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Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
© 2012


In search of a skylark

I have mentioned before my love of the Guardian Country Diary and today’s entry laments the demise of Skylarks in England. I have heard them at this time of year in my local Ochil hills so with a good forecast it was time to go in search of a Skylark. I only had a few hours spare so it had to be the walk up Dumyat from the Sherrifmuir Road. Its about 2 hrs there and back with photo stops and never fails to disappoint. I parked in the pull in which is very uneven and sports deep puddles that catch out the unwary driver. Not too bad today so boots on and off we go.

The start of the walk is beneath the pylons that are about to be upgraded as part of the Beauly - Denny line that is set to scar the views hereabouts with new structures 50m high – the current ones are 30m. I realise that I don't have a current photo so with good light I record the view from just up the hill and back across to the Trossachs. A bit of Photoshop should be able to mock up the view after reconstruction. Several Corvids are in evidence but no sound of my target birds. There is a point on the path where the rough bedrock breaks through and reveals some fantastic glacial striations and with a low sun it provides a good image - I have taken pictures here before but today I try out a new viewpoint and appreciate the pleasure gained from seeing something familiar in a new way. Further on a small flock of birds wheel and turn around me but I fail to identify them - I think possibly Twite by their colour and movement. There tweets are very low but no other bird sounds are audible.

Striations

I press on for the top where walkers come and go so I am rarely alone to appreciate the solitude but thats fine and I chat to the owner of a fluffy white cairn terrier - whose charge worries a bone shaped dog biscuit for several minutes before consuming it. There is no hurry to leave but eventually I set off via a small knoll where I have heard Larks previously but again I am denied their song. The return journey takes a different path to visit the edge overlooking the wallace Monument and just as I pass the path junction where the Blairlogie path diverges I stop and listen. Sure enough a weak, distant song rolls along the slight breeze and looking hard across to the hill fort top I see the singer rising slowly above the crag and tumbling out his song. Success at last however feint and I carry on content that the Larks are still around here.

The view of the Wallace is superb from the edge above the Blairlogie Kirk and the cemetery lies sread out in splendid symmetry below - colourful flowers and high viz vests mingle together to add chromatic notes to the scene. It is only a short distance back to the car and on the way I catch another distant song but no source is to be seen this time.

Lark ascending

But then just as I near the pylons the highlight of the walk is provided by a close encounter with my quested bird. He or she - I don't know if both sexes sing - rises from close by and the tiny crest on his head is clearly visible as he begins his ascent accompanied by that tumbling, reeling flood of notes and sounds that characterise the skylark's signature. I watch the climb until he reaches his peak high above the pylon then glides diagonally down with a different set of descending trills and whistles eventually landing a way up the hillside.  My heart is lifted by the display and I return home reassured that Skylarks are alive and well in the Ochils.

Post Script: The following week I walked around the valley above Castle Campbell and was accompanied by Skylark song for most of the walk. It was like a relay  as I passed from one territory to the next and at one point no less than four birds serenaded me from all four points of the compass.  It was a magical occurrence.

© Keith Ratcliffe  March 2012

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