David Adam Gallery
Studio and sketch journal
The cradle of the glen nestles many sleeping babes, for the stillness of morn belies the rustling of life. Sheltering in the twisted kows of the shadowy heath cower the Red Grouse with their chicks, unseen by many but providing prey to the few. A Common Buzzard hawks the heath above, then slams talons into a fidgety chick and that chick's first flight rises in bleeding spirals over the glen void, until stripped bare of life by a hooked beak on the high slopes of the glen.
Higher still, the Mountain Hare bonds with sooty peat in a cavernous hideaway and, again, is unseen by many but is prey to the few. A hag perched white carcass from Winter wrestles with the heath bound, green fingers of the Blaeberry plant and no doubt this hare fell prey to the eagle that occasionally raids the moor here. Ironically, the carcass has two shotgun cartridges decorating its bones; a symbol for the past methinks as Mountain Hare are now legally protected in Scotland.
Certainly a vestige from the reptilian past scuttles like quick-silver through the burnt ashes of some recent muir-burn and it too buries its presence within the bouldered peat. I wait, and wait, until the scaly revelation comes in the shape of a Common Lizard. Cautious wonder peeps forth a dinosaur snout, then dragon legs and tail, then eye to eye predatorial exchange; and, in another age, would we be its prey?
Lush heath, now peppered bright mauve, darkens with every passing cloud and borders slopes swaying with all sorts of grass and, like a sea, the land moves with fresh green and last year's crippled beige. From within those coils of grass the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary flies an orange dance o'er the glen and the Northern Eggar caterpillar creeps a rhythmic, sequential flow along the Ling shoots, and then onto a sunny boulder to dream of busy flight o'er the moor next time around.
Back on the wind ravished plateau a hidden Golden Plover seeps a piping call into the breeze where the sound dissolves to the moorland world. Perceived predator I am and the diverting call pulls me this way ..... then that way ..... leading on to nowhere; a place we all know too well. Somewhere in nowhere a churring and tiny Dunlin rises at my feet to flit and twist in time with the bowing grasses that wave their stalks at the ubiquitous moor.
My great grandfather was a shepherd in the glens of Lethnot and Effock, just over the hill from here, so the land must be familiar to my soul and that maybe is why I am here, ignorant of the need for the undiscovered elsewhere; here is just fine. At the crooked head of Lethnot lies an old stalker's path which leads onto the Shank of Donald Young revealing the site for the Battle of Saughs that took place between the good men of Fearn and the Cateran cattle raiders.
History lends its name to all the hills and gullies hereabouts; Bank of Robert Shiell presumably refers to the one time factor of the northern part of Dalhousie estate, of which Hunthill estate was once part. The name of the aforementioned Donald Young who died during the battle is commemorated by naming the hill shank after him and the hill called Gibs Knowe no doubt refers to the surname, and strangely enough my great grandfather was a Gibb ..... ah, my claim to geographical ancestry might be in that missing 'b'.
As morn grew thin the waking Kestrels rose in a clamour of vocal hysteria and jousting play-fights. An aerial spectacle of dive-bombing, chasing and mock attack thrilled the skies over the glen. I reckoned that three families have been successful in the upper glen which is very good considering the downturn that the Kestrel has suffered in many lowland places. My sketch is from a promontory overlooking the glen and a favourite perch for raptors.
My search for Merlin was fruitless at one of the usual nesting locations but a surprise was in store for a new location revealed itself by the copious amount of prey plucking sites, good Ling coverage for nesting and a late remaining Merlin fledgling that took to the glen voids with that ear piercing, characteristic 'ki-ki' call. This tiny falcon has proven to be very fickle, not only are they hard to find but they willingly move nest locations making traditional recorded locations seemingly void therefore yielding inaccurate monitoring statistics.
A wandering Peregrine Falcon sailed past the sea of grass where I stood, took a look up then down at me, then scratched its head and continued westwards on a peregrination. I expected, in an optimistic way, to find young Peregrines at a certain crag where I observed occupation in the Spring but nothing showed except fulfilment of my growing pessimistic attitude that certain grouse shooting estates have little tolerance for the falcon's presence ..... prove me wrong please.
And on that subject, I discovered that rank heather banks on the steep slopes near the crag where Peregrines were seen in January this year have been burnt out. Whether this is categorised as indirect raptor persecution under disturbance or not, springtime muir-burn so close to any raptor nesting location must be suspicious when it is undertaken when birds are incubating eggs and are at their most vulnerable to disturbance.
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