Background Conditions

Unconsciously, all amateur naturalists on field excursions are questing for the unusual. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t great satisfaction in the matrix of inevitable background conditions – the fresh air, the natural landscape, the sensation of sun or wind on face, the simple pleasure of limbs moving freely in the act of walking, the sense of liberation that results merely from being out of doors.

Mark Cocker from Crow Country

Even those of us who wouldn’t dream of making the mad country spanning dash of the twitcher hoping to spot some unfortunate misplaced migrant wind-driven onto unfamiliar shores, can hardly deny the excitement of a sighting of something rare or unusual.

It’s why my driving has been erratic recently as I keep thinking that  I can see a little egret in the meres on Barrow Scout Field as I pass. Or why it was the single almost white goose in amongst the greylag geese that caught my attention this morning on the way to work.

But generally the ‘background conditions’ are sufficient for me.

The most unusual thing that I spotted this weekend in the Highlands was a bullfinch. We have them fairly frequently in our garden, but I didn’t expect to see one flying low along a shallow ditch in a Scottish glen. I suppose that it seemed too harsh an environment for such a ‘homely’ bird.

Further up Glen Strae I passed a small lochan with a healthy population of mallards who weren’t keen on me at all and flew noisily around the perimeter of the pond both times that I passed.

As I sat beside a stream on Beinn Eunaich for a tea from my flask, a buzzard unfurled its wings and glided out across the valley. It seemed to start from about my altitude, but soon effortlessly spiraled way above me. I heard the mew of a second bird, I thought coming from the direction of the cliffs above and behind me, but as I scanned the cliffs and their impressive gullies, a second mew alerted me to the presence of the second, much smaller bird, now flying close to the first overhead.

I saw groups of red deer on Beinn Eunaich, in Glen Strae, at the coll below Beinn Udlaidh (in a driving snow storm) and coming down into Glen Orchy. They aren’t rare or unusual in Scotland and in fact there is a small herd in this area. I’ve often seen bigger groups, occasionally at greater proximity, but none the less I always enjoy seeing them.

Driving down the side of Loch Lomond on the way home, I noticed that the trees on an island in the loch were festooned with large black birds. Amongst them all was a single black bird with a striking white belly. It could almost have been a penguin. I’m reliably informed that the birds were probably cormorants and that the one with a white belly would be a one year old bird still with juvenile plumage. So – not rare or unusual – but it certainly made Matt and I wonder.

Background Conditions

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