Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Wanderings on my Day Off

During a conservation week, you always get a day off, generally the Wednesday. During my day off on the conservation week I was on last week I wanted to walk up and see some caves that I had been told about. There was also a bothy that was of interest, and it turned out that there was a lot more to see on the estate than I had envisioned!

The forest returning
I realised not far into the walk that there was a lot of fenced areas that had been planted by the estate. The first enclosures I came across were generally lying adjacent to the burn, and the trees within were really coming on. It was lovely to see such large areas being planted. It turned out, however, that that was just the start of it, and that the landowners have been carrying out a planting regime for a long time. At least fifteen years, would be my estimation, and when I chatted to the woman that owned the estate she said that they had started because they have black grouse on the estate and not many trees. They're quietly working away to make their estate a more amenable place for these rare birds.

There were a couple of areas that really stood out for me. The caves were disappointing, but the rest of the estate made the entire walk worthwhile.

How did this tree happen? 
There were beautiful, old, structural trees all along the River Doe, with old, hollowed out alders, fallen and re-sprouting birches and rowans galore. Willows also featured in some parts of the river.

Heading up along Sron Badan nam Meann there were more trees that stood out, this auld granny in particular.

Lone survivor
It was a survivor from another age, and the screaming pair of hooded crows that rose from the nest high in the tree's branches was the first hint of it's treasures. Underneath I found pellets of the crows, containing the remains of their prey. Small bones hinted at small mammals caught and eaten, and the unbroken quills of another bird showed that avian prey had also been taken.

The other hint of the power of this auld granny was the ground flora underneath her. In the wider area surrounding the tree were the remains of last years' heather, hare's-tail cottongrass, purple moor-grass and sphagnums. Underneath the pine was a blanket of blaeberry, cowberry and glittering wood moss (Hylocomium splendens - if you know no other moss, know this one); remnants of the old forest maintained by the longevity of the pine.


It's shape showed how battered by the elements it had been, and the overall low profile demonstrated why it had lasted so long, when more traditionally shaped ones will have been blown over a long time ago. The forest is returning around this tree, so soon it will not stand alone, but I hope it lasts long enough to show those young'uns how it's done.

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Overall a heavenly walk. There are times in life when you need to be able to breathe, when you can feel as though you're being crushed. It doesn't take much to escape the rest of humanity and to find a place where the world sings to you again. It's essential to us all, I think, to have some place that is an escape to us, and I think it should be mandatory that we are allowed to do this.

My brother, not a spiritual person by any means, always finds a place by water to sit and contemplate while he's out walking. There do not have to be words to explain this, but an act like that can be all that's required to keep you at peace with yourself and the world around you. We try to fit so much into our lives in these fast paced days, and we leave ourselves no room for error. This was brought home to me recently when I carried out my first conservation week for TfL. I was so critical of myself and how I had been that I was reaching the stage where I thought I was unable to lead these weeks, especially gutting when you realise how many years I have wanted to be part of the great focaliser tradition for. It took listening to others to realise that maybe I hadn't done too badly after all. I was by no means perfect, but it was the first time I had ever led a week, and it's always good to have room for improvement, is it not?

It's good to have a reminder that we're okay, but it's beyond essential to have an escape and to be able to leave the world behind. There are some people that seem to be okay without this, and there are some, me included, that are most absolutely not okay with this precious solitude lacking. There are few people that I can be around for a long period of time, and one of those people is the one that I wish I was with right now. Preferably up a mountain, feeding a wee wood mouse.

Earbsadh - gaelic for confidence, trust, hope, reliance 


Monday, 21 April 2014

Spook the Rook

I am currently the lucky caretaker of a young rook that fell out his nest.

Spook the Rook.

I estimate that he's a couple of weeks old, from reading rooky literature and from his size and feather advancement. Rooks hatch when they're bald and blind, from eggs approximately 5cm long, beautiful pale blue with brown splodges on them (I find these on the ground underneath the rookery when the chicks have hatched).

He sleeps and grooms a lot, and eats cat food eagerly. I've tried him on other foods as well, like little chunks of cheese (he took two of these and then refused to open his beak for any others), avocado which he loved, and I will continue to experiment! He lets me know when he's hungry by screaming for food, roughly every two hours. It's amazing to get a chance to do this, actually, because it's very interesting to see his behaviour from a zoological point of view. He makes lovely little squawking noises when he's contented, especially just before going to sleep - when he's tucking his head underneath his wing and making happy noises you know he's about to have a good 'un.

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Asking (begging) for food
He loves to perch, although he can't yet balance to sleep and perch at the same time, so I lift him onto his perch for him to feed then help him down to sleep. He'll soon be able to do that all by himself, I'm sure, and he's getting used to being handled in a certain way - getting to know how to move from the perch onto my fingers and vice versa.

I call him 'he' just to make it easier, but I am well aware that he may be a lady bird. For me, there's no way of telling right now, and from the book I'm reading at the moment (Corvus: A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson) until (s)he starts to lay eggs and get to that age there's no way. If anyone out there knows how to sex a corvid then let me know! This book is actually turning into a fount of knowledge. I bought it accidentally when a book shop ordered the wrong book for me, and never read it, but now that I have the responsibility for a wee rook then it suddenly became a very handy reference indeed. But, if anyone has any advice please, please, please do get in touch! A lot of what I'm doing is guess work, and I really don't want to do harm through good intentions.


Falling from a nest will normally not be good news for a rook. The rookery is located too high for anyone to put the bird back in, and cats and foxes will finish any youngsters off pretty quickly. We were aware of Spook having fallen out for most of the day prior to me picking him up, and he wasn't receiving any attention from the adult rooks up above. With night falling and both cats and foxes in the area, as well as a hard frost being due, I made the decision to look after him. I could have taken the chance to see if he was going to be there in the morning, but I just couldn't leave him.

I'll keep you all updated on progress as he grows, but he's a lovely little thing, and is developing a character all of his own. Well, I say that, but all rooks may have the same quirks, but he's the only one I've ever had a close encounter with, and it's a privilege to have a chance to see him grow up. I will be releasing him to the wild as soon as he is able to survive by himself, and if my estimations of his age are correct then he should be flying before I leave for Spain in two weeks. I'll be making sure he can forage for food, before then, teaching him rooky teachings in any way that I can. As I said, any advice very greatly appreciated!

From me and Spook - have a nice day :)

Thoughts While Walking

It is times like these that I believe. Believe in my power of being, of doing, of seeing and of understanding. I am extraordinarily lucky to be here, right now. Just hit by a sudden happiness of rightness. I have a joy outside my job, my personal life or my expectations and it's a joy of the moment. Of being healthy and feeling strong. Of being in an incredibly beautiful place and knowing my destination awaits with hopefulness. The sky is ever-shifting, the curlew are crying and the river is singing it's ever-changing song.

Here, in this moment, I can feel both the constancy and the transience of the landscape.

And that feeling is pure, unadulterated joy.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Lambing Tales

This past fortnight has been Lambing Live on our farm. All stations go. And it's mainly fallen to me to look after them most of the time as I'm the only one at home during the day.

I cannot remember the last time that I felt so utterly tired. I'm busy all day, and then I don't sleep properly because I have dreams that the ewes are all lambing badly - breach, dead lambs, other ewes are stealing them, big lambs stuck.... and then when I check them they're all just lying sleeping, farting away. Then in the day, I'm very tied. And I do love that, I love this work, and the sense of reward is just immense, but there is no time of day that you can switch off. It's not like I can return home after a day of work and then don't think about my work until the next time I'm there - I am thinking, dreaming, sleeping lambing. I even smell terrible (must wash waterproofs before my Conservation Week), and feel like the smell is lingering around me. Lovely smells in the lambing shed of milk, and warmth and sheepy-thought, not so nice on a person.

We have had one lamb die - it was an extremely difficult birth and he was literally too big, and died shortly after birth. We bought two spare lambs from a neighbouring farmer and the mother now successfully has two perfect lambs! I admit that I cried buckets at the lamb dying. It's such a gutting thing, when so much energy has been put into it, and then it dies, but you cannot save every single one.

I'm so utterly weary that I cry a lot at the moment, with sadness and frustration and happiness. Luckily, on the whole, happiness is winning. It's a lovely thing, the lambing shed. It's a place where I feel very happy. I just wish that I was slightly more awake for it all!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Home Competition II

Ah hah, that competition I was talking about a few weeks ago? It's here:

www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/stories-of-home

Go on and enter, I got something published in a wee book last time, and if I can do it, so can you! I'll never forget finding out that I was one of the winners. I was in a B&B in Aberfeldy and I literally screamed. The colleague I was with only heard about that for the rest of the evening. It was beyond exciting, and I still can't quite believe it.

So, yes. Enter! Go on, give it a shot ;)