There was time for a very quick trip up the hill this afternoon, but as it turned out, the day was made before I had even reached the top of the glen.
A pigeon flared out of the spruces on the roadside with a goshawk in hot pursuit, and the two tumbled together in the sleet for a breathless second. The hawk pulled a foamy gout of white feathers from its prey, and these hung motionless in the air as the birds coursed away and out of sight. A few seconds later, the disappointed hawk returned and flew back into the forestry on short, snappy wingbeats. I didn’t see what became of the pigeon, but as when they are shot, the loss of their feathers seems to be no indication of real injury.
The in-bye fields were restless with the churning enthusiasm of tups. I watched a grand old blackie following incessantly behind the ewe of his dreams as the sleet began to clatter on the car’s windscreen. He curled his lip up over his nose and snuffed her arse, then chased on and on in a clumsy, stinking reimagining of the delicate roe rings of high summer. Over a dripping dyke, a lank, vile leicester tup was raddling his favourite at the same time, and the hill felt strangely seedy in the cold, icy wind.
A small crowd of redwings and fieldfares had gathered in the naked tops of the ashes above the steading, and I slushed through the soaking moss, trying to hide my toothache from the piercing wind. I found a mass of chewed-off grouse primaries where one of this year’s youngsters had met its end at the hands of a fox, and was concerned to find another a few hundred yards further on until I realised that they were from the same bird. The quills showed up like curls of sawn wood against the patchwork quilt of burgundy and lime green sphagnum moss.
A few grouse lifted above the peat haggs and struggled into the West as I passed. Finding the wind more of an obstacle than they had imagined, they tried a new tack downwind and seared away over the soaking red grass. A deeper veil of sleet was rushing in from Moniaive, and the dog ran behind me as we headed into cover.