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Walk on the Wildside

Last week I promised you a walk on my local patch, so if I can borrow your imagination Freyja and I will take you on our daily 1-hour exercise stroll; through the woods and down to the loch to see what birds it's possible to find.

From home we first walk through a birch wood, its trees festoon with delicate strands of lichen and the old root-bowls carpeted in vibrant green mosses; home of Dumbeldore perhaps? It’s still relatively cold in the Highlands and the only woodland sound is the thin, winter-song of a robin; an incipient sound of things to come. After the last Ice-Age birch trees moved in quickly as the glaciers receded and today they remain the commonest native tree in the Highlands; a vital component of the old Caledonian Forest. The birch woods provide a valuable habitat for woodland birds, being rich in invertebrates; the deeply gnarled bark of the veteran birch provide ideal winter feeding and roosting places for the unobtrusive little treecreeper.

Before long we enter an open patch of meadow where roe deer are grazing, Freyja does her best to discourage them! In the sky above a buzzard circles on out-stretched wings giving its characteristic ‘mewing’ calls.

Before too long we reach the shore of the loch, its calm and the sound of newly arrived red-throated divers echo across the water; their evocative ‘wailing’ calls are always a pleasure to hear. Soon they will start their pre-nuptial courtship display, when the pair will rise, in an upright posture and paddling rapidly on the water performing an amazing dance, each mirroring one another’s moves in unison and always a delight to watch.

Along the water’s edge returning grey wagtails briskly chase invertebrates amongst the pieces of stranded driftwood; though common sandpipers are only noticeable by their absence. So too is the absence of martin’s and swallows skimming over the water to feast on freshly emerged invertebrates; still it is early days and there is plenty of time for them to make an appearance.

Across the water, in the distance, the Monadhliath mountains still hold a mosaic of snow fields and look magnificent. It was here in the late 17th century the last wolf was allegedly killed, marking its extinction in the UK! On a brighter note we still have eagles present in these majestic mountains, but sadly none visible today, unlike the occupants of the small wooded island. Our local pair of ospreys’ have returned to their tree-top nest, and the male is busy adding more twigs and sticks to the already bulky construction.

Our circular walk is almost done as we return through the birch woods, devoid of bird song for now; no migrants such as chiffchaff or willow warbler yet.

Back home it’s time for coffee and home-baked biscuits, Freyja very much enjoys the latter.

Next week, if possible, Freyja and I will take a walk onto the moorland edge looking for one of the most spectacular upland birds, the enigmatic black grouse. Until then, please keep yourselves safe as we enter week 3 of social distancing.