Monday, 28 February 2011
The bush is useful shelter not just from cats but from other birds. In the big freeze before Christmas 2010 the bigger birds descended looking for food. Crows and jays took their pick of the best, while at one time there were 14 blackbirds (11 of them male – where were the females?) who bullied each other and anything smaller that came near. The small birds hid nervously in the berberis until these thugs had gone.
Then last week the bush showed its true worth. I was on the phone, watching the birds out of the window. Suddenly there was a flurry of blue landing on a branch – a pigeon I thought at first, though they rarely come in the garden: it was about pigeon sized. Then with astonishing agility the blueness flipped itself about the shrub, landing briefly here and there. It was so fast there were only flashes of slate blue and russet. The small birds were far too sensible to try to escape: they knew their best chance was to stay put amongst the tight berberis thorns. Sure enough, their pursuer landed briefly on the ground before taking off and vanishing, still hungry, to hunt elsewhere.
It was almost certainly a sparrowhawk, but I've previously only seen them shooting past at a zillion miles per hour. It was a great treat to see one so close. Meanwhile, my daughter was on the other end of the phone saying "What, what is it?", wondering why I'd let out a squawk and then stopped speaking.
Sunday, 20 February 2011
Ten minutes by car and I am at the seaside. Not the buckets and spades variety, this is the sheltered strip of sea between the mainland and Anglesey, the Menai Strait. The tide is exceptionally high, higher than I ever remember seeing it here, so there is only a narrow strip of shingle between high water and sea wall. This strip is coated with bladder-wrack, a harvest I would dearly like to gather to improve my asparagus bed, but it is laced with plastic debris. I doubt if the little huddle of seven oyster-catchers standing only feet away mind about that, but for me it is a reminder that we treat the sea like a dustbin.
As I watch, the tide starts to pull the waters away towards the ocean, and a riffle appears where the retreating water is drawn across the concrete edge of a small quay. What power there is in the tides, and how long before someone suggests building a barrage here to harness it to feed our collective energy hunger?
Further along the shore there is a small woodland, which I approach carefully, treading gingerly on the thick bed of seaweed. The wood is the colour of spring, a carpet of bluebell and sanicle, violet and lesser celandine, but mostly of wild garlic, tens of thousand of bulbs sending up a single bright green leaf to greet the new year. The sun is shining, I revel in this moment of greenery. No need for a barrage. All it takes is a walk by the sea to re-charge your batteries.
Saturday, 19 February 2011
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Sunday, 6 February 2011
The pasture has probably been improved at some stage, and this has not helped small birds, although there are still meadow pipits, wheatears and linnets. Forty years ago, when the first Breeding Atlas was on, this area was full of curlews and lapwings; now there a few of each left. The RSPB is helping to look the residual population in this area (Hiraethog). Both land-use and predation are important factors in these population changes – if you want to see what this area was like 40 years ago, visit the North Pennines (Upper Teesdale, for example). Will we ever get these breeding waders back in Wales?
For the BTO Atlas, we have been mapping birds in the winter as well as the breeding season. Some winter visits produce no birds at all. Natur Cymru subscriber John Lloyd lives and farms in the original heartland of the Red Kites, where a few pairs managed to survive. John emailed me the other day to tell me about some recent fieldwork for the Winter Atlas. He says:
I even managed a zero count in an hour at Abergwesyn at the beginning of the month. I was just congratulating myself on having become a "proper atlaser" and walking out through the conifers of a neighbouring tetrad (2x2km square) when I came across a pair of Crossbills defending a probable nest against what I am sure was a Pine Marten. I never saw the front half of the beast, just its rear but that woke me up from my reverie. The Vincent Trust have accepted it as a sighting.
The moral is: you never know what you are going to see, just get out from behind your computer!
Thursday, 3 February 2011
Anyway, the decision was taken, I put him in the cattle crush and starting clipping beneath him to remove matted lumps of hair and dung, to clean him up. He thought little of this. Three kicks in succession alerted me to the difficulties of my task. The fourth scored a direct hit on my gloved hand. At that point, perhaps satisfied that he had made his feelings known, he settled down to eat the bucket of rolled barley before him, and I was able to get on with the job. An hour later he was on his way, the paperwork complete.
So I’ve had my dose of reality for the week, and have felt like a farmer for half a day. It keeps me grounded, and gives some practical basis to any preaching that I might indulge in from time to time; like berating the folly of scientists who advocate increasing food production by intensifying output on current farmland, apparently unaware that traditional farming systems are vital for wildlife. I’ve learnt about farming and nature the hard way – at a rather painful first hand.