Part 2 of my walk from 13 January 2012 as part of my wildlife survey of a Highland Perthshire estate
At the end of the wood I cut uphill, skirting to the left of a sheer rock face, and began the walk back along the top half of the wood. I passed a couple of roe deer ‘couches’ – scrapes on the ground where the oak litter had been pawed away by cloven cervine hooves, resulting in a cleared oval patch which must be thought more comfortable by the deer for their daytime resting place than on top of the leaves it had removed. I see my dog doing the same circling and scraping ‘nest building’ just after it gets into its basket. A robin began to sing from its perch in a holly tree, so I thought this would be a good place to have the first ‘piece’ of the day. I sat on a mossy rock, without any preparatory scraping, and enjoyed my musical lunch. The robin has a high pitched and quite melodious song, in a way like the mistle thrush with fits and starts, but with shorter breaks between phrases. I was appreciative of its company.
Parting with Mr Redbreast, I continued along the wood, a movement half-way up an oak tree catching my attention. Binoculars revealed not one but two great-spotted woodpeckers. They were engaged in flirtatious frolic rather than food-finding, one following the other to the adjacent tree, then to the next, and finally into a corner of the wood that was coniferous, mainly spruce trees with a mix of ash and possibly wild cherry creating a narrow buffer between the two different habitats. Even had I not seen them, the single ‘chik’ one of them made on the flight to the conifers would have made me aware of their presence.
As my line of sight followed the woodpeckers, I saw another wee bird near the base of an oak and jerkily making its way upwards, and gradually spiralling round the trunk. The wee tree creeper would find plenty of insect food in Ranent, in fact the wood could probably support dozens of them. I was reasonably close to it and its white eye stripe was easily visible even without the binos. It was using the stiff tail feathers to help support it in its climb, as do the previous birds I saw, the woodpeckers. As I was getting my camera out it flew to the bottom of another tree and started its ascent again, this time disappearing round the back. I moved forward to get a photo opportunity when it came back round, but yet another shape caught my eye further up the tree behind it, this time a red squirrel.
There was too much going on at the same time and, since the squirrel was in view anyway, I followed its course. Its arboreal skills were incredible, virtually using the thinner branches half way up the trees as an aerial highway. It seemed to know where it was going, verification of this being when the terminus was seen to be a hole in tree into which it poked its head. It came out to check for danger, and in went the head again. I wasn’t sure whether this might have been a source for a small pool of water or was one of its nut stores. Business complete, the squirrel made its way back to the conifers on what appeared to be the very same aerial route. The tree creeper, of course, was gone by now.
I walked up the east edge of the block of conifers and cut back again next to the dyke at the top of Ranent, crossing the dyke further along into Brodie’s Moor. I made my way up towards the release pen in the junipers and spotted a rabbit snoozing among some flattened bracken inside the pen. I crept slowly closer, taking a series of photos of snoozy rabbit, until I was less than 20 yards away. He (I’m sure by the broader head it was a buck)heard the click of what was to be the final photo as I was now against the netting fence, and quickly bolted into the standing bracken behind. To achieve old age rabbits need to be more observant than this!
I walked round the pen and as I approached a large oak tree ahead of me a female sparrowhawk darted across my path from right to left close to the ground. It was most certainly on a hunting foray, hoping to ambush a small bird by suddenly appearing from behind a tree or a clump of junipers like a fighter aircraft. Being a female (it was much larger than a male, with a brown back as opposed to the blue back of a male) it could easily tackle a pigeon sized bird, but smaller birds were more likely victims among the junipers. Had I been able to see the underside of the sparrowhawk, the barring on the white underside would have been brown rather than the orangey-red barring of a male. The estate owner and his gamekeeper did say that they seemed scarce this year and there had been almost no partridge kills that could be attributed to sparrowhawks.
I continued through the Brodie’s Moor and up past the duck ponds to Bericky, but by now the wind had strengthened, bending the tops of the huge Douglas firs at the top end of Bericky and at one point blowing my ‘bunnet’ off my head. Apart from an odd pheasant the wood seemed empty, as did my next wood, the High Larches Wood, the next again, the L Wood, the Pheasant Planting, the Henhouse Strip and the Dam Wood. The circuit of the woods was good exercise, but nothing seems to make birds disappear like a strong wind. It is a temporary absence and I’m sure they’ll be back for my next visit.