Am Bratach No. 330
April 2019
editor@bratach.co.uk



Natures call
by Andy Summers

It is early morning and decaying winter leaves stick to my boots. Spring is trying hard to break through the damp ground. I am hyper-alert, my senses heightened by the excitement of a new season.

I tread tentatively through the ancient woodland. The awakening bright yellow flowers of lesser celandine sparkle on the forest floor. The gnarled trunks of the downy birch trees are adorned with luxurious mosses and lichens. “Frilly lettuce” lichens merge with “heather rags” and “Desperate Dan” on the acidic bark of the birch tree: exquisite jewels of nature overlooked by all except those willing to stop and stare.

The place is alive with bird song. Away to my right I hear the strident repetitive two-syllable song of a great tit. Up ahead I can just make out the excited chatter of two long-tailed tits as they flitter through the branches like tiny pink cotton-wool balls on sticks. These adorable flying lollipops cannot help but make you smile. Normally gregarious in winter, these birds have already paired up and are looking for a suitable place to build their intricate domed nests.

Suddenly, one bird song dominates the air. It is the loud and distinctive refrain of the song thrush, with his repeated musical melody. Just to make sure that everyone has heard him, the song thrush cheerfully repeats all his phrases three or four times.

I know the function of his song is to advertise to all other song thrushes in the vicinity that this corner of this little woodland belongs to him, that he has survived the cold dark night and is alive and well. But sometimes it feels like it is singing just because he is full of the joy of daybreak. Who can deny the power of nature to lift one’s soul and drive away all the stress and tensions of our busy lives?

The longer I live, the more I am convinced of the healing power of the natural world around me. If only we stop and listen and look and smell and care.

I was moved recently by the true story of the man who took the time to care for an injured stork. Twenty-five years ago, a schoolteacher by the name of Stjepan Vokic came across an injured white stork in a small village in Croatia. The stork was lying on its side, unable to move after it had been shot by a hunter.

The man took the time and brought it home and did his best to try and fix it. The stork survived but its wing was so badly damaged it would never fly again. Nevertheless, the man did not give up and looked after the bird, caring for it in his house.

As spring approached and other storks started to arrive back from Africa, his bird became agitated. So the old school teacher made a nest for it on his roof and carried the bird up each day to the roof top.

Eventually the injured stork attracted a mate to her bundle of sticks precariously perched beside the chimney. Together they raised a family of storks. The amazing thing is that, to this day, many years later, each year in the middle of March, the same male stork flies to the same rooftop in the same small village of Croatia to be re-united with his crippled partner.

The faithful male spends the winter alone in South Africa but returns after a 5,000 mile migration to his patiently waiting partner. And all this because one old man took the time to care. The stork is now famous and many people now wait anxiously each spring to hear news if it has returned.

I am waiting anxiously to see if the wheatears which nest in the stone wall on our croft, and the pied wagtails which nest in the gable end of the byre in a nest box I put up five years ago, return to take up residence.

I have no idea if it is the same birds but I would like to think so.

Andy is a senior High Life Highland ranger, based in Lochinver. 

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