We’ve been out and about this week, so haven’t seen too much of the Dinnet wildlife. But the highlight of the week was definitely the fledging of the spotted flycatchers from their nest above the back door. In all the years they’ve nested there, we’ve never seen the actual jump-out-of-the-nest moment of fledging before….but we did on Monday when all three large chicks bailed out, to the urgent “chacks” of their parents.
Of course, they’ve got a lot to learn at this stage….and one of the first lessons was “don’t get stuck in the garage”. We were out cutting the grass and, when the mowers went back, we could hear a young bird cheeping. At first we thought it was in the garage, then we convinced ourselves it was outside, cheeping from the roof, then finally decided that, yes, it was in the garage…but where? We investigated every corner, even taking a ladder and climbing up to the roof and, eventually, after about 20 minutes, found one of the flycatcher fledgies right in the back corner. It took about another 10 minutes to get at it…we had to shift the mower, a wheelbarrow, 3 gazebos, a pump, two lances for the fire tender and a few helmets….before we could catch and gently evict it. It was last seen being fed by one of the parents in the big willow at the car park- phew!
The rest of the week hasn’t been Dinnet-based. We’ve been helping out with site monitoring on the coast between Boddam and Collieston. I’ve lived all my life in the north-east of Scotland but had never walked some of the sections of the coast. Starting at Boddam, it’s a surprisingly dramatic coastline running south down to Cruden Bay. There are lots of sea stacks and arches, cut from the pink granite that is one of the local trademarks.
There are great seabird colonies on this part of the coast. The sight, sound and quite definitely the smell of a seabird colony in summer is a full sensory experience!. The calls of the birds echo up from the depths of the cliffs- kittiwakes shout their name over and over, while guillemots “aarrrrrr” urgently at one another. If you look closely at the guillemots, you can spot “bridled” ones- ones with a white eye ring and stripe that make them look like they are wearing specs. They’re not a different species though, just a different form of the normal guillemot, and you’re more likely to see them here in the north than further south. A lot of the birds have chicks just now, so are coming and going the whole time to feed hungry youngsters.
It’s not just the scenery and birds that make this coastline worth a visit. At this time of year, there are lots of wildflowers out. The campion and pink sea thrift are almost finished flowering, while the bird’s foot trefoil and plantains are at their height. You can even spot more unusual plants like sea mayweed or Scot’s lovage.
And there is some fascinating social history scattered along the coast here, too. There are three ruined castles, including Slains Castle, supposedly one of the inspirations for Bram Stokers’s “Dracula”…and his signature is in the local hotel’s guest book.
The coast also runs parallel to the dismantled coast railway- thank you for that one, Dr Beeching- so you come across old viaducts, all built from local stone.
There are also more transient traces of human habitation, like a rusting winch, half-buried in vegetation- it must have taken brave men to navigate in and out of the coves here and haul their boats above the winter storms.
Or this quarryman’s bothy, perched precariously on the rocks below Blackhills Quarry…how you got into it is anyone’s guess.
Or, at Whinneyfold, the skeleton of a railway carriage, perched against the cliff…the old boys in the village tell how they used to climb down into it and pinch the brass fittings when they were kids. So, while I would always recommend visiting Dinnet, if you fancy a bit of salt air this weekend, and are reasonably fit, and definitely don’t mind heights, there are some great coastal cliff walks north of Aberdeen. Just don’t go too near the edge!