Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The return of wintry blasts and Coltsfoot

After a few days of calm and gentle warmth and really believing that the earth had turned, all of a sudden Orkney has been hit by icy blasts bringing sleet and snow and the promise of a little more to come. Was it only last Thursday that I was watching and listening to Goldfinches singing in a Kirkwall garden - leaning against a wall and feeling the sun's warmth flooding through my winter bones, I almost nodded off. The harshness of our winter is still being felt. I've yet to hear a Skylark singing and have walked many coast miles without bumping into a Rock Pipit. Our most recent walk was from the Point of Buckquoy to Garson in Birsay - plenty of Purple Sandpipers but not a single Rock Pipit. In recent years, two pairs have held territory down at the Kirkwall marina - not a sausage this year. And it's a similar story for the Willow burn Grey Wagtails - absent, presumed dead, since Christmas 2010.

Anne and I were part of two fantastic boat trips in Scapa Flow on Sunday and Monday. Everyone was treated to excellent views of Great Northern Divers and Long-tailed Ducks. The cliffs at the Candle of the Sale never fail to impress and a myriad of Fulmars wheeled in the updraughts.

On the wildflower front the chrome-yellow flowers of Coltsfoot are brightening up laybys, verges and the shore. They are among the earliest of plants to bloom and I recall seeing them in full flower under the Rackwick cliffs as early as 15th February. Coltsfoot (or 'feet'?) has been an important plant for previous generations. It has been used as a cure for coughs, consumption and sprains, and as a tobacco and tea substitute. It's difficult to comprehend the amount of time it must have taken to collect sufficient downy material for tinder and stuffing for pillows.

Coltsfoot at Echnaloch Bay, Burray

Coltsfoot at Echnaloch Bay, Burray

No comments:

Post a Comment