Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Farming and wildlife

I spent a few days in Spring staying on an island farm managed by my friends Mike and Val. It's wonderful to see how much wildlife gathers around livestock, to feed on spilled grain and to nest in the farm out-buildings.

The rich grazing land also supports lots of insect food for the birds. And because there are always people working around the livestock, the wildlife becomes very tame. I sat watching and listening to the starlings displaying, as they ran through their repertoire of impersonations. There was the mew of buzzards, honk of greylag, piping of curlew, and the alarm call of a blackbird, all pouring from the beak of one bird.

The livestock affects the landscape directly too. The cattle poach up the marshy ground, increasing the variety of dry and wet areas. Lapwings nest among these hummocks, beautifully camouflaged, the incubating bird like one more mossy mound.

I tried to travel all around the island on my visit, but was constantly drawn back to the farm-buildings by the inspiring mixture of wildlife, domestic animals and human activity.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Black-tailed Godwits

This spring I've been working out of doors on a small island near to home. I was sitting in a borrowed Landrover, out of the wind, painting a nesting Lapwing. The birds are used to the vehicle, which made a perfect, movable hide. Despite my luxuriously appointed accommodation, my back was starting to ache and my feet to grow cold, so I decided to pack up and head for breakfast. As I put away my paints, I checked the shallow pool behind me and saw that a flock of Black-tailed Godwits had arrived. It's a cure I'd recommend to anyone - my aches and pains vanished. I can't remember seeing these waders before - and I'm sure I wouldn't have forgotten, as they are so spectacular. They seem both muscular and graceful, both comical and elegant with their long legs and up-turned bills.
Even more surprising, was that one of the birds was wearing colour-rings. This in itself is not unusual as these birds are the subject of a long-term project studying their migration between Africa, Ireland and Iceland (see The strangest bit was that my Mum had just been to Portugal to help monitor and put rings on birds that were passing through the wetlands there. I wonder if this bird was one of those that they saw, now refueling in Scotland before pushing north again. I've sent off details of the colour-rings, and hope to find out soon.