Walks bring pleasant sights

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On the days when the weather has been favourable, walking has been very pleasant and one Sunday morning I set off just as the sun was rising.

As I was walking alongside a hedgerow, consisting of a tangle of rose hips, hawthorn bushes, beech and honeysuckle, flocks of small birds were flying from bush to bush, keeping just ahead of me. I stopped to have a closer look and to see if I could identify the different species. There were all the usual suspects - tree sparrows, loads of chaffinches, some tits - but among these were some yellowhammers and then my eyes alighted on the streaky back of another small bird. I waited for it to turn around, as I knew what it was. Sure enough, confirmation came as it turned its head and I saw the telltale crimson, thumbprint smudge on its forehead. It was a redpoll a lovely little bird and as I sanded the flock, I picked out five more.

Turning away from the hedge and heading along the edge of a spruce wood, I stopped again to listen more carefully for the high pitched, at times almost in audible peep of gold crests. It is a sound that is incredibly difficult to pinpoint, so all that I could do was to watch for quick movements among the branches and try to get my binoculars onto them and focused before they moved, which is easier said than done! Gold rests are very active, acrobatic, tiny birds, with round bodies, quite large boot button eyes and a flash of orange-yellow and black stripes across the crown of their heads. Incredibly, they weigh just five grams or a fifth of an ounce. As you can imagine, that means that harsh winters can be very hard on their populations. As I watched this little group flitting around like little fat fairies among the branches, constantly on the move, a flutter of wings as they dangled from a branch or leapt from twig to twig picking off small spiders and insects, I marvelled that something so small and seemingly fragile could survive a winter at all.

After watching the mischievous magpies in town a few weeks ago, I have become aware that there seem to be a lot more magpies around my area than in previous years. During my walk, I saw three different pairs and then heard another two calling from deep in the wood. for a good number of years, The other birds had better watch out come nesting time as magpies are prone to raiding nests, taking both eggs and chicks.

Now for a quick update on the barn owl that I have been nursing back to health after an eye injury. Sadly, the iris of the eye is permanently damaged the puncture would to the centre of the eye having penetrated more deeply than at first thought. This means that its eyesight is compromised and as it relies so much on its sit for hunting, it was thought that it would be unable to hunt successfully. However, it has found a new home at a wildlife rescue centre, where it can live the rest of its life in a large aviary. It is sad, as I had real hopes of it being returned to the wild, but at least it was saved from a long, slow death from starvation or infection.

Another barn owl came to me last week, starving and thin, but otherwise healthy. I think that, coming to me after a spell of very wet nights, it was perhaps an inexperienced, young bird, unable to hunt during the poor weather. A week of feeding up and it was ready to go. A very helpful, interested and wildlife-friendly farmer allowed me to release it in a large abandoned barn near to where it was found and I have seen a barn owl hunting close by since then. I hope that it was the same bird and that a little help to get it through a lean spell will have saved the loss of one of these beautiful birds.

We were over on the west coast again, at the Clyde estuary, during the very stormy weather. In order to get there, we passed Glasgow Airport and took the Greenock road. Just a few fields away from the terminal, with planes taking off and landing constantly as a backdrop, were over one hundred whooper swans and, liberally scattered among them, we’re several hundred geese and a few ducks. They seemed the most unlikely of bedfellows, the busy airport with its noisy aircraft and the rural scene of the flooded stubble field full of birds.

Passing Langbank, which sits right on the coast at the estuary, brought back many happy memories for me, as it was one of my regular bird watching sites in my younger years, due to the large number of waders attracted to the huge area of exposed mudflats when the tide is out. It was late afternoon as we drove along the road, which runs right on the edge of the water and the atmospheric depression had caused a very high tide. The water was lapping at the roadside and the wind was sending large sprays of seawater over the Tarmac. The exceptionally high tide covering the mudflats had paushed the waders over the road and the fields on the other side were full of hundreds of them, mainly oystercatchers and lapwings, huddling around the pools of floodwater. there were other waders too, but it was the sheer volume of these two species that was spectacular. Unlike the day that I had my walk at home, this was not weather for a trek, but I contented myself with studying them from inside. Quite a change from my younger days, standing knee deep in thick, stinky mud, with binoculars pressed to my eyes.