David Adam ..... Scottish creative artist ...... author of Wildsketch ..... social realist in Postcard from Brechin
Studio and Wildsketch journal
Studio and Wildsketch journal
As the Sun warms the back of every creature and then melts the Winter snows, a change comes to the highlands of Scotland. The moors and pastures of the glens begin to quiver with returning life and the springtime resurrection is ongoing. Yes, it is a spiritual event within nature, but the vanishing snow also pulls back the covers on a cold history of life and death.
Surprisingly, Skylarks are the first to return to the moors of Millden estate here in Angus and it is not the expected heaven soaring peace. Cock larks constantly spar and squabble for prime nesting territories, with many protracted aerial challenges darting hither and thither over the grassy moor. Upside down aerial defense, similarly seen in raptors, employs that long, hind toe spur as a sabre weapon.
One Skylark stands fast on his grassy tussock that is nesting home, the same one as last year, and the pattern of occupancy over the moorland pasture reveals a neighbourhood plan with strict boundaries that are overflown in larky song; hard won is the right to sing in the heavens. Despite a cold wind blowing from the snowfields on high and the grass still bound in Winter's grasp, the delicate trill of the lark warms the heart to Spring's hopeful coming.
The Angus glen estates are the wader's heaven or haven and, of that, there is no doubt. Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Curlew love the custodianship of the glens and now they are desperate to return from their briny, coastal resorts to breed. Flocks of Lapwing drift around the skies, unsettled and nervy, they land then, like flitting butterflies, move on.
A pair of Oystercatchers belt down the glen to vanish over the cold, grey snowfields of afar, and their white plumage glows snow-white against the landscape sullied snows. A Golden Plover calls its peeping alarm over the heath then flies on pointed wings into the glare of cloud, sunshine, snow and mist; yet it is not alone as another calls from nearby and that familiar sound of the high moors is heartily welcomed back.
This year will be very interesting as to how the waders will fare when nesting. A chat with the head-keeper on his rounds reveals that the amount of trapping for Stoats and Rats will be drastically reduced from five thousand traps down to around one thousand because of the changeover from the older Fen trap to the new Tully trap and he reports that Stoat damage is already increasing.
On top of that, the ever increasing Raven mob are rehearsing for a springtime bonanza feast from wader and grouse nests, therefore the cards are stacked against a good year for ground nesting birds I fear. Ravens work in teams to scour over the moors and pastures where birds nest, and by quartering back and forth will precipitate a defensive rise from guarding nesting birds, thereby deducing a nest site location that culminates in a devastating raid ..... clever birds are Ravens ..... but, perhaps, too many for continuing wader breeding success.
I suppose this is where the coffee drinking, meeting orientated, theory idealising, office bound officials from Nature Scot and MSP's get it all wrong ..... they do not listen to the folk that work the land, observe the nature on that land and live with the land. Of course, the whole issue is tinted (tainted would be a better word) by voting, nature loving campaigners who haven't a clue and rarely, if ever, experience the 'grit' from the moors of Scotland.
The vanishing snow uncovers real hardship. Several Mountain Hare did not make it through the recent extreme weather encountered in the highlands. Yes, one would expect them to cope, but hundreds descended from the high tops to the relative shelter found near the haughs of the glen. Beasts of the mountain may survive dry, cold conditions but easily succumb to wet, cold and gale.
Hare tend to gather together and certainly the four carcasses that I found were all close, readily plucked and consumed by Raven or raptor. At first I thought that this might be the work of an eagle, as they tend to have favourite locations for consuming prey, and because the freshly plucked feathers of a Red Grouse lay nearby too. Extreme snowy weather and starvation is more likely because whatever flesh on bone was left looked fairly emaciated.
By the way, the spelling of carcass can also be carcase but convention dictates that carcase is particular to the body of a slaughtered beast used for food and carcass is particular to the body of a predated, poisoned, persecuted or rotten dead beast .....
Anyway, every dribble, every burn and every river was in full spate today as snow gushed into moorland peat and water soaked its way to the sea again. I dwelled on the pure white bubbles of every gush near muir-burn areas and failed to see any abnormally large amounts of brown, peat colouration within .... just a coffee break observation out on the hills of Angus for those who tell us that muir-burn affects water purity and clarity through peat dissolution ..... no science involved, or needed!
An uncomfortable, soft gale greeted me on the exposed higher tops as I scoured horizons for eagles, for that's what I do ..... admittedly quite a lot and it is hard work to discover their status in this large area. March is drawing near, therefore I expected to find some evidence of spring-fever in the Mountain Hares but nothing was evident because of that relentless wind, and foraging eagles are couch potato craturs at times so nothing begat nothing.
All text, photographs and sketches done on the 21 February 2021 and subject to copyright - no reproduction.
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My new book 'Wildsketch' is available from Blurb bookshop
Income from book sales will form a donation to CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter)
If you are inspired to go out into the hills and glens of Scotland please leave it as you find it, respect the environment, do not litter or discard so called 'biodegradable' fruit and especially if you are a dog walker keep your beast on a lead and do not bag up its waste then chuck it by the wayside. I recently came across one black poo bag neatly hung on a tree branch for someone else to take home and also a bright blue one thrown in the moorland verge .... why?
Moorland birds like Curlew, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Dotterel, Red and Black Grouse, Ptarmigan and many raptors nest on the ground, it is advisable to keep dogs at heel or preferably on leads when walking on the high plateaux of the Cairngorms during summer months.
Please be aware that it is illegal to disturb nesting eagles or other raptors and you may do so inadvertently in your journeys into the highlands. Observe protected species at a respectful distance usually from about 1000 metres and for short periods of time only.
No wildlife was unduly or knowingly disturbed by my presence or for the purposes of this web page other than what would be expected on a normal hill walk. Many geographic names and location recognizable photos have been omitted to prevent persecution or inquisitive disturbance to named species.
Canon camera 200D with optical zoom lens EFS 55-250mm used; please note that the zoom range distance if given is calculated by OS map from subject location to camera.