Sunday, 26 December 2010


Home, currently the haunt of early morning assassins

The Rooks were getting all frisky yesterday in the afternoon sunshine, in today's grey they were back into survival mode - Ravens visited their home and croaked fearsomely

A hare makes a run for cover

Christmas morning and having been awake since 5.30 due to over-excited offspring I was not a little in need of some respite. Hiding away upstairs I heard a call I hear rarely but know well, the death cry of a Blackbird. Sure enough a glance out of the window confirmed the evidence of my ears as a Sparrowhawk struggled to the shelter of the garden wall with that clumsy, overladen, "I've got breakfast" flight of success. It didn't last long of course, two Hoodies homed in but this Sproghawk was determined and managed to lift off again and flop over the garden wall into thick cover. The Hoodies hung around for a few minutes before departing for easier scrounging.

Where the Sparrowhawk plucked his prey
(Sparrowhawks are pretty much my favourite assassin; brave, slightly mad, persistent and wonderfully adept, they can stoop as spectacularly as any Peregrine but their raison d'etre is the ambush)

A survivor (for now) 19 counted today, half of them in the byres

This morning I had a scout around the outbuildings before heading off down to the arctic wastes of The Shunan. Beside the lowest barn was a pair of wings on picked clean bones and a little further down the track a flurry of frozen feathers where the Song Thrush had been killed. I'd seen the Sproghawk hunting in the very spot a few days previously. No Song Thrush was seen around the garden today. So both the birds that have been here have perished now.

Frozen feathers, where the Song Thrush met his end

The visit to The Shunan added a new bird to the list as setting off on my tramp back up the hill I espied a large raptor sitting on a distant post. Expecting a Hen Harrier, especially as it was wing-tagged I was surprised when it revealed itself to be a Buzzard. It landed again but in a dip, would it be viewable from the garden? Deep snow is not conducive to athletic excellence, especially when labouring with scope, tripod, camera and many layers of winter clothing, however, I struggled valiantly to the garden in reasonable time and could see ... just the top of the elder bush it had dived into. Scope trained on the spot, scanning with the bins, cold seeping into my bones but then as I stared through the scope the Buzzard landed on the fence post in front of the bush, excellent. Later it caught out the ring-tail Hen Harrier that has been hunting here of late and robbed it of a meal, the Hoodies dared not approach and the Buzzard was observed for a good half hour ripping the victim apart and devouring it. When we descended the hill later there was a scatter of feathers in the field and the remains of a small corpse.

Common Buzzard, Hoodie and Hen Harrier (somewhat distant)

There have been a good number of blood trails in the snow. I've seen this before but not to such an extent. One on the track, two on the road down to the hotel, one across the fields and by the burn a huge red smear in the snow. I can only guess that the blood trails may be of hares, in the burn it may well have been an Otter kill.

Down at Loch of Harray taking scenic photos as I thought, Louise pointed out that I was photographing not one but two corpses. A Coot had been another raptor victim and in the small pool in front of us there was a large dead Mute Swan cygnet.

Dead Coot and Mute Swan (back of the pool)

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