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Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
© 2008

Hiding Away

I spent a few hours today at the Vane Farm Nature Reserve run by the RSPB. This is my fifth visit to the Reserve which has a great mix of habitats and good facilities. There are three well accommodated hides, an observation centre/cafe & a feeder viewing area plus an upland walk that together provide a huge variety of opportunities to watch birds and other wildlife.

Having parked the car & obtained the ‘member’ sticker on presentation of the appropriate card I made my way to the furthest hide. This overlooks a pool which is teeming with bird life. I quickly clock Heron, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Lapwing & a plethora of Black headed Gulls and then on closer examination add Redshank, Shoveler, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Reed Bunting & Whimbrel to the list. The latter is speculative – is it a Curlew? – only the guidebook and sightings board make me confident to identify it as the smaller version – the Whimbrel. Wider afield there are Crows, Buzzard, Swift & Swallow. In the second hide I add Coot, Rabbit, Greylag Goose, Swan – possibly Whooper & Great Crested Grebe to the days list.

But this is not about ticking lists – it is about observation & reflection. How bold are the Gulls who pester the Heron? What upsets the Redshank & prevents it from settling? Why do Crows insist on mobbing the Buzzard? How far apart do gulls have to be to avoid fighting their neighbours? How many variations are there of the Buntings song? What guides the Swifts in their mopping up of midges? Which goose defines the clearly defined line that the Greylags form out on the Loch?

The field between the road and the hides has been allowed to grow wild and the splash of summer colour is tremendous – red, blue, yellow & white blooms spread wide in the foreground view of the distant Loch & Lomond hills.
I retire to the cafe for lunch and a look at the feeders in the garden where I spot Tits – Great & Blue, finches Chaff & Green and a Vole who hoovers up bird seed off the floor. The telescopes pointing on the Loch give better views of the birds out there, being higher up the heat haze is reduced and the clarity improved – they are also good quality optics!

I pass through the shop – re-stocking my supplies of feeder seed – and go out into the garden area which is equipped with picnic tables in a clearing surrounded by trees. A furtive glance to the right reveals a set of feeders in an enclosed area that have Greenfinches, Tits & Goldfinches swarming over them. But the highlight of this area is the wattle fence that overlooks the woodland area. Inside the fence are more feeders and the wattle has gaps that you can look through onto the birds at very close range – probably only a metre away. Tits & finches dominate but the over-riding impact is the closeness – at one point a Tit flies towards me and perches on the aperture next to me – less than 20 cm away.

To be priviledged to see these beautiful creatures at close range in such a hive of activity is uplifting and leaves me feeling really good for the rest of this superb day out at the Reserve.

© Keith Ratcliffe

November 2007

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