Saturday, 24 June 2017

Corncraking

We were visiting Barra to undertake corncrake surveys, as well as do some school work.

I'd gone over the day before James, the field officer, arrived, and went into a small school to do a session with the P1-4. It was brilliant, and after that, I went for a nap, and awoke again in time to start corncraking at midnight.

It was a clear night. Still, beautiful moon and not dark yet. In fact, that entire night never got truly dark. It was glorious. Except, those conditions are not great for corncrakes, as I discovered.

It was silence. Even the corncrake in the campsite was quiet, despite the fact that it had been craking all evening before that. And thus it was the whole survey. In areas where I was expecting a cacophony of craking, there was an eerie silence. I was very aware of how alone I was doing this survey, and the silence was forboding.

I finished up, and was in my tent, asleep, by half past 3.

The next day was another great day. I woke late (of course!) and went and carried out various other surveys on the island, getting to know more of the route in order to survey new areas that night. James was coming over on the afternoon ferry, so once I'd collected him we headed down for some fish and chips in Castlebay.

That night there was no napping as we had a public walk to run, which started at half past 9. We finished at 11, headed back to the campsite to get ready and then headed out on the survey again.

We were tired. It was better conditions than the night before, with better cloud cover, but it was still eerily silent in places where there should have been corncrakes. On Vatersay, we 'rescued' a rabbit: a 2am haze meant that we (I) was convinced that the rabbit needed saving. As we were to discover, it was a wild living pet, who was friends with the locals and their cats, and was very happy where he was! He came back with us to holiday on the Uists, anyway.

Later, at about 4am, when we were almost back at the campsite, I was conversing with myself. James was asleep, and I was in a enough of a sleep-deprived delirium to be unaware that his answers weren't making real sense to my questions. When I stopped the car to get out and cuddle a kitten, his bemused face just wondered what on earth was going on!

We slept, and woke to rain, which we needed to pack our tents up in. I don't think either of us slept well in the three hours we had to sleep, so there wasn't a lot of chatter on the way to the ferry. And this time round, there was no getting out to look at the gannets and the seals, we both managed to sleep in the van on the way back. We arrived back on Eriskay, just as James had reached a nice dream stage and just as I had fallen asleep. Great timing...

Further up the road we met up with Jamie, the RSPB reserve manager, to go and survey for a particular nest. We thought we'd be okay, but our footsteps were becoming smaller and smaller and our speed dropped right down. Eventually, Jamie admitted defeat and left us in a gully while he went on. It wasn't a hard decision to know what we were going to do: sleep.

I found a perfect, Heather-sized nook in the vegetation, curled up and slept almost immediately. James, just recovering from Lyme Disease, slept on the rocks. It remains one of the best sleeps I've ever had!

Woke to share Jamie's lunch and then walk back to the cars. And then home. And then to bed to sleep for as long as possible!

That was my first Barra trip, and sums up the absolute exhaustion that both James and I experienced that day. I've always been one for enjoying a nap in the hills when out and about, but this was something else altogether. This was absolutely, 100% required, and by gum, I have the utmost respect for all the corncrake surveyors out there that work that 12-3am shift every night from mid-May to mid-July. Just glad it's not me!

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