Sorry for the delay in getting another blog out, I’ve been busy in the garden with all our lovely weather (blog to follow so you can see the progress we’ve made). But finally I’ve managed to finish this one about some of the birdlife in our glen this spring.
When you first drive through our glen which runs between Sligachan (pronounced Sligahan) and Drynoch you initially see nothing to make you believe it is teeming with wildlife – especially birds. There are lots of birds in fact. Our garden is frequented by the usual culprits, Hooded Crows, a small family of Starlings, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, and Chaffinches – a flock of 40 at the last count – but we also have a fair few Siskins (little green and black finches) and Gold Finches, not to mention Coal Tits – I have never seen so many in one place – and Great Tits.
All the birds are pairing up now. The Great Tit was showing his mate around the garden yesterday, he appeared to be regaling her with the abundant food that was easily obtained should insect populations drop during the summer – fat chance, I thought – he’s just bragging, there’ll be so much food they’ll all go pop! On a more serious note though, cold wet weather can pose a real problem for young titmice, so lets hope we have a nice warm summer for them.
When we first came here there was a lone Robin, who disappeared during our first winter only to be replaced by no less than five Robins last year. Now we have our cheeky little friend who is all dressed in his spring suit after claiming his territory in January accompanied of course by his pretty little wifey.
The other day to our great joy, a glorious sound assailed our ears – Curlews (Numenius arquata). Each winter they disappear further south – it gets really wild here on the North West Coast of the Highlands so they disappear around October, flying onto the mainland away from the crazy gales and onto the more sheltered coastal marshes. Their cry is melodious and a very real herald of spring. In Glen Drynoch they nest along the shores of Abhainn Drynoch (River Drynoch), grazing for worms and crustaceans in the fields alongside the river. They also spend a great deal of time feeding on grubs in the fields up behind our house, calling to each other against the skyline – it’s quite a sight and always welcome.
Our kitchen faces North, with views up over the fields that range above us. I was gazing out the kitchen window – as you do – and saw what initially looked like a big Thrush flying past. Very quickly however, I realised it wasn’t a Thrush – how could I have been so very wrong – it was our local Kestral, in hot pursuit of an easy breakfast. It was a rotten day, one of many that we have experienced over past months, so hunting was probably pretty rubbish. But you can’t get better than an almost captive audience, a flock of Chaffinches merrily scoffing seeds, nuts and suet from the various feeding stations we have in our back garden. The Kestral is a magnificent hunter, swift and agile and this bird skimmed its way across the garden, aiming with unrelenting speed at its victim. BANG! Job done!
We often hear the cry of the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo), drifting high in the sky, especially during springtime. They sound so much like Eagles but on closer inspection their wings aren’t long enough. The Eagles also fly much higher, soaring in and out of the lower clouds and the difference between their wingspan and body length is phenomenal. Today I was pleasantly surprised to see our local Buzzard on the crest of the hill at the back of our house. A couple of minutes later amid a lot of noise, another Buzzard, clearly her mate, arrived. Watching through the viewfinder of my camera, speedily fitted with zoom lens, I watched as they ‘chatted’ for a while in greeting and then was fascinated to see something I thought I would never see, Buzzards mating. I don’t know where they are nesting, but it is somewhere in our glen, which is thrilling. We hardly saw any last year in fact there was only one, a juvenile, near us all summer.
Also this week, as if by some fairy magic, Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) reappeared, their lilting, incessant call as they fly high in the sky being the first indication that they have returned. Then this morning, whilst cooking breakfast for my hungry guests, what should I see fly in and land on the fruit cage but a pare of Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla lava). Absolutely lovely. How do you tell the difference between Grey and Yellow Wagtails? The Grey, whilst having a yellow breast also have a grey back and both sexes are dark under the chin, whereas the Yellow Wagtail has an olive green back and is white under the chin. We get both here including the Pied Wagtail which is easy to spot, so learning how to differentiate between them can earn you a few ‘brownie points’ especially when you have guests to impress.
It’s going to be an interesting summer, especially as the Wheatears will arrive back soon, and then there will be the youngsters all fluff and part grown feathers. I can’t wait!