A spring walk in a snow shower

The pheasant hen was almost invisible in the oak leaves

The pheasant hen was almost invisible in the oak leaves

The great-spotted woodpecker enjoying its snack before being driven off by the jackdaw

The great-spotted woodpecker enjoying its snack before being driven off by the jackdaw


The jackdaw reflects in its glory after seeing off the great-spotted woodpecker

The jackdaw reflects in its glory after seeing off the great-spotted woodpecker

After such a lovely dry and sunny week, the only day I managed to go for a walk was today. It was a misty day with snow falling the whole of the time after I reached ‘my’ Highland Perthshire estate. The mistle thrushes were in full singing mode as I stepped out of the car. A wee bit more wind and it would have been a perfect day for them. I made my usual check of the ‘tawny owl’ tree beside the owner’s house to see if it had returned, but it clearly had moved to a fresh location. The two swans and a pair of Canada geese were on the loch, as were a good number of mallard drakes. As I watched the water, a lovely trout rose and created ripples that nearly the bank 50 yards away.

I headed up the road towards Fank Wood, noting more mallard drakes and a single duck on the duck ponds. They were joined by a pair of common gulls that had been sitting in the sheep field (minus sheep just now) but had been disturbed at my approach. There were two pairs there last year and I’m sure they must nest there, perhaps on the small island in the centre. The rabbits in the field, normally sitting at the entrance to their burrows, were staying underground today. A wise choice.

I walked out the hill road past Fank Wood, but as the hill beyond was misty I cut left across the heather and down past a crow cage, where I disturbed a pair of snipe that rose from a boggy patch and jinked away into the distance. I passed a partridge release pen that was flattened in one corner, possibly with the weight of snow on it in the winter. As that thought passed through my mind I realised, with the snow still falling quite heavily, we were still in the grip of winter. I was making for the top end of the High Larches Wood and as I crossed a patch of dead bracken I rose a woodock that flew off into the wood. The woodcock’s flight, the way it holds its head, and its long beak reminds me somehow of a seahorse.

The High Larches Wood was quiet, and seems never to have recovered its biodiversity of species since many of the old trees toppled in the winter of 2011/2012. It may now be too draughty for some birds, though the resident pair of buzzards seemed unfazed and circled, mewing, above me. It will be interesting to see where they nest this year. As I came out the other end of the wood, eight fallow deer ran ahead of me and into the next wood, Low Wood. I heard the sound of the Polaris, and saw the new gamekeeper coming down the grass field from the direction of Spooky Valley. He stopped for a chat and told me that he had seen quite a few snipe and woodcock in the past couple of weeks, and had his son out listening to a snipe ‘drumming’ one evening just at dusk. He also said that there was a pair of snow buntings on the hill. I might get back to see them next weekend.

I headed through the Henhouse Strip and down one of the tracks towards the bottom of Ranent. Ranent is an oak wood and was thinned during the winter. Part of my interest was in what may have been left that would suit my log-burning stove. I’d to cross the burn to reach the wood and made for the bridge over the waterfall. I glimpsed, just momentarily, a grey wagtail, on the far bank of the burn, and put my stick down hoping to get a photo. Taking my eye off the bird for that second was enough for me to lose it. Whether it went up the burn or down I don’t know, but the immediate area, with the waterfall and the steep sides, are ideal nesting places for the grey wagtail and also the dipper.

In Ranent wood itself I noted several tree trunks left that would be accessible, and some other suitable wood in the middle of the wood that would unfortunately be impossible to collect. It was a great wood for bluebells, but the show would be poor this year after the rutting and churning of the forestry vehicles. I passed a hen pheasant hiding in bracken and all but invisible. It made me wonder how many birds I pass and never see. A pair of buzzards circled above, probably the pair that nested in this part of the wood last year. I climbed to the top of the wood to check a plucking post –a large flat moss-covered stone – that had puzzled me in 2012. I thought that it had been used by a goshawk, but it was only young rabbits that were being plucked, no birds. No evidence of anything being plucked, dissected or eaten today, but there was some dried grass on the stone, with no grass in the immediate area. Another puzzle.

I headed up through Brodie’s Moor, seeing little at the start but rabbits, but noting several rotting trees that would be great feeding places for woodpeckers and other small woodland birds such as tree creepers.  At the far end of Brodies Moor I stood for a while and looked over the marshy area. A pair of noisy oystercatchers chased each other but I was more interested in lapwings. They are one of my favourite birds but were not to be seen today. Some nested there last year, though chicks were scarce. Now adults are scarce, though hopefully it is only because of the weather.

I called in at Loch of the Lowes on the way home. Lady, the osprey of 23 seasons there, was standing on her nest, rearranging sticks and possibly waiting for the male to appear either with fish or more sticks. An artificial nest has now been built outside the centre to give visitors an idea of just how big these nests are. I watched the birds at the feeders for a while and noted: mallard, pheasant, chaffinch, siskin, great tit, coal tit, blue tit, robin and great-spotted woodpecker.

When I got home, my own great-spotted woodpecker (the male on this occasion) was busy at one of the feeders, but surprisingly was chased off by a jackdaw. I thought, with its long sharp beak, it would have been doing the chasing. The feeder was not empty for long, and within a minute or two its next visitor was a red squirrel. Despite the atrocious weather, an interesting day.

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