Sunday, 11 February 2018

Air to ground missive

As the light faded after a cloud-obscured sunset, Our Lass and I stood at the lounge window, gazing out towards the distant snow-covered Hoy hills. In this, the coldest Winter since we moved to Orkney four years ago, the vegetation of field and garden seems to be shrinking back into the earth. Bitingly cold winds and extremity-stinging hail take their toll on all life, both plant and animal.

With the grass gradually leaching its greenness through various shades of straw towards a pale brown, in the field opposite I noticed a darker colouration. Possibly a long dead stump of a dochan, but with the teasing potential to be a Hare hunkered down against the elements. As it turned out, it was neither of these things, my binoculars revealing a raptor, possibly a Sparrowhawk, busy plucking a kill. The failing light made it tricky to be sure but, whilst Our Lass kept her eye on the bird, I risked a dash for the camera. Halfway there, she informed me that the bird had flown, spooked a pair of Hooded Crows. I returned to the window as the Hoodies saw off the bird of prey, and watched as they pottered around the area where the kill had occurred. The raptor must have taken its hard-won prey with it, as the crows found little to reward their mobbing efforts.

Today's fleeting glimpses of the competition for food have brought home just how tough it is to survive in this harsh environment. The waders and waterfowl at least have the shore and the shallows to provide daily sustenance, but the corvids need all their cognitive abilities and cunning, and the raptors their agility and talons, to make it through to the approaching Spring.

Aerial antics

What was I thinking?! It doesn't seem very long ago that I was typing the words 'The local family of Ravens rarely become involved in these shenanigans...' when I was reporting on the corvid on corvid action which could be witnessed from the front door of Tense Towers.

Then, this afternoon, between wintry showers of hail and snow, I noticed two birds locked in aerial combat. They were some distance away, both dark in appearance, with one much larger than the other. It wasn't until I had jettisoned my laptop and picked up my bins that I was able to identify the twisting, turning shapes as a Hooded Crow (smaller) and a Raven (larger). The binoculars, too, were then cast aside as I grabbed my camera and headed for the front door.

The Hoodie appeared to have some food in its beak, upon which the Raven had clear designs. As the dogfight continued, climbing up into the deep blue then spiralling and diving down, I struggled to keep the distant specks in (a) view and (b) focus. Occasionally, the squabble over food disappeared from sight altogether, as the birds dropped down towards the shore and behind a hill, but then they would zoom back skywards to continue the melee.

I could not possibly imagine what it must be like to run pell mell with, for instance, an apple clamped between my teeth and being chased by a burly rugby union centre, intent on relieving me of it. (I so wanted to write 'hooker' in that last sentence, but that would have sent a mixed message and possibly resulted in a different outcome.)

Soft furnishings

I have to admit to a small and rather bijou rant the other day. You're probably wondering, "Can a rant be described as 'bijou'?" Please allow me to explain.

Picture the scene, if you will. A home, a lounge, a two-seater recliner. As they say, sofa, so good.

The seasoned observer will notice the two cushions on the right of the photograph. This is where I normally sit. If your thoughts have moved on to "Really?! Whilst he's not particularly macho, he doesn't sound like a soft furnishings kind of guy?" then award yourself a bonus point.

Continuing the explanation, I should also point out that Our Lass sits on the left, usually with the cushions, but when exiting said seat, the cushions mysteriously end up on 'my side'. Hmmmm.

If you've just heard several clicks, that'll be the sound of First and Second Born rolling their eyes upwards, as they know exactly where this is going.

Perhaps the situation would be better illustrated with a short demonstration? This is the furniture shop scene from an episode of the BBC sitcom 'Coupling', which neatly summarises the main characteristics of cushion rage. Whilst it does share some of my frustration, and a few expletives, it is very worth watching to the end.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Another bout of Rooks v Crows

This morning dawned crisp and frosty with that gorgeous Winter light that is two parts sunny, one part honey. There were several Hares scampering around in the neighbouring fields. 

Whilst I was busy watching the Hares, some Rooks turned up for the latest round of the corvid competition. I'm not sure they knew which game was to be played today, as they sat on the fence looking very undecided.

Eventually, the Hooded Crows put in an appearance (fielding a whole six players today) and proceeded to perform their version of the Kiwis' Haka.

Possibly in acknowledgement of the fact that this weekend saw the beginning of Rugby Union's Six Nations Trophy for 2018, the Rooks were inspired to bring along an appropriately-shaped potato.

Unfortunately, before I could figure out who was playing on the wing, the game had to be abandoned when Team Rook flew off with the ball.

In other news, with wall-to-wall blue sky and barely a breath of wind, Our Lass and I were just happy to be able to spend most of the day outside.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Field of battle

This week has seen the BBC air the latest series of its flagship '[Insert season here]watch' over four consecutive nights. And speaking of knights, were Martin and Chris just a bit too keen to dress up in costume for the corvid showdown that was Game of Crows?

Zim the Carrion Crow won the cognitive ability competition for the smartest bird, but not before Martin discovered that Bran the Raven was a bit of a pecker. It was probably karma for all the references to 'penis' that Martin squeezed into a feature on the mating habits of Lesser Horseshoe Bats... not to mention his description of the roosting female bats as looking like 'hairy plums'. [Facepalm]

Back at Tense Towers, most days are Game of Crows days, when the local Hooded Crows endeavour to see off any Rooks who might be trying to muscle into their territory and pinch anything edible.

Often's the time when I've been drawn to the window at the sight of up to a dozen Rooks, wandering across the neighbouring pasture in their search for tasty morsels. It is never very long before a pair of Hooded Crows shows up and chases them away. For some reason, superior numbers don't appear to give sufficient advantage in this particular battle. Perhaps the Rooks, who forage, nest and roost in large colonies, don't put quite the same emphasis on territory that the lone pair of Hoodies do?

Rook on the lookout for trouble
Today, for instance, four Rooks turned up in the field over the road, and began foraging in a ragged line. From my vantage point, I could see the Hoodies were at the far side of the field, though I suspect the two groups were invisible to each other. However, it wasn't long before one of the Hoodies was airborne, from where the Rooks' sneaky sortie was viewable. As soon as the Rooks realised the game was up, they too took to the air and headed for... er... pastures new, whilst the Hooded Crows made a point of positioning themselves in the middle of the field.

The Hooded Crows are never far away
The local family of Ravens rarely become involved in these shenanigans, preferring to spend their time annoying Great Black-backed Gulls, any passing Herons and the occasional Buzzard.