Walking around the fields where the galloways are wintering this afternoon, I had a good look at the condition of the grass. I hadn’t appreciated the extent to which they have grazed the vegetation down over the last few weeks, and there is not a huge amount of grass left. They are certainly quite dependent on my hay, and if I am late to feed them in the morning, I am greeted by overtures of impatient bellowing. They were all wormed and fluked last week, and while one or two have lost some condition since Christmas, this is all within an acceptable margin. With a note of pride, I must record the fact that the riggit galloways are holding their condition much better than the belties are, and they have retained their barrel-bellies even into these dark, sparse days.
Wandering through the wetter ground, I was interested to see that the cows have been eating the rushes and poaching the ground where the old drains have collapsed. This has always been a wet hole, but it is usually thick and inaccessible. I was encouraged to see what a difference their grazing has made, and began to wonder if this is the kind of work that would suit a snipe. Even as I thought that word aloud, two jack snipe sprung up from beneath my feet and flew hesitantly away into the wind. This was a very pleasant surprise, and seemed to lend further weight to the link between cattle and waders. My father has been farming this ground since the late 1970s and can never remember having seen jack snipe in this field, although the nature of the bird is such that you could easily overlook them in their hundreds and never be any the wiser. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but I can’t resist a smile.
As always, this project is still too small for me to draw any direct conclusions or claim even the slenderest sliver of credit for this discovery, but perhaps it is the beginning of something quite interesting. There is something oddly appropriate about the first tiny signs of progress arriving on the wings of two such tiny birds.