I’d a really interesting day in the garden on Sunday. First off there was an unfortunate find: the feathers of a blackbird that had appeared overnight on a strip of grass beside the burn. There were no body parts, simply some feathers including a tuft of feathers that initially made me think that they were from our tame blackbird that has been with us for four years. She has a speckled breast and the feathers on this tuft were speckled. Closer examination showed they were from a young blackbird, so even though it was unfortunate, I was slightly relieved. The feathers had not been plucked, so that made the predator less likely to have been a sparrowhawk. I settled on the bird having been killed by a cat, though events later in the day gave me an alternative……
The interest was centred on the burn that day as, for the second time recently, I watched a bat hunting over the deepest pool in the burn. A dozen times it came swooping towards me just above the water, sometimes creating a small concentric ripple as it took an insect off the surface. Like the last time it was a small bat, probably a pipistrelle. I took several photos but only one showed the bat, and it could easily have been mistaken for a small fly with whirring wings. I wondered afterwards why it always hunted with the flow of the water, not that there was much flow in any case due to the long dry spell. I also wondered why it had the need to hunt in daylight.
I’d been planting leeks in the garden and had been to the house for a cup of tea. I was returning down the drive to the vegetable part of the garden again and started to cross the bridge over the burn when a movement slightly downstream caught my eye. I’ve caught half a dozen or so mink in the burn in the 23 years we’ve been in the house, the last being just over a year ago. I’ve only ever seen two eels in the burn, the last being at least ten years ago. Here in front of my eyes was a chocolate brown coloured mink struggling with a decent-sized eel. The eel was wrapped round the mink like a spring and would take a bit of killing. I hoped that would give me time to run – well, trot – to the house for the camera. Unfortunately, even in these few minutes, predator and prey were gone on my return. Why do I ever leave the house without my camera?
I’ve never got around to setting a trap yet but really the mink is too close for comfort to my ducks (10 metre away) and hens (50 metres away). If it attacked them and I was not around to intervene it could devastate my flock of 22 khaki campbell ducks. I’ll need to find a bit of smelly fish somewhere to bait a trap. The mink, of course, could have been the guilty party in relation to the young blackbird.
Later in the day I heard a commotion at the top of the wood. There was the screeching sound of a young blackbird or song thrush in distress. I immediately thought it had been caught by a cat, then wondered about the mink. A small flock of birds had gathered in the trees and bushes chattering in desperation and swooping down on whatever was causing the problem. I could see blackbirds, song thrushes, chaffinches and various tits. These were joined by half a dozen starlings that strangely didn’t stay the full course of the action and flew off just before I saw the cause of the mayhem: a carrion crow. It may have been robbing a nest of chicks but the sound of whatever bird it got hold of indicated a chick of around fledging stage.
A short time later I was crossing the bridge again and looking downstream in case the mink was still around. Almost at the same place as the mink had been killing the eel a dipper was sitting on a rock in the centre of the burn. My camera was in my pocket and the dipper was kind enough to wait to be photographed.
Lastly I was joined in the garden by the tame blackbird, also photographed. The speckling on its breast explains how I was initially confused by the speckling on young blackbirds. I’m glad it is still here.
And I eventually got my leeks planted out….