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.