash’; ‘Beth chatto’; ‘frehling shimmmel’; and various blues – all with spotted leaves of many shades, that give them their name as they were beloved to help cure lung disease. And the buds on our magnolias are ripening.

Now is the time to mulch the plants. Organic mulch from your compost heap or manure if your garden needs it, mixed with soil, will feed for the season and help prevent dryness in the height of the summer. Weeds will grow but mulch helps smother them -unless your compost heap was not hot enough to kill the weed seeds of course!

It is also the time to complete any pruning not yet finished – by Easter you should be finished. Once the sap starts rising it can damage the plants to be pruned and watch out for pruning fig trees once the sap is rising – it is very sticky and unpleasant.

If you have had hyacinths or spring bulbs in your house over the winter – plant them out to flower for next year in your main garden. You may find that over time the hyacinths change back to blue but…or put them in pots and out of sight for a patio display next spring. Now is the time to look at other people’s gardens to see what bulbs they have planted for the spring. Have they got a different daffodil? Or a new iris or? But the tulips are yet to come so keep some space for them… and whatever you do, don’t remove the leaves from your daffodils until at least six weeks or longer if you can, have passed. Remove the dead heads but let the leaves soak up the feed to increase the bulb size and start offsets. Feed your bulbs while still in flower or as they start to poke through the sol. Leaving it until they are finished flowering is rather late.

If you are growing early annuals such as poppies or marigolds, you can start to sow in prepared seed beds or trays but beware the rain if in trays – don’t let it wash all the seeds out as has happened to me in the past – or foxes upset the trays. So put them somewhere safe and well drained.

In January to February the foxes are bold in our garden and we find they play with toys they drag in from everywhere. Keep a look out as they rather indiscriminate with what they play – we have had soiled nappies, tins, plastic bag and the detritus from our cat’s litter tray pulled around the garden. Some of this we believe is the hormones from females  that are found in heir excrement and urine that attract the males regardless of them not being foxes… and their curiosity as to where this smell is coming from leads them to carry stuff around and pull it apart to check there isn’t a female fox smell hidden somewhere…

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Nessie and wildlife: Armies and the Blair Atholls

Well we didn’t actually go to Loch Ness this time but we did go by it and through Inverness. So no Nessie, although I did buy the grandchildren a book all about Nessie and how she lost her glasses!

We did however, see some really good wildlife whilst we were in Scotland. I didn’t keep a good tally mostly because I didn’t recognise the birds that sang all around us but suspect we heard some skylarks on the high moors.

We certainly saw a wide variety of raptors including red kites, and swallows and martins and other insect eaters.



And as for the bird life on the waters there were so many different kinds, including shovellers and diving ducks and the greatest fun of all was a Gosander and her brood of 13 (!) chicks. She was quite a small bird and certainly the first time we had seen one – they don’t breed that often in the UK we read as the RSPB estimates only 2600 breeding pairs in the UK. A gosander ‘duck’ has a serrated bill to eat fish – mostly trout and salmon and thus the fishermen are not keen on them; they nest inland, and some are resident in Northern England and Scotland. There was no sign of the male gosander that we saw.

We also several grey herons both in and out of the water.

Grey Heron and Gosander and chicks

Grey Heron and Gosander and chicks


We are fairly certain we saw a capercailzie and definitely black rabbits as well as red squirrels – well one stopped us in the road as it thought about crossing. We also had an encounter with a pheasant mother who came out into the road and stood stock still. When she was convinced we weren’t moving she called her 3 tiny chicks out of the verge to cross the road. They were amazingly small…

Our final wildlife encounter was a bat in Atholl Castle! We think it must have been disturbed in some way as it was broad daylight and it followed us up the winding 14th century stairs to the old castle and the attics – probably where it usually roosts.

Blair Atholl Castle has its own private army since Queen Victoria’s time – and this is the only (official) private army in the UK. There were some 30 rooms open to view with furnishings from the 17th century. The castle was largely destroyed in the Jacopean revolt as there were brothers fighting against brothers – one for the Crown and one for the ‘King over the Water’. Prince Charlie (Bonnie of the song) stayed there before the Crown and Govt garrisoned the castle, thus chasing him away. The Jacopean army led by one of the brothers then besieged his brother and the Crown Garrison in the castle.. so the castles was changing sides a bit. There was a lot of army stuff on display – weapons, guns, and so on….

And nearly everywhere we went Mary Queen of Scots had visited, been imprisoned, or generally had a connection with the family line and so on…

All this is of course celebrated in the Highland Games it hosts, oh and of course there is the distillery and whiskies for those interested…

In Victorian times the main castle was rebuilt in a French Gothic style with a 9 acre walled garden which was historically linked to the castle and which had always had 2 large ponds in it. In the 1970s etc the garden had been used as a tree plantation and the ponds had been left to fill in but 20 years ago the castle owners decided to restore it – including the ponds (it was on a slope which meant that water flowed down into the pond areas)… they also restored a 18th century Chinese Bridge with islands, beds and dredging. The ponds now held a variety of unusual ducks.

The garden had wonderful scents with very old roses and old varieties of apple and pear trees.P1000489 P1000511

The castle and walled garden

The castle and walled garden

The castle café was £3 for a double expresso and shortbread was £1.60. the people looking after the rooms etc all wore the Atholl tartan and a piper played every hour or so in the courtyard…. (

Now we also some not so uncommon and not so wild life  in and around and not just the castle and its grounds but on our travels. There were the Highland Cattle of course; sheep aplenty; and what we think is an alpaca alongside some donkeys and sheep.. a pet we presume..

Not so wild life

Not so wild life

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Back from Bonny Scotland: French castles and sun!

I’m back from Scotland now. Yes, back from India only a week and off to Scotland. This is the fourth Scottish holiday we have had – and each time we have had sunshine.. this time there was one rainy morning and 2 rainy evenings. I had a lazy morning when it rained and left my husband to climb the nearest hill in the rain and mist and get some good cloud photos… So this is why I have been quiet.

We made a decision not to take laptops and Internet access or emails with us. Though to be honest some emails did filter through – some personal ones only – except for the one from my editor saying the book proof was ready for looking at. Something to do next week!

I have some amazing tales to tell in due course, of white fairy-tale castles set on top of hills with not only commanding views but also walled gardens with parterres and roses and topiary and ponds with strange ducks on them. When I can get the photos uploaded I will describe all of them as they are mostly little known it seemed to us as they were often fairly empty with maybe less than 10 people visiting.

We were not, clearly, in the Scottish honeypots of Loch Lomond etc, but in the Borders and Lowlands and based ourselves initially in Peebles and then in Birnam which is just outside of Dunkeld. And is the Birnam of Shakespeare fame – ‘When Birnam woods shall come to Dunsiname’. There are still the remnants of the old medieval forest to be found there and an old oak tree which is the one that Shakespeare may have heard of.

More of this later, but I have lots to write up and some excellent photos to encourage you all to visit this area. It was really lovely and quiet and you can stay at many different types of places from camping in the woods and by lochs, to spa hotels and hotels which cater for little ones – the welly boot brigade – while mum enjoys the spa and dad goes golfing… so plenty for all to do! Specific visits and towns etc to follow.

And we need some bird experts to identify some of what we heard and saw… wildlife included a bat in a castle, a red squirrel, highland cattle of course, a mother pheasant who stopped our car so her three little chicks could cross the road, lots of raptors, high moor birds and water birds of various types some of which we identified and some we didn’t but cormorants and terns were easy to spot.

We saw lots of crafts especially knitting and embroidery and had lots of tea and cakes – some very large scones being offered at times! And we walked miles ad miles, round lochs and down riversides and through woods – some of the gardens were in parks and some also had sculpture displayed in them. So something for everyone – there’s also a lot of whisky if you want to taste and even some fishing but the rivers were very low due to lack of rain so this wasn’t ideal.