The conservation and heritage charity for the
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

Weekly Nature Watch

Keith Graham's weekly update on the nature of the Park.

Country View 15.4.15

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Proper use of handkerchiefs, I remember being told when I was a lad, ensured that we didn’t spread diseases but there was a time when such accoutrements of life were perhaps more useful as a means of preventing the entry of things like noxious smells than for keeping germs in! It is easy to forget that not too many generations ago, our ancestors lived in a world in which hygiene was a rare commodity and in which it was customary to literally dump waste out of windows and doors. In short, where there were concentrations of human settlement, there was also in equal measure, no shortage of smells, most of them, pretty unpleasant.
Gentlemen therefore strolling through such streets, were always equipped with the said handkerchiefs but they had another gauntlet to run, for such items of dress were apparently attractive not only to people but to birds as well. Red kites you see, patrolled those same streets for whatever feeding opportunities they could glean from what the good folk threw out. But those same kites saw the likes of handkerchiefs as fair game too! 
So it should come as little surprise to learn that some of today’s new generation of kites has been attracted to suburban gardens down in England’s well populated southern counties, by the distribution of meaty handouts, Most people put nuts and seed out to attract a variety of birds into their gardens; these folk are putting out scraps of meat! But then it is perhaps true that red kites soaring into a garden to exploit such offerings are a tad more sensational than bluetits!
In those days when red kites were indeed familiar residents of town and city streets, they apparently saw handkerchiefs as fair game, often using such items in the construction of their nests. So they became bold enough to pluck such things from pockets. Red kites as pick-pockets may seem bizarre yet such activities were apparently commonplace. Today’s new generation of kites still finds strips of colourful plastic attractive. They often decorate their nests with such paraphernalia.
However attitudes towards marauding kites changed radically during the nineteenth century as indeed they did towards all birds of prey. Past generations of red kites almost perished entirely during man’s unremitting war on all birds possessed of hooked beaks and taloned feet! The slaughter of raptors was perhaps at its height during the years around the turn of the twentieth century. Sea eagles and ospreys were eliminated and red kites remained only in one relatively small but remote area in Wales.
Unlike the changes in the use of land which turned so much of England and Scotland into a playground for the ‘nouveau riche’, Central Wales remained almost entirely unchanged. There was apparently, little in the way of development in the controversial area of the sporting estate. Thankfully, the old ways persisted and this therefore became a sanctuary for red kites; the one place in Britain where they could live unmolested. It will come as no surprise that the survival of this rump of kites was however, considerably boosted by the long hours put in by a hard core of dedicated folk to protect the jewels in the Welsh crown, whose vigilance was well rewarded.
In more recent times, as attitudes and legislation has vastly changed our outlook towards such things, red kites have in a sense, re-surfaced. Not everyone is necessarily a supporter of the re-introduction of creatures which were once endemic here but which, for one reason or another have disappeared from our landscape. There are I know for instance, crofters in the north who would certainly, given the chance, vote against the re-introduction of the sea eagle, albeit that they have I know, become another ‘good reason’ for a ‘bad lambing’!
Having watched these quite magnificent raptors in recent years, I have to confess having developed a soft spot for them. Now we have beavers restored to our landscape too and some are eager to go further and bring back the lynx, the wolf and the brown bear. Scotland now is a vastly different place from the Scotland then when wolves and the like roamed our wilder places and such steps, even beyond all other considerations, might only serve to substantially escalate conflict. But there does not seem to be any rationale to opposition to the re-introduction of kites up and down the country. Imagine the thrill of kites diving into your garden to feed. The tourism industries in different part of Britain are certainly benefitting from the various kite feeding stations that have been introduced including of course, our local one near Doune. 
Kites are not ravenous killers! The threat they pose to game is as minimal as it is likely to be. Kites are eager consumers of carrion, avid ‘wormers’, take small mammals and some small birds but the threat they offer to game birds for instance, is utterly minimal, Which is why it is so sad that red kites seem to be the principal victims of poisoning incidents, probably because they are so prone to feed on carrion. It was with some delight therefore that I watched a kite the other day drift over here. I was able to take a good long look at it and found myself being forced to agree with one of those dedicated Welshmen who spent so much time protecting those vital last kites in Wales, who wrote, “The red kite is quite simply the most beautiful bird of prey in Britain. For that matter there is no other bird of prey across the length and breadth of the kite’s range in Europe, to rival its consummate aerial grace or the beauty of its plumage.”
This kite was the very picture of serenity, drifting in wide circles as it scoured the ground below for any feeding opportunities. But watch a kite in different mood; watch it as it comes to a feeding station, ducking, diving, standing on its wing end, pirouetting, flexing those glorious forked tail tips, the supreme athlete, acrobat, an aerial entrepreneur if ever I saw one. I am eternally grateful that they have been restored to our landscape and even more grateful to be able to go and watch them at close quarters in more flamboyant mood.

Country View 2.4.15

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April is a month of movement. New arrivals are the order of the day albeit that at the beginning of the month the arrival of those first avian migrants is represented by a mere trickle. As the days continue to lengthen, that trickle will develop into a steady flow before the deluge, which, when it at last arrives, sees real and substantial changes to the sight, sounds and moods of our landscape. The first of the new arrivals of which I was aware, was eminently predictable, the notes announcing its presence, monotonous, drifting down from the bare canopy high above me, an insignificant signal to hear, yet at the same time, very significant, if on this occasion, it was heard but not seen. Is there anything quite so anonymous as the humble chiff-chaff? Not much of a songster with that simple, two tone song and not really much to look at either, a rather plain little brown bird. Yet this small, ordinary bird, sets the changing scene and is I suppose, quite glamorous having just travelled several thousand miles!
Perhaps this solitary chiff-chaff represented the ‘ridiculous’, when compared the other new arrival, seen a day or two later, which is surely deserving of the description, ‘sublime’. Hanging high above what must be the pretty icy waters of the loch, especially after it had been freshened up by several passing sleet and hail showers, the other immigrant certainly raised the heartbeat. Nothing surely sets the heart astir more vibrantly than an osprey, especially when it is the first one of the year. All birds of prey set the pulses racing. The kestrel’s wonderfully controlled hover, the hawk’s speed and cunning, the sheer power of the eagle, the explosiveness of the gos or the breathtaking speed of the peregrine. But the osprey is just so magnificent, its quartering flight over loch, river or in-shore waters, a mere prelude to what follows as the bird spots far below, a fish sauntering close to the surface. 
Now it checks, briefly hovering before entering a shallow dive which accelerates as it nears the water. The taloned legs are lowered and the bird hits the water, feet first in a mighty splash. Now it grapples with its slippery prey for what sometimes seems minutes but which in reality is just seconds. But, not every such dive yields reward. 
The intended target may slip back into the depths before the assault can be completed and the bird then pulls out of its headlong dive, resuming its quartering quest for victims. This incredible expose of the hunting skills of an osprey when it is successful, is completed as the bird rises from the water, pauses to vigorously shake to rid its plumage of excess water, manipulates its victim usually grasping it now with both feet, one astern of the other and beats a steady retreat either to a favourite feeding perch or, if has a mate, in which case it will head for its eyrie. And as the season advances, it will have youngsters to feed.
I have enjoyed watching ospreys on three of the world’s Continents. Here in Scotland of course, across the Atlantic in America and in Africa where all British ospreys spend their winters. The observation of ospreys here of course, had from one sad day in 1916 when a so called naturalist shot the last breeding pair on Speyside, ceased until the nineteen fifties when at last a pair of ospreys returned. 
Other raptors, notably red kites and sea eagles, were quite deliberately re-introduced to these shores but the ospreys returned of their own volition, not of course, without substantial assistance from a dedicated corps of enthusiasts who spent many long and weary hours keeping watch over eyries. The biggest threat to them was posed by a hardened bunch of folk who keep and trade in wild bird eggs. The eggs of rare birds of course command greater reward and unchecked, let’s be sure that such activities make birds even rarer and eventually extinct!
That returning, pioneering pair in the nineteen fifties, were most likely birds which were on passage from Africa to Scandinavia. Their migratory route brought them to Scotland and presumably, they liked what they saw so much that they decided to stay and make their home here. That first success brought great excitement among ornithologists and was gradually followed in ensuing years, by further re-colonisations, as I’ve said under considerable scrutiny.
This new generation of ospreys has certainly spread its wings with ospreys now breeding successfully in England and in Wales. Whilst quite naturally, the expansion of their population has inevitably made them more accessible to people, British ospreys are not quite as open about their lifestyles as those I have observed in America. Indeed on my first visit across ‘the pond’ I was surprised to find myself watching an osprey beating a steady course above a beach full of sun worshippers and bathers and furthermore making that spectacular dive straight into the rollers just feet away from some of those swimmers.
I was equally left opened mouthed at the sight of ospreys nonchalantly building their eyries on the superstructure of bridges across which rumbled a continuous stream of traffic. One eyrie had even been built on a mooring buoy, just above water level, a site which was regularly patrolled by the local tourist boats!
Ospreys seen in Africa were a good deal more coy about exposing themselves but of course, these are European breeding birds. The young birds, hatched and reared in Europe, once they have made that first migratory flight to Africa will remain among the mangrove swamps and off-shore waters of West Africa for two or three years before re-tracing their steps back to the lands of their birth. Similarly, across the Atlantic, North American ospreys migrate to South America. It may not, thus far, have felt much like April, more like February or March but that global movement of migrating birds will, as the month progresses, gain more and more momentum. Like an advancing tide, millions of birds will steadily make their way northwards in the great annual translocation. And whilst many will land up on these shores, others will merely be in transit, heading further north where when summer finally arrives, they will take full advantage of the endless days of the Arctic.
Meanwhile, others, having wintered here, will follow that movement and leave us to join the northerly flow. Each following week however, will chart the arrival of ever increasing numbers of birds for which summer means only one thing. This is when new generations will be created, nurtured and reared. The most critical months lie ahead and the incoming ospreys know it!

Country View 24.3.15

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All the evidence tells of change. But then we live in a world that doesn’t ever stand still. Spring’s inexorable march is as inevitable as night following day albeit that when the moon briefly blocked out the sun a week ago, for a few moments, night seemed to be following night as the landscape was plunged into a curious half light. Someone once said that in the event of an eclipse, the birds would suddenly cease to sing and that was exactly what happened on that singular morning.

Because we live in an age in which we are constantly fed with information through the vast array of media we now have at our finger-tips, we have much easier access to what is happening in the world compared with any previous generation. Much of that information is of course delivered visually. The all-seeing eyes of television and the internet, through mobile phones and tablets, gives us instant access to a cornucopia of facts, mostly in pictorial form. Yet ironically, as a generation, we are nevertheless, much more shielded from the raw realities of life, living as we do in a concrete covered world and in our cosseting, centrally heated, triple glazed homes. Even when we are travelling, we are largely insulated from the real world in our air-conditioned vehicles. So we find ourselves somehow strangely remote and all too often, utterly removed from those realities.

So, when we step out of that closed environment, we should in theory, be so much more aware of the responses of nature to the changes that are happening all around us. But how many of you I wonder, are aware of the events now happening on a daily basis that further confirm the arrival of spring. Perhaps there remains sufficient civic pride around us to ensure that we are all able to enjoy and admire ‘hosts of golden daffodils’ and the sight of those graceful nodding flowers surely tells a certain story of advancing spring, a story which can hardly be missed.

The passage of a bevy of curlew the other day and the music of their lovely lilting voices, provided me with another of those markers, denoting the progress of the seasons, as did the mewing of soaring, spiralling buzzards, pronouncing majestically their welcome to the new season of re-birth. Yet much of the re-awakening that is happening, occurs so covertly that even the most observant of us are not witnesses to many of the events that chart spring’s progress. 

I have of late for instance, observed the fast flight of a couple of male sparrowhawks, flying typically low alongside a hedgerow before flipping over it in the hope of flushing out a bird or two. However, I rarely see a kill made. But two piles of feathers in my own garden, told the story of success on the part of at least one of those marauders, an event unseen by me. That is of course, the nature of sparrowhawk living; wham, bam and the job is over and done with in a flash, often out of sight. They are covert raptors but very effective.

Evidence of creatures emerging from their winter’s sleep also came although it was I’m afraid, a grisly reminder! My first sighting of a hedgehog, no doubt newly emerged from its slumbers, after waking from its period of hibernation, was of an animal unwittingly but inevitably destined to become the victim of a very different kind of road hog! But of course, there is a world out there, which is utterly out of sight if not necessarily out of mind. Even down in the depths, away from prying eyes, advancing spring still generates new moods and ambitions. The tell-tale piles of earth appearing in fields and gardens, tell a story but a story of which we are for the most part, totally ignorant. I’m sure many people will go through life without ever seeing a live mole – a relative of the aforementioned hedgehog - despite the fact that they will almost certainly see plenty of evidence of their presence and indeed of their inordinate energy.

Moles are extremely energetic animals and especially so during this month when much conflict occurs as the males compete for females with which to mate. Indeed this may be the time of year when we are most likely to see them as the losing contestants are put to flight by the stronger and now more dominant males. I have for instance seen one such defeated animal frantically scrabbling about on the gravel outside my house in its almost manic efforts to escape its tormentors. And I once watched in amazement as a similar animal, also put to flight to such an extent that having failed to dig its way back underground by virtue of the toughness of the tarmac it was trying to excavate, fled across what was a busy main road. Miraculously it evaded the wheels of passing vehicles and somehow reached the other side unscathed, where it literally disappeared before my very eyes by instantly tunnelling into the soft verge.

Moles are of course, renowned for their digging prowess, equipped as they are, with JCB like front legs, their powerful front feet resembling great buckets. The evidence of increasing activity in recent days is there for all to see. The sudden appearance of masses of molehills making some fields look like some kind of moonscape, charting the constant expansion of the subterranean world of these natural miners, tells the story of the ceaseless energy of these strange little creatures. Famously of course, mole fur, unlike that of other mammals, does not lie in just one direction. It grows straight out and so can literally lie in any direction. Thus moles travel through their tunnels, too narrow for them to turn around, either backwards or forwards, without the discomfort of travelling against the grain of their fur.

This fact marked mole fur as being usefully different and so mole-skins became popular for instance, among hat makers. However, lead and mercury were substances used in the curing of mole-skins for this purpose and in the course of time, those engaged in the hat making industry, inevitably but unconsciously absorbed some of those heavy metals, very much to their detriment. Such elements enter the bloodstream through the skin but eventually find their way into brain cells. Hence, the well used phrase, "As mad as a hatter!" Thus if the moles, travelling as readily backwards or forwards along their networks of tunnels, don’t quite know where they are going, those who made hats from their skins in days long gone, were probably even more confused! 

Moles generally live their anonymous life styles at a frantic pace. Thus they have a fantastically high metabolic rate and need a constant supply of worms to keep them going. Whilst many farmers and gardeners therefore regard the mole as an enemy and employ mole-catchers to control them, it may be the fact that overall, their impact on farming and gardening may be neutral, when their destruction of other underground dwelling pests like wire-worms is taken into account. 

Spring fever therefore reaches those parts of our world that are hidden from us. The effect however, is exactly the same. The sap is rising!

Country View 20.3.15

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"Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie," is a familiar line from an old nursery rhyme, a fanciful notion you might think, yet once upon a time, such a pie was indeed made. Those four and twenty blackbirds (and more!) currently seem to be inhabiting my garden, most of them hanging about my back door every morning in expectation of snatching a few tit bits when I feed scraps to my hens. And some of them are already enjoying the experience of parenthood for I have spotted a few of them gathering beaks full of worms and hurtling rapidly into hedges and shrubbery where they already have fast growing families, hidden somewhere among the bare branches, clearly clamouring for food. "When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing," the rhyme continues. The blackbirds are certainly singing but not from a pie!

Indeed, on a recent if fleeting visit to the west-coast, there was ample evidence that spring fever is beginning to become ever more contagious with the volume of bird sound definitely being cranked up. There was the usual echo of sea-pies from every part of that rugged coastline and as the light faded and evening advanced, the whaups serenaded me with their delightful bubbling; a lullaby perchance, inviting winter to retreat in order to allow spring to properly bloom? There were little glimpses too of gatherings of mergansers and of eider ducks too.

Eiders are of course very familiar west-coast birds, the largest of our ducks and incidentally, the fastest too. Eiders can travel at speeds of up to seventy miles an hour. I always think there is something distinctly ‘twenties’ about the males, with that strange, almost streamlined skull cap, black in coloration on the top of what is a large, blocky head, offset by the light green colouring around the nape of the neck. I hear that some conservationists have been voicing some concern about folks offering eiders, which can be very tame in human company, helpings of fish and chips. It doesn’t need me to say that such fare is not usually on the menu for eider ducks for they favour the consumption of shellfish such as mussels. The troubles emanating from those helpings of fish and chips is that such food lacks vital calcium, very necessary when these coastal ducks are in breeding mode.

Whereas the males are quite vividly handsome birds, the females are considerably less conspicuous with their duller brown and black plumage, a design feature which gives the female a degree of anonymity when she is brooding eggs. And they are of course pretty exclusively birds of the seaside, hardly ever seen away from the coast. My return to more familiar pastures was greeted by the sighting of my first great crested grebes of the year. Those eiders had hinted at courtship, the males throwing back their streamlined heads, a sure sign that the sap within them is rising. Thus far, I haven’t witnessed any hints of courtship among the grebes, yet they do get serious about such things, they offer plenty of entertainment.

Indeed, so fascinating were the courtship rituals performed by these denizens of fresh water lakes and lochs, that they were to cause a major stir among the more eminent thinkers of those same nineteen twenties. Most notably, Sir Julian Huxley became so fascinated by the behaviour of grebes during their courtship rituals that he spent a great deal of time studying them. Furthermore, he wrote a treatise on the subject which even today, nearly a hundred years on, is still regarded as an important and highly significant contribution to the science of animal behaviour.

These days, such events are brought to us in our living rooms through the adventures of a new generation of wondering cameramen and of course, by the all-seeing eye of television. Now we can watch grebes going a courting, diving to collect water-weed and rising to greet each other as they appear to almost walk on water. With much head shaking and coarse croaking, the ceremony, once rarely witnessed or indeed understood by human kind, is now commonplace as a feature of Nature programmes. Yet I confess, despite having witnessed the event on many occasions, I always find it utterly fascinating, a performance worth waiting for and one which is exclusive to Lowland waters. Great crested grebes are not, in essence, Highland birds.

All these events confirm the steady advance of spring, yet one sound, above all others, serves to confirm that fact most certainly. The cheap and cheerful voices of cock chaffinches are now being added to the chorus. They undoubtedly bring a different dimension to spring days and absolute confirmation, with that very familiar rhythm and tune, that spring has put down a real marker! If there is a bird, which fully deserves the description, ‘ubiquitous’ then surely that bird is the chaffinch. I would guess that there cannot be a garden in Britain, where birds are fed, in which there is not a population of chaffinches.

These cheerful and as far as the males are concerned, colourful little birds, resplendent in their gorgeous pink breasts, are simply everywhere, albeit that apparently, flocks of male and female chaffinches often winter in different locations. Mainly consumers of seeds, chaffinches have nevertheless learned to exploit a wide variety of foods and have even learned the art of clinging to baskets of nuts, not perhaps with the agility displayed by the likes of titmice, siskins and goldfinches but with growing confidence nonetheless.

Having travelled pretty extensively throughout the UK, I do have something of an ear for human dialects, yet, I am completely at a loss to describe the many different dialects used by singing chaffinches. The differences are so subtle but they are distinct. I guess a really experienced bird song recorder might be able to discern between the song of a chaffinch, say from Highland Scotland and that of one from for instance, deepest Kent! That their vocal offerings are distinctively different however, there is no doubt.

Many birds add phrases they hear uttered by other birds, to their own repertoires. Notorious improvisers in this way are great tits and indeed those other ubiquitous members of the avian chorus, the aforementioned blackbirds. So why not chaffinches too? And populations of these commonplace birds based in particular parts of the country, or indeed the rest of northern Europe where their natural range extends, inevitably develop subtle variations on a common theme. And it is a cheerful little ditty and it is cheap if only because it becomes so commonplace as spring burgeons.

Out there in parks and gardens or indeed, in the wilder, further flung places, even in really remote locations, chaffinches are at last, universally and boldly announcing the progress of spring and are cheerfully proclaiming its arrival in a way that only chaffinches seem able to do. That’s the chaffinch in full voice; cheap and cheerful!

Country View 13.3.15

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Fame was once a rare commodity, often not sought but commonly bestowed upon heroes and heroines, stars of screen and stage and great political figures. These days however, increasing numbers of folk seek fame in ways, which just a few decades ago, would not have been possible. The all encompassing eye of the camera however, be it by television, these days by means of the internet, or indeed by the actions of those who have become known as the paparazzi, has changed all that. Indeed, in some respects, social media in its many forms, has turned such things utterly upside down. And, in addition, talent programmes seem to have become not only an easy way of filling two or more hours of TV programming but also an easy way for ordinary folk to seek and find exposure; to become famous, if for most of them, all too briefly!

So, suddenly a small, furry creature finds itself on front pages and beamed across the world via the internet, for hitching a lift on the colourful back of another, this time, feathered creature. The sharp-eyed photographer who snapped the weasel taking a ride on the back of a green woodpecker, has himself achieved sudden notoriety whilst unwittingly, the aviating weasel has also suddenly accomplished a totally unexpected level of fame. It was a remarkable example of opportunism on the part of the snapper and of course, on the part of the weasel too.

Green woodpeckers, despite their reputation as tree climbers, spend a high proportion of their time on terra firma, scavenging for the likes of ants. There was a time in this airt when the chuckling of these attractive red and green birds was a familiar sound. However, in recent times, green woodpeckers have been pushed out by increasing numbers of great spotted woodpeckers, which seem to more assertive by nature. There is, whenever I watch these black, white and red woodpeckers, always a sense of animosity towards all other birds. When such a woodpecker is on the nuts for instance, nothing else it seems, dares to venture there. 
Therefore it must be assumed that the said woodpecker of front-page fame, was scouring the ground for ants when its path crossed with that of the weasel. Weasels are ambitious little creatures, the ‘mighty atoms’ of the natural world, always looking for feeding opportunities and never afraid to take on the role of David in confronting Goliath! Despite its minuscule size, a weasel will not hesitate to attack a fully-grown rabbit despite the fact that Brer Rabbit is several times the weasel’s size and weight. Thus I’m sure, the weasel saw in the woodpecker, a meal … of gargantuan proportions!

What the weasel clearly did not bargain for, was the flight of fancy it was about to take. I can only presume that its experience of flight was something of a shock and that it very soon decamped. Thus that first flying lesson would in all probability be brief and perhaps painfully learned. Perhaps it would be wise for any weasel with aeronautical ambitions in future, to ignore any impulse to repeat similar attacks!

Weasels – and stoats for that matter – are creatures that attract a variety of reactions. Our very language is of course, not very kind or complimentary towards them. A person described as being ‘weasely’ or ‘a stoat’ is generally perceived to be someone not to be trusted; a person of very doubtful pedigree and reputation. Indeed, such is the reputation of both weasels and stoats that stories abound of them launching attacks on people. Keepers certainly don’t like them and kill them at virtually every opportunity as part of the defence of their precious pheasants. And this despite the widely known fact that both stoats and weasels account for the destruction of many small rodents, widely regarded, especially by farmers, as pests!

However, like my farming friends I have a soft spot for these amazing wee creatures. Thus when a farmhouse dwelling friend asked me what she should do about a weasel she found in her house, I told her to leave it be. I had been aware that my friend had for long waged war against invading mice and suggested that she now had a key ally in her struggle to keep these small rodents at bay in the said weasel. Sure enough, the sound, so familiar to country living folk, of mice chewing at skirting boards or rustling about within the ancient walls of their houses, has in recent days, in this instance, gradually diminished. The weasel has not been seen again and I suspect it has done its job, consumed the mice or at least sent the majority of them into panic-stricken retreat and thus has since moved on to other rodent territories. Silence tells its own story.
Small rodents are the main food source of food for both weasels and stoats and with their exceptionally slender bodies and short little legs, they are able to access rodent runs and dens easily. Stoats are also extremely efficient rabbit hunters too. By reputation both are relentless in pursuit of their victims and that utter determination is communicated very quickly to those victims. Indeed such are the powers of a stoat for instance, in its pursuit of a rabbit, that its intended victim is eventually seized with such terror that it slowly grinds to a halt, ending up a quivering, stationary wreck, often screaming pathetically, as its inevitable fate approaches. Both stoats and weasels are relentless hunters, once on the trail of their victims, sticking inexorably to that scent until their target is reached.

Perhaps the victims become almost hypnotised? After all, both stoats and weasels are familiar practitioners of the ‘dark art’ of hypnosis. I have on many occasions been amazed by the gyrations of both of these exponents of a hunting skill, which seems to be their particular prerogative alone. Theirs is, as far as I know, a unique method of enticing potential victims to their deaths and of course, into the hungry jaws of the perpetrators. A weasel for instance, that conducted, before my very eyes, an intricate square dance which took it across a track down one hedgerowed side of it, back across the track and along the opposite hedge bottom … repeatedly! As the performance continued so the birds roosting in the hedges became more inquisitive and slipped their way down through the branches. One was persuaded to leave the safety of the hedge altogether and immediately became the weasel’s next meal as the performance came to an abrupt halt.

And a stoat which similarly began to perform a complex series of acrobatics, somersaulting, chasing it own tail until it was whirling round and round like a dancing dervish, putting on a real virtuoso performance. Like the aforementioned weasel, this performing stoat similarly so entranced the birds in the shrubs and trees around it, that they too let down their guards and came ever closer in order to get a better look at this extraordinary caper. One of course, came too close and instantly the curtain came down to close the act. Dinner was served!

Such antics are all part of the stoat and weasel armoury designed to satisfy what at times appears to be a ravenous appetite. However, the weasel propelled into the air on the back of a woodpecker had perhaps bitten off more than it could chew. Yet, for a moment it was famous!

Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods