Urban Spring

Spring is our favourite season. Recently Faye asked me when I thought it began and at first, I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I thought about it. The blooming of the Snowdrops is a prelude but the beginning of the main movement is marked (for me) by the arrival of a couple of species from their winter quarters, and the flowering of the trees. A run early last week revealed that the Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs were back and a Good Friday walk around North Glasgow in bright sunshine provided an opportunity to photograph the former species and record the latter. The Sand Martins use an old wall at the end of Speirs Wharf as a nesting site. I think that the wall is made of blonde sandstone blocks and there must be soft sandy material between some of the blocks which has eroded and washed out, providing the Martins with tunnels and nesting chambers.

I find photographing Martins hard because of their speed and agility on the wing. My strategy is simple; find a place to stand where I won’t upset them, then find a hole they seem to be using. Stay tight on that and blast away when I think birds are coming and going and I might get an outcome. My location in cover is behind a massive steel link fence – I’m resting the camera on that and hoping that the separation between the plane of the fence and the focal plane is sufficient for my image not to be affected. I was lucky in that a bird spent a lot of time perching at a tunnel entrance. I’m sure it’s watching me looming behind my fence but I am a long way from it and my outline must be masked by my cover.

From time to time other birds would approach and there would be an opportunity to see beautiful wing shapes. I’d need much better images to do a Sand Martin post but these are a good symbol of the season and the optimism which it brings.

The Chiffchaff was calling in the Claypits, or to give it the full title The Hamiltonhill Claypits LNR. The website says “Hamiltonhill Claypits is a local nature reserve located on rewilded post-industrial site close to the city centre along the Forth and Clyde Canal” which is partly true. The Claypits site was a wild area of mature trees and scrub close to the city centre along the Forth and Clyde Canal. It now has large cleared areas, an artist-in-residence (a dog warden would be more use), and a lot of recently planted whips, some of which are doing quite well. There are some gravel paths which are great for running; therefore, it is considerably less wild than it was. Some of the older trees remain, as do the industrial legacy pigeon lofts which are still in use.  There is a team of people working hard to keep the litter down on the site, which is great. I’ve been surprised by Roe deer there on winter mornings and I can usually find Long-tailed tits and Bullfinches. I think there were at least two Chiffchaffs calling on Friday –  you may also hear the calls of Easter egg hunters.

We found Bird Cherry just coming into bud and Norway Maple and Rowans coming out.

As we left the Claypits, Faye noticed some activity around the eaves of the Scottish Canals building by Applecross Basin and we stopped to look closely. There were Long-tailed tits flying under and back out from under the eaves, not foraging but collecting insulating material to add to a growing nest. You can see the cup shape of the nest, into which the bird’s tail really will not fit. The top layer of moss is starting to disappear under insulating material and it’s looking a bit of a mess but I hope that it will be warm for the incubation and that they succeed in fledging some young. Because of the difficult angle, my camera lens is on Faye’s shoulder at this point – “A good tripod!” as a passer-by interjected.

After the Claypits, we had a cup of tea from a Thermos by The Whisky Bond while admiring Frodrik’s piece. It’s been there for ages and no-one has ever tagged it, clearly a sign of respect from the youth. The Council were out recently cleaning lesser works off the flanking walls but maybe they just though better of removing this work. The Marsh Marigold was in full bloom on the canal.

We left the canal, moving towards Glasgow Angling Centre at Saracen Point down Applecross Street, hoping to admire the European Plum tree but we’d pretty much missed it – it seems very early this year.

We headed on towards Pinkston Basin which lies below the North Bridge development on the site of what used to be Sighthill Park, now flattened and gone. The site is enormous, stretching east towards Springburn, with nothing to break the horizon bar the top of a huge Tesco sign. The bit they’ve finished boasts the Sighthill Community Campus and the new bridge over the M8, both featuring attractive deployments of COR-Ten steel, so beloved of Grand Designs. What glorious colours in this spring light! I’ve been watching the bridge take shape for ages now and I am pleased to see the rather sinuous end product. There are plantings of white-barked Birches on the site.

At the canal edge, we found Goat Willow, Grey Alder and Wild Pear. I used to fish under the Pears.

On the way home, there was Flowering Quince, Alder and Blackthorn.

A short detour was made through the Park to take in the emerging Horse Chestnut and the double cherries up by the house (a panoramic image, hence the curvature).

The Chestnut buds are a photographic challenge because of their size – this image has been made using Zerene Stacker software (the good bit is the cluster in the middle of the frame – I’m sorry there isn’t a natural crop to do on this image).

It’s tripod work. You start out-of-focus in front of the object and use the focus ring to step through the image emerging out of the back, or vice versa. The images which contain something in focus are then “stacked” in the software using some sort of miraculous minimisation routine to prioritise sharpness over fuzz and beat the depth-of-field problem.

We were treated to a marvellous St Matthew Passion by the Dundedin Consort on Friday evening, enjoyed a walk up the Stoneymollan Road on Saturday and I’m now trying not to eat chocolate in a wanton manner. If you’ve read Chocolat by Joanne Harris – in Chapter 38 (5.55 am onwards), the  wee troubled curate voices my natural instincts rather well. I wish you a Happy Easter.

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