Sunday, November 11, 2018

Nethy Bridge and the Capercaillies


One of my favorite destinations is Scotland, and our last trip there was topnotch. I discovered new places to explore, and savor, and bird––all while delighting in the Scottish brogue. 

RSPB Reserve, Loch Garten (All photos by Narca)

On this April trip, I was determined to see, at long last, a certain grail bird: the Western Capercaillie, a giant grouse nearly the size of a turkey. At the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve of Loch Garten, a hide (or blind) is located so that observers may glimpse, at a distance, displaying capercaillies––if they are lucky! And we were lucky, sort of.

A male capercaillie was displaying behind a grove of small pine trees, and by watching carefully, we glimpsed first one part of the grand bird, then another. Pieced together, the sum of the parts looked rather like this:

Western Capercaillie (Pen-and-ink drawing by Narca)

As a prelude to that exciting day, I found an AirBnB cottage at Nethy Bridge, which proved to be the perfect base for exploring the region. It was located only about 5 miles from Loch Garten and the capercaillies, and next to a wild woodland with hiking trails––Dell Woods in the Abernethy National Nature Reserve. The reserve protects remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest. If that location appeals to you, search AirBnB for Saddleback Cottage (The Bothy) at Nethy Bridge.

Regional map, highlighting Nethy Bridge and Loch Garten

Trail sign at Dell Woods in Abernethy National Nature Reserve

Hiking trail in Abernethy National Nature Reserve

A Song Thrush forages along the hiking trail.

At dusk we ventured into Dell Woods, looking for night birds, and were very excited one evening to find displaying Eurasian Woodcock, hurtling across the twilight sky.

Habitat for displaying Eurasian Woodcock, a mix of woodland and open meadows, dissected by rivulets (photos above and below)

Caledonian forest

Besides the capercaillies at Loch Garten, another spectacular grouse lives nearby––the Black Grouse. RSPB has a screened viewing area where courting Black Grouse may be seen. The kind folks at Loch Garten can tell you whether this lek is active, and where to find it. 

We were sent to the blind at Tulloch Moor, where we watched for a while, without success. As we were contemplating leaving the blind, we began to hear a grouse farther down the road. A quarter-mile walk brought us to a very unexpected sight: a male Black Grouse was at the very top of a birch tree, slowly pivoting and calling. He periodically interrupted his arboreal display to nip a birch bud. These birds are supposed to display on the ground! And that was the last time in Scotland that I left my camera behind.

Black Grouse habitat at Tulloch Moor

Black Grouse leks are very easily disturbed, so great care must be taken in approaching one. We withdrew quietly from our feeding-and-displaying male before he even knew we were there. The best way to see displaying Black Grouse is to join one of the guided minibus safaris run by the RSPB in April and May. Check their website for details.

If you are planning a trip to Britain, a year's membership in the RSBP is very worthwhile. You'll gain entry to all of their reserves, in addition to supporting conservation efforts in Britain.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

An Autumn Bouquet

In recent Septembers, as part of our Rodeo-Portal Heritage Days, Elaine Moison and Dave Jasper have guided a field trip into South Fork, to discover and enjoy the wildflowers that flourish at the end of the summer monsoon. This year we found exquisite flowers, in spite of the paucity of the summer rains. And immersion in the grandeur of South Fork, in fine company, always satisfies!

Enjoy the autumn flowers!

Dave shows us grasses. (All photos by Narca)

Elaine's love of plants shines in all she says.

Chiricahua Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia triternata

This beauty quietly graces the shaded canyons of southeastern Arizona and adjacent New Mexico.

Arizona Madrone, Arbutus arizonica

Late-fall berries from this handsome tree are relished by trogons, quetzals, thrushes and sapsuckers. Arizona Madrone is a tree of the Sky Islands of Arizona and New Mexico. The bulk of its range lies in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico.

The graceful Birdbill Dayflower, Commelina dianthifolia

A common native to several Western states and northern Mexico, this lovely herb favors open meadows and forest floors, where it blooms from summer to fall. You can find it all the way from South Fork up to the higher elevations of the Chiricahua Mountains.

Hummingbird Trumpet, Epilobium canum

The name says it all! Native to dry slopes of western North America, especially California, this beautiful willowherb produces a profusion of scarlet flowers in summer and fall. Gardeners find it easy to grow, and thus they earn the gratitude of hummingbirds.

Richardson's Geranium, Geranium richardsonii

A familiar flower to all who roam the Chiricahuas––and generally, to those who roam the West, all the way north to Alaska.

Huachuca Mountain Geranium, Geranium wislizeni

I hadn't realized that we have a second geranium, growing alongside Richardson's! Huachuca Mountain Geranium flowers in August and September, in oak-juniper woodlands.

Dakota Mock Vervain, Glandularia bipinnatifida

This verbena is native to the U.S., south to Nicaragua. In the U.S., it is most abundant in the prairies of the Great Plains––it is likely one more example of a Plains Grassland species that became established in our region during an earlier, wetter period, and persists today where conditions allow. 

Mock Pennyroyal, Hedeoma hyssopifolia

This fragrant mint flowers from May to October in rocky canyons of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico.

Macomb's Trumpet, Ipomopsis macombii

Macomb's Trumpet is a very beautiful perennial of southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and northern Mexico. Its genus name, Ipomopsis, is Greek for "striking appearance."

Plains Beebalm, Monarda pectinata

Monarda––another very fragrant mint––attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. It grows from 4000-8000'.

Rabbitsfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis

A non-native, widespread annual, Rabbitsfoot colonizes disturbed soil. We saw very few in South Fork, and those were likely brought in with road repairs after Hurricane Odile set its sights on the Chiricahuas.

Birchleaf Buckthorn, Rhamnus betulifolia

A common shrub of moist canyons in the Southwest and Mexico, Birchleaf Buckthorn provides browse for deer and berries for birds.

Fragrant Sumac or Lemonadeberry, Rhus aromatica

The berries are tart and tasty! Lemonadeberry is a good shrub to learn, as it's widespread in the U.S. Its medicinal uses are legion.

Caliche Globemallow, Sphaeralcea laxa

This globemallow grows on rocky slopes and in washes, especially in caliche soils. You've no doubt encountered it at lower elevations in the Chiricahuas.

One of my favorites, Torrey's Craglily, Echeandia flavescens

Torrey's Craglily graces woodlands and grasslands from Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, south through Mexico. 

Toothleaf Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata

What would Arizona be, without its wonderful, sunny displays of hard-to-identify composites? Toothleaf Goldeneye thrives in dry canyons, from Arizona and New Mexico, all the way south to Central America. In Mexico, infusions made from this goldeneye are used to treat baby rash; its essential oils have antibiotic properties.

Next year at Heritage Days, come join our wildflower walk!