Lockdown again. Forensic exploration of our own neighbourhood again, as we set off for daily exercise. Yet one way or another, I’ve posted dozens of shots of the area I call home, and I can’t expect others to delight in it as I do. The other day though I noticed, as I hadn’t since the car-free spring lockdown when birds were vying for territory and nesting, distant birdsong.
It made me think about the creatures who share our daily round. Not the elusive ones – the stoats, weasels, foxes, deer who decline to stick around as you get your camera out. The types like Basil and Brenda, as our neighbours call the over-sexed pigeons who stomp across their roof, noisily indulging their passion at 6.00 a.m.
The horse who moved in with the Jacob sheep in the next field at the beginning of lockdown when her stables closed for business. She’s still here. The hens next door, who sometimes deliver eggs for our breakfast.
The large flocks of sheep who are part of every farmer’s daily round in these parts – no cattle for us..
The heron who nicks fish from our landlord’s pond.
The mallards on the village pond, and the crows on the rooftops. The squirrels dashing across our path and up the nearest tree. The pheasants who are even more abundant this year, as lockdown’s put a stop to the shooting parties they were specifically bred for. Rabbits too. So many rabbits. Why haven’t I got any photos of them?
The featured photos shows our much-frequented path through Sleningford Hall at Easter time, with all the new lambs.
Walking in Studley Royal the other day, my interest was kindled by an odd yelping call coming from one of the trees along my path. It wasn’t from any bird I recognised. That’s because it turned out not to be a bird, but a grey squirrel. An alarmed and agitated grey squirrel. This one.
I don’t know what the problem was – nothing that I could see. But he was at it as I arrived. I watched him for more than five minutes, and he was still at it as I went on my way. This is what he sounded like.
Out here in the sticks, little lodgers are part of life: usually field mice. They usually fall for the old trick of heading for the peanut butter and apple wedged into the humane trap, and that’s it. They are indeed trapped, and next morning we’ll take them a long way down the road and invite them to make a new home elsewhere. I guess it’s not really all that kind or humane at all, but a traditional trap with certain death at the end seems even less appealing.
Monday’s walk was along the edge of some local woodland. Suddenly, there on the path in front of me, I spotted … a fledgling. A tottering, tumbling ball of fluff, cheeping plaintively and stumbling uncertainly on its large ungainly clawed feet.
I knew enough not to interfere and attempt a rescue, but this little foundling upset me and I felt guilty leaving him to what I assumed would be certain death – especially when, heart-wrenchingly, it tried to follow me. Was the robin perched in the branch above its parent? Later, paging through bird books, I decided not.
Back home, Google was my friend. This article from the RSPB assures me that the parents were probably practising tough love, and beginning the little bird’s preparations for an independent life.
We went to Colsterdale on Sunday. It’s nearby, but feels remote and isolated, because the only road through leads nowhere very much and so it remains one of North Yorkshire’s best kept secrets. Perfect for a Day Out whilst maintaining that all-important Social Distance.
Edged by the pastoral views of farming country, it climbs to become stark, treeless, commanding views to the distant North York Moors, and to the higher parts of the Pennines. Its ascetic bleakness is what appeals to me.
Scar House Reservoir in the distance
We’d almost reached the area where we planned to park and begin our walk, when I saw them. There! There on the roadside! Look! Two curlews, almost within touching distance. These are shy, beautifully camouflaged birds normally only seen and heard as they quarter the sky, calling the evocative plaintive sound – ‘cur-lee, cur-lee’ – which gives them their name. These two were probably drawing a would-be predator away from the nest.
Whatever the reason, it was such a privilege to watch these birds at close quarters, with their mottled, camouflaging plumage, and their distinctive long downward-curving beaks.
YouTube RSPB video
They flew away after a couple of minutes, and we began our walk, relishing the space, the wild emptiness and the only sounds those of distant curlews.
Addendum: several commenters have expressed surprise about the curlew frequenting moorland. Just to show how very much at home the bird is in these surroundings, here is proof. It is the symbol for the nearby long distance walk, the Nidderdale Way. FAO Jude, Agnes