Although I’m naturally quite an introverted person and love having time to myself, I’ve still struggled to adapt to the lockdown routine. I like to potter around outside for hours while I write or just watch the world go by, so it goes without saying that I’ve missed wildlife far more than the pub. Alerts have hit my local Facebook groups about ospreys just a few miles away from me and orcas (orcas!) further along the coast, but lockdown measures have kept me stuck in one spot.
Still, it’s a beautiful spot to be stuck in, and there have been some new visitors to my local patch over the past few weeks. Before the clocks went forward, the daily sightings always included goldeneyes, long-tailed ducks and red-breasted mergansers. Now, as the spring wildflowers emerge and the days grow longer, I’m seeing some new faces on the backshore.
When I arrived in Scotland I was told that May was the true start of the bottlenose dolphin season, but I’ve already been spotting dorsal fins on the water. I’ve had three different sightings so far, and on the second I managed to photograph some for the first time. Even from a distance and with most of their bodies submerged, it’s easy to see just how large these marine mammals are. In fact, the bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth are the largest and most northerly in the world.
As well as cetaceans, there’s been some avian excitement too. My absolute favourite birds have arrived in my patch: gannets! I glimpsed a white wingspan last week but wasn’t sure if it was just another herring gull, but since then I’ve had indisputable views of these vast and beautiful seabirds. As well as flyovers, I had the privilege of watching a dozen gannets diving for fish just offshore – twisting their bodies and tucking in their wings at the last moment before hitting the water like feathered torpedoes. I’ve always been drawn to gannets’ subtle plumage and dramatic facial markings and it’s been such a treat to watch them in my patch.
As I walk along the shore, I have the option of looking left to the ocean or right to dense clouds of gorse. As well as infusing the air with a beautiful coconut smell, the gorse provides excellent shelter for lots of different birds. Over the last week I’ve seen willow warblers, stonechats, linnets, skylarks, hooded crows, swallows, swifts and yellowhammers in just a small area. The charm of the gorse forest is that you never know what you’re going to spot and I’m almost always surprised by something.
Although I’m usually drawn towards birds and mammals, I can’t help but notice emerging insects as the temperature climbs. Just along from the town allotments I’ve seen bees, peacock and red admiral butterflies and green foliage that’s speckled with ladybirds.
It’s been difficult for us all to stay connected to the natural world during the lockdown, but seeing snippets of spring visitors on my daily walks has really lifted my mood. Nature never fails to make me feel better, and it’s during these challenging times that our time spent outdoors is the most important. Stay safe and stay wild everyone.