Scottie's Monthly Photo Diary

- July 2012

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I never go anywhere in Scotland without my camera and I take photographs wherever I go. Sometimes I go somewhere specifically to take photographs with a view to adding another page to the Rampant Scotland site. On other occasions I just see something that makes an attractive picture or else it's another graphic to add to the library to perhaps use on a future occasion. This is a selection of the best photographs I took in July 2012 with a commentary on each one. It thus forms a pictorial diary of my travels during the month which can be shared by everyone! There's also a link to a slide show of the pictures on YouTube.

RSPB Nature Reserve Loch Leven

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) aims not only to protect birds but also the wider aspects of nature as well. So at their Nature Reserve at Vane Farm, on the edge of Loch Leven near Kinross, they have co-operated with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to create what is claimed to be the world's first reserve designed for bees. The meadow has been sown with a wide variety of wild flowers to attract bees and many other flying insects The sanctuary has already attracted numerous bees, some of them rare. There are paths through the meadow to allow visitors to get up close to the flowers and also the insects - which often include butterflies and dragonflies as well as bees and wasps of various types. The Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium or Cotton thistle) produces its fleshy spiked leaves in the first year and the typical purple flower in the second season. Once it has finished flowering, the seeds are carried on the parachutes of thistle-down to restart the cycle again.

Although grown in many gardens and sold in garden centres, Lavatera (also known as tree mallows, or rather confusingly as rose mallows, royal mallows or annual mallows) is one of those plants that can sow itself anywhere its seeds find a suitable spot - I've got two of them flowering nicely in my own garden that just appeared a few years back without any effort on my part. Of course, they don't always land where you want them but they can be transplanted - so long as you do so before they grow too big and established!

Crocosmia is a small family of flowering plants in the iris family. It is native to the grasslands of Cape Floristic Region of South Africa. They grow from basal underground corms in vertical chains with the youngest at the top and oldest and largest buried most deeply in the soil. If the chains get disturbed and broken up the corms just continue to grow allowing species to become invasive and difficult to control in the garden. They are commonly known in the United States as coppertips or falling stars, and in the United Kingdom as montbretia.

Mimulus (known also as monkey-flowers and musk-flowers) is one of my favourite flowers and they come in a wide variety of colours and sizes. There are two large main groups of Mimulus species, with the largest group of species in western North America, and a second group with its centre of diversity in Australia. But like many garden plants they have been planted in gardens all over the world and thrive in many different climates and conditions - including Scotland where they are popular rockery plants.

Polemonium, commonly called Jacob's ladder, is a family of about 30 species of flowering plants in the family Polemoniaceae. They are native to cool temperate to arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and also in the southern Andes in South America. Many of the species grow at high altitudes in mountains. They are perennial plants, growing 10–120 cm (4 inches to 48 inches) tall with bright green leaves divided into lance-shaped leaflets, and produce blue (rarely white or pink) flowers in the spring and summer. Like a number of the flowers in the RSPB Loch Leven reserve, they were found growing in a cultivated garden beside the visitor centre. This has recently undergone a major refurbishment and in particular the café (which incorporates an observation window with telescopes for visitors to use to view the birds out on the water) has had a major make-over. That's especially welcome if you have been outside on a cold, wet day trying to catch sight of some of the more elusive birds!

Ňran Mór

With declining church membership many church buildings have become surplus to requirements and have been sold off for alternative use. Kelvinside Parish Church at the top of Byres Road in Glasgow and opposite the entrance to the Botanic Gardens was one of these. Built in 1862, it lay empty for a number years and various plans for alternative use were put forward but finally it was converted into a bar and arts venue named "Ňran Mór". The centre has a number of bars, an auditorium and a gallery area. It provides a late-night venue with 400-capacity auditorium where ceilidhs and club nights can be held. (The graphic above was taken before the conversion work began back on 2002).

Ňran Mór is Gaelic for 'great melody of life' or 'big song". The spire of the church (not visible in this view) is described as an Italian Gothic Pyramid and is said to be the first to show a markedly foreign influence in Glasgow.

I had the opportunity last month to meet up in Ňran Mór with John and Beth, email friends from Texas (though John was originally from Glasgow). During the course of a pleasant evening there I asked one of the staff if I could take some photos of the auditorium which has understandably gained a great reputation over recent years. I was duly escorted upstairs in a small lift to the impressive auditorium where the lights were turned on just for me! The auditorium was originally the upper part of the church, with the bars and restaurant below on the ground floor. The well-known Scottish author and artist Alasdair Gray has been working for nearly ten years on creating incredible murals on the walls and ceilings representing "the celestial universe" with stars, the planets and phases of the moon. The murals have had praise from such diverse people as art impresario Richard Demarco and the late pop singer Amy Winehouse (who described the room as one of the most beautiful she had ever seen).

Alasdair Gray is used to long-term projects - he took 30 years to write his highly acclaimed novel "Lanark". Ňran Mór won the famous Sunday Mail Pub of The Year award in 2011 and played host to the Scottish Government when it staged a summit about nuclear weapons in Scotland in 2007. The Ňran Mór basement is now a night club and is also used during the day as a theatre for the popular "A Play, A Pie, A Pint" company. The middle floor has become the Ňran Mór bar and restaurant. The main body of the church upstairs has become the auditorium used for concerts, conferences, weddings and other large functions.

The artist didn't set out initially to paint the zodiac. He just wanted to "scatter a few stars about". But the beams divided the ceiling into six areas on each side and so he thought that the 12 signs of the zodiac would be more fun! It has evolved over the years to become one of Scotland's largest pieces of public art. Alasdair Gray doesn't think the mural has a political message but it does feature a phrase he got from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee. It says, "Work as if you were living in the early days of a better nation". Alasdair Gray thought that was an inspiring phrase and it is now also engraved in the Canongate wall of the Scottish Parliament.

In addition to representations of the signs of the zodiac, the ceiling incorporates such phrases as "Where are we from" and "What are we?" and "Where are we going?". The main body of the former church contained slim, cast iron columns that elegantly reach and create an arcade capped by beautiful but simple arches. Around the walls of the auditorium are a number of carved heads, part of the original church. Eight of them are of leading figures of the early Protestant church, including John Wycliffe (1325-1384), Martin Luther (1483-1546), William Tyndale (1484-1536) and John Calvin (1509 – 1564).

Drumpellier Country Park, North Lanarkshire

Many of the photographs of flowers in Drumpellier Country Park which have appeared in this Photo Diary Section have come from plants in this small garden with its tiny pond and extensive flower beds. The houses behind are, I think, occupied by staff who work for the local county council and live "on the job". No wonder the garden is kept looking immaculate!

Hypericum calycinum is an evergreen flowering shrub native to southeast Europe and southwest Asia, which is generally referred to in British and Australian English as "Rose of Sharon". The bright yellow flowers bloom for a lengthy period in the summer and so are popular with gardeners. It is also the national flower of South Korea. The nickname "Rose of Sharon" indicates that the plant was originally (and erroneously) thought to originate from Syria. The flower's name in Korean means "immortal flower" and has been loved by Koreans for thousands of years.

The shells of snails are often attractive (particularly when the snail itself is not visible! This one is probably the "white lipped" snail variety which is about 18mm (0.7 inch) in diameter and is found throughout Britain. Its favourite habitat is woods and hedges and it was found in a wooded area in Drumpellier - while hunting for butterflies (see below!)

There are two small white butterflies in the UK - the simply named "Small White" and the "Green Veined White". In flight and from the top, it is almost impossible to identify which one it is. But the Green Veined variety has these clearly defined "veins" under its wings. When completing surveys for the Butterfly Conservation Society the organisation accepts the reality and unless a positive identification like this can be made, is content to have reports of numbers of "small whites".

With its wings edged in silvery white and its distinctive ringed eye spots under the wings, the Ringlet is easily recognised, despite its overall brown colour. These small circles on the underwings, which give the butterfly its name, vary in number and size and may be enlarged and elongated or reduced to small white spots and occasionally they lack the black ring. The eye spots apparently confuse predators as to the position of its body. The upper sides of the wings are a sooty brown with small black eyespots. Wingspan is around 5 centimetres (2 inches). The Ringlet can be seen from late June to mid-August, flitting across fields of grass. It is one of the few butterflies that flies in dull and overcast weather. With many butterflies in decline, it was a surprise to find five Ringlets within 15 minutes at Drumpellier.

Clematis flowers come in all shapes and sizes and this large purple variety climbs to over six feet up a trellis at the entrance to the garden (shown above at the start of this section of the diary). The flowers are 4 to 5 inches across.

My Own Garden

It's a while since we've had woodpeckers in our garden. But this youngster has now become a regular visitor though initially it didn't stay long enough for me to grab my camera and get a photograph! But recently the attractions of an easy meal on the bird cake has encouraged it to feed for longer and I have got my reward with some close-up pictures through the kitchen window. Woodpeckers are about the same size as blackbirds (23cm / 9 inches). Our local blackbirds have taught themselves the technique of grabbing the bars of the bird feeder (designed to keep squirrels at bay) and fluttering furiously while dipping their head between the bars. But Woodie, used to clinging to tree bark, finds it easy to remain fixed to the bars - balanced on its stiff tail feathers.

The red crown indicates that this Great Spotted Woodpecker is a young one - the adult male has red feathers at the nape of the neck and the adult female is black there. That red crown will moult over the next few months and the adult plumage will then appear. It is apparently not uncommon for woodpeckers to come in to suburban garden feeders. Of course, the typical drumming sound of woodpeckers is totally absent when attacking the soft nut cake!

I like paeonies and some years ago planted one in my garden. It wasn't a particularly good spot for a paeony and it struggled to produce any leaves, far less flower. But this year with some careful feeding and attention it at last produced one solitary flower. The heavy head soon had it needing support with a wooden cane and twine but maybe next year it will manage to produce more flowers? Gardeners do have to be patient!

At least the roses can be relied on to produce a succession of blooms. The roses were already in the garden when we moved in to the house over 25 years ago, so I have no idea what variety it is.

Another flower that not only blooms reliably each year but readily spreads over a larger area is this Lysimachia. I have to keep cutting is back and I get the feeling that Lysimachia would take over the whole garden, given the opportunity. Several species within the Lysimachia family are commonly called loosestrife. It is named in honour of Lysimachus, a king of ancient Sicily, who is said to have calmed a mad ox by feeding it a member of the this plant family.

Astrantia is a genus of herbaceous plants originally from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe and the Caucasus. The name comes from the Greek word for star in reference to the star-like quality of the flower heads. They are commonly known as great masterwort. This particular variety is Astrantia Rubra. It was selected because it grows well in shaded areas.

Gazanias, originally from South Africa, are grown for the brilliant colour of their flower which appear in the late spring and early summer. They prefer a sunny position and are tolerant of dryness and poor soils. One disadvantage of this plant is that the flowers open up in sunshine - a commodity not often seen in Scotland! These brilliantly coloured annual plants are being grown in a container along with some pink Nemesia.

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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