Tag Archives: rooks

Crested Thingamajig

12 Jun

Ten thousand years ago, the last ice age came to an end, and meltwater ran into valleys forged by glaciers, bringing nutrient-rich silt down from the mountains. These valleys transformed into lush river habitats, perfect places for our nomadic ancestors to begin to farm. The final glacier of this period melted into the valley that became Loch Lomond. You could say that the last ice age ended at our doorstep… or a few miles from it, anyway.

Ten thousand years on, the glacial valley in which we live remains lush, with the Forth River winding between fields full of crops and livestock that thrive on the rich soil. We are having a wet summer, and the rains have produced a lot of grass for silage-making.

What you can’t see in that picture are the large flocks of birds running and flying in front of the tractors, presumably capturing invertebrates disturbed by the harvesting. Or are they after something else? They stuck around for a few days after this harvest. Here they are the day after, when there were no piles of grass to hide them:

The rooks and black-headed gulls I had expected to see, but the herring gulls were a surprise. I had not seen herring gulls in the area until this week. Another unusual sight was the crested thingamajig. It looks familiar, like I ought to know what it is, but I don’t. I’m sure, though, that several of my readers will immediately be able to tell me its name!

Crested thingamajig

Sorry about the quality, but remember that you can click on the photos to view them in more detail.

It pleases me to watch the ways in which the wild things follow the cycles of agricultural life, and how the agricultural activities follow the cycles of weather and insect. It makes me think about the biodiversity here: how rich it is, and how well wilderness and cultivation can blend if we allow them to.

 

Update:

Thank you, dear readers, for informing me that the thingamajig is a lapwing, otherwise known as a peewit.

Following a link about the bird sent to me by Cloudhopper, I have also learned that the RSPB (UK bird charity) owns a farm. “Run as a commercial enterprise,” says its website, “we use Hope Farm to give hands on demonstrations of how farming can benefit birds and other wildlife without farmers losing income.”

Now, that’s what I like to see.

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Spring! And Can You Identify these Birds?

10 Feb

The sun was not just bright today: there was actual warmth in it too.  Buds were appearing on trees that had not yet shaken off all of their Autumn leaves, and the birds were in a state of high excitement. Tits, treecreepers, finches, robins, blackbirds, rooks – all were chirping their heads off and flitting from tree to tree as though preparations for a royal wedding were under way.

In the distance in one of the fields, a glossy flock of starlings was rooting among the grasses for delicacies. Among them was a flock of other birds. These are the ones I’m not sure of. A little smaller than doves, they preferred running to flying: they would stand up very tall and then run like the wind for several yards to a new browsing-patch. I half-expected to hear them going “meep-meep!” like the cartoon Roadrunner.

I set my lens to full zoom and tried to use the hedge as a makeshift tripod, but it kept swaying. This was the clearest picture I got (click it for the full-sized version). Are they some kind of thrush?

I thought about climbing into the field to get a closer look, but there was an extensive flood between me and them, and I wasn’t wearing wellies. As I assessed the expanse of water, I noticed this robin enjoying himself: he hopped in and out of the shallows for a good ten minutes.

I was surprised to also spot a very young squirrel. Already! These squirrels don’t hang about. I suppose it could have been a midget squirrel, but it seemed rather callow. This is how it hid from me:

UPDATE: I now have it on good authority that the mystery birds are fieldfares.

 

 

Looking for Something to Kill

2 Feb

“There’s a murder in the back field,” said Bunty. I knew what he was referring to, and grabbed my camera on the way to view the spectacle. We get a lot of murders around here. When the visibility is good, and there has been rain the day before, we’ll see one out there: a murder of crows, gathered in the field and on the trees and the garden wall, and all over the roof of the cottage. They are looking for worms, but it’s a very Hitchcockian sight. However, they have a sixth sense about cameras: all I have to do to make the whole kaboodle take to the air is contemplate taking a picture. I snapped this one by hiding behind the garden wall and then popping up and clicking with blind hope.

At our local shopping centre, there lives a rook with a broken wing. I call him Hopalong. He can’t fly but he can jump quite high, and he lives by scavenging bins around the car parks. I don’t know where he goes at night, but the place is surrounded by trees and thick shrubbery, and the shops have awnings that keep the weather off. When the snows came, and everything froze iron-hard, Bunty and I went looking for him a few times. We didn’t find him, and thought he had perished. But one afternoon, there he was again, hopping between thawing snow-patches, looking sprightly as ever. I love the adaptability of crows.

It’s odd that the collective noun for them is a “murder”, considering that they feed on Chinese takeaways and small invertebrates. I suppose their black feathers and wicked-looking beaks do little for their image. Perhaps this is the real reason behind the proposed nationwide crow cull discussed on Ninjameys’ zoology blog. They are being blamed for a drop in songbird population, because crows apparently feed on other birds’ eggs. The songbirds around our cottage nest in dense hedgerows or hollows that crows are too big to reach into, wheareas invertebrates are abundant and easy to catch; but crows are opportunists, and I am sure they would eat eggs, given the right circumstances.

I think about our rooks in the spring, playing chasing games across the lawn among the bluetits and finches and robins; scavenging for muesli scattered by the guinea pigs, and splashing each other with puddle-water. These are playful, sapient birds. They belong to the same family as jays and bee eaters, whose appearance fills people with joy. Nobody views jays with the suspicion allotted to their black-clad cousins, and I am sure that, though they are also crows, they will not be included in the cull.

Scotland and my mountainous Welsh homeland are both full of hunters. Sometimes they do it to put food on their tables; but sometimes, it feels as though people are just looking for something to kill.