I have written about the pair of crows who reared their young, year after year in the same nest in the large ash tree by our garden. They have been shot at and persecuted over the years, but, despite that, their courage combined with instinct to reproduce never fails them. This year they began again. Courtship, mating, nest repair, feeding up the female, her body expanding with her eggs. She began to settle in their nest and he brought her food. She would occasionally fly with him to chase the buzzard circling overhead. One day, these conversational birds fell silent. The nest was empty. I used my binoculars to scrutinise the nest. No sign of them.
One morning I noticed a stranger drive up and park on the fell road, which is high on the horizon above our cottage. His vehicle was pulling a purpose built small square trailer. My stomach tightened as I thought I knew what it contained. He opened it up. Yes. I was right. It was a legal trap for catching crows. He carried it on to the farmer’s land, set the trap, came back to his car and drove off. I realised it was he who had caught and killed our crows. We successfully fought a pheasant rearer who tried to deploy cages near us. He has since ceased his pheasant rearing hobby after we confronted him with evidence he was not using the traps humanely and had him investigated. We hoped such traps would not be used here again, but how naive we were.
To add to our cumulative woes, the farmer’s tenant, who lives a short distance from us, decided to fasten a net over the deep eaves to prevent the annual migration of house martins who come from Africa all the way to nest at that cottage. Each year I have had swarms of them overhead, happily working, breeding well and mostly their young surviving to set off south as summer draws to a close.
Coincidentally, a car drove by our cottage and I could tell the driver was unauthorised. I went out to meet the stranger to find out what his business was here (we often get deer hunters). I was very pleased to find it was an 81 year old gentleman revisiting his birth place – the cottage south of ours, where he was born in 1935. He and his father were ‘herders’ he said. They were tenant shepherds and the same landowner owned the land to the west of us as well as the land on which we lived, (which has since changed hands twice since we came here). We knew our cottage was previously a bothy which was used by generations of shepherds. It has an extensive, well built pen area next to it for treating sheep. The field in front of the cottage also held sheep and had a sheep dip, using the water from the nearby burn to pump up and flush out as the ewes were treated with toxic pesticides. The man told me there were hens kept at the bothy too so the shepherd had something to eat when busy out here. I told him the owner who bought the estate east of the drover road, was an architect. He was proud of this cottage as he had demolished the old bothy, put 5ft of insulation underneath the foundations, before constructing probably one of the best insulated stone cottages in the area. I had landscaped the dip and field area, so now we have a mature garden to attract birds, bees and butterflies.
It was good to meet this friendly gentleman. He agreed the house martins were a welcome sight all the years they came to his family home. I am so sad about the loss of our pair of breeding crows and the sight of the massing house martins. However, we are compensated by the sight of a pair of swallows deciding our cottage window was a good place to build their nest. This is only about 10ft from the ground, and it does have me worried as we and our dogs unavoidably walk so near to it. They knew that as they built it, so they seem to trust their young will not fall out into the mouth of a dog. They will create quite a mess as they defecate on the window, but I will try to clean up when I can without disturbing them too much.