The Owl, The Puppy Dog and The Meadow Pipit

Dusk was gathering as the little car bumped down the puddle filled lane heading for a small cottage shielded from view by tall blustery trees. Beyond, in the gathering gloom, the roar of the sea washing up onto a sandy beach, can still be heard over the rush of wind in grass and trees. Riding alongside in the passenger foot well, a familiar red fox Labrador sniffs the salty air trickling through the small gap in the window, her nose making smudge marks on the glass.

On pulling up to the cottage the puppy dog and driver are greeted by a small team of ringers who have been working the site all day. With the trees now mere black shadows and the sky deep indigo the last round has been completed, and the nets closed. There is just one bird left to process and arguably it is the bird of the day. In a net that had caught nothing all day, one final surprise had been waiting. A Tawny Owl. Its black liquid eyes, beautiful, dark, deep pools, watch silently. Its soft feathers barely rustle, a mixture of soft browns, white and black, while its legs and feet are covered in fine white feathers that contrast starkly with long black talons.

The Owl

The process is quick, a youngster of this year the bird is ringed, weighed, measured and soon is silently heading away down the lane that is now pitch black.

It was a cold night. The stars twinkle brightly in a deep black sky. The puppy dog finds the warmest spot in the tent… at the bottom of a sleeping bag! All around are the sounds of night; the rustle of trees disturbed by the wind, the distant crash of waves on sand, and the roar of rutting red deer. The middle of the night, and the puppy dog has moved upwards towards the coolness and freshness outside of the sleeping bag. For the rest of the night she stretches out, head poking out of the bag but still stretched out alongside the warm body and using a conveniently places arm as a pillow!

Camping – Puppy Dog style

Light breaks slowly across the now deep blue sky of pre-dawn. Pale pink washes through as the blue lightens with morning. Skeins of pink footed geese honk nosily as they pass over head, heading for fields for breakfast. The puppy dog follows through a maze of blackthorn and bramble that covers the sheltered side of the sand dune where mist nets are opened; sniffing and creating trails in dew laden grass.

It is one particular set up of nets that creates the interest for the ringers on this session. Set in a triangle, with an MP3 player in the middle, the nets are successful at catching meadow pipits throughout the day. Such elegant birds with tones of brown and buff, and bold dark streaks on back and breast, perhaps overlooked by many a birder who become used to its accelerating and the decelerating song as it rises into and then falls like a parachute from the sky, used to its high piping call, and its presence in such a variety of habitats. They seem to be everywhere. And yet even this most familiar of pipits is suffering declines. The birds this day are moving through, heading to southern areas and lowland habitats for winter.

The Meadow Pipit

For the puppy dog it is just another day of running, sniffing and chasing tennis balls…


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