The birds which signal spring has arrived on a Highland croft
I guess we all have our own preferences on what signifies the start of spring, plus at what point we really feel the season has changed and we’re into spring proper. On the former I tend to think it’s the somewhat tuneless song of the Mistle Thrush which gets belted out from a high tree top on a wet and windy day in late February, and on the latter it’s the first migrant to arrive from Africa – which, this year and as per normal, was a Chiffchaff which reached our croft in the Highlands on the 8th April.
But in between that cold day in February and the rather warmer one in April (a truly heady 18 degrees which would actually represent a decent day in August up here), there’s been constant avian reminders that the season is changing. One which especially makes me smile is the arrival of the Oystercatchers, which nest on the relatively flat croft land at the base of the steep-sided strath that surrounds us. They initially fly around in noisy small groups and no doubt ahead of pairing-up and choosing a suitable nest site, with their near-constant piping calls – which can still be heard after nightfall – being the thing that makes this striking wader so appealing to me.
Pied Wagtails also make a welcome return, and have an interesting habit of following my wife’s ponies around and picking off insects the animals attract, and this with a short burst of flight a foot or so into the air. What also amuses me is that if we move the ponies from one meadow to another, then the wagtails simply follow along. They also sometimes sit on a timber rail right outside my home office window – as the youngster above did back last summer.
And then there’s the geese, although these birds aren’t of course arriving but instead are returning to their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland. Huge skeins of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese – often several thousand strong – pass high over our strath in regular waves, and if it’s a clear night I can hear their honking calls as I lie in bed (what a way to go to sleep). Actually, this year the day which saw the largest number pass through on migration was the 8th April – the very same day the Chiffchaff arrived, and I couldn’t help ponder such contrasting birds on such contrasting journeys.
I also have to give the humble Jackdaw a mention. This somewhat under-loved bird is very common in the area we live in, though returns to our garden each March to set-up home in an old dovecot which we inherited when we bought our house about 6 years ago. Cramming as many twigs as possible into the opening they choose to take in the dovecot becomes their preoccupation, and what doesn’t physically fit in gets discarded in a huge heap of debris on the ground below.
The next arrival I’m looking forward to is the Swallows, and all being well I’ll see the first ones arrive in the last week of April. And that particular long-distance flyer will signify to me less about spring, and more that summer is just around the corner.