I have an incredible drive to and from work everyday and I admit I tend to take it for granted some mornings as the 45 minute route can be tedious during the busy tourist season. So, I made an effort to take notice during a drive home more than usual. I always have an eye out for birds and other species, but I never write them all down and I see a huge variety some days.
Wheatear, pied wagtail, meadow pipit, common buzzard and hooded crow are regulars at the moment. I also often see ravens – I drive through a coastal territory where earlier in the year the off-duty bird would perch on the cliff top. Lapwings and curlew are both nesting in the fields by the school itself and are regularly visible from the car as they defend their youngsters from the plundering crows. Oystercatchers and common sandpipers are also a daily sighting. I also pass through both a white-tailed eagle and golden eagle territory. The birds were more visible to me during my journey throughout the winter months but I do still spot them sometimes. One of the golden eagle pair was seen above their distant ridge line with smaller corvids harassing it.
You see so much when you take the time to notice it.
Yesterday evening I was struggling with a migraine and so my wild action for the day involved a brief catch up on a favourite wild webcam. This camera gives an incredible insight into the lives of the 4th largest eagle in the world; the White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).
The nest is situated in West Estonia and the pair are raising three chicks this year, which can be an unusual sight. Typically these birds raise one or two chicks, especially in our country. But watching the webcam now, all three seem to be doing great and should be set to fledge the nest in July.
We’re extremely lucky in Scotland that this species is now thriving after their reintroduction (1975 onwards) and we have around 100 breeding pairs. Lets hope they continue to expand, despite ongoing threats from illegal raptor persecution.
No matter how much we plan our outdoor experiences and encounters with wildlife it still falls to chance.
In many circumstances, naturalists are now species focused, twitcher like and not just with regard to birds! We’ve all done it and do so regularly – we head out into the wilds with a species in mind, an imaginary checklist and a success rating. How many of us have travelled to Scotland and stayed in a cottage that boasts the good likelihood of seeing pine marten? Just pop out some sweet snacks and await their arrival. Mull each year is flooded with tourists with white-tailed eagle, golden eagle and otter on the brain. Our favourite seasonal shows, Springwatch and Autumnwatch encourage us to visit reserves and locations across the country to spot particular species.
This is partly due to human influence on habitat and distributions of species, gone are the days you could wander out to chance upon pine marten, red squirrel, white-tailed eagle, adder or osprey, along with many more. We’ve shrunken and fragmented their suitable habitat, or persecuted them so heavily that we now need to travel to find them and the success of our journey hinges on seeing them.
This is fine, we all do it and often to see some species we have to head out with them in mind. But it’s still all down to chance, fate or luck. We can try extremely hard to be in the right place at the right time but nature does its own thing, no guarantees! As adults we can just about handle the disappointment of not encountering the desired species, but we should be careful when our younger generations are involved. Aiming high can be a real excitement, but if the species isn’t seen we’re disheartening kids and swaying their feelings towards natural history.
Instead head out with an open mind and a positive attitude and let chance take the lead. Without that imaginary checklist every encounter becomes exciting because it’s the unexpected. Enjoy the common and regular species, become more acquainted with their behaviours and be ready to be surprised. Just two days ago I spent a few hours searching hard for reptiles in what appeared to be a great spot and left for home with a little tinge of disappointment. But by chance I pulled into a passing place and from the windscreen I spotted a lizard basking right by the road. After taking a couple of photos I took a few more steps and spotted an adder, slow-worm and another lizard, all within inches of each other – mere feet from the road! This was a chance connection to nature in a very unexpected location. I was elated and drove home with a big smile on my face.
That was a great chance connection with reptiles and we had another yesterday when wandering in one of Mull’s wilder parts, away from footpaths and tracks. First we encountered a colony of yellow meadow ants, making their busy home under a very small scrap of corrugated sheeting. We watched a pair of grey wagtails bobbing about a burn and found the perfectly preserved breast bone and wings of a kestrel – a great natural keepsake. Then, just when we weren’t expecting it, an adder was curled up among grasses in a tiny pocket of bracken. What a thrill to bump into our only venomous snake! We continued on and shortly encountered another adder, again in the tiniest pockets of bracken habitat amid boggy surroundings. We also delighted in the speed of common lizards, taking to cover at the vibrations our footsteps create – how amazing that raptors like kestrel and buzzard are agile and acute enough to catch them as prey.
We should make time for chance connections with nature, let the wildlife surprise you and minimise any chance of disappointment. Children relish all connections with the natural world when allowed to do so. Don’t make their childhood about the top species and tick boxes, let nature do its thing and inspire them. If you visit the Isle of Mull don’t make it all about the eagles and otters, if you chance upon them brilliant, if you don’t that’s okay. With young people so disconnected from nature in this modern world, we need those happenstance connections more than ever, especially the local ones, the ones on your doorstep – children need to know nature is out there and easily accessible and so do adults. We can get disheartened with the current state of nature but finding chance connections close to home can cheer our thoughts. It doesn’t always have to be a far flung adventure with drawcard species as the make or break.