My week with Trees for Life

From September 9th to September 16th, I had the privilege of participating with Trees for Life. Specifically, I was on a Rewilding Week, which blended Trees for Life’s signature tree-planting activities with activities designed to teach us more about the forest’s ecological relationships, and was based at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Estate in Glenmoriston.

For those of you who don’t know, Trees for Life is a conservation  charity based north of the Great Glen. Their primary work is forest restoration, and their aim is to restore, over a period of 250 years, 1000 square miles of the Scottish forest sometimes called the Great Wood of Caledon.

If hearing the phrase “Great Wood of Caledon” conjures an image of a continuous blanket of pines stretching from coast to coast, discard that image. Go back 5,000 years, and what you would have seen would be a patchwork of habitats, including closed-canopy pine forest, coastal oak forest, open land, alder carr and scrub. Unfortunately, centuries of deforestation by everyone from the Vikings to 20th century foresters have reduced this forest to 1% of its original cover- a state maintained by stocking of artificially high numbers of red deer for shooting. In the place of this rich and diverse habitat, an open, simplistic and largely barren ecosystem has sprung up across much of the Highlands.

But I think I’m getting sidetracked on the subject of this blog- what about my week at Dundreggan? What was it like? What stood out?

Well, one thing that really stood out was biodiversity: from the strawberry spider, whose population at Dundreggan constitutes nearly half the British population, to the wild boar we never saw, but whose signs were everywhere, and a host of creatures in between (including my first badger), Dundreggan is teeming with life. The latest surveys recorded 2,815 species, including eight species never recorded before in the UK. Yet Dundreggan is far from pristine; it’s a habitat in transition, having been much like the ecologically poor habitat already mentioned, until its purchase ten years ago by Trees for Life. The vegetation has had a resurgence in many places thanks to deer control and fencing, but still shows little signs of a canopy. Even so, the natural richness of the area demonstrates how much potential is in the Scottish Highlands, not to mention all of Britain’s uplands.

 

Waterfalls at Dundreggan, courtesy of Trees for Life.

 

The actual conservation work was fantastic, including work in Dundreggan’s tree nursery, removing invasive weeds (rosebay willowherb, which outcompetes tree saplings) and surveying Forestry Commission woodlands for red squirrels. But the best part, of course, was the tree planting. Our first day in particular stands out in my memory: we were above the natural treeline planting dwarf birch and goat willow. These shrubs are the main indicators of montane scrub, a habitat that is almost extinct in Britain, but is the natural habitat of a host of species on continental Europe. The rain was grey and drizzly at best and bucketing down at worst on that day, but we kept at it the whole day, because nothing can beat the feeling of resurrecting a nearly-dead habitat.

But the best aspect, in my opinion, was the people. Whatever our interests, we always have times when it feels like there’s nobody to share it with, or that we’re saying the same things to the same people, or groups of people. Meeting like-minded individuals, being able to hear their experiences and points of view, and being able to discuss issues that we all cared about, was refreshing and much-overdue.

The best way to finish this post, I think, is the point that was raised by one of my fellow participants: saving the environment often focuses on what we can’t do: we can’t eat meat, fly abroad etc. But this is an example of something we can do: we can plant trees for the future. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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August-nature’s siesta

This is an unusual entry. Typically, a blog post, regardless of the blog’s subject, is about a recent experience, idea or thought of the writer- in any case, the post is about something. In this case, this post is about nothing– as in nothing is the subject of this post. But you can expect that when you’re a naturalist and it’s the month of August.

Ah, August, the month where everything slows down to a halt. The sun is out, the crops are being harvested…and it’s all very quiet, even dull at times.

From nature’s point of view, this is a period of lethargy- even more so than the winter months, I would argue. While there are still some wildflowers, notably red clover, most have died off by now, and all we have in the meadows is a pure green canvas of grass. The gorse bushes have faded, and their black seed pods rattle in the wind. Galls and parasites cluster the leaves of the trees, the oaks and sycamores in particular.

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Mallard drake in moulting plumage

 The birds keep a low profile in August: with this year’s chicks fledged, the whole cast- tits, finches, wagtails, buntings, sparrows, robins and thrushes- are now out of sight, out of mind. Many of the ducks are still moulting. The only birds I saw on a walk around the farm last week were a flock of meadow pipits and a pair of buzzards quartering the conifers, both species you can expect to see anywhere; their presence makes the point.

So that’s August in a nutshell. But the good news is that things are about to change, because even though this post is about August, it’s actually the beginning of September. Soon the winter waders and wildfowl will be upon us. I’ll be back up in the Highlands next week, and after that will be moving down to university. Hopefully I’ll commit more to blogging than I have over the summer. But it’s been an enjoyable summer, and I look forward to what the colder months bring.

Hen Harrier Day 2017

Another year, another Hen Harrier Day. And before I start, I would like to profusely apologise for taking over a week to write this article.

For this year’s Hen Harrier Day, on August 6th, I chose to go to the event on Eigg, this being the nearest from Arisaig. This was a more low-key event compared to Loch Leven’s event last year, or even the relatively low-key one at Glenturret before that, not to mention the demonstrations this year at Boat of Garten, Rainham Marshes or any of the other events across the country. But, large or small, we are all adding our voice.

The journey to Eigg on the Sheerwater was very rough indeed, with the fragile vessel rocking precariously from side to side. Surprisingly however, it was a very good day for seabirds. Guillemots and Manx shearwaters were to be expected, but there were also kittiwakes, a great skua and a flock of terns, including a little tern, which was a first for me.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned Eigg before, so I’ll give a brief description of the island. Eigg is the second largest of the Hebrides’ “Small Isles”, at 12 square miles. It is in community ownership, having been bought by the Isle of Eigg Community Trust in 1997, and is home to five species of raptors, including two breeding pairs of hen harriers. This is excellent of course, but it makes for a sobering thought that a twelve-mile island has nearly as many breeding hen harriers as the whole of England. It’s a sign of widespread and unchecked criminality.

Christine Gibson, the seasonal ranger on Eigg, took us on a walk in hope of finding  one of the hen harriers. This led us through areas of scrub and open birchwood, large areas of which are on blanket bog- insight into the habitat we could have more of in Britain if we weren’t consistently burning moorland.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see a hen harrier, but there was an interesting array of rare upland flora, including heath-spotted orchid,  yellow saxifrage and sundew, as well as mating damselflies and singing willow warblers.

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Sundew

 

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Yellow saxifrage

 

 

Of course, since I began this post, the Inglorious Twelfth has come and gone, and the guns now ring out on moors across the country. Just before the Twelfth, however, news concerning another species of harrier, namely the marsh harrier, surfaced, as footage of two men shooting at a marsh harrier nest on a North Yorkshire moor and then stealing the eggs was revealed by the RSPB. And although this isn’t in grouse shooting area, it’s also worth mentioning that soon after that, a Montagu’s harrier was also found shot in Bircham Tofts, Norfolk. Wildlife crime continues, despite increased awareness.

But we mustn’t despair, because our own actions against these criminals have been far greater. Aside from the demonstrations, the Inglorious Twelfth Thunderclap has sent our message to 11 million people on social media. People often deride social media and ‘slacktivism’, but it really is an incredibly powerful tool for any movement, as a means of spreading awareness quickly, as demonstrated by the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and our own movement.

The fight will continue, but it’s come a long way in a short space of time, and it’s going as strong as ever.

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Hen Harrier Day 2017, and the need for game shooting licensing

Once again, Hen Harrier Day is on the horizon, and with any luck I’ll be attending the demonstration on the Isle of Eigg on August 6th. This is the fourth year of the Hen Harrier Day, and the way it has increased from four protests in the first year to twelve this year is incredible, showing how this fantastic cause is growing and reaching out to increasing numbers of people.

At the same time as the Hen Harrier movement has ben gathering momentum-or indeed due to it-there has been increasing calls for licensing game shooting in Scotland, something I can definitely support- my reasons will hopefully become clear in this article. Recently, this debate even made its way into Scottish Parliament, a definite sign of our voice being heard.

Naturally, there has been plenty of comment from many shooting organisations, which has been…well, more or less what you would expect. We have Carrieane Conaghan denouncing it as “draconian” and Alex Hogg, Chairman of the SGA, referring to us as an “extreme fringe“.

Now, I suppose you can expect what my reaction is going to be, and that’s because I have firmly established myself as part of what has been called the ‘biocentric tribe’: somebody who believes that nature fares better on its own, as opposed to the ‘anthropocentric tribe’, which includes most shooting organisations who believe that nature requires human management. I can’t escape being part of the former “tribe”, and so my  view will be naturally slanted by this. The least I can do is present my argument in a way that acknowledges and addresses the concerns of the other side. So here goes.

Put simply, licensing shooting isn’t extremist. According to SNH, the majority of continental Europe has some form of licensing, whereby all people who wish to shoot apply for a licence, and have it removed if they have committed wildlife crime. And as far as I’m aware, France, Germany, Norway and Slovakia (plus 10 other nations) still have thriving shooting industries, not to mention far lower levels of wildlife crime than we do.

I won’t claim that licensing is a magic bullet that will put a stop to all wildlife crime. What it can do is locate the rotten apples in the shooting industry more easily. There are plenty of landowners who have nothing to do with the crimes committed by their keepers, and plenty of keepers in the opposite situation. Ensuring both carry licenses and revoking the license of the culprit, in the event of wildlife crime, seems to me to be a far more effective way of preventing similar events in the future. The shooters that stick to the law (I know there are many) would have nothing to fear from licensing.

At any rate, something has to change, because the status quo isn’t keeping our raptors safe. Red kite persecution in Northern Scotland is as high as it was 25 years ago, a third of tagged golden eagles from 2004-16 have been found dead on or near grouse moors, and over 40 pairs of Scottish hen harriers have been lost since 2010.

So what can we do to raise further awareness? Well, I would recommend signing to Findlay Wilde’s #Inglorious12th Thunderclap, so that on the day grouse shooting commences, the people you follow on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr will be alerted to the plight of our natural heritage on grouse moors. I would also recommend emailing you local MP to sign this Thunderclap, and if you live in Scotland, emailing your MSP to support licensing game shooting. And you can attend a Hen Harrier Day near you (this map should help).

With any luck, this Hen Harrier Day will be the best yet, and our message can spread even further.

An exceptional sighting at Arisaig

Last week I saw something incredible; something I’ve been trying to see for years. And it’s this something that’s the subject of this blog. But I’ll get to that soon. Before that, I should probably provide a bit of context for this bog.

On July 9th, I decided to take a boat out to the Small Isles, mainly to get out of the house and on the water, having spent several days grounded on land (Dad’s RIB burst the first day we put it in the water, and appears to be beyond repair). There are plenty of ferries, big and small, that do these runs, but in my opinion they don’t get much better than the MV Shearwater. And that was what I boarded today.

The MV Sheerwater (taken on my phone).

As we left the pier at Arisaig, reports came in of…well, that would be spoiling it. We left the bay, passing the many seal-covered rocks as we did so. We made good progress, and a third of the way to Eigg came across two puffins, bobbing aimlessly on the waves. As we proceeded, we passed several flocks of Manx shearwaters, no doubt nesting on neighbouring Rum, which holds 30% of the population.

We were nearing the pier at Eigg, when we received reports that the thing that had been reported earlier had been seen again off the southwest cliffs, causing us to take a hastily-arranged detour in search of our quarry. As we rounded the cliffs, three other boats joined us; evidently there was something there.

Then in the distance, an enormous dark fin broke the surface…

…and a minute later, it came back up just in front of our boat. This was it- my first killer whale!

The whale then dived back down, resurfacing on the right hand side of the boat. For the next 20 minutes or so he engaged us in this game of hide and seek. He would surface at a particular direction to the boat, only to go under, then resurfaced at a different direction. He started out in front of the Sheerwater, but then began surfacing to the side of us.

The triangular gash in his fin identified him as John Coe, a 40+ year old  bull orca of the resident North Atlantic pod. They are primarily seal hunters, and are in fact more closely related to the seal-tipping orcas of Antarctica than the herring-hunters in Norway.

However, just then it dawned upon me that I had left my camera behind. So I didn’t get a single photo.

So what have I seen during my absence?

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll notice its hasn’t been particularly active these past few months. Due to my A-Levels I haven’t had much time to do much writing: I actually began writing this post in April! With A-Levels finished and school out for good, I’ve finally been able to write this.

If you’re hoping that I break my silence with something interesting or thought-provoking, I’ll have to disappoint you; I’m simply talking about what I’ve seen in the time I’ve been quiet. Some may find it dull, but it’s been a deadweight I have to get off my shoulders. So here goes.

First of all, let’s talk flowers. When I began this post, the snowdrops had given way to daffodils. The daffodils gave way to bluebells in late May, then the bluebells gave way to wildflowers about three weeks ago (though I’m not knowledgeable enough on wildflowers to say which species).

When I began writing this article, only the elders and hawthorns had leaves out. But the intervening months saw the other trees open their buds: first the willows, followed by the rowans and hazels, then the ashes and finally the oaks. The cherry blossom bloomed then faded, and the hawthorns now have berries.

The water lillies on the pond have opened their flowers, and as the pond plants have returned, so too have the pond insects: whirligig beetles, pond skaters and great diving beetles are everywhere.

Chaffinches and goldfinches are nothing new at the birdfeeders, but over the past month a pair of greenfinches have frequented them. Then to top that, we’ve had regular  visits from siskins.

As well as the finches, the summer migrants are becoming increasingly vocal and visible. Marsh warblers and chiffchaffs can both be heard around the farm, and last week I came within a less than a metre from a juvenile willow warbler. For a few days in May one of the cherry trees was frequented by a spotted flycatcher. When I was up at Arisaig over Easter, there were wheatears and stonechats. Coming back up here for the holidays this weeks, I saw both on a walk today, plus a pair of displaying sandpipers. I only began noticing them on the West coast a few years ago, but with their squeals and tail-bobbing, they have firmly established themselves in my mind as a sound of the summer.

Last of all, I mention Arisaig, and the birds I saw today. Well, that same walk was capped with a golden eagle.

So that’s this post out of my system, and not a moment too soon. I promise my readers that I will be more frequent over the summer, and that those posts will be far more interesting and thought-provoking.

 

What justice for our raptors?

Male northern harrier dropping prey to a nest

This post began as three separate blogs, which I have been working on for nearly three weeks now. Eventually, as time went by, I saw a considerable amount of overlap between them, and decide that it made more sense to combine them all. So here goes.

Three weeks ago I had school leave-out (that’s the Glenalmond term for a two-day weekend). Dad and I, along with Dad’s friend Robin Prichard, decided we wanted a getaway on the West coast, but felt like a break from Arisaig.  We found accommodation in a bay with easy access to the Southern Hebrides, and went out to Mull in Dad’s boat the following day.

Mull is best known for its white-tailed eagles, and we had no trouble finding them, spotting seven within an hour. However, when we reached Loch Spelve, we were drawn to another raptor: a pair of hen harriers, gliding effortlessly over the shoreline. Beautiful and awe-inspiring.

 

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Loch Spelve, courtesy of Geograph.org.uk. It was much sunnier when we were there.

Unfortunately, seeing these hen harriers reminded me of an uncomfortable truth, one which regular readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with, and which Robin was quick to remind me of that day. I’m talking, of course, of persecution.

 

Earlier that same week, a case involving a hen harrier being shot on Carbach estate in 2013. Don’t take my word for it: there’s video footage of a hen harrier being shot at, and a man with a gun walking past the camera, then returning a few seconds later with a  bag mysteriously slung over his shoulder. But that week, four years after the incident occurred, the case was inexplicably dropped.

 

Less than a week later, news came out about a hen harrier who had been found dead on Leadhills Estate. This is the 49th wildlife crime incident that has occurred at the estate in 14 years, and still the owner, Lord Hopetoun, chairs the Scottish Moorland Group.

I could be mistaken. For all I know the bird could have had a firecracker stayed in its tail; or it could be the ghost of a long dead gamekeeper; or perhaps shooting estates have space-time distortion fields that cause hen harriers to fall out of the sky…no, that bird was definitely shot.

But the worse thing about this event is that it was the third event of its type in a week. Later that week, another video showed a keeper on Brewlands Estate setting illegal pole traps, only for that case to be inexplicably dropped. And before this, a prosecution case on Newlands Estate, where a keeper threw stone and stamped a buzzard to death, was dropped. No proper explanation given was given for any of them, and they were dropped from public view with scarcely a murmur. If they had been cases of elephants shot for their horns in Africa, do you think they would have been silently dropped like this?

But very cloud has a silver lining. Because soon after these appalling events, Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee met to discuss the possibility of introducing a licensing scheme for game shooting. I have spoken in favour of this before: it is standard practice in most European countries for hunters to be issued licenses, which can be revoked in the event of persecution. And the majority of MSPs present appeared to share my views: the option of exploring a licensing system was favoured by six of the ten committee members. The RSPB and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have since spoken up for this too.

So, what can we gain from this? Well, on the minus side, raptor persecution is, unfortunately, still rife within many high-brow shooting estates. On the plus side, conservation organisations are beginning to not only speak out about it, but provide effective solutions to halt it. We’re definitely making progress.

 

Extraordinary things from a stroll in the woods

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This wasn’t the blog post I expected to write, but I’ve decided to write it because of my brief walk in the woods yesterday. I hadn’t seen much in terms of wildlife, but I did see some of the fascinating processes involved in woodland.

Perthshire is typically overlooked as a tourist destination in Scotland, with most visitors heading east to Edinburgh or north to the Highlands. But those few that do pay the Central Belt more than a passing glance will no doubt head for the Hermitage.

The Hermitage is a patch of woodland fringing a stretch of the River Braan, only a few minutes from Dunkeld. It acquired a mythical status in the 1700s for supposedly being the site that the Gaelic poet Ossian composed his epic poetry (poetry which was actually written by James Macpherson in 1760, based on Scottish folk tales), and was later turned into an Arboretum by the Victorians, who planted an impressive selection of conifers from all around the world. These include Norway Spruce, Western Hemlock and the first Douglas Firs to be planted in Scotland. Add in some very nice areas of native broadleaves, such as oak and hazel, and what you get is, quite simply, mesmerising.

As I already said, yesterday’s trip wasn’t with wildlife in mind (it was actually Angus who suggested it), although a dipper and a red squirrel were unexpected and pleasant surprises. It was simply a case of getting of the farm during the Easter holidays. That said, as I made my way down the woodland path I began to see some extraordinary things that might easily have passed me by.

There was a lot of dead wood, for starters, which I hadn’t noticed until now. And as the photo below shows, mosses have been growing on them, and ferns on the mosses. These ferns are example of epiphytes-plants which grow on other plants. They also illustrate the importance of dead wood: it provides ample nutrients for mosses, lichens and fungi. However, the rotting wood is also a vital for beetles, hoverflies, sawflies and many other invertebrates, whose larvae are laid in the decaying wood pockets inside tree trunks.  Birds such as tits and woodpeckers also use the fissures and cracks of dead wood for their young.

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When I reached the River Braan, I saw that one of the Douglas firs had toppled. What caused this I can’t say, but the result of this was evident. The water behind the tree was covered in foam, indicating that the former rapids have been slowed to almost a standstill, allowing the dissolved oxygen bubbles in the water to escape. By slowing the flow of the river, the water becomes ideal habitat for larva of dragonflies and caddisflies, salmon and trout fry, frogs and toads, which in turn attracts dippers, kingfishers and grebes. And this can come from something as simple as a fallen tree.

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That Douglas fir wasn’t the only fallen tree I saw. Several others were in the same position, with their roots tilted skyward, such as in the photo below. And in among the roots we can see several types of grass growing. This is another remarkable process: when a large tree collapses, its roots and the soil that surrounds them is exposed, in what is known as a root ball. Naturally, wind-blown plant seeds will settle here, and the soil in between the roots provides ample nutrients for them to grow.

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Finally, I came to the  Black Linn Falls. They were as awe-inspiring and majestic as ever, but what caught me eye even more was the presence of moss on the rocks (what am I like?). I’ve already mentioned moss growing on trees, but here its presence means something else altogether. This is the second stage of a process that takes decades to complete, in which rock is completely broken down by natural processes.

It begins when lichens colonise the rock surface. They soon grow over it, being able to survive on very little nutrients, and start breaking down the minerals in the rock into soil. This allows moss to grow, further breaking down the rock and building up soil. This allows colonisation by grasses and flowers, and then by trees.

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All this goes to show that a woodland is not merely a collection of trees. It’s a complex web of organisms, and the processes in which they interact with each other.
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Shooting: time for change?

When it comes to shooting legislation, the UK is at the bottom of the league.

That’s according to SNH’s new report, which compares the UK’s shooting legislation to 14 of our neighbours on the continent. As you would expect, the report shows a lot of variation across these countries. But if we look at the report, there is one theme that stands out above all, and that is licensing.

All of the 14 countries issue shooting licenses for individual shooters. These licenses are granted to shooters following a two-part exam, and can be revoked in the event of a persecution incident, issuing a temporary ban on the perpetrator from shooting.

In the UK, the closest we have to this legislation is here in Scotland, where a vicarious liability means that the landowner is fined for any wildlife crimes perpetuated on their land. Of course, this assumes that the landowner is guilty, even if the crime was not committed by them, and doesn’t prevent the criminal committing a crime the next day. England, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t even have vicarious liability. Not exactly a strong deterrent for criminals. Yes, there have been successful cases where some form of prosecution has taken place, such as at Stody Estate, but these are sadly few and far between.

Of course, tighter shooting regulations are pointless unless proper policing is carried out. But even then, the UK appears to lag behind. According to the report, the worst of the 14 European countries studied in terms of raptor persecution was Spain (no prizes for guessing which country it came behind). But there is one crucial difference between Spain and the UK: Spanish Birdlife (Spain’s answer to the RSPB), working with the conservation branch of the Spanish Civil Guard (the national police), have the power to carry out investigations of land where wildlife crime has been reported. If this is the case, legal action is taken immediately.

The success of this approach is demonstrated by the 30 successful persecution prosecutions from 2010-2014 alone. Another incredible example was in October 2015, when a farmer convicted of poisoning six Imperial eagles and a fox was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, a three year disqualification of his license and a fine of 360,000 Euros. Compare this to the sixteen red kites and six buzzards found dead in the Black Isle (16 of which were poisoned), a case which has received no conviction nearly three years on, and you can see a problem here.

I am not opposed to shooting. Years of going on shoots in the local area have shown me the real benefits it has to conservation, not to mention the livelihoods of the people. And this report shows that licensing does not mean the death of the shooting industry, as some have claimed in light of recent calls for licensing in Scotland.

While it is apparent that better regulation is required for field sports to be sustainable, it is also apparent from continental Europe that licensed shooting  can actually bring great benefits for biodiversity there. These practices don’t need shutting down, they just need a little more order brought to them.

 

 

Treecreeper

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The bird was only a couple of metres from me. The branch of the Scots Pine swayed precariously as it tried to find its footing, but it managed to keep hold of it.

I recognised it instantly; there’s nothing else you could confuse it with. There’s no way you could mistake the striped-brown wings, sleek white plumage, upturned beak and quite literally pear-shaped body, any more than you could mistake its habit of walking upside down on the bottom of a branch, head always facing downwards.

By now, however, it had decided the pine was not for its liking; certainly something caused it to make a beeline for the nearest sycamore, passing within 2 feet of me in the process. Almost as memorable as that amazing moment- the sort which reminds you why nature is the best of life’s pleasures-was its flight pattern. Like the rest of the bird, it strikes you as decidedly un-birdlike: more of a drunken sway, veering up and down, side to side, back and forth. And on reaching the sycamore, it proceeded to enact its species most famous trademark: the jerky, back-turned-to-the-audience climb upwards, while rotating around the tree.

Certhia familiaris, the European treecreeper. An ornithological wallflower not much bigger than a wren. Not Britain’s largest bird, or the most colourful, or the one with the greatest vocal range. But without a doubt,in my opinion,  definitely the strangest.

What makes it so strange? Well, put simply, it’s a bird that doesn’t think it’s a bird. Shimmying up trees and clambering across thin branches, it does justice to its West Country name, the ‘tree mouse’. But this method of climbing has a purpose: it’s to extract insects from the bark of trees. The extra-long, curved bill has evolved for this purpose, and to balance itself while doing so, it has evolved an extra-long tail. The consequence of this is that, unlike its cousin the nuthatch, it cannot move back downwards. So, when it reaches the top of a tree, it simply flies to the bottom of the next tree in line and repeats the process, shimmying up whole avenues of trees in a highly systematic fashion.

Personality-wise, it is, as I said, very much a wallflower. It makes its way into many wildlife gardening and birdwatching books as a ‘garden bird’, but if anything its placement there serves to push boundaries. Treecreepers only occassionally venture into gardens, appear on feeders once in a blue moon, and mostly keep themselves to themselves.

But of course, there are several examples of birds altering their: siskins became garden birds after the creation of red mesh feeders in the 1960s, and blackcaps are evolving shorter wings to stay in British gardens during winter. Who knows? Perhaps these introverts may become more outgoing in the future, and will become frequent visitors to our birdfeeders.

I’ve seen that treecreeper several times since. Its presence couldn’t be more perfectly timed; it’s a new year, and that means starting anew and doing things differently. And this was something new: a treecreeper in the garden. I couldn’t ask for more.