New Year walk (Part 1) hares and long-tailed tits

The pond at Methven Moss

The pond at Methven Moss

 

The hare's form was smooth and polished

The hare’s form was smooth and polished

Since the forecast was good for New Year’s Day, and since this is the start of my attempt to shed the half-stone or so I’ve put on in the last month, I decided that I’d have a walk round Methven Moss. Methven Moss, which lies almost on my doorstep, is an area of bogs, marshes and mixed woodland. It is in effect a raised bog and designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). I set off just before daylight, with frost on the ground, a clear sky and two-thirds of a moon. As I walked down the narrow country road known as the Moss Road I passed a lovely roadside line of ageing oak and pine trees. Wispy clouds on the eastern horizon shone gold and the grey sky slowly started to turn to blue as the sun rose. A flock of several hundred jackdaws and rooks that roost in woodland at the far end of Methven Moss appeared and  swooped, swirled and dived, cawing and chacking, above my head. This is a morning routine for them; as gregarious birds they seem to enjoy this communal meeting, which is at its best on windy mornings. I watched a dunnock in the roadside hedge for a few minutes, then crossed into a stubble field and made for the pond, hoping to see some wildfowl.

A hare rose ahead of me, running low first of all with its ears flat along its back, then extending to its full height as it got further away. It stopped about 100 yards away and looked back at me, then bounded away, springbok style, demonstrating it was strong and fleet of foot, a signal I needn’t bother chasing it. I passed its form, just a simple scrape in the earth between the rows of wheat stubble, slightly deeper for the backend of the hare and enough to let it lie almost level with the ground. The form was worn smooth by the hare shuffling its body and may have been used for several days. I was sorry I’d disturbed its rest. I crossed the next fence into a grassy area bordering the pond, but could see no life on the water. There may have been some waterfowl in the reeds and white grass around the pond but I didn’t want to go any closer.

Following the hare’s route, I crossed a deep ditch via a track on top of a large pipe. The ditch, probably years ago, would have held a decent number of water voles, but I could see that it had been cleaned out a few years ago, and mechanical diggers with large buckets are just not compatible with good water vole habitat. I wondered about the legality of this, being as the area is a raised bog and an SAC. Crossing the ditch took me into a narrow strip of mixed woodland, mainly birch and alder, in the centre of which was a wide track that formerly was part of the railway line between Perth and Crieff. It was covered in short grass and made a lovely path on which to walk; a pleasant change after the damp stubble field. On my left as I walked along the track was a large area of heather. It might be interesting to explore in springtime but it seemed pretty scarce of life just now.  I was beginning to think the track on which I was walking was scare of life when suddenly I came upon a family of long-tailed tits. They were flitting about and feeding among some brushwood almost at ground level. A photograph was impossible where they were, but they then crossed to my left, but simply became silhouettes against the morning sun. I wouldn’t make money as a photographer! They were joined by some blue tits, a single great tit, then half a dozen bullfinches. The track had suddenly come to life.

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