Nature Notes Nature Notes 2010

May 2010

As well as images this month, I have included a couple of hyper links (underlined) – not all that factual!

Those of you who remember the original Slartibartfarst in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy will recall how inordinately proud he was of all the “crinkly bits round Norway” that he had created. Well, I have to say our own creeks and drowned valleys are just as wonderfully crinkly! I love the way perspective can change in just a few paces. One moment you are walking over a meadow deep in the countryside, surrounded on all sides by hedgerows bursting into blossom then a moment later you turn a corner or crest the brow of a hill and the coast or a creek pops into view and suddenly your perspective has to shift! No longer are we deep in the English countryside, but we are suddenly placed out on a limb, right out on the edge.

The sea surrounds and affects us on a daily basis, sometimes subtly with gentle effects on the light that has been so valued by artists over the years, other times it can come crashing in, with no relief from Atlantic gales that last saw land somewhere of South America. But we are so lucky to live in an area with so much variety and contrast.

Last week I was walking down a country lane over near Gerrans; there could have been no more idyllic illustration of an English springtime. A photograph would not have done it justice, and as I always think, the pictures are always better on the radio! Pink campion was competing with the yellow-green heads of Alexanders and both were loosing out to the cascading blackthorn blossom that has turned the whole of the Roseland into a Santa’s grotto of white frosted hedges.

The blossom may be known as blackthorn but the fruits will be better known as sloes when we collect them in October. From beyond the hedge came the rasping croak of a pheasant strutting his stuff or perhaps warning his little woman that there were humans about! Our dog Nolly simply cannot resist that sound! I have no doubt that she wouldn’t have the first idea what to do is she ever came with grabbing distance of a pheasant, she would more likely want to play than to eat, but I also suspect that we will never find out as she is no match for a pheasant when they can spring into the air that quickly!

Anyway, back to this country lane, with the first hints of green on the oaks, and the sycamore was charging into an early lead, with leaves freshly burst from their protective sheaths. The lemony colour of new leaves reminds me of that lip quivering citrus sharp intake of breath that the Alexander the meerkat makes at the end of his adverts!

In just two steps the distant outline of Gull rock had crept into view with the rocky silhouette of Nare Head pushing it forward into the sea and the waves pounding it back. The change in my perceptions was almost a physical thing, from the warmth of an English country lane to the cold ocean (I think sea temperatures are still only 8-9 deg C and it can look a lot colder!) In just 10 yards I had travelled so much further.

You didn’t think you were going to get away without mention of a bird did you? Tut, Tut! As I have recently lamented at length over the loss of bird species as spring becomes summer on the Roseland, I will hardly mention it now, but at the start of April I was lucky on three separate occasions to flush a snipe from long grass in fields overlooking the Carrick Roads. I hadn’t seen a snipe for years but as soon as it rose from just ahead of me it gave itself away.

Snipe have an absolutely unique jinking flight path. As a game bird they have adapted very quickly in evolutionary terms and know how to upset gun carrying shooters. As soon as they take off, very fast and low, they start jinking left and right until they are well out of range. In the quiet of a field you can even hear their wing coverts as they slither over each other, especially on the bends! How they turn at such an angle, with such grace and at such speed is beyond me, but, for now I will have to be patient as the bird I flushed will almost certainly have headed north to the flow country, that strange wide-open tundra like plain that exists at the very north of Scotland, well beyond the highlands and islands. Up there the nights will be getting ever shorter, until by mid June they are no more than a darkening twilight; all the more time for a breeding bird to forage and to feed hungry chicks.

Ian Bennett

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