My idea of Paradise! I started to compose these Notes sitting on a low bench, looking out over the glittering blue waters of Loch Fyne, oak woodland clothing the hillside behind me and, surrounding me, a sheet of bluebells in full and fragrant flower! We were on holiday in NW Scotland and I was enjoying a second Spring – not just bluebells but kingcups, stitchwort and even a few surviving violets and primroses. All the summer migrant birds were in evidence: the oak wood was full of willow warblers all staking their territorial claims with sweet trilling song, swallows and house martins skimmed and swooped over the bluebells and the sea and then – next day – there was the star sighting of the holiday.
My sister’s garden slopes steeply down to the Loch. It’s quite wild with a fringe of trees, rocks, a pond and rough grassland starred with wild flowers, but it does have a satellite dish on a pole – and there, posed atop the pole like the illustration in an ornithological guide, was a spotted flycatcher. It’s a small brown bird, its breast a lighter shade and faintly streaked, it perches bolt upright perfectly still until suddenly it launches off in a quick corkscrew flight and lands back on its pole. Unmistakeable! Flycatchers are among the latest migrants to arrive. Their numbers have decreased seriously in England but, like the cuckoos, the Scottish population is still flourishing. I’d like to think it’s because they can gorge on the abundant Scottish midges – but the explanation is probably that they take a different, and less hazardous, migration route.
Once arrived in the UK they often choose nest sites close to human habitation – favouring ledges on walls or buildings screened by creeper. They are surprisingly tolerant of disturbance. I remember one nest built in half a coconut shell hanging outside a kitchen window and another in the Virginia creeper near the front door of a busy conference centre. They frequently rear two broods – so we hope my sister may be in for further treats.
In Wharfedale, we have a better chance of seeing the pied flycatcher. They make good use of the nestboxes in Strid Wood. The females are brown and white and will now be feeding young. The handsome males with their pied plumage – their chests a brilliant white, can be seen perching nearby and making those characteristic fly-catching aerobatic flights.
Photo by Brian D Osborne [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons