Monday, 11 December 2017

In the Highlands

A GREY wagtail flits along the shore of the loch, then another, yellow flanks flashing, then one trots back, examining the water and pebbles, darting down to peck a minute crustacean from a stone, or up to catch a fly above the water.

A pied wagtail follows with the same lilting flight.

In the distance a white speck dives and surfaces, staying under for 17 seconds each time, a goldeneye drake, alone, so the drabber duck must already be nesting in a hollow tree. (Have you timed our grebe and tufted duck? Do they too always dive for the same length of time?)

Since the provision of nest boxes, nailed up about two metres from the ground, the goldeneye has prospered and multiplied.

The ducklings must leap to the ground when they hatch and struggle through the undergrowth to the water where they can feed.

We spy two ducks far off and know from their straight flight, parallel to the water’s surface, that they too must be goldeneye, though they are too distant for us to hear their whistling wings.

They both start to dive by the island which we are watching for the return of the osprey to the nest on top of the old dead pine.

It was blown down in the winter storms but rebuilt by volunteers and hauled 15m up the tree, ready for the birds to line it with moss and lay their two or three eggs.

The female osprey usually arrives first to claim the nest site and one has returned to Loch Garten; both have returned to Loch of the Lowes, so look out for them fishing over any body of water around you as they make their way back from West Africa via Spain and France.

At the top of a larch tree waxwings soak up the strengthening sun, flit off and return to peck at the tiny needles emerging.

But they do not stay as they are moving back north to Scandinavia, profiting from the few berries left in the village gardens as they go.

Soaring above, a buzzard pair mew to each other and all around the male chaffinches shout — advertising their territory and their vigour.

As the heat rises, a faint crackle from the pine trees signals that the cones are opening in the warmth to eject their seeds.

The siskins on the bird feeders always hang sideways or upside down as they are cone feeders in the wild and that is the best position to prise out the seeds when there is no warmth to release them.

The temperatures have ranged from -5C to 17C under a clear, intensely blue sky.

Look out for swallows returning — April 16 is usually a significant date.

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