October 2010

We spent a goodly part of September north of the border (The one between England and Scotland, not the Tamar) and I was struck all over again by the differences to be seen in habitats not a million miles apart – neither is better they are just different. We tend to suppose that the further south you come the more diverse and somehow exotic the flora and fauna become, but this is not really the case. I was delighted to reacquaint myself with birds like the eider, rarely seen south of say the North Wales / Lancashire coastline but a truly stunning bird to watch, especially at this time of the year as they form up on the sea in our firths and estuaries into rafts that can number many thousands of birds by mid winter. Like all ducks, the female gets a bit of a raw deal and because she stays home incubating the large clutch of eggs, she is quite dowdy and dull; but she is built like the King Harry Ferry! To look at they are not as big as geese, but when she spreads out to cover her eggs or her brood that down for which they are so rightly famous explodes into an area the size of a dustbin lid! The male is a gorgeous bird with a buff white back and chest and a green neck. Their throat turns a wonderful salmon pink colour as they enter the breeding season and really need to look their best.

We also were lucky enough to see large V formations of geese flying south over the Trossachs to their wintering grounds in Morecambe bay and beyond. Again, this is a sight we never see in Cornwall because there are sufficient wintering grounds north of us for birds that have spent the summer beyond the Arctic Circle. OK, we get the egrets, but for many years there was an escaped colony of spoonbills living along the north Wales coast and doing quite nicely thank you! Red deer were often seen in the grounds of the holiday centre we were staying at, though only the does and their nearly fully-grown fauns. The stags were further up the hills, living solitary lives whilst preparing for the rut that will start this month. I was constantly on the look out for Simon King (better still Kate Humble!) but I think the stags have gotten wise to his intrusive commentary as they pledge their undying affection to any doe they can catch!

All very exotic, but common enough if you live in the right part of the world. The everyday, mundane flora and fauna of the Roseland that can too easily be taken for granted must seem wildly exotic to someone who has the Trossachs as their base. Nature is the expert at fitting things for their purpose and their habitat- if an eider colonised the Roseland they would die of heat prostration, even with the summers we have been having. Those that survived would eventually adapt, but given long enough they would no longer be eider ducks.

Ian Bennett

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