It’s good to take a holiday and explore some rather different countryside for a change. We’ve just returned from such a short break on the west coast of Scotland, exploring the shores of Loch Fyne and the adjacent woodland or just sitting and watching the light changing over the loch and the seabirds floating or flying over it.
Small strings of gannets winged past, clearly on pressing business of their own; eider drakes, easily picked out in their smart black and white plumage, loafed about near the far shore; and a mystery bird was very busy among the moored boats. About the size of a small duck, it was a blotchy grey above and smudgy white below and was bobbing about, diving and then rearing up in the water vigorously flapping its stubby wings. It was a juvenile black guillemot, very different from that jet-black adult bird with its distinctive white wing-patches that we had seen in the spring. Late summer is a tricky time for identifying sea birds – adults are assuming their drabber winter plumage and juveniles can be very deceptive. And not just sea birds, think of the robin, perhaps our most familiar bird, whose young look like small thrushes: no sign of that red waistcoat.
Pottering about on the tide line is another favourite activity, and this time we were interested to find several jellyfish, the size of dinner plates, stranded on the beach, mounds of bruise-coloured meat, so different from the live animals with their diaphanous domes and long delicate streamers pulsating gently as they float through the water. I was reminded of a burning hot day in July on the ferry from South Uist to Skye when, for two or three hours, we moved through a sea thick with tiny jellyfish, the size of fifty pence pieces, a recent flush triggered by the warming water.
Last week the combination of warm temperatures and heavy showers had triggered off a wonderful range of fungi, and a short walk through woods above the shore provided a bewildering array of different species including my favourites – the Amethyst Deceiver with its deep purple cap and stem – and the brilliant tangerine coloured Orange Peel fungus, so aptly named. Wharfedale is also enjoying a fungus bonanza, so now’s the time to get out and enjoy finding, identifying, photographing or just admiring this profusion of shapes and colours which appears so suddenly in our woods and fields.