Part 3 of one of the days during my 2011/12 wildlife survey on a Highland Perthshire estate:
Monday 5 March 2012. Weather: Cold wind first thing but the day warmed up in the sunshine and the wind became weaker by 1000 am. Clouded slightly at midday, then quickly returned to full sun. Peaked at 11 degrees.
I walked in a clockwise semi-circle round the Hill Loch, thus avoiding a potential fox den I would pass – and possibly disturb – if I went anti-clockwise. I entered Creag Bhearnach Wood at the pheasant pen at the west end, disturbing a roe buck that rose from among some juniper bushes just a few yards from me. The advantage in walking slowly and quietly is that you can usually get much closer to birds and animals before they become aware of your presence. There was possibly another reason that this buck was caught off guard: he was ailing in some way. He did not spring up off the ground in the manner of a healthy buck; he ‘sprachled’ up, to use a good Scots word. Although I just got a quick look I could see his back-end was thin and weak and I fully expected him to be lying collapsed at the back of a large square rock he stumbled around. I was amazed when I got past the rock that there was no gasping, shivering deer. The fence of the pheasant pen continued on for some 50 yards so he could not have gone left, and he certainly didn’t cross the track that bisected the wood. It just seemed incredible that such a weak beast could have vanished into thin air.
I was checking all around for any sight of the buck as I walked, but before long my attention was diverted ….. by red squirrels, a pair of them this time. The squirrels were just ahead of me in adjacent larch trees. I took very slow and steady steps towards the trees. The squirrels very less wary than the one I had seen earlier and seemed quite content to study me from the top half of their respective trees until I was 20 yards away. Even then they just moved to the next tree back. I sat and watched them for a while. After a few minutes they came together and there was a slight skirmish, ending in one chasing the other from tree to tree, probably in a pre-mating ritual, until they again settled close to each other and their minds turned to food rather than procreation.
I returned to the track and managed to slip past them without undue disturbance, but I had hardly gone 100 yards when I had another red squirrel encounter. This time I didn’t see the squirrel at first but I heard the scratching of its sharp claws at it scurried round the base of a mature trackside conifer. I knew the squirrel would be hiding behind the tree but suspected its curiosity would eventually get the better of it and it would need to have a look to see where I was. I stood stock-still and eventually saw a pair of golden tufted ears emerge from the right hand side of the tree just about head height. The ears were slowly followed by a pair of ink-black eyes that gazed in my direction. I remained still and quiet and the inquisitive wee beastie climbed onto a branch, still gazing intently at me. I had difficulty not laughing at the squirrel’s incredulous expression; I was no doubt the first human it had seen at such close quarters. As it stared at me it was making a quiet sound somewhere between a squeak and a light exhalation of breath, which it did at least a dozen times. I slowly lifted the camera up, and incredibly the squirrel continued to pose. It moved up to the next branch …. and posed again. It got better. From somewhere it managed to lay its dextrous paws on a morsel of food and began to munch. Ten feet away from me! After nearly five minutes, and without the least fear, the squirrel eventually started to make its way up the tree and I left it to contemplate its adventure whilst I did likewise. Only after taking a couple of steps did I notice that a second squirrel, possibly its mate, was watching the episode from a tree 30 yards away. A real red squirrel day!
A few more steps and I glimpsed movement from the edge of the wood. This time it was a fallow deer, but not just any fallow deer, a pure white fallow calf, a beautiful animal not dissimilar in looks to the calf of a Charollais cow. I wondered if this was the creamy coloured calf I had seen in the autumn with its pure white mother. The calf had walked behind a tree, which gave me some cover to get closer. At 30 yards away I sat down with my back to a tree to watch it. It grazed for a while on some very short grass then lifted its head to stare at me. Like the squirrel it stared for some time, but unlike the squirrel it opted for discretion rather than curiosity. It gave a snort, turned on its heels and bounded, stiff legged and with all four feet hitting the ground simultaneously, down the outside of the wood. I sat for a few minutes to ensure it was out of sight before emerging from the wood. All the time I had been in the wood there was a pair of buzzards overhead. This is probably the second nesting territory identified.
I walked past the top of the L Wood, where a field vole ran across my path, the first one I had seen. It was a wee brown fattie with a snub nose, minute ears and a short tail. Let’s hope they have a good breeding season ahead and feed the many species that depend on their proliferation. I headed to the High Larches Wood. This is a wood that seems to have a high density of the thrush family, with the only member I haven’t seen there so far being the fieldfare. Today a mistle thrush was singing from the top of a larch tree. I sat down on a tree stump to enjoy the aria. It’s not easy to scan some of the more complex bird song, but I had a go at it as I sat listening. The bird sang a line at a time, with a pause for breath in between. It was repeating something like weee choo weee; weee choo weee choo; chooo weee; weee choo weee. Every version had a very slight variation and I revelled in its exaltations.
I headed back to the car and had a brief word with the keeper before setting off for home. He’d been checking his traps and found that since the previous afternoon a live-catch cat trap he had set in the Mid Hill had been flattened by someone jumping on it. He found fresh tracks of two people and a small dog………..