Saturday, 18 February 2012

A golden oriole

Try whistling the word "weelaweeoo" like a catcall and one of these might answer back!

I did a watercolour in 1986 of an imaginary woodland scene, a glade, with a golden oriole flying away through it. It was my favourite bird, one of those that you read about as a young ornithologist, and one of those exotic pictures at the back of the field guides - in the section marked "birds you will never see no matter how long you live".

In Lithuania last year we began to hear and see these wonderful creatures - I even had one female in the hand, and spent long periods having whistled conversations with another one low in the trees at Vente Ragas (an observatory).

As we headed home at the end of one of these blissful afternoons, I saw a male like this one off to my left through the trees. When he flew off, I stood there and it dawned on me that I was looking at the woodland scene I had seen in my mind's eye and painted twenty five years ago.

Quite a strange moment.

The only golden oriole recorded on the isle of Mull in Scotland, famed for its white-tailed sea eagles, was found dead under a tree. Surely that doesn't count!

The best time to watch the sea eagles on Mull is mid to late March, before the season starts and before the hides are open. A couple of years ago I watched two adults spinning down out of the sky with talons locked, one upside down, like in the David Attenborough films!

Me and Attenborough shared a great-spotted woodpecker once. Not for dinner or anything. It used to fly from his garden to mine when I lived on Richmond Hill, in a different life and in a different time. Those were the days when a party of jays would flock to my bird table early in the mornings in the late summer, conversing like demented humans and mechanical objects among themselves while they filled their crops with nuts to be buried around the place for harder times.

This is how oak plantations grow uphill - their fondness for acorns leads them to spread forests in autumn by forgetting their caches! 

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