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Noisy kids on Argyll coast; Country View.

Byline: With Keith Graham

Heronries in the month of June are very noisy places.

I should know for many years ago I lived in extremely close proximity to one such establishment. The noise made by the youngsters when the adult birds come in to feed them is sometimes reminiscent of cats walking on a hot tin roof.

Young herons can be vociferous during the wee small hours for these avaricious newcomers to the world crave food from first light and in June that is extremely early.

I can also vouch for the fact that heronries are also extremely smelly places. I speak from not just my own experience but from that of friends who decided to photograph a heronry and came away holding their noses. The diet of a heron, comprising in such locations as our seaside holiday home exclusively of fish, results in a pretty messy and very smelly environment beneath nests and perches.

Our time away this year took us the short distance to the Argyll coast and a shore cottage so peaceful and scenic that at the end of the week we were reluctant to head back home. Whilst sublime tranquillity reigned, on an island only a short distance from the front door there was a heronry in which there had clearly been a very successful breeding season. Scattered through the mature conifers where their nursery had been were a new generation of herons, well fledged, off the nest and mostly perched among the branches.

They were constantly waiting somewhat impatiently for parent birds to arrive bearing gifts of food. Each time a parent bird flew in with a gut full of food each of those youngsters pleaded earnestly to be fed and when it was their turn the repetitive yack-yacking turned into something resembling squabbling tom-cats, often descending into a gurgling yowl more like such a cat being strangled.

As the days of our sojourn passed we were able to watch the parent birds, sometimes standing stock still, waiting for some unsuspecting fish to come within range, at high tide wading up to their oxters in the water and when the tide was out exploring all the wee pools left behind.

Herons can be seen right across Scotland. Further afield, I have found myself watching grey herons literally all over the world, from America to South Africa, Malaysia and the Low Countries.

The herons on our island seemed impervious to our presence, drifting into those creches of youngsters, presumably well aware of which were theirs and duly unloading stomachs full of nourishing food on request. Then off they would fly in that stately way that is the hallmark of herons, necks folded back over shoulders, long legs straggling behind, carried unhurriedly forward by those long, deep wing-beats. Herons seldom seem discomfited by anything and always seem to give the impression that they are in control.

It is not always the case. I have a very clear memory of a heron serenely crossing the waters of our local loch when out of a clear blue sky erupted an osprey. Whether the raptor saw the heron as a competitor for food or whether ospreys simply don't like herons, I know not.

The heron, its serene progress now in tatters, was forced down into the water. Eventually it struggled back into the air and made its way to the shore to dry off. The osprey, however, continued its attack and had the waterlogged heron ducking regularly.

No such excitement to report this time but there was more noise emanating from a young buzzard, constantly mewing for food from a nest somewhere in the trees.

There were also the coarser requests of a young family of ravens, while there was a constant sonic backdrop of gulls.

Present also was a creche of eiders. Like herons, eiders take a corporate responsibility for their young, whereas the merganser family was doing its own thing.

The other noise, perhaps for much of the time, the most dominant one, was provided by a family of oyster-catchers, which conducted regular fly-pasts, all the time shattering the tranquillity with their neurotic and incessant piping. Much gentler were the whispering sandpipers, harder to spot but definitely gentler on the ear.

So much to see and so much to hear. And that is why we just sat and sat in the glorious sunshine.

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Publication:Stirling Observer (Stirling, Scotland)
Date:Jul 6, 2018
Words:731
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