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Hidden In The Heather

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The pink and purple heathers of Harris help us mark the changing seasons.

Much of the western world delights in the turning of tree colours at this time of year, as the leaves transition from summer greens to autumn golds.

Here in Harris, the land is, for the most part, devoid of woods and forests thanks to high winds and an acidic soil which can make any serious growth a challenge.

So, it is the shrub heath on the hills, and blanket bogs on the low ground, that help us mark the seasons, transforming from pastel shades of brown and yellow to a fresh carnival of colour.

Cross-leaved heather, cotton grass, and bog asphodel.

Cross-leaved heather.

Small bogs filled with dark peaty water and vibrant Water lilies add to the September colour scheme, as Orchids, Cotton Grass and Bog Asphodel complement as they briefly blossom, flower and wilt.

Perhaps most striking of all is the rugged carpet of vibrant purples and pinks as Ling, Bell and Cross-leaved heathers as they flower across the moorland.

Red deer are quick to make the most of this flowering feast, knowing that harder times are ahead. For the moment though, they are content on the hilltops among the cover of glens and corries.

A Harris stag high up in the hills.

Red deer hinds blend in with the natural background.

The heather has helped red grouse and golden plovers to raise their chicks over the summer providing a protective cover to keep their fledglings safe from kestrels, merlins and eagles hunting high above.

Other birds also find shelter in this way, with meadow pipits, stonechats and wrens all vocal and visible as they bring a a steady supply of food to their chicks nestled among the undergrowth.

The butterflies have come and gone – Green-veined White, Scotch Argus, Meadow Brown and Common Blue are just a few of the species which make their home in the Harris heathers too.

A four-spotted chaser dragonfly.

A moorland frog hides in the heather.

Dragonflies dart around the shores of the lochans and burns catching flies in flight and the dreaded Midge and horse-fly merit a begrudging mention just for their tenacity and ability to ruin a moorland walk on a calm September day.

A common frog is perfectly camouflaged amongst the bog moss. Although not native to our island they’re now regularly seen and have taken to moorland life with relish.

Finally, a keen eye may spy some mountain hares on the high ground of the Harris hills soon to be adorned in white winter coats to complement any snow on these rocky tops.

While the big swathes of seasonal stories continue to unfold, it’s worth stopping to look a little closer for nature's secrets, hidden in the heather.…


All images and wildlife words © Lewis Mackenzie, with thanks.


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