North Highland Wildlife Diary for October
Edward the duck
Over the last month I haven’t once set out for a walk in my local area. Or anywhere for that matter. This is unheard of me but with a stable block and store room to complete before the winter sets in, almost every daylight hour of every day has been used to carry big stones, put big stones in place, then go and get some more big stones.
However, working outside still means that I see what flies overhead or ventures into our garden or croft land. And as far as the garden is concerned, a pair of stoats has been terrorising our three chickens as these ferocious little killers frantically dart and leap about – at times playing and at other times hunting for voles and mice. Plus also the odd rabbit, though I manage to keep most of these unwelcome long-eared cabbage eaters out of my garden having fairly successfully made it rabbit-proof with 200 metres of chicken wire (I actually call it rabbit wire…) several years ago. And, thankfully, although the stoats have been frightening the hell out of the chickens, they haven’t as yet attacked them – though that’s likely to become an issue as we get into the full winter (see my wildlife diary entry for last January to learn why).
But anyway, as I do what I need to do with piles of big stones, I’ve had the company of the tamest Mallard duck you’ll ever meet – that’s him in the photo above. My wife calls him Edward (can’t quite remember the reason for that choice of name) and this is his story…
Back in the mid-summer about 1000 young Mallards were released on a loch high in the hills behind our house croft. These are hand-reared birds which get fed twice a day by the gamekeepers, are well looked after, but, on day, will probably meet their fate as a result of a shotgun fired by the estate owner or one of his chums. In truth I don’t quite get what the fun is in all of that, but anyway that’s the way of the world in the Highlands and I’m not going to use my column inches here to bang on about the rights and wrongs of it.
Now Edward started his life as one of these ducks, but managed to injure a leg before he could fly and was rescued and brought home by the head gamekeeper (who says that gamekeepers don’t have a heart…). The gamekeeper lives opposite me, and young Edward spent a few weeks in the relative luxury of his old metal shed. Then once able to fly – though still with a slightly dodgy leg – Edward was set free and clearly decided that, rather than return to his mates and a potentially life-threatening existence on the loch, he’d instead make the short journey to our garden across the road and live the good life on Vine House Farm’s finest Poultry Mix (normally reserved for our chickens) – and very well he’s doing on it too, as I’m sure you’ll agree from the photo of him above.
So Edward has now become one of our family, and, as he was anyway hand-reared, only associates human beings with good things and specifically food. So he’s as tame as tame can be, which is a tad ironic given his likely fate if he hadn’t been rescued by the caring gamekeeper.
Our monthly columnist from the Scottish Highlands
A long-time associate of Vine House Farm is Roger Hughes, who now lives in the north of Scotland and the beautiful county of Sutherland. Roger helps us with a range of business services, but he’s also a keen bird watcher, is very knowledgeable about feeding birds, is a general nature lover, and also partly earns his living from writing. He lives with his wife, Julie, and they have a small croft with a wide mix of habitats from wooded riverbank to meadow and moorland – all good for wildlife of course. So with all this in mind, Roger now writes a monthly column for the Vine House Farm website which we very much hope you’ll follow and enjoy.