Sun is Shining

So, it’s been a little while since the last Blog. Why? Because it’s sunny! I’ve been outside soaking it up…

Daffodil shoots can already be seen peeking cautiously out from between the clods of soil near my house. The great tits that inhabit the wooded path have been filling the air with their ‘teacher-teacher’ spring song, closely followed by a party of long-tailed tits whose tiny voices tinkle like wind chimes in the trees. The nests these birds build are delicately woven balls of spider silk and feathers, decorated with bits of lichen or moss to help conceal them. The little chicks must be very cosy inside, and as they grow, the nest actually stretches to accommodate them! I’ll be keeping an eye out in a month or two.

On Wednesday I was out looking for rather bigger birds. I was giving a bit of an ‘orientation’ to two brothers who hope to do some filming here on Glengorm. Our luck was really in, and we managed to obtain splendid views of two White-tailed eagles down at Mingary, plus a male Hen harrier near the Standing Stones. I’m really pleased that we’ve started seeing at least one male again; it’s impossible to know whether this is one of our resident individuals, but with the abundance of females here on the estate I have high hopes for the coming breeding season. The survival of hen harriers teeters on a knife edge elsewhere in the UK, and our birds are becoming increasingly important. It makes me really proud to work in a place where harriers can be seen daily; so much so that I have chosen them as the new emblem for our Wildlife Project.

Peter and Scot really got the grand tour, and I rather suspect they slept well after it… I know I certainly did?! Peter has some great ideas for footage of Glengorm’s historical features as well as its wildlife. He hopes to capture the atmospheric nature of the ruined village and Sean Dun by using time-lapse photography. When we arrived at Balimeanach (the ruined village abandoned during the Clearances) the sun was shining through the glen. One of the houses has a lovely carving in the doorway, and there are other similar works hidden around the estate. Inside the house, we found part of a bed frame – it looked very old, so might have been original. It was decorated with flowers and must have been very pretty once upon a time. Now, it is sadly canted and rusting against the crumbling wall.

I’ve also been riding around quite a bit with Alex. He often goes out to areas of the estate that I don’t know very well when doing his farming duties. He was born and raised on Glengorm, so has had plenty of time to explore the interesting nooks and crannies!

Friday was my first proper trip up to Sean Dun, one of the two Iron Age forts that we have on the estate. The view was breathtaking, and it was amazing to think of all the people that have enjoyed it through history – long before the likes of me! From this height, it is also possible to see the ‘Lazy Beds’. These are man-made undulations in the ground used for farming right up until the 19thC in Scotland. In some instances, sea-weed was brought up from the shores to use as fertilizer. The ridges allow good drainage of the soil for crops.

We also went up to Loch Torr. In summer, large numbers of lapwing gather here. If you’ve never seen or heard a lapwing, they are one of Britain’s most sensational birds. The plumage is a deep bottle-green with an oily sheen of purple around the wings. A striking black bib covers a glossy white chest, like an inverted dinner suit. A wispy crest pokes from a square – but charming – head. In flight the wings have a curiously rounded appearance, with the black tips swatting frantically to and fro like air traffic signals on a runway. Their call is mechanical, wacky, like a sci-fi device in meltdown (think flashing lights and smoke in Dr. Who). The strange ‘zips’ and ‘pops’ seem better suited to a futuristic disco than the quaintly rolling fields of the British countryside.

But few birds are as acrobatic and pugnacious; their displays during the nesting season are jaw dropping – to the extent where applause almost seems necessary. When living in Abernethy, my chalet overlooked a marshy field. Here, the lapwings were engaged in a constant battle against a pair of dastardly crows (who had designs of a gastronomic nature on their chicks). The lapwings would tirelessly mob the intruders, diving at them and tumbling through the air to drive them away. The crows were sneaky and often worked together to distract the adults.  Sadly, the lapwing is now suffering a significant decline in the UK – primarily due to changes in farming methods and intensification. The sight of their tiny chicks trundling gamely through rough grass is one that fewer people can enjoy.

My advice? Google them. They’re just so showbiz.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward