Scottie's Monthly Photo Diary

- June 2013

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 May/June 2013 with a commentary on each one. It thus forms a pictorial diary of my travels during the month which can be shared by everyone!

Hogganfield Country Park

Swans mate for life and start breeding when they are about 3/4 years old. The parents jointly build their large nest with the male passing material to the female who organises where the material is placed. About 5-8 eggs are laid and are incubated only by the female although the male usually stays nearby, on guard. The eggs hatch after 36 days during which time the female will not normally leave the nest. Swans often reuse the same nest each year after doing some restoration the following spring.

The cygnets hatch over the space of a few days so it is not unusual to see young cygnets clambering out from under the mother's wing while she continues to incubate the remainder. Understandably, the cygnets are likely to try to snuggle back under the wings when the weather is chilly. Bear in mind that they will not feed until all the eggs have hatched and the mother can take the entire family for their first swim and feed!

When the young birds, called cygnets, have hatched, the female will take them to areas where they can feed but the youngsters have to forage for themselves. They feed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants which they reach with their long necks, and by grazing on land.

The parents will often shepherd the youngsters and protect them and stir up water weed for the cygnets but each cygnet has to learn to grab whatever it can. It is noticeable though that unlike Mallard mothers who will grab food before their ducklings can reach it, the swans will often hold back to allow their cygnets to grab the food - this is particularly evident when we throw bread for the family.

While the swans were away feeding, this mallard mother decided to lead her brood onto the swan's nest for a rest. Mute Swans nest on large mounds that they build with waterside vegetation in shallow water on islands or at the very edge of a loch. Fortunately, when the female swan returned with her family and the mallard moved to the side with some of her brood, the swan seemed quite relaxed about the "squatters" and began to groom, setting a good example to the cygnets who followed suit. The mallards soon swam off to another spot nearby.

And here are all the ducklings huddled together for warmth - mum mallard was close by as always.

Drumpellier Country Park

Meanwhile, over at Drumpellier Country Park another family of swans was following a similar routine. Adults typically range in size from 140 to 160 cm (55 to 63 in) long, although they can reach as large as 170 cm (67 in), with a 200 to 240 cm (79 to 94 in) wingspan. Males are larger than females and have a larger knob on their bill. The Mute Swan is one of the heaviest flying birds, with males (known as cobs) averaging about 11–12 kg (24–26 lb) and the slightly smaller females (known as pens) weighing about 8.5–9 kg (19–20 lb).

This swan's nest was at the edge of a small loch in Drumpellier Country Park, beside a pedestrian pathway, so it offered a good view of the cygnets to walkers passing by. Lots of people stopped to take pictures once the cygnets began to appear.

Gradually, more and more balls of fluff were appearing - and then trying to gain shelter and warmth by burrowing back under mum's wings. This was not her first brood, having nested in the same place last year.

It was only when she and her family began to go in search for food that we realised just how many cygnets had been sheltering under the mother's feathers - nine cygnets in total!

Close up, you can see that the young cygnet does not have proper feathers, which is one reason why it is initially useful for them to keep warm under the mother's feathers.

Culzean Castle Country Park

This is the walled garden at Culzean Castle Country Park. The garden is at its most colourful in July and August - which is when Culzean has its busiest months for visitors. But the gardeners do a good job having some early flowering varieties of flowers - aquilegia are very much to the fore as are centaurea and iris.

On our last visit to Culzean there had been a number of rows of tulips growing in another part of the walled garden, but I don't recall seeing this unforgettable variety - one of the so-called "parrot" tulips.

Another tulip that caught my eye was this delicate lemon-coloured variety with a fringed edge to its petals.

Although a number of varieties of rhododendrons were over, this white species with a yellow centre in a secluded, wooded area was still looking in good shape.

Aquilegia (also known as Granny's Bonnet or Columbine) is a genus of about 60-70 species of perennial plants that are found in meadows, woodlands, known for the spurred petals of their flowers. The name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals are said to resemble an eagle's claw.

Roses are coming into season at this time of year in all their great variety of colours, but I thought that this delicately marked white one with yellow stamens peeping out from the centre was particularly attractive.

Here's a mass of delicate pink rhododendrons with red markings in the throat and red stalks providing a contrast.

As with the tulips, the gardeners have created displays of rows of irises of the same variety.

Finlaystone Country Estate

This almost black tulip was growing in the courtyard beside the tearoom at Finlaystone. It is one of the many "parrot" varieties.

The word tulip entered the English language by way of French: tulipe but was derived from Ottoman Turkish tülbend ("muslin" or "gauze"), and is ultimately derived from the Persian "delband" or "Turban", because of a resemblance of the shape of a tulip flower to that of a turban.

This white tulip with green markings was growing in the same area as the one above and must have been specially planted there near the entrance to the main garden at Finlaystone to give visitors the "wow" factor as they arrived.

Between 1634 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for these newly introduced flowers triggered a speculative frenzy, especially in the Netherlands, which was known as "tulip mania." Tulips would become so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency. To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called "Dutch tulips."

We don't often see yellow rhododendrons although while researching for these notes I did find that there are many varieties in this colour in the garden catalogues but also that many of the yellow varieties can be more susceptible to disease - clearly this vibrant yellow one does not.

This is Magnolia sieboldii which is also known as Oyama Magnolia. It is a species of Magnolia native to eastern Asia in China, Japan, and Korea, named after the German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866). It grows to 5–10 metres tall (16-32 feet). The flowers, unlike the better-known spring flowering Magnolias, open primarily in the early summer and are pendulous, cup-shaped, 7-10 cm diameter. Since they point downwards it is sometimes difficult to get a photograph unless the plant has grown to a reasonable height.

Finlaystone is famous for its spectacular displays of azaleas. Many different varieties compete with one another, growing side by side in banks of vibrant colour such as the orange and yellow blooms in this picture.

Other displays focus on one particular colour such as the bright reds shown here.

Azaleas are related to rhododendron and bloom in the spring in the Northern hemisphere and in winter in the Southern hemisphere. The flowers often last several weeks - which makes them popular with gardeners! They are tolerant of shade. Plant enthusiasts have selectively bred azaleas for hundreds of years, producing over 10,000 different cultivars which are propagated mainly by cuttings.

Azaleas are generally slow-growing and do best in well-drained acidic soil which makes Scotland, with its peaty soil, a good place to grow them.

If you want to see more about Finlaystone Country Estate there is an illustrated article at Places to Visit in Scotland - Finlaystone Country Estate, Inverclyde

My Own Garden

The cold wet spring has meant that many gardens are behind their normal schedule and this year's annual bedding plants were late in being put in the ground. I am fond of the colours and shape of Mimulus and got a tray of mixed varieties, including this one. The shape and colours are designed to be attractive to insects so that the plants can be pollinated. Even so, many annual bedding plants have been bred to be attractive to humans and are actually sterile and of no interest to bees and other pollinators!

I've just noticed that this picture, taken soon after the grass on the lawn had been cut, has small bits of cut grass caught in the hairs in the throat of this Mimulus!

Last year, after removing some conifers which had not survived the freezing temperatures of the two previous winters, I had space to plant a row of dwarf azaleas (and also some heathers). The azaleas may not grow tall but nevertheless the flowers are quite large and the deep red is eye catching from the windows of my house.

Another rewarding bedding plant is Diascia. It produces a succession lots of bright flowers which continue to produce a splash of colour for many weeks.

The bluebells in my garden were there when we arrived many years ago and have come up reliably each year, including one white specimen. In fact given the chance, the bluebells would spread rapidly and have to be kept in check!

I've always admired the many different types of clematis but have never had the space for the large climbing varieties. But this one was described in the garden centre as a "dwarf" suitable for a large planter, with its flowers trailing down the side. So I've decided to give it a try - if the label is correct I could be taking photos of this clematis for many years to come!

The cherry laurel produces these attractive flower spikes every year, brightening up a shaded part of the garden. Unfortunately, the flowers don't last for long, however.

I've never attempted to grow sunflower, thinking that the weather in the West of Scotland is not conducive to successfully growing it to produce flowers. But this pot-grown dwarf specimen was on sale in a garden centre, already with large flowers bursting into bloom. So I decided to have a go, placing it in a planter with diascia surrounding its base. Already since it has been planted, several of the side shoots have produced flowers so it has already provided quite a show!

If you want to read the other Diary entries going back to 2009, there is an Index page.

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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