House plants, and a bird or two

August 16th 2017

This vacant cotter’s house in Culkein Drumbeg has held a fascination for me over the years. I’ve watched go from being almost wind and water tight to its present sad condition. It still has its own house plants and a few feathered occupants.

Over a few weeks during mid-summer 2017 I kept an eye on the plants, growing on and in the house and which now call it home; I don’t profess to know very much at all about Assynt’s plants so will take this opportunity to thank Ian Evans for his patience while helping me identify these specimens. Those which have no specific name would have required more effort than would have been worthwhile but they do add to the diversity of this house’s flora.

You can see this sort of ‘house plant’ collection all over Assynt where once traditionally built homes have been abandoned in favour of all the mod cons! I like to know that once we, as a species, have finished with things then the more natural world is, more often than not, quite happy to move back in!

Rather than list the plants I have simply captioned each image so you can pick and choose which, if any, you want to know the name of.

The Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, on the chimney pot did raise a brood somewhere in this house during 2017 which, given its present condition, was quite apt for a ‘cave-goer’. The house has also seen numerous Swallow broods raised, Pied Wagtails also regularly made successful nesting use of the wall head. Sadly, both species could only use the house when there was still a roof to offer shelter.

One female Pied Wagtail had a story to tell. On 23rd April 2011 I spotted this bird tapping at her reflection in the sole remaining glazed window of the house. She probably thought it was an intruder on her patch. If you look closely at this video you can see a combination of colour rings on her legs. From the video I was able to work out the colours on each leg which then allowed the history of this bird to be established thanks to the British Trust for Ornithology which holds records of all ringing projects in the UK.

It turns out this wagtail was ringed on 1st March 2010 in Weymouth, Dorset. She was, at that date, in her second calendar year, i.e. she had hatched in summer 2009. So, by the time she was on the window sill of the house she was in her 3rd calendar year and had very likely returned to her natal area to breed. The ringer, Steve Hales, was delighted to get this sighting of one of ‘his’ birds as she was part of a project to establish where the many wintering Pied Wagtails on the south coast of England came from.

So a bird with a history nesting in a house with a history; I never saw the wagtail in subsequent years but the house will, no doubt, continue to feature in Culkein Drumbeg’s history along with the house plants.

D. Haines


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