Sunday 25 October 2015

Life imitating art

Very occasionally, in these pages, I have mentioned the late Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series of books. In fact, I've just checked my back catalogue and there are a tiny proportion of posts concerning STP and his prolific literary output (less than 1%) which, bearing in mind his popularity within Tense Towers, is a bit of a travesty.

Following his death earlier this year, it's probably fair to say that many Discworld fans were in a state of trepidation regarding the 41st and last book to be written and finally published at the end of August.

Speaking for myself, I wasn't in a rush to buy it, but couldn't quite articulate why not. On our way to Rhodes for First Born's wedding in early September, Our Lass pointed out the book on the shelves of W H Smith's in Manchester Airport and asked if I was yet ready to purchase it. I was not, but still couldn't put it into words. Helpfully, Second Born came to my rescue, by echoing my thoughts and explaining that it was probably due to the fact that it was the last one and, once bought and read, that was it, no new Discworld tales.

As has become customary over time (in some unfathomable, holistic and serendipitous way), a Discworld book was published shortly before my birthday each year so, as long as I was in possession of a little patience, everything would come to he who waits.

And it unfolded in a similar way this year, too.

Again I prevaricated, carefully crafting reasons not to begin reading the book and so hastening the end of the story. However, eventually, I did succumb to curiosity and begin reading The Shepherd's Crown, a story centred upon the young witch Tiffany Aching, who lives on the downland where, unsurprisingly, the main agricultural occupation is the raising of fluffy, white lawnmowers.

Then, yesterday, the postman delivered the latest edition of British Wildlife (in fact, the first edition since the publication of The Shepherd's Crown) and on page 25 is an article about sheep and The Chalk.

See, I told you it was holistic.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Weather writer

It's been a while, huh? And I'm not sure why.

Blogging seems to have taken a back seat of late, but without any clear reason for the lack of output. Yeah, things have been busier recently, though not to the exclusion of all else, so it's a bit of a mystery as to the scarcity of wordage.

Coincidentally, this diminution of posting has accompanied some settled weather. Orkney has experienced a sort of Indian Summer, with warm spells and calm days. Perhaps the meteorology is my muse?

Now, as we experience the calm before the first storm of the season, here I am sat at my computer, tippy-tappeting away at the keyboard, brow furrowed in concentration as, outside, night falls and the sky uses the cover of darkness to unleash some serious weather.

In fact, the return of my muse was presaged a few mornings ago, when I opened the bedroom curtains, bleary-eyed and out of focus due to a lack of spectacles. I was vaguely aware of a flock of birds flying over the garden and away from the house.

Cue a quick sprint to the lounge for my bins, dodging Our Lass mid-Whatsapp, and arriving at the window to ID the flock. It was a large, tight group of birds, by now flying over the stubble field across the road. Starlings. But before I could even think of uttering the word 'murmuration', I noticed the reason for this particular behaviour. It was a female Hen Harrier, gliding nonchalantly through the airspace between the flock and the ground.

As the RSPB website explains:

"Starlings join forces for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird amidst a hypnotising flock of thousands."

OK, this particular flock was not of that order, but the intention was pretty clear.

However, Hen Harriers don't routinely surf the web, so this lady raptor suddenly went into a steep climb and stall, talons raised, as she bludgeoned into the massed ranks of Starlings.

The flock disintegrated, as each bird suddenly remembered an important engagement elsewhere, but not before one of their number had to send its final apology for a missed meeting. The harrier landed in a neighbouring field with her prize and, once sure that she wouldn't be disturbed, began to devour the unfortunate victim.

The whole episode had lasted a matter of seconds, but the memory of the natural drama will stay with me for a long while.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Sunday 4th October 2015

It's been a grand day.

Orkney awoke to gentle sunshine and not a breath of wind, so after a late breakfast, Our Lass and I pottered down to the coast to make the most of the weather before everything changes (i.e. tomorrow).

The tide was out in Holm Sound and a varied selection of waders loafed about on the exposed rocks. An occasional distant splashing puzzled us for a while, until we spotted a fish leaping out of the water. Whether this was to catch flies or to escape the jaws of some unseen predator, we couldn't fathom.

We sat on the sea wall by St Nicholas' Kirk, soaking up the warmth from an Autumnal sun. The only sound to be heard was the 'clacking' of stones on the beach, as they were industriously turned over by er... Turnstones.

Out of the corner of our eyes, we noticed a sudden movement to our right. It appeared to be a short white stick standing vertically by the side of the road. Eh? A second glance resolved the vision into a Stoat, stood up to check us out and revealing its white underside.

Reckoning that we were either not a threat or, more likely, it didn't care, the Stoat then crossed the road and began searching through the rocks at the top of the beach. A few waders and pipits took the opportunity to move a little further away, but the Stoat seemed to ignore them and worked its way along the beach towards us.

The following photos were shot with my phone, despite not being able to see the screen properly due to the glare from the sun.

Sorry it's a bit "Where's Wally?", but the Stoat kept disappearing and appearing between the rocks, as it cautiously approached us, ending up about three feet from me.

As mentioned before in these pages, Stoats are not native to Orkney, as shown in this recently-commissioned report for SNH. Entertaining and furry, they may be, but there's a great many species native to Orkney that are not evolved to cope with their arrival.

With the changing seasons, there's flocks of birds everywhere. The most ephemeral are the Pink-footed Geese heading south from Iceland and Greenland. Their calls have me searching left and right, looking for the source of the sound. Invariably, they're directly overhead and the last place I look.

The local Starlings are easier to locate...

Following a pleasant afternoon of garden chores, the evening saw the sunset bring a wonderful day to a close.