Friday, 25 March 2016

A month of walks ends with a meeting with a scorpion!

Well, here we are again, sporting 6 tiny body piercings across the old tummy, but up and slowly getting out and about following my visit to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.  But more about those few days anon.

With half a month of ‘freedom’ before my trip to Aberdeen the daily exercise routine was undertaken each morning to try and build up fitness and energy levels and some mornings this meant a three-quarters of an hour walk via the local village King’s Road just to get the paper.  This routine actually started in mid-January and though many of my outings do involve walking, continuous walking for 
A Weather Watchers success
up to an hour each day was quite different from my usual stop-start routine as lumps of dead wood and plant leaves are checked during my ‘normal’ outings.  With the camera always with me photos taken along my walks featured once again via the BBC Weather Watchers input to the daily TV weather bulletins.  It’s amazing what interesting weather related scenes you can see as you walk along.  At the start of February, we had the first splash of colour in the garden as winter aconites emerged, and out the back of the house work continued to complete the boundary fence before heavy lifting would be banned.  To complete the fence an old strainer post on the old fence was replaced, 
Winter aconites
and wood was bought and cut to make a top rail to run along the top of the fence post in case this was of any use to the red squirrels.  With the last strainer post in position I was able to complete the whole installation with a lift-off gate should we and our neighbours need to gain access to each other’s ground for management purposes.  It was nice whilst doing the fence to see and hear crested tits quite regularly as they visited feeders by the chalet and in our neighbour’s woodland.

On the 2nd it was nice to see the end of a long session of information gathering and site visits to land adjacent to the Flowerfield orchid site as I delivered my objection to the Cairngorm Park planners.  It will be interesting to see how the Park’s planning staff react to this application because from the conservation side there are so many things wrong with it.  However, that wasn’t quite the end of data/information gathering because the same developers also wanted a third chalet about half a mile away and though the chalet site wasn’t too damaging, creating a road across part of a brilliant area of 
The Kincardine wooded bog
wooded bog would be.  A visit to the bog produced several location of the wee bog cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum) one of which, despite this being late winter, still had an abundant supply of red berries, not that I would have liked to taste them.  Of course, this was a plant that didn’t feature in the ecologists report which accompanied the planning application!  Despite this bog being almost adjacent to the B970 road it seems to have escaped most natural history recorders’ notice so very little is known about its importance to wildlife.  However, in appearance it has all the characteristics of some of the nearby Abernethy wooded bogs so it will be interesting to see what else it supports as 
Small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum)
we get into the growing season.  Whilst photographing the cranberry I also noticed a couple of tiny, parsnip shaped egg or pupae cases attached to the stem of crossed-leaved heath plant (Erica tetralix), and, hoping that insect expert Stephen might be able to identify the species, they were popped into a tube and taken home.  Originating from a bog site the plant stems were wetted occasionally just to keep them ‘alive’ and to create the right, slightly damp conditions needed for whatever was growing in the cases.  Stephen wasn’t sure what might have made the cases but, fast-forward a month (to a 
The mystery pupae cases from which the baby spiders emerged
few days ago) I could see movements in the tube and there, running around were lots of baby spiders!  It is good to know that the egg cases were used but probably not created by a spider but, being baby spiders local expert Hayley may not be able to provide a name unless she is able to grow them on for possibly a few weeks to see what the adults look like, so, it’s fingers crossed.  With a bit better picture in my mind re the bog a second objection was completed and delivered to the Park planners.

A nice bit of sun on the 8th produced the first singing mistle thrush of the year, though all was quiet again a few days later after a couple of inches of snow.  The next day we had an outing to Tomintoul, another day of sun and as we did the wee circuit along the River Avon (pronounced A’an) three buzzards displayed overhead.  As we walked, I saw old flower heads of selfheal (Prunella vulgaris
One of 3 buzzards
so just had to keep checking for the unusual black Leptotrochilla prunellae fungus found a few weeks earlier in Abernethy.  The more I looked it was becoming obvious that when I found a plant with lots of old flowers, there were very few leaves that looked suitable for the fungus.  Stopping to check meant there were lots of bits of rapid walking as I tried to catch up with Janet again.  Towards the end of the approx. three mile walk I had just about given up finding the fungus but then, I found a good patch of leaves, just a few old flowers, and there was the fungus.  Time for a GPS reading and a few 
Leptotrochilla prunellae fungus on selfheal leaves
photos, but as I was just about finished another couple, walking the same route, enquired about what I had found.  I’m not too sure the tiny black spots on the gravel splattered leaves though, made much of an impression even though this was the first record for Morayshire!  As a couple of inches of snow arrived and the temperature remained below freezing during the days, frantic activity around the garden feeders increased, so another couple of big fat cakes made from Mr. Mustard’s dripping with added oats and sultanas were made and put out.  At least three bramblings were counted at the sunflower-hearts feeder as they battled with the siskins, greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches and the three tit species (great, coal and blue) ensuring this feeder was emptied by about 10am.  Our only 
Feeder chaos
winter chalet let commenced on the 13th around about the time we saw more pine marten activity.  This is the annual Richard and Peta week and they arrive with fingers crossed for a bit of snow and this year they weren’t to be disappointed with just the odd couple of inches falling occasionally ensuring white hills but not enough to cause travel problems.  This was just as well because a couple of days after they arrived Janet and myself headed off to Aberdeen.

16th.  Drive via daughter Laura’s to drop of the cat and drive on to her office just a couple of miles from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.  Leave car here for the duration and early in the afternoon Laura drove us in to the hospital for a book in time of 3pm, and installed in Ward 209, the urology wing of the hospital.  A quick hello to the occupants of the other four beds on the ward and unpack my stuff and climb into pyjamas and dressing gown the main attire for the duration of my stay.  Tea and biscuits appear and the sweet and sour chicken meal ticked for my 5.30pm evening meal.  Laura and 
Janet away at 6pm and I make a start reading Derek Ratcliffe’s book ‘In Search of Nature’.  The occasional walk around the corridor of Level 5 would become a regular feature over the next couple of days.  More tea and toast at 9pm, my last food before the enema I was dreading at 10pm.  However, everything went well but the night’s sleep was pretty rubbish!  Nothing to drink after midnight but hourly visits from the duty nurse to take blood pressure and temperature.

17th.  Pre-Op.  Everything starts to happen on the ward from 6 - 6.30am with tumblers of fresh water (not allowed), lights on and bedding being changed.  The chap in the next bed seems to have recovered quite well from his removal operation the day before and he is up and about in time for breakfast.  Over the next couple of hours various nurses arrive to attach needles to veins in left arm, pull on tight socks for the lower legs to combat thrombosis due to less activity and finally, the ‘difficult to tie at the back’ operation gown appears before the bed and me are wheeled off to the operating theatre.  It’s 9.30, the time when life as I know it will inevitably change at least for a little while.  In the operating theatre I’m moved over to a narrow ‘bench’ under an amazing array of lights where Kathleen, the anaesthetist, explains once again the procedures taking place over the next few minutes as more needles are attached ready for the knock-out injection!  Whilst the operating team depart for their pre-op. discussion I chat with a couple of nurses who point out to me the location in the corner of the room where the consultants will be operating on me from!  This really is robot technology.  The operating team return and within minutes I’m fast asleep.

Post-Op.  “Would you like a sip of water and what would you like in your tea” were the first words I heard in the recovery room, and as I try to focus on where I am the nurse pops a straw into my mouth for my first sip of water.  This is followed a couple of minutes later with warm tea.  The next half an hour/hour I can’t really remember much but by about 3pm I’m back on the ward getting a wave from the other residents.  No great pain but a bit achy around my tummy where the ‘robot’ has been working.  I’m also aware that a tube is firmly embedded in my willy and attached to a bag on the side of the bed – welcome to the world of “the catheter”!  However, this is a vital bit of kit for this operation with the bladder end of the catheter providing internal support to the joining up of the ‘tube’ (urethra) exiting the bladder where the prostate has been removed, and running down into the willy.  Tea and biscuits appeared and the evening meal which I ate but can’t remember what I had.  Late afternoon and as planned, Janet and Laura visit happy to see that I’m sitting up in bed and eating and drinking.  Another poor night’s sleep with some folk on the ward not happy with one person’s snoring!

18th.  The hourly visits had continued through the night to check blood pressure and temperature and to check the bladder output!  Lots of water has to be drunk to help the system settle down and to flush out other fluids.  A drain on the side of the tummy is also doing its job by taking away blood and fluids from the operation area and the nurses monitoring it say it will probably be taken out later in the day.  Porridge, tea and toast for breakfast before I’m turfed out of bed for it to be re-made, my first exit from the bed and all goes okay.  Mid-morning the bag and drain are removed with a plaster covering the ‘hole’ and the catheter arrangement is modified so that the drainage bag is attached to the lower leg allowing me freedom to go for a wash and clean my teeth.  Walking doesn’t seem to be a problem so I take my first short wander along the Ward corridor, and by the time Janet and Laura visit early in the afternoon I‘ve managed my first complete circuit.  A couple of folk from the ward are allowed home and by late afternoon we have a new arrival, followed later in the evening by a second.  The ward remains fairly quiet and despite the hourly medical checks, I get a good night’s sleep.

19th.  As the ward starts to get active I wander to the window to see quite an amazing early morning dawn and take my only photos of the whole hospital stay.  My request for someone to take a photo of me whilst on the operating table was turned down!  Visits from the operating Consultants Mr Ahmad and Mr Douglas (Inverness Consultant) as well as Kathleen the anaesthetist all pointed to me being allowed home and at lunch time Janet and Laura arrive and the journey home begins.  At Laura’s 
Early morning Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
works we swap to our own car with Laura guiding Janet from there and out onto A96 before waving cheerio at Inverurie.  Stop along the way to have short walks was the instruction from the hospital and this we did at Huntly but after that, the juggling around in the car wasn’t too comfortable so Janet just kept going until we reached home.  Richard and Peta were excellent and whilst I disappeared off to bed they helped Janet to empty the car – a great help, thank you.

Walks around the house increased to 20 minutes over the next couple of days whilst getting used to 
A nice surprise present from Laura found in bag once home - yummy!
catheter checks, showers and a regular loo routine.  On 22nd I sent thank you cards to all the folk that did such a good job in Aberdeen and late in the evening I escaped from the house to have my first walk, in the fresh air, for a little way up the road.  I walked a little further the next day and also managed the Birch Wood circuit in the village – though I did need an hour in bed afterwards.  The next major step was on 25th when I returned to Raigmore in Inverness to have an x-ray to check the internal stitching and with everything okay, the catheter was removed – phew.  However, Brian did 
Icicles at Slochd
warn me that there would be fun with incontinence for a month, six months or possibly a year and issued my with a bag of mini-nappies, one of which I would need just to cover the journey home.  The bladder didn’t let me quite get home and we had to pull off at Slochd, onto the old A9 and were amazed by the display of icicles on the rocks by the road.  Photo opportunity in the future?  Walks from house up the road to the old power-line becomes a regular outing.

26th.  Longest walk to date, to the Y-junction up the Loch Garten Road, about a mile each way.

27th.  -90C overnight but then a brilliantly sunny day.  This is Day 10 since the operation and I try sitting in the driver’s seat in the car for the first time and everything feels fine.  After walking to the village shop for the paper I check all the green shield-moss locations by the Birch Wood walk on the way back.  All fine, despite quite a bit of chain sawing having taken place to part trunks from root-plates of most of the winter wind-thrown spruce trees.  The icicles at Slochd keep popping back into my head and early in the afternoon me and the car drive back up the road to take a few photos.  Photos taken I wandered along the old A9 road to stare in wonder at the distant snow covered 
The Cairngorms
Cairngorms glowing in the sun and topped by a cloudless blue sky.  Amazing.  I had parked the car actually under the bridge now supporting the A9 and as I messed about in the young trees by the car a movement on the snow (there was still lots of snow at this the 1300’ highest section of the A9) close to a rock face caught my eye.  As I homed in on the tiny insects something about its shape got me quite excited.  It had a slightly curled up ‘tail’ and a fairly obvious proboscis a bit like a trunk sticking down from its head.  I needed the camera out quickly and to stop the insect disappearing off the edge of the snow a gentle touch saw it curl up giving me just enough time to get the camera out 
My second ever snow flea (Boreus hyemalis)
and into macro mode to fire off a few shots.  Obligingly it did then get back on its feet and within seconds had disappeared off the edge of the snow.  Last time I saw this tiny beastie was a year previously and on that occasion I had to capture it to take home to check.  But on this occasion I knew I was looking at my second ever snow flea (Boreus hyemalis) and this time actually out hunting for prey on the snow.  This insect isn’t really a flea at all but a member of the family of scorpion-flies and the only record locally since my find of a year ago and all down to a stop with a desperate bladder a few days earlier!

The walks gradually increased in length and a walk along a bit of the Speyside Way a day later, in 
slightly showery conditions, saw me having fun with camera, rain and track-side pool creating another Weather Watchers photo that made it to BBC Scotland.  All good fun and with many thanks to Janet and Laura for getting me through the second half of the month.

Enjoy the read
Stewart and Janet

Vaccinium microcarpum (more information but from a Finland website)
Snow flea
NBN Gateway
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
and how to join HBRG

Great spotted woodpecker on remains of fat cake

Flooded fields locally through February

Late afternoon in Abernethy

Photos © Stewart Taylor