Sunday, 17 May 2015

Thoughts on Birds

It's that time of year again, when the birds are suddenly everywhere again. The robin singing from the highest twig, the swallows swooping and trilling in what could only be described as joy, the buzzards whealing and whistling, the wren dotting.

It's the influence of Spook that means that more than ever I am convinced birds have moods, feelings and possibly thoughts. I would challenge anybody that had reared a bird to disagree with me, but I have less worries about putting emotions onto birds than I used to. The rook are nesting at the moment, noisy, but I am hoping more controlled this year. I am hoping not to discover any nestlings that have fallen out the nest again. What happened to Spook? I don't know. My last confirmed sighting was in March, and it was while I was out feeding the sheep in the field. I heard him (despite popular belief all rook calls are very different) and called his name Spooky!. There were three rooks flying overhead (him and his two friends?) and one of them came and circled round above me, all the while calling and looking at me. He then flew on to catch up with the others.

He's done that a couple of times, and there are other unconfirmed sightings, but I really believe that he's still alive - if I saw him in March that means he made it through the worst of the winter weather - but he's fully rook now. He doesn't need us, and as he probably won't be breeding this year, he may have travelled far from his natal site (my home!) to adventure (all information from Coombs 1978 - I've not made this up!) but he might return here to breed in his second year. His absence makes sense, as I do not believe that he would suddenly stop recognising and replying to me.

He's astoundingly beautiful in his adult plumage, and I do experience a thrill any time I see a rook now (which is often - I am often happy nowadays!) because I feel like I have a greater understanding of them. I can appreciate their call, their blackness which is actually a mix of purples, greens, blues and intense blackness, their character and their curiosity. I would love to meet Spook again, maybe when he does start breeding he'll bring his young to see me! but I am immensely proud that he's gone. I had a conversation with a SSPCA officer while I was rearing him, and she could not remember ever having heard about a rook having been hand reared and also going out with other rooks, so we must have done something right. Maybe it was the influence of his two friends - the pair that would sit on the fence until he'd had his breakfast and then call him and take him away for the day - or maybe it's because the rookery was just there and because of that he always knew that he was a rook. Who knows. I believe he's out there, still enjoying his flying, and washing in warm weather. He'll still be making those little crooning noises when he's going off to sleep, and he'll still have the joy in his eye. This is what I wish for him, I just hope it's true! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Of Eagles

In my life I have not seen many golden eagles. I could count my experiences on one hand, and there always remained a doubt in my heart that what I was seeing was not a buzzard.

This was true until Friday the 1st of May (ah, a good sign for a month when it begins with amazing experiences!) when I was out planting with my Trees for Life group at an enclosure on Dundreggan called Allt Fearna. We'd just had lunch and the group had drifted back to the tree planting, when I was called back by my co-focaliser, Mick.

"An eagle!" - he knew how much I longed to see eagles, and there one was, off in the distance, though through the binoculars, perfectly clear. This was the best sighting I had ever had. I could pick out the shape of its tail (proportionally longer but less spread than a buzzard's tail) and could see the extremely long fingers on the wings. These are to help it ride the wind, and it was clear by how fast it was moving, just by tilting those fingers a little, how in control of its flight path it was. Compared to a buzzard it was silent, and did not flap. We kept watching, until, without us really realising (the perils of overusing the binoculars!) he sailed right over our heads! Astonishing. It had travelled a distance of at least 700m in a matter of minutes. All without flapping its wings at all.

Full of wonder, we started to head back to planting, when I was called back again with the words of "there's buzzards mobbing an a good demonstration of size", and well, if ever there was an understatement that was it! A good demonstration of size! Well! The buzzards looked like sparrows, tiny, and of no interest to the eagle at all. A couple of buzzards (a pair? - but then one should have been on the nest, no?) were above the eagle and one would swoop and try to hit the eagle while the other held back, and they would swap over again and again. They were high, very high, astonishingly high, and we kept losing them in the clouds, but the buzzards kept at it, didn't let the eagle break free, although the eagle didn't even seem to notice their presence, never mind try to avoid them.

Eventually they disappeared into the clouds and we did return to our planting. It was a good demonstration of everything eagle. Size, features, flight, majesty... The day of the eagles.

It reminds me of spending time hiking with Mick, and talking about eagle sightings. He gets a lot of people saying to him that they hike in Scotland all the time, but never see eagles. His response: do you ever look up?

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Day off

It had been a hard day, things had happened to remind me of last year and times that I didn't need reminded of. I was feeling a bit hopeless and just wanted the walk to finish.

I was in Glengarry, on a day off from work, and walking by myself to regain some energy. Things were not quite going to plan, and I was struggling until late in the afternoon when I found what I was looking for: peace.

It was the wild boar rootings that drew my attention to the area. I followed them down close to the banks of Loch Garry, where there was a heavily mossed log perfectly placed for me to sit on and to gain wonderful views. It was a combination of this, the sound of the water lapping, and the wild boar that first started to slow my thoughts, and as I became more aware of what was around me my eyes opened and I took more in.

There was a bird. It wasn't the only bird nearby, there were chaffinches and great tits singing, but this one had something about it that helped my mind to pause. I suspected that it was a chiff chaff, but it doesn't really matter what title we give it; it was busy in it's own life with little care for anything else.

Seeking, finding and eating. It was constant activity with perfect flow and motion between birch twig and birch twig. It was seeking the aphids, I suspect, that are currently sucking the sap out of the newly emerging buds. Busyness without thought or care for me, or for anything else. It was just working. There was no song, no calls, nothing except for the simple business of finding food.

The scene was not wild, there was a douglas fir plantation, a fence, wind turbines on the hills and buoys in the loch, but it did not matter. That day it was the peace and wildness inside that I was needing to find, and that bird was the perfect trigger to calm and reassure me of my place in the world.

At times I believe we all need to allow this calm to soak into our bones. We need to breathe again without pressure, and it can be hard to find out how to do this at times, but there's always a way, there will always be a trigger to peace. We just need to open our minds far enough to find it.