Through the seasons

Grey Mare’s Tail nature reserve is a great place to visit at any time of year. Spring sees the return of migrant birds like the wheatear and ring ouzel. Wheatears are often seen around the car park and are easily identified by their striking white rump as they fly away. Similar in appearance to a blackbird but with a broad white crescent across its breast, the elusive ring ouzel is more likely to be spotted in the waterfall gorge. In early April you may catch a glimpse of a newborn goat kid hiding among the heather, or ravens scouring the hillside for food to feed a nest full of rapidly growing youngsters. It’s May before the peregrine eggs hatch and over the next six weeks the adults’ toing and froing from the nest visibly increases.

May’s warmer weather and longer days finally changes the colour palette from the dull browns of winter to a vivid green. June and July are the best time to see many of the mountain flowers, but the August transformation of green heather-clad hillsides to purple can be breathtakingly beautiful.

As summer migrants start to leave, the arrival of autumn is heralded by skeins of pink-footed geese passing overhead and winter thrushes, sometimes in their thousands, foraging for berries on the upper slopes. This is the season of mists, crisp air and the rusty hues of upland grasses as they glow in the late afternoon light.

The nature reserve in winter is not to be missed. Loch Skeen may be tranquil one day, a turbulent mass of water whipped up by winter storms another, or after a long period of freezing temperatures it may be covered in ice. On occasion the waterfall itself freezes, rapidly attracting winter climbers wishing to experience the icy challenge. Winter can also bring heavy falls of snow that may cloak the hills for days if not weeks. Hillwalking in these conditions multiplies the challenges, but also the rewards if you have the right equipment, knowledge and experience.