2019 marks 40 years of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, the long-running project to detect changing trends in Britain's garden visitors, with the latest survey taking place last weekend. The weather here in Orkney was dreich, with persistent drizzle all day Saturday and more of the same for Sunday with the added bonus of a brisk northerly wind. It was so awful that a planned Field Club walk to look for waders on a stretch of coast in Evie was cancelled.
So, all things considered, I had decided not to bother with the Garden Birdwatch this year. That was until, whilst peering out through the rivulets of rain running down the lounge window, I detected a blurry movement across the lawn. Yup, there, foraging in the lee of the dry stone wall, was a Blackbird, the sole representative of feathered fauna to be witnessed gracing our environs with its presence all weekend.
Since then, the weather has been calmer, colder and altogether much icier and snowier. This has been quite picturesque at times (those when I didn't have to drive anywhere) and rather treacherous at others (those when I did). But gradually, either because of the change in weather or the fact that birds are just plain old perverse, a few species began to reappear around Tense Towers.
Firstly, on Monday morning, as I pottered about outside, I could hear Skylarks quietly trilling to one another. On looking around, I traced the sound to a small flock, just over the fence in the field opposite.
Tuesday brought Meadow Pipits, again I was alerted by their contact calls, and these too were foraging close by. Even more pleasingly, half a dozen Rooks spent some time investigating the road beyond our garden wall, presumably for invertebrates which had succumbed to an application of road salt. The sun put in a brief appearance, so I was able to take a few photos of the Rooks (through the windows, so as not to spook them).
Yesterday (Wednesday), I didn't have much opportunity for wildlife-watching, but was incredibly lucky on two separate occasions. Firstly, in the morning, as I was looking out of the window to check on the weather before setting off to work, a largish brown bird was flying low over the field opposite. My initial reaction was "Sparrowhawk?", but as it banked and rose to clear a fence, I saw the telltale white patch at the base of its tail. Hen harrier!
Then, later in the day, I was on the phone to a client and, deep in thought about an IT problem, I absent-mindedly wandered over to the window again. Whilst a goodly proportion of my brain cells were involved with discussing spreadsheet cells, another significant number were helping to track a wader which was soaring up from the field opposite. Being careful not to say the word 'Snipe' out loud, I was just awarding myself a brownie point for the fortuitous sighting, when another movement on the edge of my vision caught my attention. This, the cause of the Snipe's flight, was another Hen Harrier, a male resplendent in its silver/grey plumage, which was now wheeling away to try its luck elsewhere.
As I type, today, a lazy flock of Common Gulls is slowly drifting by the window. The birds are likely en route from the pasture where they have been foraging, headed to either the shore or a recently-ploughed field. Meantime, several vocal flocks of Greylag Geese are making the journey in the opposite direction, from sea to fields, to begin their day's foraging. The local Starling and House Sparrow flock are noticeable only by their absence. Must be all those flippin' harriers!