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Friday, 7 August 2009

Birds of a Feather ............

We have enjoyed a lovely summer here in Orkney with long periods of warm sunshine, blue skies, and gentle breezes, with just the occasional wet day sufficient to keep the farmers happy. If all summers were like this there would be no need for trips to the Aegean, for looking across the clear, blue sea to other Orkney islands with the lovely clean white sandy beaches, with the sun shining and the birds singing, there can be few more beautiful sights. Early in the morning, seals young and old, can be seen sunning themselves on the beaches, and occasionally if you are in the right place at the right time, you might catch sight of a sea-otter making his way across the beach to the nearby mill in search of duck eggs or other delicacy for lunch. We have a small bird Reserve on Stronsay, owned and run by ornithologist, author and artist, John Holloway and his wife. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic on the subject of birds, and many are the rare migrants and visitors that he is called to confirm and identify. My wife and I love the bird-life here, and since we moved here six years ago have been fortunate to have seen many birds which we had not seen before. Experience has shown that it is advisable to photograph any bird whose identity is uncertain, so that the photograph can be studied at leisure and a reasonably accurate identification made. Having said this, it is not always possible to do this, with the inevitable result that when trying to identify and recollect ‘from memory’, the imagination encroaches on the memory to such an extent that the resulting identification becomes very dubious. Reproduced here are some photographs taken by my wife, of various birds, some resident - others migrant, all taken on Stronsay and many taken in our garden. I think pride of place must go the ‘blue-throat’ seen earlier this year in the driveway leading to the Bird Reserve; we were parked in our car just a few feet from it. The photograph of this beautiful bird is used in the ‘heading logo’ for this blog-site. There are many birds regularly seen at different times of the year, but not yet photographed, these include green plovers (peewits), golden plovers, redshanks, wrens, curlews, wheatears, redpolls, song and mistle-thrush, skylarks, blackcaps, lesser-whitethroats, twites, and a variety of marine birds and waders. Rare visitors recorded during the six years that we have been here, but not seen by us, include bee-eater, snowy owl, golden oriel, and tree-creeper. Other less common birds seen by us include waxwings, sedge warblers, gold-crest, red-backed shrike, woodcock, hen-harriers, peregrine falcon, tawny owl, bullfinch, and cuckoo. These are not exhaustive lists of the Stronsay bird life, but those shown in the photographs together with these listed, do give some idea of the wide variety of birds to be seen. I urge any bird-lovers who have the opportunity to visit Stronsay, or indeed any of the Orkney Isles, to seize it with both hands.














A delightful story from 'Beast and Saints' translated by Helen Waddell, published by Constable (London) 1934.

St Cuthbert's Birds and Bartholomew, the Hermit of Farne.

From ancient time long past, this island has been inhabited by certain birds whose name and race miraculously persists. At the time of year for building nests, they gather here. And such gracious gentleness have they learned from the holiness of the place, or rather from those who made the place holy by their way of living there, that they have no shrinking from the handling or the gaze of men.They love quiet, and yet no clamour disturbs them. Their nests are built everywhere. Some brood above their eggs beside the altar. No man presumes to molest them or touch the eggs without leave........... And they in turn do harm to no man's store for food. They seek it with their mates upon the waves of the sea. The ducklings, once they are reared, follow behind their mothers who lead the way, and once they have entered their native waters, come no more back to the nest. The mothers too, their mild and gentle way of life forgotten, receive their ancient state and instinct with the sea. This is the high prerogative of the island, which, had it come to the knowledge of the scholars of old time, would have had its fair fame blazoned through the earth.

But at one time it befel, whilst a mother was leading her brood, herself going on before, that one of the youngsters fell down a cleft of a creviced rock. The mother stood by in distress, and let no one doubt but that she was then endowed with human reason. For she forthwith turned about, left her youngsters behind, came to Bartholomew, and began tugging at the hem of his cloak with her beak, as if to say plainly: "Get up and follow me and give me back my son." He rose at once for her, thinking that he must be sitting on her nest. But as she kept on tugging more and more, he perceived at last that she was asking something from him that she could not come at by voice. And indeed her action was eloquent, if not her discourse. On she went, she first and he after, till coming to the cliff she pointed to the place with her bill, and gazing at Bartholomew, intimated with what signs she could that he was to peer inside. Coming closer, he saw the duckling with its small wings clinging to the rock, and climbing down he brought it back to its mother, who in high delight seemed by her joyous look, to give him thanks. Whereupon she took to the water with her sons, and Bartholomew, dumb with astonishment, went back to his oratory.
'God also said: Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth under the firmament of heaven. And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good' ( Genesis I vs. 20/21)

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