Sunlit Eyes and Spinning Coins

Well the merry month of May (although sans Nightingale here in Scotland, though plenty of Cuckoos so at least Thomas Dekker's poem applies there) is behind us.  Warblers such as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler built upon their spearhead arrivals in April, whilst the first Garden Warbler and Blackcap became apparent in the trees and scrub around us.
Willow Warbler taking a break from singing

Swallows, first seen entering our outbuildings to inspect last year's nests as April drew to close, arrived in greater numbers too, and the first House Martins soon followed as did the Swifts - so great it was to hear their screaming through the streets of Forres for the first time in 2015.

Swallow touching down

May has been dominated, even in our 'dry' part of Scotland, by the weather - cold temperatures, keen winds and bands of rain (there's no such thing as 'organised showers' as the TV forecasters would have you believe) have all affected many of our feathered friends...indeed some first broods suffered heavy casualties or were even wiped out completely.  Despite this, in and around our home we've seen young Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Crossbills (Scottish?  Maybe...didn't quite hear their accent!), Dunnock plus Mistle and Song Thrushes.

A juvenile Dunnock, trying to look enthusiastic (and failing)

'Our' Ospreys - an experienced pair - are currently brooding eggs which Roy Dennis has assessed as likely to hatch any day now.  Even large birds such as these can suffer from the weather, not just when incubating clutches of eggs and tending to hatchlings, but also when hunting for fish to feed a young and desperate family.  High winds whip up the surface of the water whether it be loch, river or estuary, making it difficult for the male Osprey - the provider in those critical early days - to catch the goods.  

A male Osprey catches breakfast for his mate and himself...hard times are coming

Sorry I got onto the weather again, didn't I?  A very British thing!  May yielded some great sights of lekking Black Grouse (or, more correctly, Black Cock as the Grey Hens take no part...but this runs into too many schoolboy giggles or expressions of shock in non-birder conversation, and now committed to the interweb in this blog will probably some visits by folk with non-ornithological interests).  In looking for and watching these theatrical birds we also saw Short-eared Owl and heard Grasshopper Warbler, 'reeling' in deep cover. 
Lekking Black Grouse, tails elevated - shot from great range to prevent disturbance

So what on earth is the title of this blog all about?  Okay, I'm getting to it.  Amidst all of the great birds we've seen and enjoyed this past month, two stand out for me...and I'm consciously ignoring the Corncrakes we've heard and seen here as it's not necessarily just about 'quality'.  The 'eagle with the sunlit eye' is a translation of 'Iolaire suil na greine' - just one of many Gaelic descriptions for the Sea Eagle, or White-tailed Eagle dependent on your influences, training or book collection.  Spending a few days on Skye mid-month, we looked into those very eyes as we watched this wonderful bird.  We will never forget the sight of male Sea Eagle, standing sentry not far from his brooding mate, dropping like a stone and with all the poise of fury itself - with talons down and wings pulled in - upon the gulls who dare try and take some food before his very eyes.
'That' sunlit eye is more than apparent in this photo

And now, the 'spinning coin'.  My good friend Phil, the man largely to blame for igniting my interest in ornithology, first showed me a Wood Warbler in woods near his Welsh home some years ago.  At the time, my expertise was limited especially when it came to identifying calls - "It's easy for Wood Warbler...listen out for a spinning coin."  Of course the advice soon fell into place...and 'WOOWA' (to use its five letter identifier assigned by the British Trust for Ornithology, and vaguely reminiscent of an old Edward Woodward joke) made a lasting impression.  So it was nice to connect once again with the sound of a spinning coin this past weekend for the first time in 2015, and only a few feet away from the very same location in Strathspey that Phil and I last viewed one together.

I'll sign off - 1st June - is the first day of meteorological Summer.  The beautiful, bright start to the day seemed to confirm that, and I was gladdened by a male Kestrel flying eye-to-eye, parallel with the car for some distance as I headed out this morning.  I soon had views across the Moray Firth, seeing the still snow-ridden tops of Ben Wyvis and Strathconon, reminding me that our cold Spring hasn't released us - or our birds - just yet.


  1. Thank you my Great Mate for including me in the first ever A9 Birds blog, I am honoured. I remember well that first WOOWA moment, it was a pleasure to share it with you, along with the many we have encountered worldwide since. I make no apology for igniting the ornithological flame in you with that "Sparrowhawk on the gate" moment all those years ago, just look where it has got you!

    1. ...and Nikon profit margins! Cheers matey


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