All posts by Chris Gibson

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 5 – Landscapes of the island

Whether landscapes or seascapes, details or innerscapes, Menorca is filled with delights at every turn. Click on any image to see it at full scale and lose yourself in a Menorcan autumn!

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 1 – Introduction

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 2 – Flowers and fruits

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 3 – Insects and spiders

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 4 – Birds and other vertebrates

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 5 – Landscapes of the island

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 4 – Birds and other vertebrates

Autumn is a time of turnover in the bird world. But only if the weather conditions encourage it: settled conditions and stable weather masses are not the conditions in which to expect the wonders of migration to become apparent. So it was this year in Menorca, with barely a songbird migrant to be seen, aside from a few Robins, Blackbirds and Blackcaps.

And even for the island residents like Hoopoes and Sardinian Warblers, the seriously exceptional mid-October temperatures ensured they were keeping deep in shade for much of the day.

Water birds were more apparent, but even then often in smaller-than-expected numbers. The main exception to this were the flocks of Cattle Egrets, up to 80-strong at Tirant, seemingly increasing every time I visit the island, and more than 40 Greater Flamingos on Addaia Lagoons, with a number of barely-fledged grey youngsters which surely means they are now breeding here?

It was also good to see Kingfishers well in a couple of spots, but perhaps because of the weather and the number of bodies on the beaches, Audouin’s Gulls were harder to come by than in previous years.

Which just leaves the raptors, and it it is good to report that the Big Three, Red Kites, Booted Eagles and Egyptian Vultures seems to be in the same places and numbers as during our last autumn trip seven years ago.

It is also gratifying to report that Hermann’s Tortoises were as abundant and widely distributed as ever, along with Italian Wall Lizards (everywhere), Turkish Geckos (in Matchani Gran) and Moorish Geckos (free-range, especially in archaeological sites).


And finally, at breakfast on our final day, a Balearic Green Toad put on a lumbering show, so round off the holiday nicely!

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 1 – Introduction

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 2 – Flowers and fruits

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 3 – Insects and spiders

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 4 – Birds and other vertebrates

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 5 – Landscapes of the island

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 3 – Insects and spiders

The weather during our week was so sunny and settled that it was insects arguably that formed the larger part of our wildlife-watching. Fortunately we had several pairs of very sharp eyes on hand to find them for the rest of the group! What follows is a barely annotated selection : the tour report when it appears will have a much more complete listing of names and locations.

Starting with some of the butterflies, Cleopatras in particular were more numerous than I have ever seen before:

Special mention must however be made of the Two-tailed Pashas. Sa Roca is an ideal site for them, with masses of their larval foodplant Strawberry-tree, but never have our searches here been so productive:

Many a leaf was adorned with an egg, those with a ring around the apex being closer to hatching …

… along with a couple of medium-sized, dragon-headed caterpillars…

… and eventually one, probably two, adults, one of which surveyed the admiring throng from the roadside fringe of Aleppo Pine.

Yes, I know I have a passion for pashas, but so do many others: see this lovely film that Jude found on YouTube (3) The Two tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius) – YouTube!

Moths too were at times spectacular, including the tutti-frutti treat of Crimson Speckleds, at several sites but especially around Matchani Gran, Vestals (here distinctly non-virginal) and Hummers everywhere…

And not just the adult stages, but caterpillars too: two of the most appreciated sightings were the larvae of Spurge Hawk-moth and Convolvulus Hawk-moth…

A quick canter trough the other invertebrate groups starts with the grasshoppers, bush-crickets and mantises, bigger and better at this time of year than any other:

Fresh and brackish water-bodies provided for a colourful array of dragonfly and damselfly species:

True bugs also were many and varied…

… including one. as yet un-named, that for obvious reasons soon acquired the working name of Nightjar Bug!

Bees and wasps included both adults and their nests:

And finally, the beetles: who cannot love the Cistus Hedgehog Beetles!

Moving away from insects, even the snails are unfamiliar…

… while the spiders and relatives were simply spectacular, from the Balearic Scorpion, and Garden Spider…

… through an array of jumpers …


…to Cage-web and Tidy Spiders, the latter lining their prey remains neatly down the centre axis of the web, while hiding amongst the debris …

… and best of all, two types of Wasp Spider. I overlooked the second species until detailed examination of my photos: in my defence, even the ‘normal’ Wasp Spiders were huge, and almost as big as the Large Wasp Spiders, which are so powerful they could even overpower an Egyptian Locust!

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 1 – Introduction

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 2 – Flowers and fruits

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 3 – Insects and spiders

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 4 – Birds and other vertebrates

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 5 – Landscapes of the island

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 2 – Flowers and fruits

Apart from the promise of a Second Spring if the first autumn rains come at the right time, October is hardly prime flowering season in Menorca. The ‘vegetable hedgehogs’ or socarrels that so characterise the endemic Balearic flora have almost all finished, although their characteristic forms are dispersed on every rocky peninsula, of which the island has many. Only the unique cushion Rosemary (variety palaui) is left to feed the butterflies…

But with searching, there are still flowers to be found, from Sand Daffodil and Yellow Horned-poppy on the dunes, to Mediterranean Tree-heath in the hills and Stink Aster by every wayside:

But pride of place, if only for its glorious, alluring perfume that filled every glade in the still and humid conditions, must go to Smilax, its unassuming white stars on viciously spiny vines:


Aside from flowers, the whole island was fruiting profusely:

And other signs of the season included leaves changing colour and at least a sprinkling of fungi:

Any view of the flowering of Menorca in autumn cannot overlook the importance of garden plants. Even though they originate  from all corners of the warmer parts of the world, many of the showy ornamentals were an irresistible draw to butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Indeed, the Lantana in Matchani Gran, our wonderful base, ever-thronged in Swallowtails and Hummingbird Hawk-moths, was rivalled in terms of insectiness only by the festoons of flowering Ivy in Algendar Gorge.

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 1 – Introduction

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 2 – Flowers and fruits

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 3 – Insects and spiders

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 4 – Birds and other vertebrates

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 5 – Landscapes of the island

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 1 – Introduction

We arrived in Menorca under clear blue skies, and essentially it remained that way for the whole week. It was remarkably hot and settled for the time of year, and with temperatures peaking at between 27 and 31 degrees C each day, usually with little in the way of freshening breezes even by the sea, it proved a little too hot for many of the group. This of course required some changes to the planned itinerary – less strenuous  walks, actively seeking shadier places, and  some shorter days to allow swimming and rehydration time.

The settled conditions also meant autumn bird migration wasn’t really happening, and those small birds that were on the island were mostly hiding deep in shady scrub. Only the waterbirds were standing out and proud…


Likewise the Second Spring of autumn-flowering bulbs was at best sporadic, with a few patches of Autumn Daffodils, just the occasional spire of Sea Squill and a complete absence of Merenderas.

But the lingering summer meant that it was good for insects  and other larger invertebrates, anything in flower being covered in a confetti of butterflies and much more, so our week was full of interest.


The following four blogs will give a photo-based flavour of our week, not too many words, nor even many identifications – just a celebration of this beautiful small island, deservedly a Biosphere Reserve for the past 30 years, a designation which was only a month ago complemented by inscription of the outstanding archaeological landscape on the list of World Heritage Sites.

For more details and lists of what we saw, here is the Menorca report 2023, also available on the  Honeyguide website.

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 1 – Introduction

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 2 – Flowers and fruits

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 3 – Insects and spiders

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 4 – Birds and other vertebrates

Autumn in Menorca with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays: Part 5 – Landscapes of the island

#WildEssex on Tour: Harlow and the Stort Valley


After the success of last year’s three-day event to Burnham-on-Crouch, we decided a second one was in order – this time to the not-usually-associated-with-wildlife Essex town of Harlow.  Our band of enthusiastic ladies were game for anything, and we’d like to thank them all for their interest in all we arranged and their sense of fun!

Our base at the Harlow Mill Premier Inn was most comfortable, and sitting outside with a drink hearing the running water from the mill pond into the Stort Navigation Canal was just delightful.

We mixed some walking along canals with visits to gardens, a mill, a museum, churchyards and pubs, plus a train ride and a walk to the most odd, brutalist, (but exciting to Chris!) zig-zag bridge…

The main focus of course was the wildlife which we found at every turn – from our second-only sighting of a Southern Green Shieldbug to the exploding seed pods of Himalayan Balsam to Ivy Bees enjoying every Ivy bush we encountered.

Everywhere were bushes and trees absolutely laden with fruits and berries. And plenty of those fascinating structures, galls and leaf-mines, too.

Water played an important part of the trip, us spending a considerable part of the first two days enjoying walking along the banks of the River Stort and Canal.  Listening out for birds we heard the ‘peep’ and then the blue flash of a Kingfisher or two, the high pitched tinkling of Goldcrests, the screech of Parakeets (though no sightings, sorry Jean!), plus ubiquitous Robins and Chiffchaffs performing their autumn songs.  Ducks and Moorhens on the river were showing signs of Spring-friskiness – no doubt due to the day-length being similar to that of Spring when they would be getting up to such activities!

Insects along the way included dragonflies and damselflies, bees, hoverflies, grasshoppers, and an Alder Leaf-beetle (only the third record for Essex, but well established here judging from the number of holes in the leaves) and ladybirds of many types in various stages of their development.

The flowering season is coming to a close, but along with the beautiful but invasive Himalayan and Orange Balsams, there was plenty to see from festoons of Hops to strong-smelling Water Mint, and emerging fungi hinted at what looks like shaping up to be a bumper autumn.

A pleasant walk away from our hotel was the famous Gibberd Garden – a mixture of wild and more-tended areas, lots of sculpture and a castle with its own moat.  My heart went into my boots when, on arrival, the board outside stated it was ‘Closed for Private Function’ but that turned out to be an admin error  (phew) – so we got in OK and were virtually all alone to explore as we wished. Coffee and cake in the Barn were very welcome as the afternoon went on.

En route to the garden we had encountered several Juniper Shieldbugs (one trapped in a web, which we of course rescued) on an Ivy bush.  This is puzzling given that they are meant to spend their lives on Juniper and related species, and so we will be asking the experts about this unusual behaviour. There was a Cypress tree across the road, but why they should be branching out we don’t know.

On the final morning we went into the heart of Old Harlow, through the Greenway and on into Gibberd’s New Harlow  for a tour of some of the many green spaces, ‘The Lawn’ Uk’s first residential tower block The Lawn (Harlow) – Wikipedia,  and a churchyard full of gravestones covered in colourful lichens where many interesting stories were revealed by the two ladies working in the grounds.

We concluded our mini-break in the delightful Harlow Museum.  This has so much to enjoy – from a walled garden full of interesting plantings, (where Chris saw evidence of the Figleaf Skeletonizer moth for the first time, it only recently having arrived in the UK), to a gin still, to an unusual exhibition of Penny Farthings and other bicycles. It really is the epitome of a good local museum, and a credit to Harlow Council.


As organisers, we were thrilled with how the trip went, not only for the camaraderie and pleasure of being in each other’s company, but also for the excitement of discovering new things.  We will be sending records of the Southern Green Shieldbug, Alder Beetle and Figleaf Skeletonizer moth to county and national databases so evidence of our trip will be set down in the annals of history!

During our last evening’s meal we discussed the possibility of a 3rd Wild Essex on Tour trip next year – who knows we may even cross the border into another County!  Do get in touch if it is something you may be interested in.


The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: late September, but the show goes on…

It was a breezy, autumnal start for the final Wandering Naturalist event of the year, but the sun soon came out and brought the gardens to life with the hum of insects.

As is typical  at this season, it was members of the daisy family that were the major draw for insects seeking nectar and pollen, from Black-eyed Susans and Jerusalem Artichokes to Mexican Coneflowers and (the ones that will go on and on right into the depths of winter), Michaelmas Daisies.

Verbena bonariensis too, its wispy shoots punctuating many of the beds, and a magnet for bees and butterflies in particular, together with a fleeting Hummingbird Hawk-moth (sadly not photographed!):

Other star performers for those who joined me on the walks were plants sending out a second flush of flowers, as for example Eryngium planum in the Reservoir Garden, attracting hoverflies and parasitic flies in abundance

… and on Beth’s House, Buddleia crispa with its second blooming amply demonstrating the benefits that can be achieved from dead-heading after the first flush…

… while sages and calamints just go on and on, today hosting a pristine Painted Lady, while the large-flowered forms wrapped bumblebees in their pollenial embrace.

Otherwise the baton of the summer-flowering relay has been passed on firmly to Ivy, arguably (and I would suggest indisputably) THE most important plant for wildlife there is, from its autumn flowers feeding myriad insects to its February-ripe berries, a lifeline for birds, as well as dense foliage and twisted growth for nesting, shelter and hibernation. Among the many insects using it were Ivy Bees, Batman Hoverflies and some very impressive Hornets, in between bouts of scraping wood fibres off dead trees with which to enlarge their nests.

Of course, as the power of the Sun is waning, insects are just as likely to be found basking, to warm up for their essential activities of feeding and breeding. Any surface facing south will do, from large flat leaves to paths, posts and other structures:

The more active the insect the more it needs to bask, and some of the most obvious baskers are the dragonflies, needing vast amounts of warmth and energy to feed on flying insects:

Aside from the insects, Chiffchaffs were singing as though it were spring, Swallows and Meadow Pipits migrating south overhead, and there was the amazing sight of a Cormorant overhead, using thermals from the Gravel Garden to gain altitude!

There may be fewer insects to see from now on, but they will still be there, at least until the first frosts. But don’t let that stop you visiting the garden: flowers may be fading, and greens bronzing, but there is something to see all the time and in any weather.

That’s all from the Wandering Naturalist for now, but hopefully I will be back next year. Thank you for reading, thank you for joining me on the walks, and thank you for caring about garden insects, the little things that help our world go round.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain…….. | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: September sunlight | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

AND JUST ARRANGED, in 2024 I will be running similar events on the following dates:

April 19th

May 17th

June 21st

July 19th

August 2nd

August 16th

September 20th

All weather dependent, and between 1100 and 1300.

Two days of wildlife, culture and commemoration in and around London

At the weekend, we spent a very happy couple of days exploring parts of London we haven’t been to before as well as some old favourites, and a foray out into the Surrey countryside. Here are some of the photos from our travels, with words kept to a bare minimum…

First stop, just after emerging from the Jubilee Line at London Bridge was the Hop Exchange, a remarkable building which a friendly security man was very happy to tell us all about – as he said, ‘what is the point of learning if you keep it to yourself’! The similarities with  the Halifax Piece Hall we explored on one of our visits earlier in the year – same function, different commodity –  were very apparent.

On emerging back into the street, we noticed the Shard looking over our shoulder, a looming but kindly presence throughout our time in Southwark:

A wander around the streets took us to the delightful Red Cross Garden which gave us a nymphal Southern Green Shieldbug…

…and then to Crossbones Cemetery, one of our main reasons for this trip. With a rich but shocking history as a last resting ground for thousands of those on the fringes of society, it is a tiny haven from city life, despite its proximity to numerous landmark features.


Lunch at The George, with its galleries, before more walking the streets, peering wherever fancy took us in the manner of all good psychogeography. And of course spending as much time with the new – the incredible Shard – as the old…

Peckham next for more of the (relatively) new, with the Pioneer Centre, from the 1930s Peckham Experiment approach to community and social welfare, and Peckham Library, the product of millennial modernity:

Overnight in the Barking Ibis gave us chance for a lovely walk at dawn along Barking Creek, one of our favourite parts of the Metropolitan Essex coastline, with Jersey Cudweed, Cormorants and Cetti’s Warblers to guide our way:

Then it was back to Waterloo, and a jaunt down the Necropolis Line, or the modern equivalent thereof, to Brookwood Cemetery in deepest Surrey.

Brookwood may have been established to satisfy an urgent need in the heart of the city, but its size is so vast (it is the largest cemetery in the UK) that it is still under-utilized, with lovely acid heathland habitats within its bounds.

Special plants, such as Devil’s-bit Scabious and Dwarf Gorse, abound ..

.. along with all manner of animal life, including Small Copper, Fork-palped Harvestman, Alder Leaf-beetle. Rhododendron Leafhopper and the green spider Nigma walckenaeri …

… and a whole lot more.

A large section of the cemetery is given over to military burials; the most thought-provoking part of the whole site is the American section, the gleaming gravestones being laid out with such precision, and eliciting many conflicting emotions around the futility of war within the beauty of the natural world…

After the cemetery, there was just time for a stroll along the Basingstoke Canal….

…before heading back to Crossbones for the monthly vigil, a rather moving plea for social justice, sadly as relevant nowadays as when the cemetery was in operation.

Two cemeteries, from two eras: when will we ever learn?

Eastern Scotland by train: Forth Rail Bridge, York and the journey home…

Our final morning in Aberdeen, and the rain has arrived. Overnight the granite city has become the dour granite city! Such a monochromatic contrast to yesterday…

We broke the journey south for three hours by the Firth of Forth, changing on to a stopping train at Inverkeithing where a Hawthorn Shield-bug sidled across the platform, another insect towards the northern end of its UK distribution. We rescued it from trampling feet!

Then a couple of stops down the line and across the rail bridge to Dalmeny. A wander down through the woods, past fruiting Rowans and Speckled Wood butterflies, brought us to the shore and its wonderful views of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, with the modern road bridges further west.

The best thing was the fact that against all forecasts, the sun re-emerged, lighting the bridge and its rusty colour. Simply magnificent!

Out on the water, solitary Guillemots and small rafts of Razorbills were loafing and diving:

South Queensferry was busy (a cruise ship was moored just downstream) but lovely …

… and all too soon, it was back on the train and into a now-dismal England. Overnight in York the rain continued, so next day we had a wet wander round the walls, with Wall-rue ferns and Shaggy Soldiers.

Most interesting was the sight of snails (mostly Banded Snails with just a few Garden Snails) on certain sections, the only likely dry-weather refuges being the grassy embankments four or five metres below.

Into a pub to shelter, we suddenly realised our holiday was ticking away, and sought the wild once more. After checking numerous Senecios in vain, from Common and Sticky Groundsels to Oxford and Narrow-leaved Ragworts (it was only with close scrutiny that I realised how much the old flowerheads in rain look like sea-anemones!) …

 …. and along a steeply sloping concrete embankment of the Ouse we at last found the prize, the locally endemic York Groundsel. A fertile hybrid between Groundsel and Oxford Ragwort, it is surprisingly distinctive with eight yellow rays. What’s more, this is a de-extincted plant. First found and named Senecio eboracensis in the 1970s, by the noughties it was globally extinct in the wild, a victim of City Council herbicide profligacy. Thankfully the Millennium Seedbank at Wakehurst Place had some seeds, which were grown on and enabled its return to the wild earlier this summer.

Sadly we were unable to find the other York speciality, Tansy Beetle, except in art form, despite some good stands of the foodplant. A good reason for us to return.

And so our holiday drew to a close. Five nights, six days, and five rail journeys which thanks to early booking and a railcard cost just a couple of hundred pounds!

Eastern Scotland by train: Aberdeen, the Granite City

We saw Aberdeen at its best, at least for our one full day there, in sunlight and under azure skies. Far from being the monochrome, grey granite city of repute, the sunlight brought the stone and the city to life.


Once again it was a whirlwind mix of culture and wild. The city centre has lots of monumental buildings, photogenic in the right light …

… and especially down by the docks, the cityscape is enlivened by equally monumental street art.


Union Terrace Gardens, recently remodelled, provided a wonderful pocket of green, set off by impressive modern constructions:

And the gardens themselves are full of interesting plants, and plenty of insect activity. What’s not to love about a garden that features apparently deliberate ornamental plantings of Timothy grass!


Out then to Old Aberdeen, a world away from the bustle of the modern city into the historic seat of learning, and modern place for leisure and pleasure.

Attractive buildings and cobbled street scenes in abundance are laced with the ever-present colours of Fuchsia…


… and the lovely Cathedral of St Machar, with its impressive ceiling, stained glass and rough stone walls.

Nearby, the Botanic Garden. There is no truth in the rumour that our trips are planned around places like this! Just as with Dundee, the garden is full of light and life, colour and interest.

And almost next door, into Seaton Park, a mix of cultivated ‘wild’ and natural green space, the latter running down to the wildness of the River Don, with Goosanders  and the sound of rushing water.

But as is so often the case it was the ornamental gardens forming the main focus of insect activity:

Back to the Fuschia, it was interesting to watch the way that Honeybees were getting the nectar without delivering on their side of the pollination bargain, chewing through the base of the flower tube to get at it. In fact, on close examination, almost every flower had been on the receiving end of nectar thieves.

But as we headed back to the hotel, so the sun disappeared, cloud was spreading in, and change was afoot, ready for the next phase of our holiday, the two-day journey home…

Eastern Scotland by train: the wilder side of Dundee

Everywhere we go, whether countryside or city, we seek, and usually find, nature. In Dundee, it was right outside the hotel, with Guillemots and Cormorants fishing offshore, Shore Crabs scrambling through the exposed seaweed, and everywhere Lesser Black-backed Gulls seeking an easy meal from the outside tables.

Ornamental plantings around the V&A attracted our attention because of the dozens of Rosemary Beetles, here towards the northern end of their current range. But for some unknown reason there was not one on the various labiates (their recognised foodplants) planted there. All were on Stipa and other ornamental grasses, something we have never seen before; a plea on Twitter failed to come up with an adequate explanation, nor indeed other examples of this mystery phenomenon.

One of the main street trees around the redevelopment of the waterfront are a form of Elm, and on many of the larger specimens, the trunks were patterned with lichens and Horse Chestnut Scale-insects.

Around the old Victoria Dock, as is typical of such former industrial areas, a brownfield flora has established, Buddleia being a major component, mixed with a few maritime species like Sea Mayweed.

And the funnel of the rusting lightship has been colonised by very artistic lichenscapes, no doubt in part a result of the nutrient from bird droppings.

The Botanic Garden was just lovely, one of the better such gardens of the many we have visited in my opinion.

Of course it featured many attractive and interesting plants from around the world…

 …. many of which were feeding insects in the warm, sunny weather.

At the heart of the garden is a very impressive attempt to recreate the full range of locally native habitats, from sand dunes, to Caledonian pine forest and montane cliffs.

These habitat zones were a great opportunity to see rarities that need a hard slog and much remote searching to find in the wild, such as Dwarf Birch, Mountain Sorrel and Woolly Willow…

… while Devil’s-bit Scabious in full flower seemed an irresistible draw to numerous hoverflies.

From Birch Shield-bugs on the Silver Birch trees to epiphytic lichens in the branches, and fungi sprouting from the mulch, the whole area hosted the whole spectrum of native wildlife…

… including a distinctively shaped, blackish carrion beetle (playing dead at first) we identified as Phosphuga atrata, something we haven’t seen before although it is widespread across the country.

Always something of interest to find in a new area, but after a couple of days it was time to get back onto the train to head up the coast to Aberdeen…



Eastern Scotland by train: Dundee – architecture and art

A couple of weeks ago as the south baked under an unprecedented September heatwave, we had fortuitously booked a rail trip to eastern Scotland where although still lovely and sunny, the temperatures were much more amenable.

This is the first of four blogs covering those six days. Dundee for the first two nights proved to be very exciting and full of interest, and now for me a real challenger to Glasgow as my favourite Scottish city. In no small part that is down to the best-located Premier Inn we have ever been to, overlooking the ever changing beauty of the Firth of Tay, the road and rail bridges spanning the water east and west respectively.

A couple of hundred metres along the waterfront is its cultural heart, the magnificent new V&A design museum, the thing that drew us to Dundee in the first place.

A shapeshifter of a building, close up it seems to be a heavily stratified sea cliff…

… while walking into and under it has all the echoing moistness of a remote sea cave, with ever-changing reflectascapes in its rockpools:

From further away, it transforms into a cruise liner echoing Dundee’s past as a major trading port.

And then from another angle, it is nothing less than an snapping leviathan from the deep – yes, the city has a whaling past too.

A delight to be alongside, at any time of night or day:

Inside the museum there’s some photogenic building design features and interesting artwork and exhibits:

Alongside the V&A is berthed the RRS Discovery, Scott’s vessel for his first Antarctic expedition, with visitor centre:

And the Slessor Gardens, full of sculpture, art… and yes plants too, including fences cleverly reflecting the organised chaos of a reedbed!


Then we came to the Tay Road Bridge, a low-rise affair, but providing remarkable disappearing vistas through its underbelly…

And finally on the waterfront (for now – there are plans for an Eden Project there in the gasworks of the old East Dock), the transformed docks surrounded by historic (and modern) buildings. The dock has its historic vessels too, the HMS Unicorn and a lightship rusting into oblivion in a very fetching manner.

Away from the water, the jute-milling past of the city is now firmly in the past:  the many jute mills have mostly been demolished or repurposed as flats. But one remains to keep the memory alive, the Verdant Works museum. Described to us by a friend as ‘the best museum ever’, the other reason for us visiting Dundee, and we found it hard to disagree with that assessment.


Other cityscapes included the two hills rising out of it, numerous chimneys, churches, art and other buildings, many in a pleasing warm local red sandstone that didn’t match our southerners’ preconception of a dour Scots town (helped by the sunshine and blue skies!).

Our final main location was of course the Botanic Garden. More about the plants and other wildlife there in the next blog, but it also features interesting art and sculpture, along with views across the firth.

It probably says something about our age, but a highlight of our walk home from the Botanic Garden around Balgay Hill  was what we both agreed was the most comfortable park seat ever. Well done to the City Council!

More than enough to keep us fully entertained for a couple of days, it is a city to which I suspect we will return.