“Summertime and the living is easy,
Fish are jumping and the meadowsweet’s high”
With apologies to Ira Gershwin, but cotton is about the only plant that isn’t growing high around Carbeth Estate. The last couple of weeks have just been stunning weather-wise and the summer wildflowers have loved it. (I suspect they are going to love the rain which is forecast to arrive this week too).
The candyfloss white flowers of meadowsweet are one of the most abundant of these tall summer wildflowers. Pink spires of foxgloves are being replaced by the elegant rosebay willowherb, a true flower of late summer and various white umbellifers (mainly cow parsley and hogweed) have taken over the verges and riverbank. And it is not just the flowers that are running riot – the huge leaves of butterbur and tall seed heads of docks are prominent too. There are raspberry canes laden with fruit and brambles covered in flowers which can snag your clothes or scratch your bare legs as you walk along. The nettles seem to be at their peak as well, although they may not be very welcome to us, they are a preferred food of a number of caterpillars, particularly those of the peacock butterfly.
Another late summer flower that is popular with the pollinators is the knapweed, a very pretty purple thistle-like flower that is in the verges that have been cut. A look through the verges reveals a number of different vetches and there are still some campion, monkey-flower, wild forget-me-nots and clovers and even occasional common spotted orchid. I am not an expert botanist, but I have identified over 60 flowering plants around the estate this year. There are several plants I have not been able to identify plus a few pretty garden escapes – if there are any botany experts out there, I would love to join you on an identification walk.
Is the living easy?
Many of us have been using the lovely weather to relax in the sun and to head off to the nearest stretch of water, so living for us has been easy. The birds seem to be quiet too – there are not many singing, just the languorous call of the wood pigeon and the call of the buzzard. This is a tricky time of year for the birdwatcher as it is so hard to see the birds among the fully-leaved trees and what you can see is often a fledgling that hasn’t developed its adult feathers. On closer inspection the birds are really busy – making hay whilst the sun shines. This is a crucial time of year when they have to put on weight, either to take them on their southerly migration or to keep them going during our Scottish winter. Not only have the adults got themselves to feed, but they have to provide for their offspring too.
In the garden here at Carbeth House this feeding frenzy is very obvious – the pied wagtails, swallows, chiffchaffs redstarts and spotted flycatchers are feasting on the glut of insects. Jays are feeding on the raspberries and greenfinches, siskins, chaffinches, nuthatches and tree sparrows are flocking to the feeders. Interestingly the blue tits, great tits and coal tits are not as obvious in the garden, I think they prefer caterpillars and other larva at this time of year, so they are still feeding in the woodland.
We cannot fail to notice all the insects, sometimes there is a buzzing around the trees where the bees are filling up on nectar. The numbers of butterflies are disappointing, but there are quite a number of day-flying moths in the grassland and I am sure a moth trap would turn up plenty of night-fliers too – good food for the bats. We might dislike the midges and other biting insects, but they are the reason why we have so many summer visiting birds.
They provide food for the fish too – a close look in any sunny patch on the River Endrick reveals numerous small fish. If you sit on the bank for a while you are also likely to see fish jumping to take some food.
Although it feels a bit quieter out and about, there is still plenty going on in the natural world.
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.