Driving up to explore a new stalking concession yesterday, I stopped for second to run my binoculars over a field of noisy, jostling birdlife. Just above the Solway where the flat arable fields start to fold and gain altitude, a huge number of golden plover and peewits had settled to scuttle through the short grass. Stirred in amongst them were hundreds of starlings and blackheaded gulls, and on the furthest fringes of this gang, a herd of seventy curlews preened and ambled over the frosty grass. I am always intrigued by the way that different species interact, and the golden plover/lapwing/starling/curlew combination is particularly engrossing and entertaining to watch.
I ended up postponing my stalk for two hours while I watched this massed body of birds, noticing a small handful of little brown fellows in the wheel ruts of the track in front of me. At a first glance they were totally unremarkable, but the harder I looked with both camera and binoculars, the more I started to think that there was something a bit odd about them. They had yellow beaks and rich, caramel-coloured cheeks and breasts. It was only when I got home that I identified them (I think) as twite, one of the rarest and least publicised moorland birds. I’ve seen twite in Galloway a handful of times, but never in midwinter, so the sighting was quite a rarity.
But everything was thrown into confusion a few seconds later when a goshawk appeared along the hedgerow further uphill. She wasn’t hunting, but that didn’t seem to matter to the busy crowd of browsing birds. The starlings panicked the peewits, and the curlews rose shrieking as the sky darkened with nervous birds. The golden plover were the last to rise; perhaps three hundred rose up with a flutey trill and coursed down towards the lower ground. The twite were lost in the confusion, but I then had a chance to watch the goshawk land on a fallen birch tree and wag her tail with her head hunched down into her shoulders.
I headed on up the hill, feeling that my two hour vigil had not been wasted.