Saturday 30 January 2016

Grim bits o' cheese

This weekend sees the RSPB's 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch, where feathery citizen science can take centre stage for an hour of comfy birding, staring out of the lounge window whilst cradling a mug of hot chocolate. Here at Tense Towers, we've not taken part in the survey since moving to Orkney in 2013, and circumstances still conspire against our participation. The quantities of trees and bushes planted have not yet reached a critical mass, and those that are growing, are doing so very slowly. In all, there's not much to tempt the ornithology into half an acre of unkempt grass land.

Even 'our' solitary Snipe has forsaken us for the weekend, though this may have more to do with yesterday's meteorology, rather than any lack of wader loyalty.

Yep, Orkney had a visit from Storm Gertrude, the media-savvy weather previously seen with a starring role in New York. We didn't have the amount of snow that the Big Apple saw, but the wind was up at storm force, driving along some fierce hail stones. Any birds flying through that were making heavy weather of the... er... heavy weather.

This morning, the gales have backed off a bit, but there has been some snow overnight.

More in hope than expectation, Our Lass and I sat looking out of the window (with coffee as the hot beverage of choice), watching as grey squalls and small patches of watery sunlight scudded through our view. A few flocks of birds could be seen at distance: Starlings, Common gulls, a Rook/Jackdaw combo, Greylag geese and feral pigeons/Rock doves. Then, a single bird was spotted circling higher in the sky, a Peregrine! Not much chance of that perching in our garden.

And still the weather gusted and hailed. 30 knots! No, not the waders, the wind speed. Gah!

Tomorrow looks to be a little calmer, so I will grate some cheese, on the off chance of persuading the Starlings to deign us with their presence. Oo, talking of Starlings, the BBC's Winterwatch has been on our screens this past week. It can be a little samey, but there's always a few nuggets of science and some impressive camera work to keep us interested. For instance, I didn't know that Starlings' eyes are so positioned that they can see into their own open beaks. Wowser! OK, this probably sounds more impressive if you know that the birds forage for food by jabbing their beaks into the ground, looking for small invertebrates. By forcing their beaks open, the Starlings can see if there's anything tasty in the hole and grab it before it escapes. Amazing!

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