Wednesday, 28 January 2009

What Wakes Up A Jackdaw?

What wakes up a Jackdaw?

One late, late night in my office at the bottom of my garden, I was relaxing with a magazine when I heard the muffled ‘chack’ of a jackdaw; it took a while for the familiarity of the noise to break through my reverie, but suddenly I looked up in surprise; it was pitch black outside and the wind was blowing drizzle against the window. It was gone midnight. No sensible Jackdaw would be out of bed on a night like this.

I went outside to investigate and found that the noise was coming from one of our chimney pots. Unmistakably a young Jackie – but what had woken him up and who was he talking to? Eventually, in descending purrs and grumbles, he presumably dropped off to sleep and I never recall hearing him having his nightmares again.

On a similar vein, I have often wondered what happens to birds disturbed out of their roosts in the middle of the night. When on lamping trips for example, one occasionally puts up a crow or magpie, who inevitably shout the place down as they disappear into the velvet night. Pigeons too make a racket, but with their wings rather than their voiceboxes; either way, it can scare the living daylights out of you on a quiet, stealthy evening.
But presumably, being daytime creatures like ourselves, their night vision is not all that impressive? How on earth can they safely navigate their way to another warm and secure roost when they presumably can’t see?

Monday, 26 January 2009

Morning Walk

Skived a morning off midweek to try and tackle the grey clouds of pigeon that are now driving the farmer to distraction as they pack winter rape into their crops until they're fit to burst.

Found a flock of a couple of hundred or so enjoying themselves on a 15-acre field that was extremely difficult to shoot due its layout and the crisscross of footpaths running alongside it.

After spending 10 minutes watching the birds sunning themselves and enjoying a mid-morning nibble, I gave up on the idea of trying to tempt them into some decoys and just walked them off the crop.

Then I headed elsewhere for a quick wander with the gun before lunch. It was a good move. A stunning morning was unfolding, with isolated pockets of frost crisping the hollows and bright, spring-like sun warming the higher ground.

I walked up a blackthorn hedge, disturbing a small flock of long-tailed tits, who performed acrobatics alongside me for a while and then moved into a swathe of headland.

I had gone no more than 20 paces when a magnificent wild cock bird leapt up into the air in front and tried to use the breeze to curl back over my head. Instinctively I swung and shot and the bird folded out of the blue and landed on young wheat shoots 15 yards to my left. On closer examination he really was a stunning bird, iridescent in the bright sunshine. I enclose a picture of him that simply doesn't do him justice.

A simple, beautiful morning walk that will live long in my memory; just another private moment in a long list of wild experiences that I hope will continue for many years to come.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Aussie Wasp

Now I'm taking a bit of a liberty here and extending the remit of my blog. You'll find I do that.

I'm a big cricket fan and the recent retirement of bullying opener Matthew Hayden got me thinking about what his wildlife counterpart might be.

Even though the correlation of colours might be obvious from the above pictures, I think there's more to it than that. The wasp is one of nature's unloved; an 'in yer face' nuisance, a pest, at best annoying, at worst downright dangerous. The same adjectives could be used to describe Hayden and his bludgeoning, belligerent, confrontational style.

Statistics show him as an opening bat of truly legendary status, but aesthetically he was about as welcome to the wicket as a wasp at a picnic. Bowlers tried to wave him on his way early, but more often than not he'd soon be driving them to distraction - usually straight down the ground.

Hitting in the 'V' was his speciality and also provided his downfall. Enticed by pitched up bowling, he was duped repeatedly by Michael Vaughan's short extra cover during the 1995 Ashes series. It happened so frequently that it became Vaughan's equivalent of setting out a sticky jam jar half filled with water - and waiting for his prey to drown in it's own greed and self belief.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Where have all the icicles gone?

I took this picture of a frosted web outside the house this morning after the freeze returned overnight with a vengeance. Is it me, or is this the first time that we've had a proper winter for many a year?

Forgive me for sounding like a pompous old so and so, but in my day, we had proper winters every year; frosts were virtually nightly and would set in for weeks at a time and you could guarantee a generous fall of snow at least once - and that meant the glory of a day off school.

A snowy day off school is a lifetime treasure, something to wear close to your heart to keep you warm when times are hard. My snowy school skives are among my fondest childhood memories.

They began with that strange glow in the room when you awake, an unusual brightness that burns like halogen behind the curtains. And then - when you open them!

Blinding glare from behind the frosted pane and a world that was drab and commonplace last night transformed into a playground of infinite adventure. The best bit of all, when Dad came in to say, with mock gravity, "I'm sorry kids - I don't think we will make it to school today." Such unadulterated joy has seldom, if ever, been replicated in adulthood.

But I digress. Winters were, as I say, more reliable then, and the other day I had a revelatory thought. When was the last time I saw an icicle?

They seemed to be everywhere in the rosy memories of youthful winters; hanging from the stable eaves, glass daggers that Dad had to remove with a broom in case - in my fevered imagination - they would descend like a flashing blade and plunge into you from above.

They hung heavily from the trees on occasion, refracting light in remarkable rainbows. Standpipes built great thick crusts of them, growing and shrinking almost visibly throughout the day and night.

But I can't remember the last time I saw an icicle. Can you?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Freezing Fog

Was beating on a driven game shoot over the weekend. The countryside was clenched in the iron grip of a long freeze and I felt sorry for many of the birds and creatures that came at us out of the mist.

With game such as Woodcock, Duck and Snipe off the shoot list thanks to the longstanding period of hard frost, I watched them curl like apparitions into the great greyness and wondered for the umpteenth time how on earth they survive conditions like this.

The answer, I suppose, is that many of them don't. Woodcock and snipe in particular rely on soft ground to forage for their favourite worms and inveterbrates, and when they are not available for long periods, many birds perish.

The collective name for a flock of snipe is Wisp - a wonderfully evocative, melancholic name, ideally suited to the half a dozen or so birds I saw vanish on a cold, starkly beautiful day.

Welcome to The Amateur Naturalist

Hello and welcome to an occasional blog on all things wild and wonderful.

From fishing for trout, to birdwatching, beewatching, tree hopping and hedge lopping - a crucible of thoughts and observations from the armchair of The Amateur Naturalist.

I hope you enjoy the rambling ramblings and visit again soon. Feel free to drop me a line with your comments.