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It's 07.50 of a Saturday morning. One of Megan's cats, Cookie, is staring at me earnestly, as if to say "Look, it's ten minutes to breakfast time, why not do all of us a favour and dish it up now? We'll not mention anything to Megan." To be fair, she'll do this at any time from five minutes after her twice daily feeds. Her sister, Mocha, is dozing on the back of the sofa, seemingly unconscious to the world, but she will unfurl and show a sprightly side to her nature when the first sound of spoon on dish is heard. We are settling into a new routine here at Burnbank, and I realise that I haven't brought you an update on the progress of the guest room. We are quietly pleased with our attempt at co-ordinating soft furnishings, although the room needs a bit more art on the walls. Outside, and I'm sure you don't need telling what this piece of artistry is? A Red Admiral butterfly soaking up the heat shortly after dawn Hang on whilst I feed the cats..
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Nature Notes #8

The recent warm spell did eventually make it as far north as Orkney and Shetland, and we enjoyed several days of temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius. It was very strange! Fin ally, however, and following the laws and strictures which govern such things, the weather broke one night with a mighty thunderstorm, freshening the air so that the landscape as well as its inhabitants gave a collective sigh of relief. At the time, I was minded of a Rush lyric from the song 'Marathon' which featured on their 1985 'Power Windows' album: "Like a streak of lightning, that flashes and fades in the Summer sky." With the cosmic inevitability of an earworm and a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, at the end of the next working day I found myself in the shower listening to a couple of tracks from the album, though even bathroom acoustics couldn't help my singing. The track before 'Marathon' is ' Manhattan Project ', a topic which I guess is currently back in the

Hoopoe hoodoo

This post is a bit of a mish mash (admittedly, that phrase could be used to uncritically sum up all of my literary output), which starts off a little gruesomely but then brightens up somewhat.  At the end of last month, a morning's recce at the Ring of Brodgar for one of Megan's walks saw us bathed in pleasant sunshine and in buoyant mood. Between the Neolithic stones and the shores of Stenness and Harray Lochs, there's a nature reserve looked after by the RSPB, which can be excellent for birds, wildflowers and the occasional Otter. It being late Summer, there were a few migrating waders around, and still some flowers in bloom, but our eyes were drawn to a profusion of moth caterpillars feeding on Angelica and Ragwort plants. Whilst watching one of these larvae, a female ichneumon wasp appeared. After sizing up her target, she used her long legs and even longer ovipositor to avoid all those bristles and lay an egg inside the unfortunate caterpillar. Yes, a parasitic wasp, w

Are you Psitt-ing comfortably?

A small aside in a recent blogpost has taken on a bigger meaning with the passage of time and the subject being discovered by social media. Do you r emember the sighting of the blue and yellow macaw from the day we moved to Stromness? We occasionally saw it again over the next few weeks, but then Blu (as he's known) seems to have found a publicity agent. Here's a link to BBC Radio Orkney's Facebook page: And the subsequent interview on one of their morning news bulletins:  Then, Blu hit the big time with the main BBC News webpage, after inadvertently interrupting a football match and turning around the local side's fortunes: You could not, as they say, make it up.

Inspiration by osmosis

We've been busy trying to choose colour schemes and soft furnishings for the lounge and the guest bedroom: bright red, grey, dark red and orange for the former, giving a Summer turning into Autumn feel; whilst for the latter, blue, grey, green and a  wildflower pattern which, now that I've written those words, sounds bizarre but I think it's probably a landscape thing... A mid-August evening This rainbow was weird A walk on the west coast on the following day Grass of Parnassus Frog Orchid Scottish Primrose Wheatears A walk around the old Stromness Waterworks Oddments from home A young Pied Wagtail Mist on the Orphir Hills Since the last photograph was taken, the weather has been unremittingly dreich, but it's not just rain we've been soaking up.

On the nature of time

I'm a bit out of sync with my posts, having blogged in the wrong order, which had seemed like a good idea at the time. I will attempt to rectify the error here with a catch-up post for the month of August to date. There was some dragonfly excitement a few weeks ago, when a good friend reported an Emerald Damselfly from a sheltered path near her home in Stromness. Whilst this species has been in Orkney since 2010, this was the first confirmed record for West Mainland. Separately and several days later, the owner of a large pond requested help with identifying the wildlife present in and around her pond. Said pond happened to be adjacent to the afore-mentioned sheltered path and has long been thought of as the source of many dragonfly records from Stromness. So now we could answer that particular question. With a small group of local (and equally intrigued) experts, a pleasant morning was spent investigating the pond and its surroundings. The place was teeming with Black Darter drago


Perhaps space isn't the first thing one thinks of when contemplating Scotland. Sure, there's loads of the stuff in the Highlands and Islands, with more breath-taking vistas and stunning scenery than you could shake a Saturn V at, all with the least amount of human-centric infrastructure. But, no, I was thinking of outer space, and although I guess Scotland has the same amount as everybody else, the country doesn't immediately spring to mind if, for instance, you wanted to go into orbit. But even the briefest of internet searches (we're not known for our conscientious diligence here at Natural Highs and Lows), shows that there are five (or V, if you prefer) Scottish spaceports in development or planning, located in Shetland, Sutherland, Argyll, Prestwick and North Uist. There are also whisky distilleries in each of those places. Coincidence? I think not. And you thought that the uisge beatha was only jokingly described as rocket fuel? In the news this week, a Scottish s