Sunday 11 February 2018

Air to ground missive

As the light faded after a cloud-obscured sunset, Our Lass and I stood at the lounge window, gazing out towards the distant snow-covered Hoy hills. In this, the coldest Winter since we moved to Orkney four years ago, the vegetation of field and garden seems to be shrinking back into the earth. Bitingly cold winds and extremity-stinging hail take their toll on all life, both plant and animal.

With the grass gradually leaching its greenness through various shades of straw towards a pale brown, in the field opposite I noticed a darker colouration. Possibly a long dead stump of a dochan, but with the teasing potential to be a Hare hunkered down against the elements. As it turned out, it was neither of these things, my binoculars revealing a raptor, possibly a Sparrowhawk, busy plucking a kill. The failing light made it tricky to be sure but, whilst Our Lass kept her eye on the bird, I risked a dash for the camera. Halfway there, she informed me that the bird had flown, spooked by a pair of Hooded Crows. I returned to the window as the Hoodies saw off the bird of prey, and watched as they pottered around the area where the kill had occurred. The raptor must have taken its hard-won prey with it, as the crows found little to reward their mobbing efforts.

Today's fleeting glimpses of the competition for food have brought home just how tough it is to survive in this harsh environment. The waders and waterfowl at least have the shore and the shallows to provide daily sustenance, but the corvids need all their cognitive abilities and cunning, and the raptors their agility and talons, to make it through to the approaching Spring.


Martin said...

I noted the comment about it being the coldest winter. This is interesting because down in the West Country it has been pretty wet and wild, but not particularly cold. The TV weather commented only the other day that this week was almost the first settled (and therefore cold) weather of the winter. I'm assuming the weather systems normally track further north giving you warmer and wetter conditions and the south the more settled and colder conditions associated with winter high pressure systems. Everything is relative of course because warm up the is colder than cold down here! BW

Imperfect and Tense said...

I must admit that it is a very small sample size, this being only our fifth Winter here. However, in that short time, this Winter has provided the most frost, snow and ice (bearing in mind that I would only expect to be scraping the windscreen of the car a couple of times during the season). It will be interesting to see whether any bird species suffer from this more prolonged spell of cold weather (for instance, historically, Stonechats take a hammering and have to re-establish a population) and if certain invertebrates are less numerous in 2018 (oo, let's see... midges?). But, as you say, it is all relative, we're still warmer than inland places and hilly regions of the UK.