Weekly Nature Watch

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

Country View 18.8.15

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The shape was unmistakable and so too was the sound. The bird travelled due north across the strath, its wings half folded in the classic ‘w’ shape. Although it was impossible to even estimate its speed, its rapid passage from hillside to hillside was to say the least, impressive. And as it sped through the air, it screeched as only peregrines can.

As it approached the wooded hillside on the northern flank of the strath, its protestations seemed to become more agitated. It sounded like a revolving wheel badly in need of oiling. Furthermore, as it approached the trees another peregrine voice rose to join the protest … two wheels in need of oil! Later, still screeching, one of them was seen drifting high above us.

I was instantly transported to an event some years ago – on my own back doorstep – which certainly raised a smile. It was one of those lovely autumn days, one on which one of the neighbourhood buzzards clearly thought would be ideal for a little aerial stroll over the surrounding fields, as buzzards are wont to do. Little effort, a few desultory flaps followed by a leisurely glide. That clearly was the intent anyway.

And that was how it started. He was just drifting easily over the yellow stubble above the big field, when out of a clear blue sky and with absolutely no warning, hurtled what appeared to be, a very angry peregrine. Furthermore, all this seething anger was for the time being at least, directed at the buzzard. In an instant, the buzzard was shaken out of his apparent lethargy and instead, feathers distinctly ruffled, sent into something of a spin.

The peregrine’s flight was typically direct, for the buzzard uncomfortably so, as it was immediately clear that he was indeed the target. He banked sharply as the peregrine bore down on him and sped past with no more than inches between them. But no sooner had he desperately tried to regain some composure, than the peregrine began another run. More panic and more evasive manoeuvres followed as the peregrine once more shot past a few inches over the buzzard.

The attacks just kept coming one after the other and such was the intensity of this aerial combat that the buzzard several times seemed close to stalling but eventually somehow managed to struggle into the depths of the ancient ash tree, still at the time, fully in leaf. There he perched cowering, as the peregrine now circled the tree, still loudly voicing its displeasure.

At last there was some respite when the peregrine ceased his circumnavigation of the tree and instead settled on a fence post. But there was no let up in the torrents of abuse until, as quickly as it had appeared the attacker now took off and headed back to the hills from whence I presumed he had come. The buzzard, by now probably in need of some serious therapy, remained hidden from view!

I have never quite understood the motive for such an attack. I would not have thought that the buzzard represented any kind of threat or indeed competition to the peregrine. Indeed, reasonably versatile a hunter though the buzzard may be, it certainly is nowhere near a match for a peregrine.

Perhaps it came into the same category as the osprey I watched launch an equally malignant attack upon a heron, in which the poor heron was forced into the waters of the loch three times before finally struggling saturated, to the shore, where the attack continued relentlessly. Of course, both osprey – exclusively – and heron – largely – rely upon fish for their livings. But they don’t directly compete, the osprey plunging into the depths of the loch to catch its prey whilst the heron stalks the margins of the shore itself.

A couple of days after that first peregrine encounter, I had another, or at least, this time I heard but did not see the perpetrators again of seriously under oiled wheels! Somewhere in the forest an agitated peregrine conversation was taking place, within earshot but not in view.

The golden eagle is often spoken about with a degree of reverence, in both myth and reality, the king of the sky, allegedly the greatest raptor of them all. Eagles are indeed impressive hunters and magnificent birds but for sheer drama and speed, there is simply nothing to compare with a stooping peregrine.

Again memory serves me well. The image persists of a peregrine soaring near the top of the glen before assuming that ‘w’ wing posture and accelerating with breathtaking speed down the glen like an Exocet missile. Far below I could just pick out a small flock of cushy doos flying above the floor of the glen. The peregrine’s exceptional eyesight had clearly selected one of those doos as its immediate target.

The speed of descent increased phenomenally as in a blur the peregrine homed in on that distant target. I did not witness the denouement but knew that the fate of the doo was sealed. It would either be killed outright by a blow from the talons of the peregrine, bunched like a prize fighter’s fist, perhaps even de-capitated, or it would simply be plucked from mid air and life literally squeezed from it.

These recently encountered peregrine vocalists may of course have been parents of fairly recently fledged families, or indeed, more probably, may alternatively have been the fledglings themselves. During these crucial weeks, the new generation must learn and learn fast, the art of hunting. They will instinctively learn to fly as only peregrines can, at high speed but they must also learn control and they must above all, learn to kill, otherwise they will not survive.

Peregrines have known good and bad times. A really bad time came during the Second World War, when large numbers of them were eliminated. The destruction of peregrines, especially along the southern coastline of England was deemed necessary to ensure that carrier pigeons bringing news of the war and later of resistance movements on the Continent, would get through.

No sooner had they recovered from that, than the new DDT based pesticides developed during the post-war agricultural revolution, began to effect peregrines big time. Pigeons feeding upon treated crops were in turn consumed by peregrines and the chemical cocktail, which began to accumulate within the raptors’ bodies resulted in the production of soft shelled eggs, a failure to breed and eventually death.

Indeed, what happened to peregrine populations during that period taught scientists much about the dangers of poisons passing along the food chain, alerting them to the eventual dangers that could be faced by the human population.    

Indirectly therefore the human race owes a debt of gratitude to peregrine falcons. For my part, I just revel in their sensational flying, if not necessarily in their raucous vocalisation!

Country View 11.8.15

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It seems unlikely that on Wednesday, we might be under the impression that war has begun again. The ‘glorious twelfth’ I’m afraid promises to be anything but glorious. So, any gunfire we are likely to hear will be very muffled indeed! Young grouse do not do well in wet springs and so it almost goes without saying that this year’s crop of young grouse did not have a happy time of it with survival rates especially and disastrously low. And to add to their woes, this year is also apparently especially bad in terms of the worm burden. Grouse can be badly affected by the strongyle worm. This year it seems this parasite is especially virulent. Consequently, on many estates, the guns are set to be silent last Wednesday, or at best, the ‘glorious’ day postponed!

The importance of such events may by-pass most of us. Grouse shooting can be an extremely expensive pastime. Indeed, grouse shooting these days has become a rich man’s sport with many if not most grouse moors now in the hands of wealthy city traders. They are it seems, an investment these days! Most folk will be familiar with pheasant shooting, which is of course a relatively universal sport, especially in terms of where it takes place. Grouse shooting is in every way different because it is conducted out of sight of most folk … out on the more remote moorlands of Britain’s wilder places. Such surroundings are all part and parcel of the experience, I am assured.

The trouble is that with such field sports increasingly driven by money, demands for ever bigger bags are the order of the day, which means that numbers of grouse on the moors and particularly the number of pheasants released into the British landscape continues to rise, possibly beyond the landscape’s ability to sustain such numbers.

There is of course, a major difference between the grouse fraternity and those that shoot pheasants. Grouse are after all, native to this land, our red grouse, once thought to be unique to Britain but now known to be a close relation of the Continent’s willow grouse, whereas pheasants are most certainly not native, being very much Asian in origin. Indeed, it must be said that grouse are not reared artificially before being released into the moorland landscape, simply because they simply do not ‘do’ in such circumstances, whereas in contrast, pheasants are reared and subsequently released into the British landscape in increasingly bizarre numbers, thirty five million at the latest count – each year!

About half of those pheasants incidentally, are shot each year, leaving the same number - fifteen million of them - as an annual surplus which I’m sure the nation’s population of foxes and other carnivores, not to mention various raptors and members of the corvid clan are extremely happy about! The consequent time and effort spent by keepers trying to control such things, is therefore in a sense, self-perpetuating! A strange form of re-cycling!

In the case of grouse, there are no rearing pens; no buying in of thousands of young birds; numbers are maintained and grown by extending the range of heather moorland, often at the expense of bog and peat land, a diminution of that habitat with many moors consequently changing beyond natural recognition and drying out, very much to their detriment. And, on many grouse moors, there is little or no toleration of anything that might threaten the wellbeing of the much prized birds and that includes, as many a headline will tell you, the destruction of hen harriers.  

There can be no doubt at all that harrier nests on some moors have been routinely destroyed over a period of many years. Harrier nests, because they are sited on the ground, are especially vulnerable and easy to destroy. Such actions are of course strictly illegal but as the nests are usually located in such remote locations, as you might imagine, it is extremely difficult to pin down the perpetrators. Prosecutions are therefore a rarity. But now, so too are hen harriers!

It was with the dramatic and potentially catastrophic rape of our hen harrier population in mind that last Sunday, a couple of days before the ‘glorious twelfth’, protests were staged up and down the UK, from Highland Scotland south to the island of Jersey. Thousands of folk arrived in a variety of locations to voice their anger at the wanton destruction of one of our most iconic birds of prey. One such protest, which was attended by some 70 people, was staged in Glen Turret, close by Crieff, where, as it happens, this year, a pair of harriers has successfully reared two youngsters. Another, staged in the Peak District of England, drew a crowd of no fewer than 500.

This kind of confrontation and conflict is in my view, a sad commentary on the way the hen harrier issue has been allowed to fester like an open wound and the species allowed to so dramatically decline in this way. No hen harrier chicks, it is understood, have been reared this year, south of the Border. Once upon a time, they bred very successfully in several parts of England. Time was when the shooting fraternity and the conservationists would get together and work out a joint strategy. Now they seem to be at each other’s throats, one side suggesting that the fault lies with the other and predictably, vice versa! My suspicion is that money, not common sense, is talking! Indeed, there is, lurking morbidly, a flavour of the dreadful killing years of the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century, during which all birds with hooked beaks were targeted and slaughtered in vast numbers.

There have been repeated requests that licenses should be made available for the legal control of a range of raptors. We have been there before and frankly there is surely absolutely no way we want to go there again. It would definitely be the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. There are plenty of examples which demonstrate that grouse and hen harriers can co-exist. There are many management techniques, which can be employed to lessen the impact of such raptors on grouse stocks and there are those who in any case, argue that there is actually a need for the presence of predators in order to guarantee a healthier grouse stock.

I am not a shooter but I do recognise that the shooting fraternity one way or another makes a significant contribution to the welfare of wildlife. But as far as grouse are concerned, the focus, more than ever, is on money. It seems that in such circumstances, the welfare of wildlife does not take priority. Least of all, does the new breed of grouse moor owner seem to concern itself with the long term future of the landscape … or for that matter, any kind of future for harriers? That’s my grouse for this week!

Country View 4.8.15

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These next three weeks or so will turn out to be the most crucial in the young lives of this year’s crop of young ospreys for this is when they will either sink or swim! They have had life relatively easy thus far, sustained by an endless supply of food in the form of fish, provided daily by truly dedicated parents. Osprey parents, despite their fearsome reputation for killing fish by the score, show a remarkable degree of TLC when it comes to the nurturing of their offspring. Watch such a bird tear strips off a carcase at the eyrie and feed them gently to their young and you will be amazed at the tenderness they can display.

Yet, in a matter of weeks now, that dedication and care will suddenly evaporate. Now the youngsters are beginning to find their wings, they must of necessity learn and learn quickly to sustain themselves, for one day very soon, those hitherto devoted parent birds will abruptly, turn their backs on the youngsters they have so carefully nurtured and leave them to their own devices … and a marathon journey of three thousand miles.

The freshly fledged young, are of course, new, during recent days, to the process of flying but during this next week or two, not only must they thoroughly hone their flying skills but they must also learn to become self-sufficient and perfect, as a matter of urgent survival, the art of fishing. Having been amply provided with the piscatorial riches of local waters throughout their short lives, by those dedicated parents thus far, they must now dedicate their every waking day to sharpening their own natural fishing skills and instincts.

Initially, they will take their cue from their parents, watching their every move; learning where to find fish, how to approach the quite complex process of setting themselves up to spot, then hover and finally, stooping to conquer. They will hopefully arrow down to the water’s surface, taking the plunge feet first, before securing their grip on extremely slippery prey, before rising in triumph, clutching their prizes. Even experienced adult birds may make several passes, aborting dives sometimes almost before they are begun, before eventually completing a successful fishing mission. Thus will the youngsters at first almost certainly experience a depressing failure rate but they must persist and above all they must learn and learn quickly to prepare themselves for the void that will soon be a brutal fact of life for them.

Without apparent warning, before this month is out, those hitherto utterly committed parent birds will suddenly abrogate all responsibility for their offspring and leave to embark upon their three thousand mile migratory flight to Africa. They will offer no guidance whatsoever to their chicks, which must, within days, follow them alone upon that hazardous journey. The parent birds will literally just up sticks and leave. The youngsters will be impelled by in-built instinct, to follow in due course but in the meantime, they must continue to work on polishing those fishing skills which although are to a degree in-built, have still to be finally perfected and honed.

The youngsters too – before the end of the month - will soon be impelled to embark on that epic migratory journey. They may this year have had to endure a wet and inclement first summer of their lives but that may be nothing compared with the hazards they may face as they follow alien coast-lines, cross seas and mountain ranges and skirt fish-less deserts, not to mention the likelihood of encountering violent storms and the accompanying gales en route, at probably little more than three months of age, They must inevitably follow their recently departed parents but they must essentially find their own way, tackling that enormous, mind-blowing journey all alone, relying entirely on their in-built powers of navigation.

That they must be able to sustain themselves – feed themselves – is of course, of the essence. And if they have not mastered sufficiently well those skills, they will literally sink, not swim. Instinct may help them locate where fish are most likely to be available, like the ingrained maps that will guide them on their way to West Africa but they must have honed their fishing skills sufficiently to ensure they catch enough food to provide them with the necessary body fuel which will ensure they can complete that phenomenal trans-continental flight.

It is all a far cry from the relatively comfortable life they have lived in their tree-top eyries to date. The growth rate of young ospreys is phenomenal yet the youngsters nevertheless will have been anchored to that well-constructed mass of sticks for six or seven weeks. During the latter stages, there is much exercising of wings, latterly from the rim of the eyrie, with a few inches of elevation initially, then a few feet and eventually … lift off. Now the adventure properly begins!

If and when this year’s batch of youngsters successfully complete their journeys to the Dark Continent, they will at least have the compensation of relatively easy living, exploring the fish-rich waters of the West African coast and the equally productive mangrove swamps. Not that the living is necessarily always that easy. Some years ago, a man presumably earning his living selling crocodile skins, opened one such creature up to discover a young osprey in its gut!

So, enjoy whilst you can, the spectacle of ospreys fishing. During these next few weeks, activity will be heightened as those youngsters work to hone those vital and very necessary skills. If at first they don’t succeed, they must try and try again. Their very survival will depend upon it. There will at first, be plenty of misses but each day demands they become ever more skilled.

Fifty years or more ago, such events could not have been witnessed here of course. During the infamous ‘killing years’ of the early part of the twentieth century, ospreys had finally been eliminated with the shooting of the last pair of breeding birds on Speyside.

But after decades of osprey-less years, at last they returned. Aided and abetted by legions of dedicated enthusiasts, these magnificent birds now grace our skies once again. From Highland Scotland to Wales and even the Midlands of England, they are back with a vengeance. But look sharp, for they will soon be heading back to Africa for their winter holidays! 

Country View 22.7.15

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One of my enduring televised memories from the Open golf at St Andrews last week was the image of a herring gull consuming a half-eaten apple core. Indeed, as I watched the golfing events unfold, I was also increasingly aware of the constant movement of gulls around the course. Of course, the golf course, being a links course, is beside the sea and therefore we might expect the omni-presence of gulls. And, with hundreds of thousands of people milling around the course over the duration of the week, there was probably much, much more than discarded apple cores to concentrate the minds of the said gulls!

We are as a human society, increasingly profligate. Perhaps in many ways we always have been. After all our ancestors would have been extremely familiar with the activities of kites, especially in our towns and cities, for they were in many ways, the ‘scaffies’ of the day. Indeed, so much were they valued for their consumption of waste, that they were to some degree afforded the protection of the authorities.

I am increasingly aware of the opportunism that characterises many of the creatures with which we share these islands. Previously, I have reflected upon the growth in urban fox populations, a growth, which is also directly connected to our wastefulness. Urban foxes make a good living from our cast-off waste – especially from the remains of a vast array of takeaways. In my young days, it was fish and chips and that was it. Nowadays we enjoy the most catholic of choices – food, which allegedly may have its origins in a vast array of countries right across the globe.

But not all cases of opportunism have occurred as a result of our carelessness.  Several decades ago, bluetits began to exploit the apparently accessible tops of milk bottles. They discovered that at the top of each bottle, cream, having risen, provided an easy to get at source of precious, energy rich fat. There was just a fragile tinfoil cap to penetrate! The exploitation of this doorstep resource came of course, in an age when high fat content milk was highly desirable. Quality milk in those days had to have a high butterfat content.

How times change! Now, such luxuries are deemed to be bad for us. Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low in fat, is the order of the modern day. Furthermore it is generally these days supplied not in glass bottles with little tinfoil caps but in plastic, screw top bottles or cartons. So not only are they less attractive to the titmice, they are also less accessible.

Rodents have notoriously perhaps, always been the most avid exploiters of farmyard grains. Indeed, man has fought a long and probably an un-winnable war against two particular animals, which are widely regarded all over the world as pests. The fruits of agricultural labours – most notably grain – have long brought rats and mice into serious conflict with man. The Greeks tamed beech marten – close relatives of our own pine marten – to guard their granaries from rats and mice and even more famously the Egyptians tamed cats to perform the same duties.

Here too the legacy of the farmyard cat follows, albeit at a distance, the routine use of this natural hunter of rats and mice by the ancient Egyptians. Hence cats have long been a familiar presence in most farmyards, kept as weapons in that constant war waged upon these long standing, much hated raiders of granaries.

Members of the corvid clan, also often classed as ‘undesirables’, are also to be numbered amongst the opportunists that have seized upon the squander-lust of modern society. Few supermarket car parks are without attendant flocks of rooks and jackdaws, ever ready to seize upon the odd remains of an uneaten sandwich or some thrown away food scrap. They too have learned to live well off our carelessness. These intelligent birds are also habitual residents of hot-spot tourist attractions for much the same reason.

But gulls I think have become the greatest exploiters of the castaway nature of modern society. Visit any fishing port and you will quickly be aware of the mobs of gulls following the homeward bound fleets of trawlers, eager to profit from the considerable amounts of unwanted innards and the like that are literally thrown overboard. I guess that as long as there have been trawlers, whether propelled by oars, under sail or indeed powered by steam or as is the case these days, by diesel engine, they will have been routinely followed home by flotillas of gulls.

Gulls are perhaps therefore the greatest opportunists of all. To most casual observers, these are the ‘seagulls’ of coastal fringes. However many of these ‘seagulls’ may never even see the sea! The legions of Machiavellian gulls that now populate vast areas of the country have long exploited man’s endeavours to tame the landscape. We see the evidence the minute the ploughshare cuts into the first sod, with hordes of gulls immediately flocking to seize the invertebrate life exposed by the blades. Equally, those same hordes are ever present at landfill sites, which also clearly offer them rich pickings. Our rubbish is, I suppose, their car boot sale!  

Most gulls are by nature, cliff-nesting birds but they have shown themselves to be equally happy to nest on the vast array of structures erected by land grabbing man. To the gulls, these are surrogate cliffs and just as good as the real thing. As we continue to expand our activities, as we demand more and more of the landscape and turn more of it to concrete, then we should not be surprised at the ingenuity of these intelligent birds in turning those concrete ‘blocks’ into nesting sites. Unfortunately conflict often results as the gulls are emboldened – unperturbed at finding themselves living cheek by jowl with us - and thus even prepared on occasions, to snatch the likes of fish suppers from our very grasp!

Recent, and somewhat more sinister activities have hit the news.  “Killer gulls” scream out the headlines following reports of gulls killing two dogs and a tortoise.  I cannot over emphasise the lengths gulls, in particular, will go to in the defence of their young and the composite zeal they bring to such events.  So, if you are neighboured by gulls – watch out!

Country View 15.7.15

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The conductor has laid aside his baton and a pall of silence has descended upon the landscape. The choristers have ceased to chant their daily canticles. Even the laverock’s hymnal has been closed and his endless, cheerful song no longer greets me as I go about my early morning chores. The merle’s voice, too, is at last stilled. For most, the summer’s job is done and new generations are on the wing.

There now follows a short period of contemplation as old feathers are lost and new replacements begin to grow. For most birds this is the time of the annual moult when new suits replace old! It is a time of renewal and a time, perhaps temporarily, to adopt a distinctly covert way of life and to bring to an end the advertising campaigns that have dominated the past few months. Instead, a wiser course of action is to remain under cover, hidden and as unobtrusive as possible for whilst the moult is in process, the flight of many birds is severely hampered, which makes them much more vulnerable to predatory attack. Thus, a policy of keeping that low profile is the sensible and pragmatic line to take.

But inexorably, preparation for the next challenging phase of life must also begin. Devotion to family, which has been the driving force these past few months, gives way to the more singular process of self-survival, albeit that some birds continue to shepherd their young dutifully. The moulting process now beginning is merely the next stage of transition. For some the process may last no more than three weeks or so; for others it is a much longer process. And beyond the moult, most avian life must begin to face up to the different demands of gaining peak condition in order to survive the, as yet, distant, leaner days of winter.

This is not of course, a universal trend. Some, most notably, summer visitors such as swallows and martins; do not let the grass grow under their feet. The long hours of daylight continue to encourage further essays into family planning. Thus, swallows continue to twitter their sometimes melodious, sometimes raucous, love songs and the martins engage us with their fruity chirping. Most of them still have work to do, further generations to raise. For them the moult must wait until they have reached their winter quarters, although some surprisingly, begin the moult here and complete it in Africa.

There are a few other exceptions to these rules, birds that seem always to break the vow of silence to which most are committed by mid-July. The wren resident in my orchard still insists on showing off his decibel credentials, offering assertive volleys of his rat-tat-tat call as loudly as ever he uttered them in the spring.

Over in the hedgerow, a familiar little melody which demands ‘a little bit of bread’, without of course, ‘the cheese’, is for long periods of the day, the only music on offer. The yellow ‘yite’ does not seem to surrender to the march of time. Instead, his is often the sole, lonely voice to be heard throughout July, except of course for the persistent coo-ing of the collared doves. Do they ever stop courting?

There are also signs of impending movement, which also, in the rudest possible manner, shatter the silence. Family parties of oyster-catchers raise the volume as only they can, to mock the somnolence of mid-July days. Indeed, there is never anything remotely covert about oyster-catcher lifestyle. They are vivid birds, brilliantly black and white but with appendages that reflect bright flashes of colour, in their pink legs and bright orange bills. There is more colour, too, in and around the eyes, which are orange rimmed and blood red. But it is their voices that make the biggest impact.

At best they may be described as neurotic but with family in tow, the piping moves from frantic to frenetic. They burst upon the landscape, always it seems, in a hurry, as if the very devil was on their tails. Indeed, in Finland it seems, they may well be considered to be the devil’s children. Apparently, they do not endear themselves to the seal hunters in those distant northern lands, for their loud alarm calls often cue the seals to the approach of the hunters, resulting in a quick exit beneath the waves and presumably therefore, a poor day’s hunting!   

The noisy passage of a family of sea-pies through the strath is indeed a prelude to their migration to what may perhaps be regarded as their more natural environment of estuary and coast. Their duty done for another year, most of those that have this year chosen to move to inland breeding locations, will this month, return to the marine environment of sea-washed shorelines. For most of them therefore, their migratory journey is short, albeit that during the autumn, some suddenly develop much greater ambition and flee to tropical shores.

And, tide-washed seashores whether at home or abroad, are surely where oyster-catchers are most at home. The cacophony of their voices seems somehow to fit the more tumultuous nature of wild, storm-tossed beaches, where they often assemble in animated colonies, seemingly intent upon challenging the very waves themselves.

Indeed as their numbers are swollen by an immigration of birds from further north, the decibel level rises as the days shorten. Thus, is a winter shoreline so audibly animated. The excited piping of sea pies combines with hundreds of other voices, as the hordes of like-minded flocks of redshank, knot and sanderling ebb and flow with the tides. It is as if a new choir of altos has assembled.

The nomenclature is curious, for the one thing oyster-catchers don’t eat is oysters. On the shore, they are dab hands at opening up mussels and prising limpets from the rocks, a habit from which doubtless stems such local names as Mussel Cracker and Mussel Picker. For those that elect to make the trek inland for the breeding season, the discovery of many other invertebrate possibilities clearly makes their journeying worthwhile. A hundred years or so ago, the sight and sound of oyster-catchers far inland during the summer months however, would have been a rarity indeed.

It may be presumed that such journeys began as the agricultural revolution really took hold and progressively, more and more acres were browned by the steel blades of the plough. The exposure of plentiful invertebrate life doubtless alerted many birds to the new opportunities thus presented and so began a trickle of inland migration, which as the years passed and more land was turned over, gradually became a flood.

Where, a matter of weeks ago, the cuckoo’s comic notes reverberated, now the screaming sea-pie piping echoes. Soon both will be consigned to memory, the cuckoos, some of which are even now preparing to depart for the Dark Continent, no longer haunting the willing foster parents of their young with their mocking cries, the sea-pies to add their voices to that growing coastal chorus. Adieu!

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

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods