We have a glut of eggs at the moment. I can’t seem to cook fast enough to keep up with our super-productive hens. So, it’s eggs for breakfast every day (and one for Bertie) and frequent omelettes and quiches for tea. With lots of egg-rich cake in between. (If anybody local to me would like any eggs, please let me know…)
One of the hens, though, Tabitha, has been getting a bit broody. She plumps herself down on all four eggs and refuses to move unless you get in the laying box and physically take her out of it. At which she complains and grumbles ominously, before wandering off to, at last, get some food and drink.
You have to watch it with broody hens – at an estate where Graham worked as a gardener a few years ago, the hens free-ranged and laid eggs wherever they wanted, and one day, under a hedge, he sadly found a poor old hen that had got broody and basically starved itself to death by refusing to get off the (sterile) eggs.
Our poor (sterile) hen is just following her instincts. It’s the time of year – spring, and all that, and everybody’s making nests and producing babies.
The other afternoon out walking with Bertie, I stumbled on a Meadow pipit nest – almost literally. The adult bird flew out from under my feet and as I knelt down and pulled back a bit of heather, I could see that this one was well beyond the egg stage. Five enormous mouths attached to five tiny little heads gaped up at me.
I let the heather fall back into place, stood up and turned around to mark and identify the spot so that I could bring my bird-ringing husband to it later. Spotting a distinctive gravelly area, I thought ‘I’ll find a marker there,’ and stepped three yards away from the nest. That was my mistake. When I turned back, I absolutely could not find the nest again. Mother Nature is pretty clever like that. Meanwhile, I went from being really proud of myself for finding my first-ever nest, to mentally slapping myself around the head for being so stupid.
I didn’t hang around too long because I didn’t want to keep the adult off the nest, and I could hear it calling. But Graham and I did go back, and once I’d got him to the general location, the nest-finder extraordinaire soon located it. He’s been on a bit of a gull and wader nest- and chick-finding mission the past few weeks, providing all-important data for the British Trust for Ornithology. The Meadow pipit chicks are too young to ring yet, but in a few days they’ll be sporting fancy new jewellery.
This morning, higher up the moor, I witnessed a ferocious aerial battle. A marauding Arctic skua was making its presence felt, amid a cacophony of Oystercatcher yelling. I admit I began to feel slightly sorry for the Scooty allan (as Shetlanders call the skua) as two or three Curlews harried and harassed it, not giving it a moment’s peace. I can’t say I blame them though – the skua would happily take eggs or even chicks given half a chance. There was grappling and tumbling and screeching and yelling going on for a full five or ten minutes.
Eventually the skua decided discretion was the better part of valour, or that the meagre bounty on offer wasn’t worth the hassle, and headed off to leave the Curlews in peace. No eggs for breakfast for him, today.