choughistry (30/May/18)

strap in, it’s a long (ish) one……

who knew!… so soon too, the end of May in sight, heaving around the headland like a lumbering Loch Ness monster clearly lost because this isn’t Loch Ness, it’s not even Scotland…… nevertheless, it’ll soon be Christmas……

… and another thing, I’ve known for a long  time cave sra enot just home to some bats but one or two birds too, namely Choughs… now there’s a bird, of the Crow family along with, well, Crows… it’s not rocket science is it, no, no, no, it’s ornithology…. apart from their brilliant name which I’ve commented on before in previous writings, if a steam train sneezed that the sound it’d make, chough!, followed coincidentally by the actual call of a Chough which you’ll understand I can’t replicate here due to the limitation of the medium, but if you’ve ever played the arcade game Space Invaders that’s as close as you get to its voice…… of all the Crow family their behaviour and lifestyle is most similar to Ravens having cliffs in common as preferred habitat, often sea cliffs which are perfect for their preferred chosen boudoirs… caves… and like ravens can be quite playful, believe me I’ve watched Ravens and they are cheeky and immensely playful and talented thin-air acrobats …… and of course Chough have bright orange-red beaks and legs which against the ultra-sleek black back-and sides sheen is startling… no, not Starlings, will talk about them another time…… and for all this their preferred food?… leatherjackets, basically, grubs for which they forage fields, heather moors and cliffscapes… yum-yum… or not… they will snaffle worms too.. more yum-yum!

… the time I truly fell for them was on a small Welsh island, again so it seems but there are a lot of small Welsh islands, where I’d discovered a cave behind a mountain at its foot where it dipped its toes into the crashing waves… a sea cave essentially… accessing it required a tricky corkscrew manoeuvre where one foot wrong, one grip ungripped would put me in the drink at the mercy of the unforgiving Strait though once inside it was worth the risk as I also had to almost bend over backwards to avoid a Chough nest, right there in the entrance to the cave, pinned safe and sound despite the heaving tides a few feet below it… it was haven personified to this bird, pretty much nothing could get at it… except me of course but I had no ill-intent so they seemed after a while tolerate my regular intrusions… to be that close to Choughs and their nest…… more was yet to come, as this cave was colloquially-named Seal Cave and indeed was where many-a seal would swim in underwater and haul out onto a rock inside ensconced in its almost impenetrable darkness for some peace and quiet away from the briny melee outside…. above where they reclined was a shelf, just wide enough for a person, in this case me, to crawl once inside and sit in absolute silence and absence of light but for a crack glinting its watery the entrance… once eyes adjusted as much as possible I watched, sat, watched, sat, barely breathing, mere feet above, they knew I was there and I knew they knew but both safely out of reach of each other, which suited us both…

… they let me stay presumably as long as I did no sudden moves, while at the entrance Choughs popped in and out carried on Space Invader calls to check on their nest…… how long I stayed each time was determined by the seals, often just one sometimes two or three, as once in there I couldn’t leave until they did as doing so would’ve been rude, and made them more skittish for next time… and there was a next time, and a next and a next………

© 2018 robert greig

an owl called Noel (28/May/18)

… and as for the Little Owl, called Little because yes you guessed it is little, or litter than our other owls though not the littlest owl in the world it is in the UK.. anyway, as for the Little Owl (no déjà vu as such, I said it earlier in the sentence…) they aren’t ones for wasting time nesting in trees, all that hard work playing pick-up-sticks and trying to fashion something many less-birdy humans have come to regard as a bird nest, instead they like holes, holes in things, in anything really, even a breezeblock, I know as I once watched a pair raise a brood in one and I thought imagine being raised in basically a building block then thought actually that’s what most of us are, just ours are slightly larger in involve more than one, but what little owls do enjoy is a good bit of burrowing especially being they live large on worms and suchlike wriggly things and even some things that don’t wriggle unless you have them on your mouth, or beak, when pretty much anything alive will unceremoniously wriggle, and not in a happy way like one might say doing The Twist or the jive, no, more in a “wtf!” kind of way just before they are invariably chomped in half a duly swallowed… no nicey, nicey nature notes from me, this is no Disney blog…. they like it so much, burrowing that is, they will even nest in them, burrows that is, holes in the ground, underground, preferably ones in mounds of hillocks or earth walls, although they won’t start one from scratch, they aren’t that industrious and prefer the opportunists route, i.e. let a rabbit do all the hard work first then swoop in and squat thereby claiming ownership on the back of (not literally of course, an owl sat on the back of a rabbit paints a bizarre image) the rabbits industrious graft making it effectively homeless and having to go dig yet another one all over again most likely with a most disgruntled expression hanging from its lagomorphic  face…… the first time I came across little owls, as in really paid any attention to them was on a small Welsh island, smaller than the one I’m one now, and even though still a relatively uncommon bird, this lump of rocks supported five pairs, five!… first evidenced from their sharp sudden kweek!-bursts, especially at dusk, when they seemed well into kweeking!-off at each other to assert themselves, being so little, hence the name, they make up for it in kweeks!… and they lived in burrows, all but one pair that lived in a stone barn field boundary, burrows in slightly tumbled-down clawdd, cloddiau, or earth and stone walls having evicted the previous furry flop-eared residents… and as for the rabbits, well, there’s another tale, to accidentally coin a pun, which I will no doubt tell some time… once I knew where the burrows were, being part of my job as a bird warden, I could predict where they’d roost, invariably in snaggly gorse bushes overhanging the burrows being as invisible as they could be on an windswept island with barely any trees… I could never sneak up on them too close as they always, always knew I was there, peeking one half-wide then full-wide eye in my camouflaged direction, as such I also call them ‘Look Owls‘, and yes I know all owls do similar with their equally starey big eyes but none stare quite like a Little Owl…. and one I got very familiar with in particular I decided to name, for no good reason other than I could, and called him Noel… Noel the Owl……… … …

© 2018 robert greig

quiet rain (15/March/18)

quiet rain… makes a change… rain nonetheless though… the jackdaws are picking their spots, it’s that time of year, prime real estate for their upcoming respective nests… they’ve not left all winter, never do, they’re always there tending their rookery, or jackery, although there are rooks there too but nevertheless it’s still called a rookery whether there are or not, much no doubt to the jackdaws chagrin… and here I am talking to the air as I do most mornings….
… the woodpeckers are drumming, being that time of year of course… rooks are carrying sticks too big for them in their bid also for the best the canopy can offer in position and height and prevailing wind… I bet they can’t wait for the leaves to burst through and give them some much-needed cover, but that won’t happen for couple of months yet… these are tall trees, tall deciduous broadleaved in the truest sense trees and in no rush to, as they say put-out… all in good time, they say, all in good time… that’s the nature, literally, of things…
… gulls are gulling, always made restless by an uncertain wind… there’s also always one, two, three maybe even four or so but it’s the wind, and sea mist sometimes so far out at sea as to not be visible from shore, that brings them forth in greater number and much more voluble… gulls don’t have a song, not being songbirds, or not as we would recognise as such, instead they have a call or cry, or more fittingly am explosion of discord, a cadence which defies any mimicry we might attempt…… in other words, you have to hear to hear it… though I do make a passing raven call and even a Manx Shearwater… oh yes, you have to hear a Manxie, as they’re affectionately known, to believe it, ideally a real one, and to stand among them in the dead of a new moon night not seeing but hearing their desperate, almost blood-curdling cries as they come to shore after having been at sea no doubt for days sometimes weeks on end with a gullet full of food for their single chick and some for their partner who has patiently waited all this time for their return and after which they swap, and the other then heads out into the great pelagic for days and maybe weeks before themselves returning which another bounty of fish… underground and overhead the earth and air come alive…
… around my head they’d fly unseen because of the darkness which is their strategy to avoid predators to flop hopelessly to earth as close as possible to their burrows (yes, they nest in burrows) and waddle uncomfortably, as they aren’t really designed for walking, to their still huddled other-half and offspring underground guided by his or her hopefully-recognised welcoming call of their partner… they also share nesting duties equally… not surprisingly they all sound the same to me so how they manage I do not know among the cacophony of hundreds of them doing it hours on end in the deepest dark…… suddenly finding myself surrounded by the woes of the dead in manic surround-sound…
… yes, it’s that time of the year…

© 2018 robert greig