Archive | July, 2011

Drinking Nectar in the Sunshine

13 Jul

Before I moved to Scotland, I hadn’t appreciated how tall its national flower can grow. These thistles alongside our garden wall are as tall as I am – that’s 5’4” (or 163 cm to you metric types).

Today, they are aglow with small tortoiseshell butterflies. Small tortoisehells are more colourful than their large cousins, and I love the sapphire edgings to their wings. It’s a delight to watch them drowsily flitting from one flowerhead to another, unfurling their tongues and pausing for long minutes to drink nectar in the sunshine.

It is especially pleasing to see these small tortoiseshells, because I haven’t seen any for years and years. Their population in the UK has dropped by something like 80% over the last two decades, thanks (it is said) to the invasion of a parasitic fly from Europe, which lays its eggs in the caterpillars.

Perhaps it’s just my perception – I haven’t examined the figures – but it seems to me that Scotland is more protected than the rest of the UK against species losses caused by non-native species. I have not seen one single harlequin ladybird, a recent American incomer; yet it has apparently become so prevalent in England that our native two-spot and seven-spot ladybirds are under threat of extinction. The coniferous forests to the north of us have thriving populations of red squirrels that aren’t being ousted by the greys’ diseases. The biggest alien threat to Scotland’s indigenous species appears to be the rhododendron, and even this is receding.

Harlequin ladybird

I wonder how much of this species hardiness has to do with the northern climate and environment, how much has to do with human intervention, and how much with the fact that we are so far away from the Channel Tunnel.

Definitely Not Llamas

1 Jul

The lady I buy eggs from told me, as she grabbed a boxful from her kitchen cupboard and handed them over, that she had two new tups in the field next to the pigs.

“They’re quite tame,” she said. “They used to belong to some children up the road. You should go and say hello to them. You can go right up and stroke them.”

When I reached the gate, I was confused by what I saw. Tups are rams, but these animals are twice the size of the other sheep around here, with distinctly goat-looking patterning.

I spoke to them gently as I approached. The smaller one hung back, but the larger one sat placidly until I reached him, and leaned into my hand when I stroked his head and neck. I knelt in the grass beside him, enjoying his friendliness. I recalled something the Pig Man had said back in April.

“We’re getting some llamas next.”

“Are you serious?” I had goggled.

“No,” he’d  chuckled. “We might get a couple of goats, though, to eat all these weeds.”

Whether these tups be goats or sheep, the pigs are fascinated by them, and followed them up and down the fence, grunting with enthusiasm. The sheepgoats seemed to make a point of grazing right up close to them.

A clue to their identity lay beside the stable door: freshly-shorn fleece – two animals’ worth. But then, some goats have fleece. Angoras, for example.

Suddenly, I clocked the lovely long dangly tails the tups were sporting.

“The difference between a goat and a sheep,” our friend Shaunette had once informed me, “is that goats have tails that stick up, and sheep have tails that hang down”.