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1999: Death on the A96, Moray

Shag

From October 4:

Lossiemouth was an unexpected treat. Quite apart from being a pleasant town with a real ale bar it had provided purple sandpipers, bar-tailed godwits, ringed plovers, turnstones, red-breasted mergansers, a stonechat, a rock pipit, gannets off-shore, and a shag in the harbour. The last of these proved difficult to identify. I am not used to seeing shags, so I had to spend a lot of time convincing myself that its forehead really was steep and it had very little white on the chin. More convincing was the way that it looked smaller than its accompanying herring gulls. I had never actually compared herring gulls with cormorants (never had to!) but made a mental note to do so the next time.

As I got back to the car three small streaky finches perched on a low wall. They were not linnets and they could not have been any of the arboreal finches: the sea-front at Lossiemouth is not over-endowed with trees. I thought they had a pinkish wash to the breast but could not remember if that made them twite or not. I waited for them to fly to get the colour of their rumps but that was inconclusive when it happened. My Larousse suggested that they should have had a buff wash and was particular about the colour of their bills. I had not noticed that. Still, I was only really left with a choice between twite and corn bunting and the latter was so unlikely that Sherlock Holmes himself would have plumped for the former.

I stopped in Elgin, having failed to find a way in to Lossie Forest. The plan was to head down the Spey valley. However, in my idleness I found a bookshop and browsed a map of the area. This showed a large forest at Culbin. I was getting too much storm-blown coast and wanted some trees for a change. So, I changed my mind and drove out towards Findhorn and RSPB Culbin Sands.

Not good for one small bird.

I am pretty good at keeping an eye out for all wildlife on the road. I have actively missed quite a few animals in my time. This time though the small shape on the road did not register as a bird. I t was so motionless. Only as I was almost on top of it did it try to fly away with disastrous consequences. I could see it still on the road behind me before another car passed over it. I had a brief glimpse of white before it flashed under my bonnet and thought that it was probably the rump of a bullfinch. The middle of the road is not a likely place for one of these but perhaps that accounted for how slow it was to react to my car.

That took the edge off the day. I reflected later that the world would have been a happier if I had died instead of a beautiful bird like that. Well, the event had made me unhappy. And it was all so unnecessary. Why did I have to be driving along that road right then? Only to tick some more names off an imaginary list. Pointless, pointless, pointless.

And irrelevant to add that I finally caught up with crested tit at Culbin Forest.”

1 comment to 1999: Death on the A96, Moray

  • Jessica

    Hello,

    Would you like to receive news releases and review copies of Princeton University Press’s forthcoming birding and natural history books? Please contact me at jgood@brynmawr.edu for more information.

    Best,
    Jessica

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