Part 1 of this day’s walk during my 2011/12 wildlife survey on a Highland Perthshire estate
Saturday 17 March 2012. Weather: Mostly sunny and warm, though quite cold when it clouded over. Wind varying light to moderate.
I checked first of all in the small conifer wood beside the farm to see if the tawny owl from the previous visit was still in the same tree. It was in exactly the same position on the same branch, so it seems that if they are not disturbed, tawny owls may well roost in exactly the same place every day. I took a few more photos and left it to its daytime slumber before heading down the road to the tranquil Ranent oak wood. As I passed the estate loch three lapwings silently flew over my head from Brodie’s Moor and landed on a spit of land that runs into the loch. I was sure I had seen two pairs on the previous visit, and was pleased to see a fourth lapwing join them a few minutes later. The swans had split into two pairs. I’m not sure if they are two males and two females, but one was adopting a possessive and dominant posture, carrying its wings out and slightly up from its body, giving it the appearance of being larger than what it was. It was certainly a male, or cob, to give it its proper name, and keeping close to its mate, the pen (not a particularly attractive or even descriptive name for a female swan). The two Canada geese seemed to be lord and lady of the island, and a dozen or so mallard completed the complement of wildfowl.
I entered Ranent half-way down, following a track through a clear-felled area to begin with and bypassing two of the keepers’s almost invisible fox snares. A mistle thrush was singing from the top of a conifer and I sat on a tree stump to listen. Its song was different to the one I had listened to in the High Larches Wood, and I looked at the notes I had made at the time (notes, in fact, of its notes). While the basics were the same, they were in a different order, this one singing choo chi choo; chi chi choo; chooo; whee chi whee choo; wi chi weeeoo. It was an altogether more complex song and I wondered if it was an older and more experienced songster than the High Larches one, or, like chaffinches, do they have their local ‘dialects’. Whatever the answer, it was a lovely singer and I appreciated its melody as I sat in the sun. Completing the choir, a pair of buzzards soared overhead, the male with a feather missing in the middle of his tail. I had seen him several times during the winter, usually between Ranent and the Dam Wood. This was his territory and it looked like the chosen nesting place for the pair was the west end of Ranent.
As I walked quietly through the oaks a flash of black and white alerted me to the presence of a pair of great-spotted woodpeckers. There was no sound of drumming and I assumed that the woodpeckers had paired up and no longer had any need for drumming. I’d seen a pair – maybe this pair – in this part of the wood before, and I wondered how many pairs there might be in Ranent, which I would guess to extend to around 200 acres. I’m sure the habitat would easily support four or five pairs. They’ll be nesting shortly so there may be more clues at that time as to their numbers. The pair gradually moved away, replaced by three roe deer which had probably caught my scent and were moving slowly and warily up through the wood, stopping and glancing in my direction every so often as if not quite sure where the danger lay. The group was a doe and two almost yearling offspring. For the yearlings their time with their mother was almost over as she most likely would have two new fawns to take her full attention in May, now only a few weeks away.
When I was about three-quarters way along the wood I gradually headed uphill to return along the top near the Riemore march dyke. This was into green woodpecker territory and I had regular stops and seats on mossy logs (much more comfortable than the rocks on the hill) to watch and listen for them, but without success. I watched two roe deer make scrapes for themselves near the far end of the wood, a good 300 yards away. They pawed and scraped with front hooves, circling as they did so, before eventually settling down for probably the remainder of the day, and to ruminate in the biological sense of the term. Whether or not deer, or any animals, can ruminate mentally I’ve no idea. I imagine they can and it would certainly be nice to think so.
I crossed the dyke into Brodie’s Moor, cutting through the myriad of junipers, with rabbits scuttling everywhere. This is great cover for rabbits, and also for red-legged partridges, which seem to have completely forgotten the shooting season and no longer fly off but instead use their wee red legs to retreat to a respectable distance. A cock pheasant lay under a piece of broken juniper, thinking it was undetected, but in reality its brilliant red and purple feathers and its crimson cheeks, flushed with blood during the breeding season, made its efforts at invisibility slightly ridiculous. I took a quick photo and walked on; one person, walking slowly and quietly, causes comparatively little disturbance to wildlife.
I left Brodie’s Moor and walked beside the march dyke up the grass field beyond. Jays on the neighbour’s side of the dyke made their presence known and a woodpigeon clattered out of a young conifer just above my head, maybe coming off an early nest. Two birds flew from a small stand of trees on ‘my’ estate to the edge of woodland at the neighbour’s march. I put my binoculars on one as it landed: it was a green woodpecker at last! I’d no idea whether the second bird was its mate or a different species; I was content watching the bird I had in my sights. It sat in the fork of a tree, continually looking round. The sun enhanced its olive green colour, and the top of its head seemed every bit as crimson as the pheasant I had just left. Its black and red head constantly swivelled, heavy beak mostly pointed skywards and giving me a good view of its black ‘moustache’, confirming it as a female (the male has a dull red ‘moustache’). It sat for a surprisingly long time – at least five minutes – then hopped up on to a higher branch before taking off and disappearing into the distance. It would be interesting to find a nest hole later in the spring as I’ve never witnessed any of the nesting activity of the green woodpecker.