Before Christmas I reported the late arrival of geese in the Strath. They turned up in their usual numbers much later than usual. They were not the only winter migrants to behave oddly; the winter thrushes - fieldfares and redwings - usually arrive in early autumn and hang about for a few weeks eating rowan berries. Then, as it begins to get colder, they fly on south to spend the rest of the winter in the Midlands where we used to see them in Warwickshire in profusion. They migrate north again as spring arrives and we usually see them here for a short time in March.
This year these birds have behaved atypically; they arrived in Scotland later and were still here in December. Now as I write (in early February) there are masses of fieldfares who started coming north again in the last days of January.  I have yet to spot returning redwings amidst the flocks of fieldfares.
The very cold weather of early February hardly suggests global warming but the migration patterns of wintering birds confirms reports of higher arctic temperatures; both geese and winter thrushes came late and the latter returned from the south early. Clearly they know something we don’t, that supports climate change which is also shown by reported loss of the arctic ice.
They are not the only birds to behave oddly. Every year since I have lived here I watch for the first oystercatchers, the earliest waders to return to Strathtay. They usually come about St .Valentine’s day. (The Saint is associated with love and gave his name to February 14th because it was supposedly the day birds start mating.) Not only do the oystercatchers come to time but the first ones always turn up between Strathtay and Logierait. On January 31st I saw a pair flying high over the Tay near my home and next day there were four sunning themselves in their favourite field near Cuil-an-Darach.
The early February icy weather has produced some winter avian phenomena such as flocking of large numbers of bullfinches accompanied by a few redpolls round Tom Phubil. Bullfinches, beautiful but anathema to fruit farmers, sometimes form huge flocks of as many as fifty birds in hard weather which to a colour-blind observer, as I am, often presents difficulty.   Another species of red/green confusion to watch for now is the crossbill. Crossbills are the earliest breeders, timing the arrival of the young to the cone harvest whose nutritious seeds are the ideal food for their nestlings. Crossbills nest in February when they often have an endearing habit of sitting on the uppermost sprig of a conifer in full sunlight. I see them rarely but most often at this time of year near Loch Kinardochy or Loch-na-Creige.
I returned to this piece with the warmer weather when, on 22nd Feb, I spotted my first lapwings for the year and the next day there was a daffodil out in my garden, the earliest I have ever seen here.
All these signs of the coming of spring make all nature stretch and smile to acknowledge that they have nearly survived another winter; I know the feeling.

 Robin Hull



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