As a newcomer to an area it is always a delight to see spring unfurling across a new landscape. Now, with the slightly warmer weather and longer evenings I am enjoying the sounds of spring as I go out on my regular walks. With the Easter holidays just starting there is so much to enjoy on and around the Carbeth Estate it is hard to know where to start.
However, I think we must start with the daffodils. Wherever you go around Killearn they are putting on a splendid show in defiance of the recent strong westerlies and horizontal rain. They are positively carpeting the woodland adjacent to Carbeth House and I have it on good authority that as spring progresses there will be a carpet of bluebells too. A little detour into this woodland is well worth it and if you stand and listen for a while you will hear the bees. There are some huge bumble bees and the honeybees have been active since the snowdrops were out.
The gradual greening of the trees makes spring a very visual season, but some of the signs of spring are very definitely the sounds of spring. It is not just the buzzing of bees: listen out for the drumming of greater spotted woodpeckers on the hollow tree trunks or a chiffchaff announcing its arrival from Africa. (First one heard this year on 30th March). I am hoping the chiffchaffs will soon be joined by willow warblers and blackcaps in the woodland symphony.
By the river, a high-pitched whistle may alert you to a dazzling kingfisher and on the adjacent flood plain you may hear the evocative calls of curlew and lapwing, both waders that returned here in February to set up territories and breed. And on the farm, the bleating conversation of lambs and ewes will punctuate the soundscape well into summer.
But of course, there is plenty to see too. Before the trees come into leaf it is possible to see many of the songbirds declaring their presence and sometimes you maybe lucky to see something really special. My bay window overlooks the wood by Carbeth House and I have placed some bird feeders there, so I have the daily pleasure of seeing many birds fairly close. I have also had grey squirrels visit, but recently my attention was diverted further up the tree to see a stunning red squirrel. I watched for quite some time as it was feeding in the trees, busy searching for morsels and then sitting up in the classic pose – ear tufts erect and the luxuriant tail curled over its back. I had been told there were reds around and knew that the Scottish Wildlife Trust had been trapping the greys to help the reds move into the area, but it was so special to see this lovely native animal from my breakfast table.
A sweep of binoculars across the fields often yields a sighting of another native species, the brown hare, and the lawn beside Carbeth House (easily viewed from the track at the back) is a haven for rabbits, which can easily be seen at dawn or dusk. Roe deer are regularly seen across the estate and I have also discovered a badger set, although I have not seen a badger here yet.
There is plenty of standing water after winter and these pools near to Endrick Water are the perfect place for frogs and toads to spawn. I saw my first frogspawn at the end of February, and the pools have been filling up ever since. It is always fascinating seeing the little tadpoles develop in the jelly and then watch their bodies change over the summer before the area is filled with tiny frogs and toads leaving the pool. On top of the water you are likely to see whirligig beetles and pond skaters and beneath the water there will be plenty of life too – including midge larvae. In mid-March the dry spell meant that the river level was quite low and the water clear. On a particularly sunny day (I was in my shorts!) a close look in the river revealed a huge number of caddis fly larvae and large shoals of very small fish. All this is excellent news for the local wildlife as it provides the bottom rung of the food chain.
Spring is a vital time on the farm, both for our sheep and for the wild animals that live here. As more people discover the area there is a delicate balance. Rural communities need visitors to bring income, but those visitors can so easily disturb the environment that they come to see. With so many ground-nesting birds and mammals such as hares and deer who raise their young on the ground a big threat is disturbance by walkers and their dogs. A stray foot or uncontrolled dog can so easily destroy a nest or kill a baby animal. Which is why we ask you to keep to paths and keep your dogs on a short lead at this crucial time of the year.
Samantha Lyth is a keen naturalist and lover of the outdoors. Among her running friends she is well known for her nature trail runs, which involves a lot of stopping to look at birds, insects and flowers. Along with her husband Peter they run Red Kite Services, a business that provides administrative and marketing support for small businesses. They have recently moved to Killearn and are thoroughly enjoying exploring the area.