Saturday, 11 May 2013

On NOT Missing Out on Nature

A Hare in a Hurry captured in Houton by Maggie Miller

The list of natural phenomena in Orkney that I have managed to miss in the last few months is growing.

Over the winter there were many sightings here of the Aurora Borealis, that most magical of celestial light shows. I missed them all.

Then there were the giant waves, as high as the cathedral spire, during the gales early this year. Missed them too.

And last week a pod of Killer Whales frolicked past Orphir where I stay. I was in Glasgow, wasn't I!

I'm learning the lesson all over again of not grieving too hard for what I miss, but instead enjoying what I do see, and trusting that the other marvels will show themselves to me when they are good and ready. Or when I am ...

Hares, for example. One morning I counted seven behind the house. They race across the fields and lollop along the road, going about their business. I love their wary, intelligent eyes that take you in and decide against you as a prelude to running off to get on with things.

But recently the field behind the house has been overrun with rabbits and the hares seem to have decamped elsewhere. The rabbits look ridiculously young and fluffy compared to their long-legged cousins. And that's the adults. Babies the size of a ball of wool tumble about the hillside, showing cute white scuts.

Surely the rabbits can't have ousted the hares? And where are the leverets? I saw a bit of boxing action in March, so I guess there must be some. But where are they?


And then there's the birds I see around here. Curlews, whimbrels, oystercatchers; whaups, peedie whaups, skeldros.

Skeldros or shalders to give them their Orkney names, are another favourite bird of mine. You see them in the fields as well as on the shore, picking among the stones for food. Sometimes in the fields, their bright beaks are comically darkened and thickened by mud and they look like entirely different birds.

I watched horrified one day from my window, as a sparrowhawk plunged into a flock of skeldros in flight and took one out, dropped with it like a stone to the hill and began to pluck out its breast feathers, while keeping its own wings round it to defend its kill. The feathers floated on the breeze like snowflakes. The rest of the flock flew down close to the hawk for several swoops, before veering off. I like to think they were going back to see if they could save their friend, but that may be to anthropomorphise!

Still plenty to see though in Orkney Nature Festival. Check it out and start making your own observations of Orkney's abundant Nature.


  1. The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and George Thomson is fascinating - it covers natural history, folklore & mythology as well as the hare in literature & art. It includes transcriptions of stories told by farmers, gamekeepers, poachers - some in dialect - about their observations of the hare. And there's a chapter with an anonymous Middle English poem called The Names of the Hare, a sort of charm you can utter if you're hoping to catch one for the pot.

    1. Thank you. That sounds very like Hare by Simon Carnell, which I read recently. I'll look out for The Leaping Hare too. Thank you for telling me about it.


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