Am Bratach No. 307
The natures call article for May is a good one to write, as most of the inspiration arises as you are composing it in April, when ideas fly into your mind like hundreds of migrating birds. Spring life is returning once more and the circulation of the seasons is quite literally inspiring.
This last weekend saw many hundreds of redwings appearing on the crofts, an invading avian army hopping across the boggy ground en masse, devouring unsuspecting worms and grubs as they move. The skies were laced with skeins of geese, mostly pinkfeet heading north to their breeding grounds. The Durness column of Greenland barnacle geese was still here however, enjoying the new growth of grass on Eilean Hoan, possibly awaiting a change of wind to blow them home.
For many of us in the north I think the return of the wheatears to the moor is one of the real harbingers of spring. We see them flitting cheerfully from mound to mound chasing whatever insects they can find in this still cold environment, or, more obviously and dangerously, performing their near suicidal flights across the road in front of our vehicles often when we first notice them.
I found a dead redwing on the road last night, or rather the dog did, nosing it and sniffing loudly. I took it from him and tossed it into the bushes, immediately disturbing dozens of concealed redwings already roosting there, making us both startle in the process.
As birds arrive and depart the local ones begin to contemplate nesting; indeed, a few will already be doing so. For instance the hoodie crows which nest in the pines a few doors away from us will have young as they are presently very frequent visitors to our garden. Anything we put out, really for the wee birdies, seems to be eminently desirable food for hoodies.
I hung out fat balls for the tits and starlings; unfortunately they had disappeared by morning. So I made a cage to put the fat balls in but they ended up on the ground in bits I was blaming badgers. The next step was to wire it to the bird table but that didnt work either: in fact, the whole wire cage disappeared pesky badgers! I tried the same again. This time we saw the culprits, two hoodies, craftily working together to undo the wire and dismantle the cage. I didnt bother after that.
We did recently put out some
left over pasta. I thought the gulls would appreciate it but
the hoodies were first to arrive, taking huge beak-fulls of the
congealed mass and flying off with long white beards of pasta.
They didnt actually go directly back to the nest
they are much smarter than that. They went to the edge of the
garden, stuffed the pasta down a hole by the fence and covered
it up, then returned for more.
A long time ago I used to have a pet carrion crow: he was called Crawlin and came from a gamekeeper who had rescued him from below a nest but then became weary of looking after him. Crawlin, like the entire crow family, was also clever and quite affectionate as he sat on my shoulder gently nibbling an ear. I didnt deliberately release him because I thought that he might not cope on his own but he mysteriously escaped his aviary, staying around flying free for months. I could call him over and he would land on my arm or head demanding food for his loyalty.
He disappeared eventually and I assumed that he had met his end. I was wrong, as some months later Crawlins picture appeared in a local paper, happily sitting on a girls shoulder. It seems that he had adopted a village as his new home where many children were now spoiling him.
Clever birds, corvids!
Donald is a Highland Council ranger, based at Durness.