Heather Beaton, RSPB Scotland's Warden on North Uist shares the way she’s noticed nature carrying on as normal whilst everything else seems to be stopping or changing around her.
Nature doesn't stop
Driving along on essential business, it can feel like I’ve been transported to another realm. Everything appears the same, and yet it is so significantly, painfully different, that reality seems warped. There’s no one outside: no cars, no movement. All the houses sit silent and still, like watchers on the hill.
The wildlife remains, however, and it keeps on going. The meadow pipits are repeatedly displaying. The sweet descending scale of the song, sung as the bird parachutes down on outstretched wings, is thirty seconds of harmony. The skylark rises to the skies outside our bedroom window, welcoming the day through a perfect requiem, as a celebrant of life rather than the ending thereof.
Male wheatear sits on rock, Image: Cliff Reddick
The air around us is warming up: spring is here. The clocks have changed and darkness is firmly behind us now. And the change in behaviour of the wildlife thanks to the lengthening days is apparent. Starlings assemble around suitable nesting sites: their whistles, chirrups and calls a language worth a hundred years of study. A pair near me nest within a twisted strainer post that has rotted from the inside out. I’ve looked within through the winter, and right at the bottom of the post is the nest, snug and enclosed and protected from all outside influence. Now, they are back and I’ve seen them carrying new nesting materials, bulking up that which is already there, as their minds move forward to procreation. A virus is not their concern, and their chatter can seem like the perfect remedy on these most unusual of days.
While we sit tight, waiting out a virus that may change our world forever, nature doesn’t stop. The natural world continues as before. Buds unfurl, plants poke their heads out of the soil, seeds release. Spring flowers bloom, providing food to the first bees, beetles and flies that so need a sugary treat. Life around us carries on.
New life emerging at Loch Druidibeg
My office window gives me a view across some of the moorland of South Uist, with the hills beyond Loch Bì. The hills are far distant, but just close enough to see an eagle through the telescope. Closer, around the house, hen harriers hunt. With fewer sightings through the winter, it’s a delight to see the female – the ringtail – hunting low over the heather, her silhouette perfectly highlighted by the white rump that’s characteristic of her sex. Occasionally, without warning, a merlin will dash around my neighbour’s house, trying to catch the skylarks that so delight us with their song. As with so many things, the cycle is eternal.
The sunny yellow flowers of the marsh marigold brighten the ditches, while yellow flag iris grows an inch a day. The land loses its brown, winter overcoat, so slowly that one day you look up and realise the world has turned green.
And today, on returning home, the curlew in the neighbouring field was in full display. The liquid gold notes, a “lonely sounding, bubbling warble” makes my heart ache for all the joy, beauty and love in the world. His undulating flight is the perfect accompaniment, tying the physical in with the pleasures of the mind.
Curlew in flight, Image: Cliff Reddick
It can be easy to feel isolated and shut off, for looking at your family and friends through a screen is not the same. The internet causing poor connections, and that beloved face appears pixelated and dulled as if a fictional animation. But watching the wildlife move through their daily rhythms, now that is a sight for sore eyes. To watch the gulls swoop and dive, to notice the shoveler on the loch, to hear the first snipe of the year: to experience is to admire, and to admire is to love.
Nature waits for no one, isn’t that (almost) how the saying goes? And now, while we’re being patient, staying at home and protecting those which we love, the endless cogs of life keep turning, and we can use this to find a release.
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