Tuesday, 2 June 2015


At regina gravi iamdudum saucia cura... Vigil, you idiot, not Virgil.

For three-and-a-half hours tonight, from seven until gone ten-thirty, I sat (shivering) in the grass at the second of Pete Cairns' sites for wildcats. He had warned me that it didn't look much like a good site, just a patch of rough grass between a small loch and a railway line, far less evocative than the moorland and river valley at the first site. I had not realised, however, until I arrived, just how tiny and inauspicious-looking the patch of observable grass would be.

All the same I followed Pete's instructions, went as far east as the fences would allow and plonked myself down to scan the cattle fields around me. In no time this inauspicious-looking spot had me bewitched. On the loch almost the first bird I saw was a Slavonian grebe, not the cold black and white of the one I saw in Holkham Bay last November, but the lustrous, velvety chestnut and gold of a bird in breeding plumage. With the grebe were two female goldeneye, a drake tufted duck, a mother mallard with two well-grown ducklings, a flighty pair of teal and a single wigeon drake, whistling disconsolately to himself.

The grass all around the loch was busy with the breathy plaints of lapwings, with the upright trotting of the adults and the pitter-patter of many chicks. Greylags were here too, their chicks already round and fat on Speyside grass. As the dusk fell, much later, the geese were joined by rabbits of all sizes, taking their tithe of the grass and in turn passing its protein to the unseen cats.

There was never not sound in the sky. Oystercatchers strafed the loch, piping persistently; willow warblers fluted from the birchwoods; and all the while a common sandpiper filled my ears with his tireless territorial twittering.

I did not see a cat, of course, but I felt that the cat was there. I left only when the adult greylags ceased their grazing with the last light and flapped to the safety of the loch, when Venus was already bright in the heavens, when a woodcock called over birches to the east, and when I could no longer feel my toes for cold.

I have said it before, I do not mind I have not seen a cat. I am loving looking.

A little loch where wildcats live

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