Three or four mornings over the last week, I have lain in bed in the dark, not particularly early hours, listening to a little owl calling somewhere nearby. It is a delightfully eerie sound.
On Monday morning, while making a cup of tea, I looked out of the kitchen window to see a grey squirrel—a rarity in this neck of the non-woods—chasing Philip the pheasant around the lawn.
It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that all three creatures—owl, squirrel, and pheasant—represent non-native species that were introduced to the island of Great Britain by mankind. Just like me—a Wirral lad relocated to Yorkshire—they are off-comed-uns who will never be totally accepted by the natives.
I am remarkably inconsistent when it comes to non-native species. Little owls and pheasants don't bother me in the slightest. In fact, I rather like them, as I like other non-native species, such as rabbits and brown hares. But grey squirrels really wind me up. Grey squirrels and domestic cats.
Domestic cats and grey squirrels will be first and second against the wall respectively, come the Glorious Richard Revolution.
I had hoped to get back into the nature-blogging swing of things this month, but the British weather has been so dire that I haven't got out much.
On the last day of May, as I lay awake in bed at 5am, I was delighted to hear a very distant cuckoo cuckooing away for all he was worth. This is the first time I have ever heard a cuckoo in West Yorkshire. Later that day, I had a long phone-chat with my babaceous friend Stense in Scotland. She was delighted at my cuckoo news, having not heard a cuckoo herself for yonks. Half an hour after our call, a very excited Stense phoned me back: she had taken the dog for a walk and was standing directly underneath a cuckoo. There was another cuckooing away not far off. The calls came across so clearly on the phone that, for a bit of fun, I tried to record them. By the time I had rigged up my microphone, however, the cuckoos had moved off, so all I got was a recording of Stense asking me if I could hear anything!
Dad reminded me a couple of weeks ago that Mum used to say that the woodpigeon nesting in one of the trees in their garden sounded as if it was singing ‘Old Man River’. Ridiculous, obviously, until you actually hear it; then it is unmistakeable. It must run in the family: I am now convinced that one of the blackbirds in our garden keeps singing the word ‘Sarajevo’.
I finally managed to get a walk on the moor this Wednesday (13th), and was delighted to see a buzzard circling high above High Brown Knoll. Far too far away to get a photo, but exciting because it was my first ever buzzard above the moor. Persecution makes buzzards extremely rare in sheep- and grouse-country.
During the walk, I also spotted a little owl. It spotted me too, which means I couldn't get all that close. But I did at least manage to get a few photos this time.
Buzzards and little owls notwithstanding, the undoubted highlight of the week came on Monday (11th) as I was working in the dining room: a newly fledged house sparrow stood on the stone in the middle of our bird-bath, trying to pluck up the courage to take the plunge. It tested the water several times with one foot, then leant over for a closer assessment. It had the fright of its very short life when it saw another sparrow looking up out of the water at it. You have never seen a sparrow move quite so fast!
Come on, British summer, you're bloody late! It's the solstice next week!
First update of 2012. What can I say? I've been busy.
January began with snowdrops. I spotted my first, under the smaller of our two sycamores on 5th—the earliest snowdrop in our garden ever, I believe. Two days later, and it was decapitated in a storm. But it was a welcome reminder that winters don't go on forever.
I have taken several walks on the moor. Ice and mud, mainly—and a few stalwart grouse. I also saw a flock of 48 fieldfares. (Yes, I counted them: sad, I know.)
I had a truly astonishing walk up on the moor on 11th February. The area had been hit by frozen ice, so every heather twiglet and blade of grass had been sheathed in ice. It was so cold that the grouse, which I could hear nearby, had taken to hiding instead of flying away—presumably to save energy. They couldn't have been getting much food, with all the heather frozen.
At home, we had our first siskin in the garden. Well, probably not our first—but certainly the first I recognised as a siskin! And we have had a small number of fieldfares and redwings in the front field, although those seem to have returned to Scandinavia now.
Then, this Tuesday, I was in the kitchen making a brew, when there was a tremendous crash against the window next to the bird-feeder. A sparrowhawk, I guessed. I ran over to the window, but there was no sign of anything, save for a few small feathers stuck to the window. But the blackbirds in the garden were going ballistic: they had clearly seen what had happened. I went back upstairs to work, but, 45 minutes later, I realised that the blackbirds were still going ballistic. I went to investigate, and found a little owl sitting in the thorn tree, getting mobbed by chaffinches. I managed to fire off a single, poorly exposed photo before it flew off.
I later read that little owls do indeed eat small birds. They also seem to have stolen a trick from sparrowhawks, and taken to ambushing small birds at feeders.
There are definite signs that spring is on the way. Our garden robin has taken to singing very vocally before sunrise, and is starting to get a bit bolshy. So I'm hoping I should be able to start giving more regular updates in this journal in the near future.
Spotted a little owl on some telegraph wires on the moors above Cragg Vale this morning, as I was heading to work. It was at pretty much the same spot as I spotted a little owl several times last year, so I'm hoping it will be the first of many such sightings this year.