A few thoughts on the signs of spring….

Stirling NNRs

Jane Petrie, our blog editor, like most of us has been turning her thoughts to spring:

Ellen’s article about adders got me thinking about the signs of spring that I look out for around Flanders Moss and on the wider Carse of Stirling around.

First up, oyster catchers. I generally hear the oyster catchers long before I see them – who has not heard the familiar ‘pleep pleep pleep’ call overhead in the early spring and thought ‘ah, the oystercatchers are back’! Sometimes you hear them through the night – a colleague with a poetic turn of phrase once mentioned the call of the oystercatchers which ‘pierce his dreams’, and a piercing call they do have. And another wee fact – the call of the oystercatcher, who in Scotland naturally speak Gaelic, of course – is ‘bi glic’ meaning ‘be wise’. Given their bold habit hereabouts of nesting in such unlikely places as the middle of busy roundabouts, one might be tempted to suggest they take their own advice and find somewhere less alarming to raise their young.

This orange beaked, black and white harbinger or spring even has its own day in the Faroe Islands, where it is the national bird. On the 12th of March the people of the Faroe Islands celebrate Graekarismessa, which means that the oystercatcher has arrived and summer is just around the corner. It is said that the arrival of the first oystercatchers brings great joy to the Faroese people – and I quite agree; they bring great joy to me too!

Is it just me or are the oyster catchers especially early this year, having been seen and heard from January?

Celandines: one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in spring, sometimes known as ‘the spring messenger’. The 21st of February is known as ‘Celandine Day’ in England, where the naturalist, Gilbert White would spot these flowers blooming in his Hampshire village. We are a wee bit further north but still, these lovely little yellow flowers appear from early spring onwards, spreading their shiny petals wide to catch any sunshine that is going, with their beautiful glossy leaves providing the perfect backdrop. Will you see these out on the moss? Well, no – but you might well see them around the Flanders carpark and meadow area, and on the banks and burns on the edges. There is something so positively gleeful and optimistic about these brave wee flowers, weathering the rain and sleet that comes with our usual spring hereabouts, one cannot fail to see them without feeling uplifted.

Peeseeps or Peezies if you’re Scottish, Lapwings or Peewits to the rest of the world. When flocks of Peezies start being seen on the Carse you know spring is here. In the breezy days of March, it is a delight to see the peezies in the fields, with their distinctive flight and zippy ‘peez-weep’ call. Lapwings are resident throughout the year, but it’s always the spring and early summer when I tend to see and hear them on the carse. And what beautiful birds they are too – black and white, gleaming purple-green in the light, the males sporting a jaunty crest. Sadly, Lapwing numbers are in decline due to loss of habitat.

Traditionally, the Peezies were sadly less be-loved. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to believe how on earth such associations were dreamed up – but in the dark days of Covenanting times in 17th century Scotland, these birds were held to have drawn authorities to secret Conventicles through their alarm-call cries. The lapwing has a collective name of a ‘deceit’.

In Scots the Lapwing is referred to as a Teuchet – and their February – March arrival, when snow and hail often also appear alongside shrill winds, led to periods of bleak and wintry weather being known as a ‘teuchits’ storm’. In 1897,  P. H. Hunter wrote. ‘Last Candlemas*, whan the Peesweep Storm cam’, an’ the snaw was drifted sax feet deep’. (*Candlemas was one of the Scottish quarter days – 2nd February – and a well known rhyme states ‘If Candlemas Day be dry and fair. The half o the winter’s to come and mair‘. I can’t quite remember what the weather was like on the 2nd but given that it’s snowing as I type, I can only assume it was ‘dry and fair’). To ‘hunt the teuchit’ was like a ‘wild goose chase’, given the Lapwing’s way of artfully pretending to be injured, often dragging a wing, to draw predators away from their young. See what gallant wee birds they are – and there’s no reason to consider them ill luck or deceitful at all!

So, when oot and aboot, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open and be prepared to be amazed and delighted at what is around.

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