A day in the country

After spending some of the morning searching for badger setts with Paul, checking to see if they were active so that they could be included in the vaccination campaign over the next few months, I decided to go and have a wander around the Dark Peak in the afternoon.

My plan was to walk to a hill that overlooked the valley where last week, see “A perfect day”, I watched four Merlin chicks being ringed and tagged, and to see if I could see any sign of the parents feeding them.

Of course as with all plans they have a tendency go awry and by the time I had sorted out one or two things it was late afternoon. Nevertheless Lilly and I set off and were soon parking the car and watching the lapwings swirling about the skies above us. It seemed a lot warmer than it had been in the morning, and I had not brought any water. Lilly didn’t seem bothered and was happy trundling along enjoying all the fresh scents and smells. A couple of buzzards drifted overhead. They were effortlessly riding the thermals and didn’t seem to be hunting. Merlin’s tend to be ground nesting so predation from ground dwelling predators is a risk but so too are buzzards, who will dive on a nest to take a chick if they get the chance. The female merlin is very assiduous in defending her young though and these chicks are now almost four weeks old and would be scattered around the nest site to increase their chances of survival.

We crossed a lethargic stream and although she was panting to keep cool Lilly passed on the chance of a drink. She is quite a fussy Collie, and very particular about what she drinks. In the café at the cavern earlier in the morning she had declined water from a bowl that other dogs had been drinking from. I once annoyed people in a pub by buying her a bottle of mineral water and pouring it into her own bowl. They seemed to think that this was a waste of money and good water, but I pointed out to them that she didn’t like the chemicals in the tap water and so she drank spring water from a bottle. She is a Collie after all.

After following the path for thirty minutes or so, I came to the spot where last week we had set off across country to get to the nest. There was no need to do that today, but I could work out the nests approximate position, perhaps a quarter of a mile or so across the other side of the valley. Moving a few yards into the heather, I settled down to wait and watch. Lilly after making a few snuffling noises settled down as well and fell asleep.

A kestrel, a female I was pretty certain, dashed low and fast across the valley bottom. But little else stirred. Away in the far distance I could hear a curlew mournfully crying and calling and a skylark chattered away every so often. Insects buzzed and wisps of cotton grass drifted about in the slight breeze or were caught in the columns of warm air rising from the ground. A raven called with that rasping croak that they have but I could not see it.

Lilly became restless. The hillside seemed very quiet. I scanned it and noticed what looked like tyre marks in the heather near to where the nest was, or to be precise more correctly where I thought the nest might be. This was a grouse moor, so gamekeepers would patrol the area. With the sophisticated equipment that they carried, spotting a Merlin nest would be relatively easy. After all the guys from the raptor group had managed it with just a pair of binoculars and of course a lot of knowledge and experience of the area.


Time to go home. Lilly gratefully got to her paws and we set off at a slow stumble back down the rocky path to the car. I would have to leave it for another day. I hope they have made it and fledge and get the chance to fly free across the moors and hillsides. They are of course just part of a chain of death and survival and it is wrong to be sentimental about them at the expense of say the buzzard and her chicks. Their survival will depend on how they adapt and how good their parents are and of course a slice of luck. But I still have my fingers crossed for them.

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