Scotland followed the rest of the UK into lockdown on March 23rd 2020. The weather then was still very cold and Spring was yet to arrive. As I write this in June, Summer is here, but Scotland remains in a more restricted lockdown than England.
Ploughed field early on in lockdown
Luckily, we live in a rural and agricultural area. Without the freedom to take walks around East Lothian’s many beauty spots as we usually do, we have got to know the countryside on our doorstep much better. We’ve discovered that we can create circular walks around field edges. It has given us the opportunity to pay a lot more attention to the changing landscape as the seasons unfold and the landscape alters from brown ploughed fields to green crops. And I have been surprised just how much there is to photograph. Here is a selection of my encounters with the local wildlife in lockdown.
The highlight has been watching the unfolding story of a pair of mute swans we found in a small reservoir (that we didn’t even know about before lockdown). The female swan was nesting when we first saw them, and soon revealed that she had 4 or 5 eggs. We discovered later that there were six eggs.
Female mute swan nesting
The local farmer feeds them daily, as she has done for several years and knows them well and assured us that the cygnets would hatch around May 14th. As it turned out they appeared on May 18th, a miserable day when I had to stay in the house all day for work over the telephone, and so I missed the cygnets introduction to the water, which my husband witnessed. One rolled down from the nest, one fell in upside down (righted by its mother) and another slid down. But only 4 eggs had hatched. We visited every day for a while, but it became clear that the other 2 eggs were not going to hatch and eventually they disappeared one by one.
Four cygnets hatch but two eggs remain unhatched
On one visit the male was nowhere to be seen, but on another visit we discovered him walking around in the nearby wheat field, so presumed he must have been hiding there.
The swans share the reservoir with a coot pair and their strange looking chicks, as well as some mallard ducks and duckling and an occasional visit by a grey heron.
A grey heron and a strange-looking coot chick
Swan family update: Some 4 or 5 weeks after they hatched the swans lost one of the cygnets. From a total of six eggs, three cygnets appear to be thriving and growing rapidly, looking more and more like small swans. When the cygnets were about 8 weeks old, the male swan disappeared. He sometimes flies off for a day or two, but after more than a week missing, we have to conclude that, sadly, he is no longer alive leaving Mum to bring up the cygnets by herself.
The cygnets have learned to swim keeping one webbed foot out of the water
By 11 weeks old, the cygnets are beginning to lose their down
Blue tit fledgling
A shorter story took place in our garden. I was reading the morning papers when I heard a thump as a bird crashed into one of the windows. This happens fairly regularly. I noticed a very small - possibly dazed - blue tit fledgling on the step by the door. A bit later on I noticed it was nestled in a flowerpot. It called out constantly and looked skyward for attention. I took some photos and left it alone.
Later on when I went into the garden I could hear it chirping but couldn't see it. We found it in the shed perched on a bicycle pedal. Its parent wasn't going to find it there so I picked it up. It settled on my arm for a bit then few off into another flowerpot. It seemed only able to fly a few feet and certainly not upwards. Eventually its parent found it and spent the rest of the day feeding it, returning regularly. We put a bird feeder nearby with seeds. Although the fledgling was only a few feet away, it relied on its parent to fetch the seeds and put them in its beak. Click on the image below to see an animation of the blue tit parent feeding its young.
As dusk approached I spotted a rat scuttling around the garden, probably attracted by the bird food. It ran past the startled fledgling and off into the neighbour's garden. In ten years we have never had a problem with rats, but they have become a problem during lockdown: and there are reports that they are becoming more of a pest in the country due to the lack of available food in towns. Unfortunately, the fledgling was nowhere to be seen the next morning.
Other birds, like this starling pair who nested under the pantiles of our roof, may have been more fortunate
We accidentally stumbled upon a mallard nest. A plank across a ditch is on one of our routes, and every time we walked past, a female mallard flew up, startled from her nest. It took a while to spot the nest, as it was so well hidden in the bank of the ditch.
As the weeks went on she was less keen to fly from the nest and simply eyed us until we left. We hoped to spot the ducklings hatching but one day the nest was empty and they were nowhere to be seen.
We have a local male pheasant who was christened Bertie by one of our neighbours. Actually, it’s probably Bertie's grandson or great-great-grandson by now, but you can hear him squawking regularly around the local area. He is much harder to spot but I think this might be him.
Is this Bertie?
Nearby there are several pheasant hatcheries and I finally managed to get a photo of a female pheasant.
A female pheasant hiding in the undergrowth
Deer & Hares
These are much harder to photograph as they are usually far away and scatter quickly on any approach. They were common sightings early in lockdown, but are a rarer sight more recently. Perhaps they are simply harder to spot as the crop fields grow taller.
As the weather warmed up, butterflies were soon a common sight unless it was very windy. I got up to a tally of 8 types, but the most common in Spring/early Summer were the peacock and small tortoiseshell and the meadow brown and ringlet in full Summer.
A small tortoiseshell and a cabbage white butterfly
A speckled wood butterfly and a large white butterfly
A peacock butterfly and a meadow brown butterfly
A ringlet and a green-veined butterfly
We noticed a lot of bees buzzing around the stonework of our house, looking for chinks, so my husband bought a bee hotel. Mason bees are better pollinators than other kinds of bees and are to be encouraged. They don't make holes but look for suitable holes for nesting sites.
Female mason bees laying eggs and plugging their nests with mud
We initially placed the hotel on the ground but they couldn't seem to find it. After moving a log and placing the hotel a few feet above the ground, they almost immediately started to book rooms and within about half an hour all rooms in the hotel were all taken.
Each day more holes have been filled and plugged. The female mason bees start by depositing pollen for food, lay female eggs, partition with mud and keep going until the hole is filled, ending with male eggs. This means that the male bees hatch first and are ready and waiting when the females appear, and so the cycle begins all over again.
Sorry, I haven't got any photos of badgers, but we have found dozens of setts all over the local area. Unless I get up very early or go out late with my camera I am unlikely to manage to photograph one.
Coming up next....The Changing Landscape during Lockdown & Lockdown Portraits