My daughter Janet, son in law Sean, Molly the dog and I had a lovely walk on Cardney Estate near Dunkeld on Friday. The weather ranged between sunshine and periods of cloud, but nonetheless great weather for a walk since the wind was minimal. Our primary interest was looking for small birds, and they seem reluctant to face windy days. Formerly the fields on the low ground were let, but this year the farming is in-hand and the lambing seems to have been good, with lambs at the stage when they form a gang and charge round the field, jumping on to any rock or other high point that they encounter. I was disappointed not to see any lapwings; they seem to be getting more and more scarce on Cardney every year, and the representation of waders was a single pair of oystercatchers over the sheep field on our right as we walked up to the hill.
We made a circuit of Fank wood, the coniferous wood of about 20 acres immediately before the hill land. This is the wood where a pair of red kites has nested for the past three years, having moved from a larger oak wood on lower ground on the estate. Sure enough the male appeared soaring over us as he always does, checking us out to make sure we remain outside the wood. He was joined for a time by the larger female, and both made their inspection before she quietly went back over the wood again and presumably to the nest. It was interesting that they were joined in their circling above us by a buzzard. Usually buzzards nest in that wood as well and they clearly co-exist quite happily.
A small herd of fallow deer ran across the field on neighbouring Riemore Estate. Two of the herd, including a mature stag in the lead, were the lovely light coloured dappled variety, while the others were much darker in colour. They stood watching us from about a quarter of a mile away, then trotted into woodland and out of sight. A roe doe that had been ahead of us bounded toward Fank wood. At this time of year she would probably have a pair of fawns lying hidden and I expected her to bark in annoyance, but she remained quiet.
We re-joined the hill road, seeing another two single roe does as we went. Neither of them barked either. In have been on the hill at this time of year when every roe doe I encountered barked at me. Maybe the fact there were three of us made a difference but I can’t see why. A further group of two dark fallow deer completed the cervine mix before we reached one of the hill lochans. There are old shooting butts round this lochan and we stood quietly in one of those for a while to watch both the lochan and the sizeable patch of broom opposite.
This was a worthwhile wait as this area is rich in birdlife. A mallard with eight newly-hatched ducklings in tow swam over the lochan. There is often a high mortality with ducklings and I hope most of this wee flotilla make it to maturity. To the left of the lochan a pair of meadow pipits flitted from heather clump to heather clump, most likely in search of insects. Behind us on the broom there was a pair of whinchats, followed ten minutes later by a female blackcap, then lastly by a willow warbler. It is a fantastic habitat for small passerines and I’m sure there will be many nesting there.
We continued out the hill road, seeing one of the Mid Hill pair of buzzards circling above its nesting site on a crag. A pair of kestrels normally nest on a crag on the other side of the Mid Hill but of them there was no sign. Kestrels UK-wide are having a bad time so I hope they are OK. I suspect they don’t like the buzzards nesting so close and I have often seen one or other of them mobbing the buzzards but doubt the buzzards have posed any serious risk to them.
Further up the hill the track splits to go straight ahead to North Spooky and right up the Grey Craigs. We took neither, and cut left through the heather for a short distance to go down Spooky Valley, a narrow gulley following a small burn, that widens out towards the bottom end. The sun was out at this point and this suited the butterflies. A small pearl-bordered fritillary flitted from flower to flower, favouring a yellow flower that looked like a dandelion but had a completely different leaf. (I have now looked at three wild flower books to identify this plant and infuriatingly I still can’t find it). There were also a few green-veined white butterflies that seemed to like the same unidentified yellow flower, but also liked the dainty white flowers of chickweed wintergreen, growing in abundance on the short grass.
Further down Spooky Valley I remarked to Janet that there was something dead quite close by. The smell got stronger and stronger but it was a full 50 yards before we found the cause. A young roe buck had somehow fallen into a hole and had been unable to get out. The hole appeared to have been caused by the ground above the burn caving in and though it wasn’t particularly deep the deer may not have had room to jump and escape what must have been a dreadful death by starvation. All that remained now was a white skull with two single-point antlers coming from it, some remnants of skin and hair and several million maggots churning and pulsating round the remains. Unbelievably Sean, who had been walking ahead of us, never noticed the smell and of course never witnessed this unfortunate drama of nature. It was a sad finish to an otherwise lovely walk.