Denise: Amongst things set aside by Becky from the clearance of my Mum’s house in Minsterley is A Bird Book for the Pocket by Edmund Sandars, 3rd Edition 1933. According to the flyleaf inscription, it was given to Mum in March 1943 (when she was just 17) by her first serious admirer – Spencer. Not the most promising of names for a suiter, perhaps, but no, I’m not going to delve here into her romantic history! The book falls open at ‘Corn Bunting’, a bird that’s significant here because there’s agricultural grants available to support this now increasingly threatened species, and traditional crofting practices on the Uist machair are particularly favourable to them. (Unfortunately ours is a talabh dubh croft, not machair!)I can’t help but suspect that said Edmund Sanders had a quiet day in the countryside completely ruined by the irritating monotony of the Corn Bunting’s call, stirring him into a frenzy of fault-finding. No, he was not impressed!
The following is compiled from the current RSPB website and Wikipedia.
The corn bunting is a bird of open country with trees, such as farmland and weedy wasteland. This nondescript lowland farmland bird is the largest of the buntings and is most usually seen perched on a wire or post. The song of the male is a repetitive metallic sound, usually likened to jangling keys, which is given from a low bush, fence post or telephone wires. It is a stout, dumpy brown bird which flies off with a fluttering flight and with its legs characteristically ‘dangling’. Its natural food consists of seeds and when feeding young, insects. It has declined greatly in north-west Europe due to intensive agricultural practices depriving it of its food supply of weed seeds and insects, the latter especially when feeding young. Its dramatic population decline in the UK makes it a Red List species. It has recently become extinct in Ireland, where it was previously common. Males defend territories in the breeding season and can be polygymous, with up to three females per breeding male. The population sex ratio is generally 1:1, which means some males remain unmated during a season. Males play only a small role in parental care; they are not involved in nest building or incubation, and only feed the chicks when they are over half grown. The nest is made of grass, lined with hair or fine grass, and is usually built on the ground. Average clutch size is four, but commonly varies from three to five, occasionally six.
These days there’s so much more weight given to the place of an individual species in the wider scheme of things, and its vulnerability to changes in environment.
And by the way … I think their call is soothing and restful. So there, Edmund Sandars!
Not so sure about the Corn Crake, though!
Jonathan: Friday 13th – unlucky for some, it’s said. But not for us, this time at least : Spring has arrived at last! I can’t tell you how much I love blackbirds, especially their song. I only noticed him when, as I was pottering about at the back of the house, I stopped to think through some minor difficulty with an even more minor task : I heard a faint whistle, but more musical than that of the all-too familiar ‘whish’ of a cold wind over the top of the garden wall. I looked up – there he was, his body motionless other than barely perceptible palpitations at his throat, and a slight rocking with the wind. In past years I’ve heard a male blackbird, in the gloom of a late winter afternoon, somewhere amongst the logs of the wood store, singing so softly, so quietly as if teetering at the very threshold of silence. Who but himself was he singing for, or could hear him? I’ve thought that such song is sung solely for the encouragment of the singer himself – as a relief to the long and lonely – and hungry – months of winter. But today was different: though the wind was still cold and brisk, the warming early spring sunshine had encouraged him up on to the high ledge of the wall to sing his song for almost half an hour in the same spot. Though still too quiet to be heard more than few metres away, he song was now of the colour and vigour that are the very essence of early Spring, when hope yields to expectation, and patient stillness to the joyful exuberence of life renewed and rediscovered.
Jonathan: This evening, Tilly and I took our usual walk on the beach and then along the road: not by the glow of the late-setting sun – as we have become used to over the sumer months, but by the light of the moon. And a full moon tonight, closer to Earth and appearing larger than usual (the moon’s orbit being influenced by the Sun and other heavenly bodies) and in turn giving rise – and fall – to exceptional spring tides. This coming Saturday the ferry from Oban will be nearly two hours later due to lack of water over rocks at the head of Loch Boisdale. At the beach here by An Garradh Mor, tonight’s tide rolled so far back as to leave sandy reefs of rare sea-grass glistening in the moonlight. Standing amidst the gentle ripples at the edge of the sea, a young adult swan was looking forlornly out to sea. He’s old enough now to be a burden on the limited resources of the nearby fresh-water loch where he was raised, and has been driven away by his parents. He’s been pacing the shore for a few days now, perhaps struggling with all the same conflicting feelings as we did when setting out into the world. But whilst I’m quietly in awe of the moment, Tilly is playing noisily with another dog – a black Labrador of her own size and as careless of the quiet night as she is herself. They race along the beach together, their paws drumming the sand apace, veering and leaping in unison, yelping with untramelled delight. The young swan spreads his wings and hurls himself forward, feet and wings beating out an impromptu runway in the direciton of Barra; but once airborne he veers away to the left, around the rocky headland of Cnoc a Deas. Tilly and I start the second part of our evening walk, along the road towards Ludaig. At the last passing-place before Paul and Amanda’s house, we stop to take in the view across the sea towards Eriskay – and there is the swan again, standing in the shallows. Before long, the drive to make a life of his own elsewhere, to find a mate, will finally overcome the hold of the familiar – the only place he’s ever known. Tilly, too, is at a turning point, one where the thought of a biscuit for being a ‘good girl!’, and her comfy bed has at last get the better of the urge to run and sniff! As we turn for home, a heavy veil of cloud is drawn across the face of the moon, and Tilly’s friend – her own shadow – melts away into the dark of night.