School holidays syndrome has struck this year. The kids are on holidays, so the weather has been pretty poor. It’s still cold- we’ve had fresh snow on Morven one day- and I’m assuming there’s more fresh snow today. But I can’t see the top of the hill to be sure…you can barely see the bottom of the hill right now! It’s been snowing at Burn o Vat, though, mercifully, not lying. We were watching a mistle thrush hunting worms in the snow outside the office window.
Mistle thrushes aren’t called “stormcocks” for nothing. They are the one bird that will keep singing through the April showers, while everything else shuts up and takes cover. Like any thrush, they’re great to watch working a lawn for worms, cocking their head to one side to see movement in the grass- the classic “listening” pose of a thrush.
The big excitement for me this week was possibly spotting a long-tailed tit building a nest. I’ve always wanted to find one of these- they are amazing domed constructions of lichen, feathers and moss- and all held together with cobwebs. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this tree to see if the birds return to it when it gets a bit warmer.
The adders certainly haven’t been appreciating the cold weather. We still haven’t seen any females or any skin-shed males yet- but the cold weather could well be slowing up their breeding season.
It’s slowing up the leaves, too. The birches are only just starting to show green now and really need a few days of sun to bring them into full leaf.
The spring flowers are slow too. The primroses and wood anemones seem reluctant to flower, and aren’t fully opening up in the cold weather.
It’s hard to know what effect the cold is having on other birds. We still have some voices missing from our dawn chorus- no tree pipits, willow warblers or redstarts yet. But birds like the chaffinches are in full voice. In a way, its shame they’re so common- a male chaffinch is a gorgeous-looking bird, and if it was rare, we’d go daft for it. But, because we see them picking up crumbs around picnic tables all the time, they get a wee bit overlooked.
Some migrants are in. There have been good numbers of sand martins and up to 5 swallows feeding over the loch this week.
The ducks don’t seem to be as put off by the weather as the small birds- but their breeding season begins earlier, with a lot of ducks starting to display not long after the new year. The goldeneye are still trying to charm females with their endearingly ridiculous head-toss and “zip- zwwrrooo” call.
But all this breeding is hard work. Male ducks spend a lot of time posturing and fighting, while the females need all their energy for egg production. They need to catch up on their sleep while they can.
Its hard work for the mute swans too- all those rival swans to duff up or all those passing whooper swans to get uptight about. This male couldn’t decide if he was fighting or sleeping, so compromised by leaving his neck puffed up and his wings in the threat position and dozing off.
We had an interesting north meets south moment on Thursday. Twenty-one whooper swans had dropped in on their way north, while above them hovered the first osprey I’ve seen here this year. These could be the last whoopers we see this year, but we’ll see plenty more ospreys! So keep your eyes peeled if you’re out this weekend….in spite of the cold, there are still plenty of coming and goings.