Continuing my now out-of-synch reports on my walks during the 2011/12 wildlife survey I carried out on a Highland Perthshire estate (Part 2 of 2)
Monday 27 May 2012. Weather: Sunny, very hot. With a midday temperature of 25 degrees am I allowed to complain it was really too hot?
Over North Spooky I turned left along the bottom of the hill heading for the Hill Loch, passing clumps of tormentil, a plant growing close to the ground with tiny yellow flowers, and another low-growing plant, this time with tiny blue flowers: heath milkwort. Just short of the loch at the small clump of spruce, pine and larch trees on either side of the gully through which the burn runs before entering the loch my attention was taken by a small brown bird perched like a Christmas fairy on top of a spruce. It was too far away to see detail, even with the binoculars, but it allowed me a bit closer. It flew up into the air above the tree and parachuted down, like thistle down that has been blown up into the sky and abandoned by a suddenly abating wind. It landed on the neighbouring tree, where I could see a second bird on a branch near the top. They initially looked like meadow pipits but their behaviour was different, with an obvious preference for trees rather than heather. The first bird rose and parachuted back to the top of the tree again. This time I could hear its chip chip chip, weech weech, swee-yoo, swee-yoo call as it fell through the air. I suspected it was a tree pipit and tried to make comparisons with the meadow pipit. The bird had much more white on its breast and had flesh-coloured legs rather than the yellowish legs of the meadow pipit. This, together with its tree-parachuting routine, convinced me I had been watching a pair of tree pipits.
After resting and having my ‘piece’ in the gully overlooking the loch, I made round the north shore towards Creag Bhearnach Wood. A cock pheasant was pecking at some grain the keeper scatters daily on the short grass at the entrance to the wood. The shooting season completely forgotten, the bird pecked at grain almost to my feet as I stood watching it. I bet it was glad it was a pheasant rather than a broiler chicken. It took its chance over the guns throughout the shooting season and here it was now enjoying the spring sunshine, not a care in the world. A broiler chicken would have been turned into food for us at 45 days old without ever seeing the sun. An interesting comparison!
From the other end of Creag Bhearnach I turned left along the bottom of the Craigmore Face. A pair of buzzards circled among the jackdaw flock above The Shoulder. I’d seen no evidence since the winter of the pair that seemed keen on nesting in Creag Bhearnach. Several large trees had been blown beside their last year’s nest and I suspect this may now be the same pair, nesting on the crags at The Shoulder rather than risk a tree nest. Another pair of buzzards circled above Spooky Valley, though this was the pair from the High Larches Wood, verified at they gradually drifted over there. A small herd of fallow deer were standing near No 3 pin at The Shoulder. They gradually moved down into a shallow gully with some blackthorn as if to hide, but came out the other side. There was one doe that was clear leader and she stood, head up, ears forward, never taking her eye off me and trying to catch my wind. There was a mix of does and last year’s calves, and a mix of colours, with the most striking being a doe that was virtually black. As they filed up the hill I counted sixteen. Four broke to my left back along Craigmore Face towards Creag Bhearnach, while the other twelve went right-handed and stood for a while under the jackdaws’ scree. This was obviously taking them away from home territory, and the soon filed back along the face, lissom and nimble as mountain goats on rocks, to join the first four.
At High Larches Wood I found a pheasant’s nest that had hatched successfully, though it was one with a difference. It was under a tussock of grass, and a closer examination of the egg shells showed most to be the typical olive colour. One was greenish, almost like a duck’s eggs, and obviously laid in the nest by another pheasant. But the most intriguing aspect of the eggs was that one wasn’t a pheasant egg at all: it was a red-legged partridge egg. All had hatched so I can only assume that the hen pheasant was foster mother to another pheasant’s chick and a young partridge. Since their diet and habits are similar there should be no problem in rearing all of them (provided there is no mortality to predators or adverse weather). I’ll look out for a red-legged partridge that favours the company of pheasants later in the year. I sat for a while overlooking a replanted part of the wood. The birch, sycamore, whitebeam, alder and wild cherry trees were beginning to burst out of their plastic sleeves, crucial for the survival of young trees in a wood full of hungry rabbits. As I sat there, the rabbits only had a wren and a chaffinch for company.
Since I had enjoyed my spell in Low Wood the previous week, I went to have a seat there. To my amazement I found that the two ‘dead’ trees growing out of the rhododendrons were very much alive. I was wrong on the second count as well: they were pedunculate oaks. Last week no leaves were visible, yet this week they were covered in light green, fingered, leaves. I was flabbergasted! Oak and ash are the last trees to come in to leaf, and the saying goes ‘Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak; oak before ash were in for a splash’. Could these two oaks coming into leaf very late mean we might have a decent summer? Their resident songster from last week, the garden warbler, was warbling in the distance, though I couldn’t see him. The orange-tipped butterfly was still dancing; now joined by two small cabbage whites, all being watched by the robin on the fence post.
I sat for a while but it was excessively hot, so I decided to call it a day. As I cut through the damp wood bottom I heard a very quiet sound, similar to someone blowing very softly. I sat on a stump looking up at some conifers, initially thinking I was being quietly scolded by a red squirrel. The quiet sound came again. It was from my left, at ground level and very close by. As I stood up, a hen pheasant fluttered from right beside me under a root of a tree that at one time had been blown, cut and the root had fallen back almost to its original position. It was the typical short flutter of a pheasant with chicks, but I could see nothing. I’m convinced she was warning the chicks of danger and as – or just before – she fluttered off they’d taken refuge under the root. I left quickly to allow them to re-unite, but as I climbed over the fence from the wood I was met by two very annoyed oyster catchers. These were the pair of the elaborate nest-of-many-stones, and I could see a single half-grown chick running from the field to the stony corner, where it crouched down, almost invisible. The pair peep peep peeped at me all the way across the field and halfway across the next, which took me to the loch and almost to my car. A walk in springtime is just magical, with excitement, interest and intrigue round each corner.