Flytipping – a rant.

I get incensed by the flytipping in our countryside. There are fridges in laybys, carpets in ditches and builders’ bags full of rubbish of all sorts dumped at field gateways. It seems in Perthshire that the council has given up collecting flytipped rubbish; there has been a pile of tree branches at a field gate near my house since the springtime. The farmer has had to push it aside to get in the gate and it’s been added to since by fresh branches and other garden rubbish. Further up there is a builder’s bag full of what looks like plumbing detritus dumped in a passing place. It has been there for at least two months. As well as the dumping of this waste being a disgrace it is no less a disgrace that the council hasn’t removed it.

The rubbish dumped in the stubble field

The latest arrival on this country road is a huge pile of household rubbish lying 30 metres into a stubble field. The person dumping it has driven into the field in what must be a tipper lorry (since part of the load is still tied together by ropes) and slid it off into the field. This is now the responsibility of the unfortunate farmer to remove it. What a bloody pity the lorry didn’t get stuck!

Since many of the fields are now used for crops rather than livestock a lot of them no longer have gates. I notice that the tenant farmers along this road have now placed a round straw bale at any gateway to stop vehicles getting into the field.

It is time there is a concerted effort to stop flytipping. It is the scourge of the countryside and yet another drain on council resources. What might help would be to have a section of the local newspaper for photos of the most likely rubbish to be identified so that information about suspects can be passed to the council. The police are already overstretched but I’m sure there could be an agreement for an officer to accompany council staff if they have to visit and interview suspects to gain evidence. Decent penalties handed down by courts would also help, as well as publicity of convictions (though convictions are as scarce as hens’ teeth). Forfeiture of the vehicle used would be another worthwhile consideration for courts and might make flytippers think twice.

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Book review – Birding in an Age of Extinctions by Martin Painter

When I started to read this book I was doubtful that I would enjoy it. I am neither a birder nor a twitcher though I love to observe birds that I encounter during walks or even in my garden. However the author tells the stories very well of his visits to countries all over the world, and includes information on some of the countries’ human residents and one or two of the mammals. The accounts are really interesting and told in plain language. While some scientific information is necessary there is a welcome absence of too much technical detail.

Martin Painter starts off with the enigma of a bird he saw in Ecuador that for years has defied taxonomic classification. This immediately got my attention and I warmed to his identification skills and knowledge. The bird is aptly named Sapayoa aenigma. He next looked for the impossible: a bird in Halmahera, an island in Indonesia, for a bird named the Invisible Rail. Not surprisingly he didn’t see it but certainly managed to hear it.

The book is full of fascinating visits to a wide range of countries in search of birds that the author has never seen before and that he can add to his list. He also explains in detail the types of lists kept by various birders and twitchers, acknowledging that in some cases the person is more interesting in the expanding list than the birds he (or she, but mostly he) is seeing.

As well as the accounts of his searches for birds, the author describes the reason for the disappearance, even the extermination, of various bird species. Mostly these are down to human activity: ‘Most rare birds are rare not because of evolution over many millenia but because of relatively recent human activity.’ These activities include deforestation, disturbance, overfishing and global warming. In Cambodia he witnessed timber smuggling, even to the extent that locals were carrying logs over the border to Vietnam on the back of their motorcycles: ‘We watched the forest disappearing down the road, piece by piece, into the distance.’  

In Norfolk Island, part of the Australian Territory in the Pacific Ocean, the author describes why some species have gone extinct and how conservation efforts have halted habitat destruction just in time. Nevertheless he concludes that worldwide ‘the level of threats to species, if left unchecked, could shortly reduce life on the planet to a pale shadow of its current (much less its former) state.’ I’m sure Sir David Attenborough would concur.

Birding in an Age of Extinctions has an abundance of colour photographs showing many of the species seen by the author. I’m confident that the book will appeal to anyone with an interest in birds, though it will be a must-read for the real birding enthusiasts. 

Birding in an Age of Extinctions, Martin Painter. Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, KW6 6EG. £18.99

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Discovery of wooden trap set for raptor – publicity v justice?

In mid-September two wooden traps of a type I haven’t seen before were found inside a pheasant release pen in woodland in Shropshire. They were almost certainly set for raptors. One of the traps had already caught a buzzard and the other was still set, baited with a dead pheasant. The person who found the traps filmed them and sent footage to the Hunt Saboteurs’ Association (HSA).

Screen grab from the footage taken by the finder of the trap

Film footage was also obtained of an identifiable suspect entering the release pen, removing the traps and trying to remove evidence of their former presence. This footage appears to have been captured on two static surveillance cameras. Did the person finding the traps happen to have two trail cameras in his pocket, was he (or she?) actively looking for illegal traps or were they subsequently (and very quickly) set in place by the HSA? The result is that footage was gained and widely circulated, spotlighting illegal activity.

I understand that the police have been informed and given the footage though it seems that the ‘investigators’ up to this point have been members of the public. Publicity has been achieved but at what cost to evidence that would convict the person responsible?

Courts are wary of accepting evidence obtained by members of the public unless they have genuinely stumbled across a crime. I suspect that CPS will not use the footage. Had the proper authority, the police, been informed right at the outset what could they have done? I can understand the concerns of HSA since police officers arriving in a marked vehicle or in uniform would be quickly spotted and there is a real risk that word would be passed to the suspect.

The main advantage would have been the recovery of the traps or an opportunity, if the police thought worthwhile, to use a contaminant that could identify the suspect once he handled the traps. The risk with this, of course, would be leaving the traps set. Unfortunately, the police couldn’t deploy surveillance cameras on ‘private’ land (though this facility is now available in Scotland but takes time to obtain the required authority).

The police still have an opportunity to obtain evidence to convict, especially if traps or component parts can be linked to the suspect. The person finding the traps claimed that there are many Larsen traps, snares and Fenn traps set on the estate. Larsen traps set in September could be interesting and set Fenn traps are most certainly of police interest. I used to find that, if searching an estate for one particular illegal activity, several other types of wildlife crime were usually discovered, in contrast to estates that worked within the law. In this case the interview of the suspect will be interesting.

Despite the fact that I am always annoyed when members of the public embark on an ‘investigation’ rather than contact the police immediately I can understand their reluctance to do so. For a variety of reasons there may not be a positive reaction to the complaint carried out at the speed necessary in cases like this. Unless a wildlife crime officer is available some officers have little knowledge of traps and wildlife crime. In this case deviating from the recognised procedure has resulted in publicity with still a slight chance of convicting the person responsible. Publicity versus justice. Or is the exposure of wildlife crime the best justice that can be hoped for?

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Book review: The Science of Hope – eye to eye with our world’s wildlife by Dr Wiebke Finkler and Scott Davis

The Science of Hope is a lovely coffee table book looking at a variety of charismatic animals that are all under some degree of threat from the greed and habitat-destruction of Man. The chapters on each species are relatively short and don’t go overboard with complex detail, yet they contain sufficient information for almost everyone to come away with new-found knowledge.

Animals included in the book are whales, bears, great white sharks, big cats, elephants, kangaroos and great apes. Most of my newly-gained knowledge came from the smallest species: Monarch butterflies. They have a truly amazing life cycle which is detailed in the chapter covering these beautiful butterflies.

Each chapter ends with a case study by an expert on the particular species, many of whom have worked with their subject for many years. Despite the different threats to the species, the case study always finishes with a message of hope. These include reintroductions, conservation measures, education, awareness-raising or responsible tourism.

The photography throughout the book, which take up roughly half of the volume, is first class and certainly as good as I have seen in this type of book.

The book was a delight to read and it is a credit to the author and photographer. It will most certainly appeal to anyone who has even a modicum of interest in wildlife.

The Science of Hope by Dr Wiebke Finkler and Scott Davis. Exisle Publishing Pty Ltd, 226 High Street, Dunedin, 9016, New Zealand. £19.99.

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A visiting pine marten

There is little doubt that pine martens are becoming much more widespread. I was first aware of them in my area west of Perth when on 7th October 2018 I found a pine marten scat on a cobblestone edging in my garden and right beside a bridge over a narrow burn. The scat was cherry red in colour and the marten must have had a real feast of berries. I began to hear of other pine martens being seen in the area during daylight hours, the nearest being 100 yards from my garden. I think pine martens are fabulous animals though I did fear for my hens and ducks should they visit me.

The pine marten scat

They may well have been visiting my garden since 2018 but I had no other evidence until one turned up on my trail cam crossing the bridge beside where I’d found the scat. This was just after 0400 on 15th August this year. The camera failed to work for the next few nights as the batteries needed to be changed but, with new batteries, the lovely mammal reappeared crossing the bridge just before 0200 on 20th August. With a rear view I could now see it was a male.

My first view of a pine marten in the garden

I toyed briefly (very briefly) with thoughts of setting out bread and jam nightly to get better images of the marten but the knowledge that this put my hens and ducks at even more risk put this idea to bed. Provided the marten only visits once I have locked my poultry up for the night they should be safe, but there is no guarantee that it won’t make a daytime visit. If it did kill some of my poultry I’d be annoyed but at the same time I realise that it’s a predator and that’s what predators do: they kill prey species. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen.

Periodically we have red squirrels. I know that most red squirrels will avoid becoming a marten’s meal as they are more agile and can also escape via slender branches that wouldn’t take a beefy marten’s weight. I wonder though how safe a red squirrel would be sleeping soundly in its drey overnight. Whatever the answer to that question is they have existed together for millenia so a predator/prey balance must have been struck.

The pine marten’s second visit

At mid-morning on 16th August a liberal scattering of woodpigeon feathers appeared on the drive outside the front door. They hadn’t been there an hour and a half earlier. I assumed a woodpigeon had been caught by a female sparrowhawk and thought little more about it.  Later that day I found the remains of the woodpigeon lying just off the drive under some bushes. It was a young pigeon that had just fledged and its back had been eaten, though the predator hadn’t really had a huge feast. I wondered then about a mammalian predator, and this was confirmed when I examined the feathers and found the shafts had been chewed rather than plucked. So was the predator a cat or was it a pine marten? If it was a pine marten the young wood pigeon may even have been taken out of a nest in one of the mature fir trees beside the drive. I doubt if I’ll ever get the answer to the woodpigeon’s demise.

So I’m happy (albeit slightly nervous) about a visiting pine marten, though I’ll (reluctantly) avoid giving it any encouragement.

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Calls from the Wild – a wildlife crime novel by Alan Stewart

“I doubt if I’d have the creativity to write a work of fiction,” I have often said. I have written seven factual books on wildlife and wildlife crime. The writing of these seemed to come to me quite naturally given that I have been interested in nature all of my 74 years and have been involved in various aspects of policing over nearly 50 years, the last 28 of which were solely involved in wildlife crime detection and prevention. For the last few years I have toyed with the idea of starting to write a wildlife crime novel. Having now done just that it didn’t seem as unattainable a task as I had imagined, in fact I really enjoyed the writing, especially as it filled in time during the lockdown periods we’ve all had to suffer.

The book draws on experience I have gained over my years involved in farming, my knowledge of gamekeepers (mostly good, some bad, one or two absolutely wicked), working with many conservationists, my love of the countryside but most of all my service with the former Perth and Kinross Constabulary, the former Tayside Police and with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit.

PC Bob McKay is the principal character in Calls from the Wild. He is the overworked wildlife crime liaison officer with the Tayside Division of Police Scotland, though his work probably mirrors the work of most wildlife or rural crime officers in police forces throughout the UK.

A bird of prey poisoning on a Highland estate has tragic results and pitches Bob against organised crime interests on a driven grouse moor. Loch Garr Estate is a recent acquisition of Nigel Roberts, a ruthless sporting agent turned landowner who appears to be untouchable. Bringing the case to court with all his skills, experience of crime detection and expert help in forensic investigation, becomes the biggest challenge of his career.

Alongside this major investigation Bob must also deal with a deluge of other wildlife crimes including hare coursing, illegal snaring, the theft of snowdrop bulbs, badger digging and the destruction of a stretch of river where freshwater pearl mussels formerly thrived. Bob drives the length and breadth of Perthshire and beyond responding to urgent calls from the wild, with only Scottish country dance music for company.

Through the jigs and reels only one thought keeps him going – getting Roberts and his gamekeeper before a court. But will either of them ever see the inside of a prison cell?

Calls from the Wild, Thirsty Books, £10.

Calls from the Wild is presently with the printer and will be available shortly. Copies can be pre-ordered from www.thirstybooks.com

Signed or personalised copies can be ordered from me at wildlifedetective@gmail.com

PRAISE FOR CALLS FROM THE WILD

Well done to Alan Stewart using fiction to highlight the state of wildlife crime in Scotland. Calls from the Wild is both a good read, and very informative – a must for all of those interested in our wildlife.  

  • Eddie Palmer, Chair, Scottish Badgers

This powerful story pulls no punches, and although a work of fiction, is a stark illustration of the appalling impact these crimes can have on wildlife and people, and the efforts required to bring them to justice. Alan Stewart has transferred his many years of experience of rising to the challenges of investigating complex wildlife crime cases onto the pages of this book.

  • Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland

Alan Stewart is a legend of wildlife crime enforcement. This thrilling tale and its cast of characters draws on his unparalleled experience and knowledge.

  • Matt Cross, Journalist and Shooting Times Contributor

Calls from the Wild is an immensely enjoyable and informative read. Alan Stewart has dedicated his life to protecting Scotland’s wildlife, and his knowledge and experience shines out from these pages.

  • Tom Bowser, Argaty Red Kites

If you are interested in wildlife crime investigation you will enjoy Calls from the Wild.

The challenges a wildlife crime officer faces in getting to the bottom of cases, particularly in the closed world of gamekeeping where whistle blowers are scarce, are very apparent.

Spoiler alert – the amount of tea and biscuits consumed and the obsession with Scottish music are all true, just ask the author!

  • Bob Elliot, Former RSPB Head of Investigations, Director OneKind

Alan has written many books and this one, possibly his most interesting, is fiction but based on fact.  There are lots of good guys in the “Wild”, mainly farmers, and lots of baddies as well.  Not all the gamekeepers are baddies, fortunately, but the same cannot be said about some of their fictional employers.

  • Dr Colin Shedden, Director Scotland, British Association for Shooting and Conservation
  •  

Alan Stewart draws on his long experience to provide a detailed insight into the wide range of wildlife crimes a busy Wildlife Crime Officer may have to deal with.  In addition to the complexities of the legislation and the value of modern forensic methods, it also highlights the clear risks these cases can bring to people as well as wildlife.  These crimes will be a real eye-opener to many readers.

  • Guy Shorrock, Senior Investigations Officer, RSPB HQ
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A pig in the close – a response to @WYP_CNewsome

‘Having been called a ‘F***ing Pig’ several times, the other day, I didn’t dwell on it. Yawning faceFace with rolling eyes I love pigs!’

This is part of a tweet the other day by PC Caroline Newsome (@WYP_CNewsome), who is an experienced and dedicated wildlife crime officer in West Yorkshire Police. She was quite right to ignore the comment, invariably made by folk who are too stupid to be able to indulge in any sensible conversation. Very often, when someone utters this type of insult towards a police officer, it can result in the police having the last laugh, as I recounted in part of a chapter of my first book, Wildlife Detective:-

‘It crossed my mind at the time that over the last forty years I have hidden behind bushes and in a variety of other places waiting to pounce on someone who was involved in some crime or other. One such ambush that comes readily to mind was an attempt to catch youths that had begun a stoning campaign against police vehicles. Like every town or city, Perth has its rougher areas and in one of the more run-down streets, when any police vehicle passed along in the early hours of the morning, youths started to hurl stones and half bricks at it. They then ran round the corner into the next street and disappeared into one or other of the three tenement closes.

‘This stoning had occurred twice on our night shift and we were getting a bit fed up with it. I was a sergeant at the time and I told the car crew for that area that I would quietly go through the back gardens and wait in one of the closes so that I could grab at least one of the culprits as they ran through in the darkness. I use the term ‘garden’ here in its loosest possible sense to include scrub, long unkempt grass, broken fencing, all manner of rubbish and the booby traps left by the myriad of mongrels on the housing estate to stick to the feet of the unwary nocturnal visitor. The officers in the car were to give me time to get into position then drive along the street.

‘I had been out the back of the houses in the area sufficiently often in daylight that I was confident I could navigate in the darkness. It was about 1.30 am as made my way to the middle close of the three and stood in the darkness, waiting. The street outside was well lit and I was standing back a few feet into the close but still able hear what was happening outside. I intended to move back a few feet further once I heard the thunder of hooves so that I was behind a right-angled bend in the close leading to one of the ground floor doors and my hand could come unseen out of the darkness and snatch one of the retreating rogues whose antagonism towards the police had gone just a bit too far.

‘When dealing with young people who for a number of reasons rebel against any type of authority, there is a line in the sand over which they generally know not to cross. Police officers put up with – either good naturedly or with gritted teeth – name calling, a range of cat-calls, whistling and hissing. Mental pressure we largely ignore, or bear in mind for another day. Physical assault needs a prompt and effective response.

‘The officers told me by radio that they had started to drive up the street, then minutes later that stones were being thrown at the car as they came near the end of the street. The group of about six or seven yobs was now hot-footing it in my direction. I heard them coming and was about to step back further into the close when I heard shouting coming out of the darkness from the school playing fields at the top of a steep grass banking on the other side of the road, and at a height considerably above the level of the road.

‘Plainly some of the youths’ pals, for whatever nefarious purpose, were in the school grounds and had spotted me in the close. One was shouting at the top of his voice to warn his chums, “There’s a pig in the close. There’s a pig in the close. Watch out, there’s a pig in the close!” I could hear him clearly but for whatever reason the runners heading towards me either didn’t hear him, chose to ignore him, or maybe, with their entrepreneurial hats on, thought that it was a real pig in the close that they could make into a pet or, more likely and practically, convert into bacon butties. Whatever their thoughts were they came hurtling through the close and I managed to catch not one but two and held on to the struggling bodies until my colleagues came to my assistance. The two being arrested put an end to the stone throwing and I’ve had many a laugh recounting the story of the ‘pig in the close’. It was an enjoyable night altogether.’

For more information on my books and how to purchase signed copies see this blog under ‘My Books’

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To shoot a woodpigeon – or not?

An article appeared in the Shooting Time magazine some months ago claiming that on 30th January an individual had shot ten different species in a day. The article was titled A Perfect Ten. The species claimed to be shot were fox, rabbit, crow, red-legged partridge, woodcock, mallard, teal, pheasant, pigeon (in the photo it looks like a woodpigeon) and jay. The shooting apparently took place in England.

Woodpigeons

There has been some debate about the legality of shooting some of the species. I started to look at the general licences as they apply to England, but quickly came to the conclusion that they were difficult to understand and nowhere near as clearly laid out as those that apply in Scotland. This is unfortunate as it creates a problem for many folks who shoot, while at the same time making a police investigation and subsequent CPS prosecution more complex than it should be. I decided to look at how shooting these species might be considered had it taken place in Scotland.

In Scotland the two mammals, fox and rabbit, have limited legislative protection. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act the rabbit may only be shot by a landowner or a person with the landowner’s permission. It is assumed that the shooter in this case fell into one of those categories. Strangely I can see nothing in wildlife legislation to prevent anyone with or without permission going on to land and shooting a fox, though the offence of trespassing on land with a firearm under the Firearms Act is relevant.

It is worth remembering that all wild birds are protected. The red-legged partridge, woodcock, mallard and teal are all species that may be shot by authorised persons outwith the close season, otherwise an offence is committed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Since the shooting allegedly took place on 30th January it had been carried out legally.

Looking now at the jay, a jay may only be killed under one general licence, General Licence No 1, provided that the terms and conditions of the licence have been met. Under this licence it may only be killed for the protection of wild birds where there is no other satisfactory solution. Unless the shooter can come up with a very good defence, shooting a jay on 30th January, which is outwith the nesting season, could well result in a police investigation and a report for prosecution.

The woodpigeon may be killed under General Licence No 2, again provided that the terms and conditions of the licence have been met. Under this licence it may only be killed to prevent serious damage to crops where there is no other satisfactory solution. Shooting a woodpigeon on 30th January, unless it has been shot, for instance, over a field of oil seed rape, could well result in prosecution.

Carrion crow

Lastly the crow.  It may be killed under General Licences 1 and 2 and under the same terms and conditions as already described. A person shooting it on 30th January may struggle to come up with a valid reason for doing so.

To my knowledge, since the licence conditions were tightened, there has not yet been a prosecution for an offence which breaches a general licence (which would either be under the Wildlife and Countryside Act or the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act). It would be interesting to hear a sheriff’s view of the licence conditions. When I used to shoot it was common for woodpigeons, jays, magpies, crows and even rooks and jackdaws to be shot at any time of the year; indeed I have shot some of these species myself when they were neither harming wild birds, crops or livestock. Most folks who shot had never heard of a general licence, far less read and understood one. We are in different times now, and those who shoot must adjust. A court may well decide that species listed on general licences may no longer simply be shot for sport or on sight.

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Another day out on Rottal Estate in Glen Clova

I had another lovely walk on Rottal Estate in Glen Clova on Saturday. Estate owner Dee Ward explained where I was most likely to see a ring ouzel on the estate as that’s a bird I haven’t seen for years. There were three options. When I looked at options 1 and 2 they each involved a pretty steep gradient. I knew that option 3 was a more gentle slope to start with then almost level after that so the decision was made.

I headed out the hill to the fork in the track where I should go to the right across a ford. Already I’d seen and heard plenty of lapwings and curlews. I’d also heard a skylark singing right above me. It had risen from the heather just ahead and its song was one of the best birdsongs in spring. When I reached the ford it was far too deep to tackle with just boots. I also saw that a mile or so further on there was a tractor working noisily with a huge roller flattening the hill track. At the snail’s pace the machine was going it would arrive at the place where the ring ouzels were likely to be at the same time as me. The further complication was getting over the burn. At 74 I’m not so good at rock hopper penguin impersonations and I’d no wish to get wet. I’d even less wish for my camera to get wet. The decision was made to abandon the chance of seeing a ring ouzel and to continue out the hill on the left fork.

The number of lapwings and curlews was inspiring. The lapwings were largely silent but there was a series of calls from curlews, especially the bubbling call for which this bird is so well known. Many of the calls were coming from the area of a marshy part of the hill on the far side of the burn and I was sure that this area would be a favourite for them nesting, with plenty food available to be retrieved from the damp earth by their long, curved bills.

I tramped on up the hill but suddenly my attention was drawn to frantic alarm calls from lapwings and curlews. I looked over and there were about a dozen lapwings and almost as many curlews mobbing a short-eared owl. The owl was coincidentally flying towards the area of scree and rocks where I’d hoped to see ring ouzels. It wasn’t in hunting mode and was minding its own business, maybe even carrying prey to a nest somewhere. Its entourage of alarmed birds followed it for a couple of hundred yards until it disappeared out of sight. The owl may then have disturbed a dozen or so common gulls, as suddenly they appeared flying in the direction that the owl had just come, and presenting another threat to the lapwings and curlews, which now turned their attention to them until the gulls turned and retreated. It was a good indication of just how many nesting birds were on the flat area to my right as I walked up the hill.

Further on, as I neared the shooting hut, I was aware of three sand martins hunting up the burn. They’re never too far from where they are nesting but there wasn’t an obvious sand bank that I could see. I crossed another ford (this time not deep enough to come over the tops of my boots) and went to the shooting hut to sit for a while and watch the sand martins. I pied wagtail flew from under the roof of the veranda. I could see three swallows’ nests in the eaves. All were last year’s nests and, typical of unusual spring, there were no swallows about to reclaim them. One had been reclaimed by the pied wagtail and the dry grass sticking over the edge differentiated it from the other two; their previous hirundine occupants would only have lined the nests with feathers, though some dry grass would have been incorporated into the mud for strength.

I sat on a rock observing the sand martins, at the same time being observed by a male wheatear who sat on a cairn (its mate may well have been on a nest inside the cairn). The three sand martins never landed but the only place where they came near to the ground was at a part of the hill track where there had been a bit of subsidence. That looked most like their nesting place. I later confirmed this as there were two elliptical holes into the sand, each with clear scratch marks from the claws of the birds as they entered the nest holes.

I wondered why I was only seeing three sand martins yet there were two nest burrows. Was one already sitting on a clutch of eggs in the nest burrow or had one been taken by a predator? A male kestrel flew by a short time later. It would certainly struggle to catch a sand martin though a merlin might manage.

On the way back down the hill I deviated past a small pond, one of several created by the estate to improve the habitat. A bird flew from the pond edge when I was still some distance away. It could have been a snipe or even a redshank but it was too quick for me to identify it. One bird that remained, however, was a male reed bunting. I was actually quite surprised to see it there as the nesting habitat wasn’t quite reed bunting standard. I suppose it could have had a mate hidden on a nest in some of the tussocks of rushes around the pond’s edge.

Back down near to the estate office there was a mix of half a dozen song thrushes and mistle thrushes feeding on a lush grass lawn. Across the road, at the entrance to a field where there was a rapidly-drying muddy puddle, a succession of house martins were grabbing beakfuls of mud before the sunny weather denied them that chance. Hopefully they would get their nests completed before that time.

To end my day I drove down the public road a couple of miles to have a look at a field that had formerly held a game crop where Dee told me there were nesting lapwings and curlews. The habitat was ideal and on many farms this would have been ploughed up well before now and re-seeded with another crop. Because of its value to waders (and no doubt skylarks and meadow pipits as well) Dee has delayed ploughing to give the birds a chance to fledge.

I walked down the field and was immediately mobbed by nine lapwings and two oystercatchers, a sure sign that they all had chicks. It has been years since I was mobbed by this number of waders. I didn’t want to stress them further so I cut across to the edge of the field. The birds seem to sense I was now less of a threat and flew to the adjacent grass field to await my departure. I circuited the field, keeping close to the fence, and returned to my car.

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Blue tit battle

It’s amazing how bird numbers and species visiting the garden change throughout the year. Our usual common birds small birds at the feeders are chaffinches, house sparrows and the tit family. Just now there are slightly less of these species but an inordinate number of siskins and goldfinches. Siskins can number up to 12 at a time (mostly males just now) and I’m sure it’s not the same birds visiting all the time. There is also a light-coloured female siskin amongst them. The most goldfinches I’ve seen at a time is seven, which is well up on my previous record of four. I’m also pleased to see that there are still a few greenfinches visiting. Six or seven years ago they were the most common bird at the feeders.

Despite putting up suitable groups of nest boxes I’ve had no tree sparrows for a while. They’ve never used the nest boxes, which is a pity, though they’ve been well used by great tits and blue tits. One nest box has had a swarm of tree bees the past two years though I’ve never checked to see if they are still in residence this year.

A wood pigeon built a nest in a conifer near the house and seems now to be sitting on eggs. I was never sure what part if any the male woodpigeon plays in rearing a family but he seems to sit a good part of the day 10 yards away on top of the shed my ducks go into at night. He often sits on the banister just outside the conservatory and seen close up they’re really lovely birds. I’ve often thought when I’ve seen paintings of woodpigeons that their mix of colours must make them one of the most difficult birds to paint accurately.

I witnessed a mighty battle between two blue tits yesterday. They fought it out on the grass for fully two minutes and it was a bit more than a wee scrap. I was really surprised as they look such gentle wee birds. I’m assuming that they were two males maybe fighting over territory but it’s the first I’ve seen a battle between wee birds (apart from robins) lasting so long. Hopefully neither of them was hurt.

My new white Campbell ducks have settled in well though they and the khaki Campbells still keep their distance from each other. I’m one hen less now as I’d to put one down yesterday as it had what appeared to be a prolapse. The other hens, seeing blood, had started to peck at it and the poor bird was beyond saving. Hens can be devils at times.

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