Sunday, 4 May 2014

Fraochaidh. Alex's 200th Corbett. Build it and they will Come!

I received a phone call from Alex shortly before the Easter weekend. "How do you fancy going up on Friday and bagging Fraochaidh with me?"
I said "OK" with a heavy heart, knowing it was a long walk in from Ballachulish up Gleann an Fhiodh over terrain that is as awkward to negotiate as Gaelic names are to pronounce.
He must have heard my lack of enthusiasm mixed in with dutiful obligation plod mode on the phone because he then said....
"Ah, but I've found a better way up that's half the distance of the normal route up. And it cuts out all the pine forest trudge you hate."
As it was a fine forecast I agreed.
First thing I noticed driving up to Tyndrum in the car was the new set of flying swans on the Balloch roundabout. It's OK but I still think they could do better with splashes of bold primary colours here and a flower or heather display around the base. Tourists love flowers and heather. Ironically, there is a perfect example in Balloch itself, not far away.(I know that one has turned into an unintended  wildlife haven but you could keep any vegetation low level and bunny free up here.)  Most garden displays are more inviting than this roundabout :o) Enough said.

Both of us remarked on the drive up past Tyndrum on how rarely we travel beyond this point anymore. Although close to Oban this hill would cost us £15 each in petrol. To fill an average petrol tank full is £60 now and one return trip past Fort William will account for that easily. It's an expensive business now collecting hills and no longer an "open to everyone" pastime unless you hitch hike everywhere. The back edge of Glen Lochy just past Tyndrum itself.
Minutes earlier we had enjoyed a fine view of Ben Lui still retaining its white mantle of snow.( I do hope it looks as sunny as this next time I see it :o)
Ben Cruachan came next. I fancy climbing that impressive Munro one last time before I'm too old to enjoy it.
Lovely carved wooden board catching the morning sunshine outside the Church at Connel. We stopped here in the village for breakfast around 8:30 am. A beautiful windless day.
St Oran's church, celebrating 100 years judging by the sign.

 Loch Etive. Although it looks tranquil here this spot is a favourite place for kayakers and divers as the tidal race through the narrows of the Falls of Lora under the nearby bridge at Connel in prime conditions gives a white water adrenalin rush for those bold and skilled enough to attempt it. Intense and short lived but good fun.
A typical steep sided garden in the village. Very pretty place on a nice day.
Farm sign near Glen Creran. We parked in the big layby space near Elleric (where you can also park to do Beinn Sgulaird and Beinn Fhionnlaidh) and set off up the nearby Pine Marten trail. This led us uphill at a gentle pace to reach the open hillside which had scattered deciduous woodland on it.

Never spotted a pine marten as they are mainly nocturnal but the difference between the green desert that is regimented pine plantation so evident nearby and this natural mixed forest and mountain meadow environment is always noticeable. Abundant birdsong, the screech of jays overhead, woodpeckers hammering everywhere, the first early cuckoo. Nature by the truckload. In the middle of a pine plantation- complete silence and very little wildlife except near the margins.
The initial slopes were very steep but easy to climb then it eased back into normal hillsides again. We hardly sat down here except on bare rocks yet the ticks were out in force but luckily they were still small and easy to brush off this early in the season. These pests are fast becoming a real menace on the mountains. Years ago, even though we camped everywhere, I rarely had any ticks in summer- one or two occasionally at the most. A minor inconvenience. A couple of years ago on Islay I had 70 from one 3 day trip and had to lie in a bath submerged for 20 minutes to get them all off. It certainly puts you off wearing shorts even on a stifling hot day as they can carry a debilitating disease. Another effect of climate change as severe winters, hard ice, and long lying snowfields used to keep them in check.
Alex getting higher with Bidean nam Bian and its outliers. Doesn't look as impressive from this end.
Higher up we found a red deer wallow which they use as a mud bath to try and rid themselves of ticks, lice and other pests that affect them. Nature packs them in. If something is wild and alive it usually has smaller things equally wild and alive, either living off its blood or hiding inside it.
Around this area Alex found an unusual mystery. Frog spawn dumped inside a dry wooden stump of an old fence post about three feet above the ground. No water or pools close by. We figured out a gull or a heron had grabbed an unlucky frog from the grass or shallow pool then sat up here to eat it with the spawn ejecting out in its panic onto the stump. As the dots were still black and alive I carried it over to a nearby pond and put it in to hatch out. I picked a suitable pond that already had tadpoles newly emerged, figuring that conditions were fine here for growth.
 This pond was close by but everything in it was dead. About 10 dead frogs and several areas of dead spawn. When they turn white they don't hatch out. Either this pond was toxic in some way or it iced over after the frogs arrived and they failed to escape as we had a short return to arctic weather and sub zero conditions after an early warm period in April.
Which brings me to this. Frogs and toads badly need our help in these changeable times. I've had a small garden pond for about ten years now. I used to have a few fish it but for the last five years its been a wildlife pond. It's two feet across by five long- 18 inches at the deep end -not big at all. Yet for the past five years it has supported over 20 frogs, spawn, water snails, water spiders, diving beetles, hoverflies, dragonflies, butterflies, and a host of other beasties. You can also have flowering water plants too round the edges that really enhance the garden like Marsh Marigold, Water Avens and aquatic weeds. If you leave a sloping shallow end for things to get out again like hedgehogs, birds, or baby frogs it's a delightful Eden that your children will love (over 3 years old only- younger ones may fall in and drown if left unattended) My garden has a hedge round it with a locked gate so  small toddlers cant get in without permission.
    In this picture there are around twenty frogs which shows you how desperate they are to breed and how few ponds are available for them. If you have fish in a pond forget wildlife in it as they eat everything else. I cant say I've missed my fish at all as every spring its now far more varied to watch and learn from. Build it and they will come!
It's very easy to do. All you need is a shovel, a waterproof liner that you can buy from any garden centre and an 18 inches deep by three or four foot long hole. Clear your hole of any sharp rocks or obstructions, spread in a bag of  B&Q £3 builders sand to make a smooth bed for your liner to sit on then put in water. If you cant manage a sunken pond then you can get a plastic container moulded pond or cheap tub and simply build a rock or earth ramp up to that. As long as its easy enough for frogs to crawl in and out of then they will find it. You can hide the edges of an elevated tub or raised pond with flowerpots. I've got a ring of empty plastic bird ball tubs and B&Q orange buckets filled with flowers around mine. Ultra cheap yet effective and you can always paint them green (outside parts only of course as any paint in the pond will kill the pond life) if you want.
Then you can have the delights of little tadpoles like these close at hand. Great fun for children and adults alike. The advantage of a hidden pond of course it that outsiders will not even know its  there. But wildlife will. Build it and they will come!
Being a wildlife pond it's low maintenance and you do not require a fountain, bubbles or pump of any kind. Keep a filled bucket of tap water handy outside*( needs 3 days standing open to get rid of any chlorine before you pour it into the pond.) The water plants and aquatic weeds do the rest by providing oxygen and filtering out toxins and all you need is a bucket top up now and again if it doesn't rain much. It's that easy.
Back to the hill. Aonach Eagach appearing over the shoulder of a ridge as we climb higher.
Loch Linnhe and Ardgour seen from the summit. Alex's 200th Corbett. Yippee. Wonder if he will finish them before he snuffs it or the ever increasing price of petrol and living costs scuppers his ambitions :o(
The way down had a wee sting in its tail as we followed what looked like an easy path off the hill. It would have been fine but for wind and winter storms which had toppled loads of pine trees across the route. Alex normally doesn't like events like this but you'd pay big bucks in a gym to get a fine workout like this one. Stretch that torso boy! Limbo under that fallen log!
Funniest part of the day for me watching him struggle through it though. I like a good thrash in the forest myself :o)

Video this week is an outdoor garden pond. Most of the other videos I looked at were far too ambitious, involving major money outlay, mechanical diggers, and pumps whereas this guy is basic, cheap and cheerful. It shouldn't cost money other than a waterproof liner and a bit of canny invention. He's just a beginner of course, and prefers fish, but he's got enthusiasm and the right attitude which is all you need to start. Everyone thinks ponds are expensive but you can get an idea from this as to how basic and cheap it can actually be. All you need is a little wooden  ramp on one side of this tub and a brick shelf under the water at one end to let the frogs in and out easily enough  and give the tadpoles a shallow space to rest and climb out once they are baby frogs - no fish of course - and you have a wildlife pond. For 8 dollars. Simple! Hours of summer fun.

for the slightly more ambitious however this video below gives you an idea of what a moulded or sunken waterproof liner pond would look like. Modest size but perfect for frogs once you toss out any fish. Don't need a pump or running water either for frogs and the tadpoles eat any mosquito larvae. A nice video below.


andamento said...

We've been meaning to put a pond in for a while now, a wildlife one of course. Perhaps this summer...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anne,
It will take about a year to settle down and become fully established anyway and should only take one weekend to put in. I used some fresh looking aquatic weeds snipped off from a nearby stream and they took off like wildfire during one summer. I have to thin them out now and put the excess on the compost heap. The water snails and a few other wee beasties must have arrived on the weed. Everything else found its own way in.
The frogs will thank you if you do go ahead by eating all the slugs around.

Kay G. said...

I JUST watched a video about how to build a small pond in your garden! (They had the same exact instructions that you gave, except they put several stones around the edge of the plastic tub to hide the edges and it looked great! We have so many rocks in our soil here. They don't call this Rockdale county for nothing! :-)

I love that you rescued the tadpoles!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Rescuing the spawn was easy to achieve and I try to be a nice person if it doesn't cost me too much time and effort. Animals needs and desires are usually easy to work out but rescuing forgotten or lost humans can be a much longer process as they are far harder to work out and understand :o)
If you were thinking about a pond it might be an idea to visit a local garden centre or someone nearby who has one as I have no idea what kind of wildlife it might attract over there. My garden is fairly unkempt with loads of dark corners but I know my sister in Australia always keeps her garden space neat and uncluttered because of the snakes there who like to hide out in logs,under compost heaps if there's anything wandering about in her garden at least it's in plain sight.

Neil said...

Congratulations to Alex on reaching a significant milestone. Not many to go now. I think that my garden is a natural pond! It reminds me a bit of Rannoch Moor at times!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Neil,
I know he's quite chuffed but he will be even more relieved at the finish line.... if it comes!

The Glebe Blog said...

Well done to Alex for his climbing record. I can count my Corbetts on my two hands.
I hope your frogs survived. Regards the dead frogs, I've watched group mating frogs and it's a vicious affair, It's no wonder a few come off badly. I think I've still got a video clip somewhere but thought twice about uploading it to YouTube.
Thanks for the suggestion Bob, I think I'll build a small pond now.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
They've been very well behaved in mine. As you probably know it's the same with mallards as they like to pile in and the female sometimes drowns under the onslaught of male ducks. Baboons are even worse- they are really aggressive even at the best of times.
I've certainly had a lot of pleasure from my pond. Just make sure if you put one in its not too near trees (roots below ground make digging harder and leaves falling in during autumn can be a pain.)Other than that, and a bedding in period for the water quality to stabilise its plain sailing.

Carol said...

Oh, now you've really upset me! What's all that icy snow still doing on Ben Lui??!! Richard for one hasn't a clue about winter walking and those steep routes from the summit will scare me witless even if I am fully equipped! :-o Was that just the other week?

We went up Fraochaidh from Duror - me and my friend Alan. It was the worst white-out I've ever been in and horrifically windy.

As to the frogs, I love them and have one which comes every year (or its offspring do - I find it hard to tell them apart ;-) ) and lives in a tub of water behind my shed. It's a lovely thing and quite often sits in my garden watching me gardening. I just have to be careful not to stand on him/her.