Wildlife on the Canals:

Part of the attraction of a hotel narrowboat charter is that, on the canals and rivers, we get close to nature. Many species show little concern over the presence of an inanimate steel narrowboat. Albeit that they would be concerned over an obvious human presence on the towpath (it's a bit like viewing species from within a 4WD vehicle on African safari). On this new web page we have put together photos, with brief comment, of some of the 'flora and fauna' you could expect to see (or might just see) during a cruise with us.

Obviously some are more common than others, and whether or not we see a particular species may depend on the season. The list of examples I have chosen is not, by any measure, exhaustive nor limited to species exclusively associated with the waterways. They are examples of those species that, as a mere boatman, I would be inclined to point out to guests during a cruise. Under each photo, I have briefly described them as best as my non-expert knowledge permits - so apologies in advance for any inaccuracies. The idea is just to give folk a flavour of our canal scene. I've omitted some very common species such as rabbits, mallard duck, and swans - they're ever present on all inland waterways and so prolific that they need no further description here.

Species in each category shown in no particular order - So just scroll down - I hope you find it interesting.....

BIRDS
ANIMALS & INSECTS
WILD FLOWERS & PLANTS
GREY HERON: Common on canals. Typically seen, fishing, standing on the canal bank.  Usually they fly off as boat nears only to land 100 yards further on (process can be repeated several times). In flight it looks quite prehistoric.
ROE DEER: We often see these shy creatures from a distance canalside on the Union in the Tamfourhill area, near to  Falkirk. Sometimes we see them close up (as with the above). They are not at all rare, just shy, with an ability to 'blend in'.
BLUEBELLS: Seen in woodland areas just before the leaf canopy hides the light. Forms stunning blankets of blue on the woodland floor 'flowing' down to the canal bank. A sign that summer, proper, is just round the corner. 
KESTREL: Small bird of prey, typically seen in a fluttering hover over grassland areas, adjacent to the canal, ready to swoop down on some small rodent. Shape is similar to a sparrowhawk but the kestrel is smaller and a pronounced reddish brown colour. If it's hovering like in the photo - it's a kestrel. OTTER: Now rare on inland waterways, but might be seen in riverbank areas near to canals. Possibly some in the area of the River Kelvin valley near to Auchinstarry.
FOXGLOVE: Typically grows on very steep banks in canal cuttings in amongst wooded stretches of the canal.
LITTLE GREBE (or Dabchick): The books say this bird is quite common, but it is a shy little bird - for the observant commonly seen on the Forth & Clyde Canal. Little brown diving bird, with the 'look of a slender immature brown moorhen'. We have had such a little visitor to the Falkirk Wheel Basin near to our moorings - welcome sight.
MINK: Fur species gone feral, having been released in their thousands by idiots calling themselves animal rights activists. Decimated our population of water voles. Some confuse it with the otter, but mink are considerably smaller. Based on our own sightings on English canals, possibly now in a welcome decline compared with a decade ago. Could this be the reason that we are seeing more water voles south of the border?

YELLOW (FLAG) IRIS: Long leaved and stemmed plant with yellow flowers which usually appear about June. Very common on the canals growing in the 'margins'. It is said that the 'Fleur de Lys' design of boy scout and French fame was modelled on the yellow flag iris.
KINGFISHER: These charming birds are actually quite common on the canals - but so shy, and so quick in flight, that they are difficult to photograph. Apart from May to mid June (when away nesting) you may well see one on the either the Forth & Clyde (suprisingly) in the Bishopbriggs/Maryhill area, or on the Union canal (particularly between the Avon Aqueduct and Falkirk) .  This Photo by Deborah Lisseman (visiting friend of Willow guests at the time) - one of the best photos of a Kingfisher that I have seen. GREY SQUIRREL: An American import disliked by many as it caused the decline of our native Red Squirrel (by spread of disease rather than fighting ability).  Clearly intelligent - I've seen them deliberately 'bomb the boat' with food debris as we pass under their branches. Happily for Scottish Red Squirrels, the Greys seem less common north of the border.
 
WILLOWHERB: Very much a 'weed' but when in flower can look quite attractive, en masse. Flowers in July give way to cotton wool like seeds, which float in the breeze.


COOTS & MOORHENS: Quite common on most canals, but I do have an affection for both of these species. People often confuse the two species, so I've put them together here to show the difference. The coot is the one with the white beak and forehead (bald as a ...). The moorhen is the one with red/yellow beak (slightly smaller). Breeding pairs of both species are very territorial and their youngest chicks are charming looking like little 'balls of black fluff'. Moorhens seem to be more common on the Scottish Lowland canals. STOATS & WEASELS: We see these attractive little hunters from the boat only very rarely, probably because they are mainly nocturnal. What's the difference? Well, a stoat's (upper photo) small but a weasel is a lot 'wee'er'. And the stoat always has a black tip to its tail and weasels don't. A weasel looks a bit like a long thin mouse in size. Stoats feed mainly on wild rabbits, whereas weasels go for smaller mammals. Both are highly efficient predators capable of killing prey species much larger than their own body weight.

YELLOW WATER LILLY: Flat circular leaves 'float' on the surface supported by under water stems rooted in the canal shallows. Very prolific on the Forth & Clyde Canal west of Cadder. Buttercup yellow attractive flowers appear in the summer. A very similar but white flowered species is also seen - but is less common.
BARN OWL: Scarce, and a huge treat if seen. I've only seen one once canalside (although more often in the Galloway Hills). It flew silently, slowly winging up the towpath - only about 8ft from the ground. The setting was autumnal Colemere just before dusk - magical. FOX: Reddish brown and dog like. Those that we saw canalside in urban areas in England often seemed to be in very poor condition, but when we catch a glimpse of the rural version, they appear much healthier. But up here in Scotland we see them regularly around Glasgow - and the ones we've spotted seem quite fit. Not so often spotted in the countryside (but that's merely shyness - not a rarity). Often heard after dark, with a shriek-like bark.  RED CAMPION: Attractive, albeit small, red wild flower, often seen growing out of the 'metal piling' on the towpath edges (the parts they haven't mowed).
TAWNY OWL: Common canalside. Mind you, you probably won't see it - just hear it as you drift off to sleep. This is the owl that makes the classic 'Tewit Tewhoo' call. I love the sound - and a reminder that our rural canal lifestyle is so much more preferable to 'city living'. BADGER: Not often seen in the flesh, because these are shy nocturnal beasts. They cause severe (and costly) problems for British Waterways on the English/Welsh network. Their digging seriously undermines canal embankments, and have even directly caused hugely expensive canal breaches. Now 'over-protected' by legislation they are in need of culling to bring the population down to sensible levels. Happily less common up here in Scotland, but we do have an active sett in woodlands near to our moorings at the 'Wheel'.

SPEEDWELL: Attractive blue wild flower that 'hides' from the mowing machines on grassy towpaths in a similar way to Red Campion.
BUZZARD: We occasionally see these perched thus... but more often they are seen soaring overhead (often in family groups up to 5 birds). Usually we hear their cry first (a very typical bird of prey 'cry'). About 10yrs ago we only used to see them in the Welsh Borders (and, yes,  many in Scotland), but they now seem to be spreading out to even semi urban areas. So a real success story. PIPISTRELLE BAT: A common small bat seen in quantities over the canals after dusk on summer evenings. Their jerky flight and swooping behaviour is merely their accurate and efficient hunting flight for small insects - they're totally harmless, unless you happen to be a flying insect. From our Falkirk Wheel mooring (when the Wheel is lit up at night) their hunting of insects straight off the water's surface is clearly illuminated - and  stunning to watch. Sorry just a drawing rather than a photo.  PRIMROSE: In the Spring, in profusion in their clumps, these wild flowers look just as good as any nursery grown primulas - when seen growing wild. We've tried in the past to transplant them into planters for the roof of the boat. But they never look the same - so we now just appreciate them where they are naturally.
GOOSANDER: A sawbilled duck. A diving duck which feeds on fish. Shy - will fly off without allowing Willow to get too near. But seen quite often on the Forth & Clyde Canal. WATER VOLE: This is the 'ratty' of 'Wind in the Willows' fame. The water vole has been very scarce on the canals, but seems to be cautiously coming back to some English waters. We have personally seen them on the Ashby near Sutton Cheyney; on the Grand Union (Leics Sect) near to Kilworth; and on the Llangollen Canal near to Whitchurch. As far as Scotland is concerned, we have not yet seen any on the canals north of the border - perhaps the 'tree huggers' need to agreed to controlling the mink population first. Looks a bit like a rat, but its fur seems less sleek looking (almost tatty) and has a much shorter tail. WILD GARLIC: Not really a 'wild flower' in the normal sense, but worth mentioning for a particular reason. The scent of wild garlic as we cruise through wooded canal cuttings is pleasant and not 'over powering'. It reminds me of how close our lifestyle is to nature.
SPARROW HAWK: The male sparrowhawk is of similar size to a Kestrel, but the female is much larger. The prey of a sparrowhawk are other birds in flight - so they don't hover over grasslands like a kestrel. Unlike the reddish plumage of the Kestrel, the sparrowhawk appears more predominately grey and has proportionally longer tail feathers. RED SQUIRREL: Small populations in the Kelvin valley area near to the Forth & Clyde canal. Scarce and under threat from disease spread by Grey Squirrels introduced from USA.  Possibly making a come back in Scotland.
DOG ROSE: Sprawling plants intertwine themselves in hedgerows beside the canal. It's maybe a bramble weed but it's also natures own natural rose. Common on the Union canal.
JAY: A shy colourful member of the crow family seen in wooded areas of the canal system. It has a white flash on its back, blue wing bars, and a pinkish brown chest. Has a loud screeching cry of an alarm call, traditionally used by woodland poachers to warn of the gamekeepers approach. We tend to see them flying from tree to tree, crossing over the canal. DEMOISELLE DAMSELFLY: Common in the summer months, fluttering around, just above the canal surface. They look to me like a 'cross' between a butterfly and a dragonfly. Very pretty insects, the males are blue and the females green. Often seen coupled mating in flight.

GREAT REEDMACE: We see these 'atmospheric' reeds canalside, on the Linlithgow side of the Avon Aqueduct. But in general, there are a good number of differing types of reeds that we see on the canals. As 'just a boatmen' I don't have the botanical knowledge to identify the varying species - they're just nice looking reeds to me.