Saturday, 30 October 2010

Notes from the Lochside

The far side drifts in and out, grey veils of misty rain swirling across the still water. The robin darts onto the deck, grabs a piece of something from the birdfood scattered on the railings and vanishes again, only to return in a flurry of wings to send an inquisitive chaffinch packing. Falling leaves look like small birds flying to the ground; as the rain grows heavier, the drops hit the remaining foliage, drawing the eye – was that another bird?
No, just a bouncing leaf.
A bedraggled great tit, feathers askew, lands on the bird table and tucks into the birdcake, caution and hunger in equal measure as the bird looks over its shoulder for predators then returns to its feast. More arrive, great tits, blue tits and the occasional coal tit. For a while it looks like a game of feathery billiards, each bird that lands on a feeder sending the previous incumbent bouncing off in another direction, to the table, or the hanging coconut shell, or the debris scattered below on the decking, none willing to share their position. Gradually they settle down and seem to become more tolerant, and even the robin slacks off his sentry duty.
A flash of yellow catches my eye and makes me look twice at the bird that's just arrived. Smaller than the chaffiches, with a deeper notch in the tail - female siskin. Another joins her, and finally a male arrives, smart in black, green and yellow.
The loch slowly reappears, punctuated by a small group of cormorants, their flight low and purposeful, heading southwest. Mallards squabble at the water's edge. The far side emerges as the rain eases off, a tapestry of green and brown and russet. The trees are beginning to turn colour; as if someone is tweaking the hue and intensity settings.
For a brief half-hour, the skies clear, and the birds, strange to relate, vanish.
Then the drizzle returns, and the far side starts to disappear once more.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Eye to the Telescope

Where did summer go? The last few swallows - late fledgelings of the last broods - are gathering themselves together, eating as much as they can before the long haul south. The geese have been arriving, dropping in in large numbers, whiffling down from the north to land in their old familiar fields. The rain continues to encourage the snails in my garden...

At this rate it'll be next year before I can blog this year.... so I've decided to do things out of order.

It's fifty years since someone had the bright idea of counting the geese, to see how many pass through and overwinter, and to find out how well they are breeding. 0545 on Sunday morning found Mum and me lurking on the edge of our usual field, waiting for the sun to come up, and the flocks to head out to feed. Naturally, things didn't go according to plan. It was about an hour before we could see more than the vague outline of the landscape, and the geese decided to have a Sunday morning lie-in, which left us feeling rather envious. By about 1000, only about seven thousand had left, and the rest were hanging about on the fields.

Which means taking a different approach to counting.

Back to the Visitor Centre, and set up with a telescope trained on the dense mass of grey-feathered bodies packed in 'tight as ticks on a hedgehog' on the Low Ground marsh, and in the grazing fields beyond. Counting is in clumps of five, rather than strings of twenty, and can only be a 'best guess' - how do you account for the rise and fall of the land, or the awkward geese that hide behind the gorse bushes?
I entertain thoughts of air traffic control - 'All geese in field 59 please proceed to the runway, take off and circle before landing again.' They are so much easier to count in the air!

My eyes ache by the time I'm done, and the traditional goose-count egg-and-bacon sandwich is very welcome as we tally up the count.
It's looking like a funny year. Although there were a lot of geese to begin with, most seem to have gone further south, with only 16-17,000 remaining at what is usually the peak time. Signs and portents? Or just geese being awkward?
Ah well. See what next month brings!