Feb 10, 2009

Snow Time

The month has started off with not a lot happening up here. Watching the snows fall all over the south and east of England for the last week I was beginning to wonder if it would ever snow for us. As England froze and the snows grew ever deeper the northern isles carried on as usual with calm and mild weather. By Friday snow 24 or to give it its right name BBC news 24 were forecasting substantial snows for us. Sure enough Friday morning brought an unrelenting drizzle of sleet that hit the ground and disappeared. By the time the sun dropped the sleet began to lie and we were away. The wind from the north dropped away yet still managed to fill in a hundred yards of track, luckily the wife’s car was left down at the road so we had some transport available or it would have been slim pickings by now. From Saturday morning it has been the most fantastic weather, flat calm with light snow showers from time to time. It has stayed well below 0 with -10 and -12 reported on the Orkney forum. On the ground we have 4 to 6 inches of powdery snow and fortunately the north gales that were predicted by the met office never materialised.
Birding has been a bit sparse but has made up for its self in quality. Whilst passing the time snapping photos and generally buggering around in the garden on Sunday I heard grouse calling from the hill somewhere behind the house. Running in and grabbing the scope I soon have two Grouse in view. They are feeding around the foot of a large clump of gorse across the valley. It’s a long way but as I watch yet more come into view. With in a couple of minutes there are six feeding away on the exposed heather around the base of the gorse. This is the most I have ever seen together and I am snapping away grabbing pictures in a panic. I shouldn’t have worried as they were around for the rest of the afternoon.
Monday afternoon I decided to head for the top of the hills in order to get a panorama shot of the surrounding country. My mind is soon changed after tramping through the heather in the back field. Out here the snow is coming up to the knees and as I draw breath and look to the hill tops I think …bugger that…I head for Russadale quarry for a look. Although the bird count is to stay at three Wrens and two Ravens the quarry its self proves to be a stunning backdrop. It’s a wet old hole in the winter time but the water draining through the rocks has frozen into a fantastic display of icicles some of the bigger ones are eight feet long and as thick as my arm. The spectacle is the most impressive icicles I have ever seen(but I have lead a sheltered life). The SD card gets a bit of a hammering before I head back to the house. I am almost at the back fence when from the wet burn side a Jack Snipe takes to the air appearing from just below my feet flying low and level to rise slightly and drop into the valley. Later I see Erik Meek has reported putting one up on the quarry path a couple of hours before mine so I would guess it’s the same one.. The Snipe action was not over yet. In the field below the house there are three wet patches bare of snow. Here water flows out the ground and the local snipe have been hanging out taking advantage of the rare bare ground to feed. A scan across it with the scope reveal four birds feeding, Needless to say a snap was taken!!
Today I returned to the quarry for some more pictures of icicles. Sitting on the bench I manage to see the two remaining Redpolls and film them flitting about. What was to happen next I still find hard to believe. I am standing taking photos and talking to the dog(like you do) when from a ledge above me a bird takes off spooked. It rises strait up and over the lip to disappear from view. I am excited though cos it was a Woodcock. Anyway I carry on taking photos of the ice, standing close in to the face. Next thing I hear is the whoosh of wind through a birds wings and the Woodcock returns gliding down to settle just around a corner out of sight,. I ken fine the dog will put it up so I decide to try and film it flying off. With a none to subtle approach I manage to find it hiding beneath the rock face and catch its flight as it takes off. That’s it for me I head off home more than a little chuffed…The temperature is below 0 again tonight and there looks like no end to the snow……good stuff im loving it.

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