It’s been a really interesting couple of weeks for seeing nesting birds. I seldom go out ‘bird-watching’ as such, and I have little interest in rare species that are unfortunate enough to be blown off course and grace our shores for a time. I do, however, like observing my surroundings and its associated fauna whenever possible whether this may be in the garden or when out in the countryside for a walk.
We have a very tame female blackbird that has been in the garden now for at least three years. It homes in on me when it hears the rotavator in the vegetable garden or indeed any other activity there that is likely to create food for it. I feed it a handful of mealworms every morning and I can walk past it at a metre away without it bothering. In the years it has been here I have never seen where it has nested or seen it feeding any fledglings, which I did think was unusual, but to my delight I watched it on 20th March this year gathering dry grass which it began to fashion into a nest in a cotoneaster growing up the side of a bridge over our burn. The nest was completed in due course and the first egg laid on 30th March.
Almost simultaneously I watched a song thrush building a nest 30 metres away (I must be coming in to the 21st Century talking about metres rather than yards). For its nest site the thrush had chosen a large pile of branches from a variety of conifers that I had trimmed and left to rot down near the side of the burn in the hope it would be winter refuge for the few hedgehogs we have. The thrush laid the first egg on 28th March and its third on 30th March. Thrushes are more flightly than blackbirds and having had a bad experience a couple of years ago with a nesting song thrush I was unaware of and inadvertently caused to desert when I almost brushed past the nest tree with the rotavator I have kept well away from this one before the clutch was completed. I saw it coming off the nest the other day and assume now it is sitting on its full clutch of probably four eggs.
The tame blackbird’s laying has not been so prolific: for whatever reason it gave up after one egg. The female is certainly there for mealworms every morning, as is another pair I feed in a different place, but there has been no recent sign of the male. I wonder if the male has died or been killed and the female has suspended breeding until a new partner is found. The mysteries of the natural world!
We have twice visited the fantastic Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes, Dunkeld, over the past week. Apart from the pair of ospreys there, now well settled on the nest and ready for the 2016 breeding season, there is a real treat of birds that can be watched in comfort from the panoramic window of the centre as they come in to feed on the various feeders just outside. There are great tits, blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches, greenfinches and siskins in their droves, plus a significant number of rarer species such as yellowhammers, great-spotted woodpeckers and jays. It is a great opportunity for photography (yet I always forget to take my camera) and visitors are treated to close-ups of one or more of the seven red squirrels at the reserve feeding just metres away.
We called in yesterday at the National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre at Killiecrankie in north Perthshire. I was speaking with Ben, the manager, when I noticed a small bird land on one of the feeders just outside. I had double-take at the bird before saying, ‘Ben, there’s a nuthatch on that feeder.’ Ben was unfazed and told me there had been nuthatches there now for several years and that they are completely undisturbed by the close proximity of visitors. This was the first nuthatch I have seen and I wonder now if they are the most northerly in the UK.
We returned home from two of the north Perthshire trips via Little Glenshee. On the first journey I saw and casually mentioned to my passengers that there was a dead sheep in a roadside field. I was surprised four days later, passing that way again, that the sheep was still there. Or almost there. It was further down the field, still lying with its head downhill, though this time I saw a slight movement from its tail. I stopped the car and climbed the fence to get the sheep to its feet. When I came close it wriggled a bit, rolled completely over and managed to get up. It was a fattening hogg rather than a ewe in lamb and I could see that its backend had been picked by corvids or gulls. It was very lame on one hind leg and I wondered if maybe part of the muscle from that leg had been picked away as well. It staggered a few yards and collapsed again, but in a better position, and immediately began to munch at grass. There was little more I could do and I just hoped that the farmer or shepherd would spot it soon. I doubted it would survive even if he did.
The remainder of the journey home was a bit more cheery. The area has a great stock of waders and there were displaying curlews everywhere, rising into the air then helicoptering down giving vent to their lovely bubbling and trilling song. From the habitat I’m sure it will also be rich in redshank, snipe woodcock, lapwing and skylark. It is only four miles from my house and I think will shortly be a venue for a walk on a sunny day.