Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Wheatears and other foods

Wheatears have been flying south, stopping off at the coast, since the late summer, calling to mind a chapter in W.H.Hudson's Nature in Downland, in which he describes the taking of the birds by shepherds on the South Downs.
The most successful of them made up to £50 a year in this trade, 'more than their farmers paid them for the whole year's shepherding'. He describes the wheatears as being 'very fat when they arrive on the downs, and the season during which the shepherds look for them, from mid-July to mid-September, must have been a blessed time for gourmands in the past'.

'Coops' about 14 inches long were made to catch the birds, giving a high point to perch on and a hole to shelter in. When startled, the birds would scuttle from the perch into the hiding place, and so be caught. Apparently even a cloud passing in front of the sun is enough to worry them, so a breezy day of passing clouds was best for the catch.

At the time that Hudson was writing, in 1899, it was clear that the numbers of birds had substantially reduced, for which he blames less on the shepherds' trade than 'the continual spread of cultivation and the consequent diminution of the barren, and stony lands that the bird inhabits'.
'The wheatear is a pretty, interesting bird, a sweet singer, and dear to all who love the wildness and solitude of hills and of desert, stony places. It is not fair that it should be killed merely to enable London stockbrokers, sporting men, and other gorgeous persons who visit the coast, accompanied by ladies with yellow hair, to feed every day on 'ortolans' at the big Brighton hotels.' Amen to that sentiment.
Other food-related things that caught my (hungry?) eye today included....

Wild Parsnip

Wild Carrot

and a covey of seven Grey Partridges, unusually in arable fields near Ripple, which is a more usual habitat for the Red-Legged variety, as the Greys normally prefer a more meadowy land.

1 comment:

Tony Morris said...

Interesting post, fat "Greenland" Wheatears must have earnt a premium.