The very fickle finger of blame.

I’ve got to admit it. I have to write this down. I’ve got to get it off my chest. My tongue is bleeding I’ve been biting on it for so long. OK, here goes.

Here in the west of the Cairngorms, our local newspaper attracts regular correspondence on a whole range of wildlife issues from a variety of perspectives and agendas. No surprise there, but just recently something caught my eye and if I’m honest, raised my hackles. A doctor (not sure of what to be fair) had noticed a decline in local garden birds. Now given that science is likely to form the basis of much of the good doctor’s thinking, I’d have thought a bit of research might have been in order – you know, to see if ‘the problem’ was seasonal or localised perhaps? No research or detective work necessary apparently – his less-than-scientific conclusion (and I quote): ” I have no doubt that rooks are responsible.”

Before going further I need to tell you that I’m not a bobbledy-hat rook lover, but to jump to such an ill-informed conclusion with no scientific evidence to back up his assertion is to my mind, irresponsible at the very least. People listen to ‘doctors’ after all.

The following week it got worse. Another doctor (same village) was keen to add her tenpenneth to the verbal assassination of corvids. In her opinion it wasn’t rooks that had decimated garden birds, it was jackdaws. And her proof? “They are noisy, greedy things.”

So what to do? Well the original doctor had a well conceived scientific strategy: “I feel an organised cull is the only solution to restore finches, tits and sparrows.” So doctor(s), this cull – how many birds need to be killed to solve ‘the problem’? 10? 100? 1000? And is it rooks or is it jackdaws? Or doesn’t it really matter – they are after all just noisy, greedy, troublesome black birds – not the sort of things that a quiet Highland village should have to put up with.

I welcome most things that benefit biodiversity (and that may or may not involve controlling corvids) but surely such ill-informed, anecdotal outpourings are outdated, unhelpful and unwelcome. Assuming one or both of the correspondents are doctors of medicine, GPs even, I’d suggest you don’t go to see them – especially if you’re an overweight, talkative Afro-Carribean.

Nothing ventured…

Ballhead mount: check. Chest waders: check. Hide frame: check. Hide cover: check. Waterproof: check. Camera: check. Capability to carry all of aforementioned: s**t!

And so it was I staggered through the wood yesterday in knee-deep snow, laden with…well, about half of everything I own. It was snowing and by god I was going to get some pictures: Pictures of whooper swans in a blizzard, oh yes. But there are blizzards and blizzards and in some blizzards it’s so blizzardous you can’t actually see your subject (which I always find helpful). Good conditions to set off in a floating hide. Not.

After 30 minutes and several waves having engulfed the camera, I conceded my ambition had exceeded what was realistic. If it wasn’t for the fact that the water was cold and I therefore knew its source was from the waterfall now cascading over my waders, I might have been forgiven for suspecting premature incontinence. Abandon ship and head for port before a Mayday was necessary. To be fair I had got close to the swans (not easy in this part of the world) but it was nigh on impossible to conquer the force 9 gale sweeping across the ocean that is Loch Insh. OK more of a stiff breeze but still damned difficult.

Undeterred I wandered the forest in my very handsome waders looking like some Arctic Andy Pandy still hellbent on getting some snowy images before the onset of spring. It’s fair to say that if you don’t like monochromatic pictures, the Cairngorms was not the place for you yesterday and you probably shouldn’t read on. But I do and so I persevered in my squelchy pants (I did succumb to ditching the waders) and held out long enough to grab a few PLNs (Pleasant Little Numbers).

The rewards nowhere near justified the effort but the pain of sitting at home and wondering ‘what if…’ would have been much more excrutiating. And besides, another life lesson had been learned – I’ll know better next time. If you believe that…