Birds in the garden

starling

Sparrows, sparrows everywhere. Once a wren and a few times a robin. More starlings than I can count and enough wood pigeon to bend the feeder out of shape.

Having a garden is a joy – even more so than I had anticipated moving into a ‘proper’ house. It is north facing and as such this time of year it is largely just soggy grass but none the less the birds are there and happily going about their business. No thanks for the humans and their food supplies, but none are needed.

In our previous residence, a flat up in skies, we saw birds living in the tops of the trees immediately outside the living room and kitchen windows. It in itself was a pleasure but having no means to support them meant weeks could go by without seeing a single flutter and the nest in the tree alarmingly quiet of young. Not so now with feeder and dishes of various treats and temptations out for the birds. So far none of the blue tits, chaffinches or wagtails I’ve seen elsewhere around here, but there is hope for that yet in 2018.

Sparrow photo © Jose B. Ruiz / naturepl.com

Eun
– bird
ee-an

Eòin – birds
Yaw-yn

Gealbhonn – sparrow
gyall-uh-vun.   Gaelic has an abundance of words where vowel sounds between consonants are pronounced but not written (svarabhakti vowels, for those wondering). That uh between the l and bh in Gealbhonn is such an example.

Druid – starling
droo-tch
Dreathan donn – wren
dreh-han down

Have a listen to this love song from Tobar an Dualchais wherein a woman falls asleep on Ben Cruachan, dreams of a sparrow (and a cuckoo) and her old flame. It’s called Dh’Èirich Mise, Rinn Mi Gluasad and was recorded in 1952. I’m quite fond of it.

Thanks to Arkive and respective photographers for use of photos.

Wren photo © Jim Zipp / www.ardea.com
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Skye holidays: Neist Point

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Visiting Skye, taking the opportunity to see places from land we’ve only seen by boat before. Neist Point is dramatic and impressive. We took advantage of some puffin-spotting (some, not many), seeing guillemots nesting, fulmars calling around us and the occasional gannet diving into the sea.

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The wind hardly blew a breath. As we hung over the edge of the cliffs to see the birds, the waves crashed in the caves beneath us. A glorious sound.

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30 days wild

An attempt to join in with the 30 days wild challenge set by the Wildlife Trusts. I try and observe what is going on around me as it is but I felt it couldn’t hurt being a bit more active in engaging with nature. My daily commute on Uist saw short-eared owls most days, almost certainly various birds of prey and often many types of ducks and waders, just from the car window. Once even a snowy owl. Being out for even a short walk it was impossible not to notice the abundance of flora and fungi all around. Living in the city you have to look harder for the wildness around you. Edinburgh, as far as cities are concerned, it still at the mercy of the weather and nature, but it doesn’t compare to leaving the office for a lunchtime walk on the machair. Still, you have to take what you’ve got and this seemed like a fitting opportunity to engage with the summer as it emerges. You can follow some of my tweets from earlier in the month, though I stopped over the last week or so. It’s easy to get derailed, but I’ve still been trying me best to look out around me.

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Photos all taken on my phone, so excuse the differing quality.

connecting birds & words

Every so often I’ll notice a Gaelic name or word and think ‘that looks a bit…odd’. While I’ve spoken the language for as long as I’ve spoken English, I am not a linguist. I’ve not seriously studied the minutiae of Gaelic- that is for the language specialists and I am not one. I have long been fascinated, however, by the relationship between Gaelic heritage and the impact of visitors and emigrants to the Highlands and Islands on the language.

This is a long and exhaustive topic – and not one I’m going to delve into in any great depth just now. It deserves more than that. I did think, however, that I’d share one example of the beautiful – in my opinion – manner in which languages and cultures can collide, and the result illustrating a wee bit of our shared heritages.

My example today is of a rather poorly thought of bird; oft the subject of disdain and victimisation. It is the black blacked gull. Now, asides from the fact that I am actually quite fond of these birds, in all their squaking, brash, bolshy way, their name tells an interesting story. While researching some work for the day-job and discussing linguistic anomalies with a colleague, it struck me how odd looking the word farspag is. This is the Gaelic name for a black backed gull (pron. far-spak). Its quite distinct from faoileag, the term for a general gull. A little digging confirmed my expectations – farspag is Norse in origin. Through this one word you can see the impact of Scandinavian visitors to the Highlands and Islands, that a thousand years later we’re not just carrying on placenames with Scandinavian suffixes, but even the name for this scorned bird. The following are some names used in (largely) contemporary languages for a black backed gull – you can see the connections yourselves.

Gaelic:  farspag

Icelandic: svartbakur

Norn: svartbak

Danish: svartbag

Norwegian: svartbak

Shetlandic: swabbie

I like to think that we are but one small part of a much larger heritage, and I particularly like that a bird as humble as a black backed gull can help demonstrate part of that. Please feel free to share any terms you know that tie in with this – I’d love to hear them.

shorter days

As winter takes a stronger hold, the light changes more and more. When I first moved to the island there was still hours of light in the evening, now there are barely any hours during the day. It’s felt like a very rapid change in a very short space of time.  I’ve enjoyed watching the changing light as time passes and noticing how the wildlife changes with it.

First, there were ever moving clouds

The skies were awash with geese though they’ve quietened down now.

The weather is making itself known and there are still some geese making themselves heard

Some remnants of summer are still clinging on.

I’ve been spotting about half a dozen snow geese here and there which is a nice treat.  For anyone with a birdy interest, the Islay birds blog is an interesting read. Also worth a look is the blog belonging to the Islay Natural History Trust. An even greater treat is sitting in the evenings with the window open, smelling the neighbours’ peat fires and hearing the waves lap on the shore. Faladh na moine air oir na mara.