The cows at work always seem to look at me like I’m a bit odd. I don’t know if they look at everyone that way, or just save it for when I’m around.
I should probably explain…
For the past few months, my cow colleagues have being dutifully doing some conservation grazing at Snakes Field – part of the Ockham Common nature reserve I am currently keeping an eye on. By ‘keeping an eye on’, I obviously mean keeping both eyes on – I am incredibly conscientious.
We have our distinct roles in this conservation partnership… The cows – Belted Galloways x 10 – voraciously munch their way through the greenery (removing the nutrients from the meadow in a haphazard, uneven biodiversity friendly way), crap out great invertebrate habitat as they go and look cute and cuddly to passers-by and I – apparently odd wannabe conservationist x 1 – regularly go along and check that they are all still there, look well and have enough to eat.
At this time of year, the fields are a great place to see good numbers of Meadow Pipits and there’s usually a Kestrel or two hanging around. Buzzards often soar overhead and the berry-laden trees on the outskirts of the grassland are full of thrushes (Song Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare).
As I got to the third cow’s bottom (part of the comprehensive Service & MOT for cows is to check if they look like they’ve got diarrhoea – I bet you don’t get that as part of your 40-point Kwik Fit service), I happened to look up and see four quite large birds distantly in the sky.
If I wasn’t just about to stick my face in the vicinity of a bovine arse, I probably would have ignored the birds and carried on with my business. Unsurprisingly, I grabbed my binoculars from my bag and tried to see what the mini-flock of four approaching birds was.
For those of you who have read this blog before – and are probably revelling in the fact that I now spend some of my week checking cows for dribble, weepy eyes and excessively loose stools – you will already know that I am sometimes pretty rubbish at ID-ing birds… This particular occasion was a good case in point: –
“Ah, four Gulls… Herring, perhaps!” I exclaimed.
The birds continued to get closer… and, because of science, got larger.
“Ah, four Cormorants!” I re-exclaimed.
The birds began circling directly overhead… bigger still.
“Ah… Um… Er… What’s bigger than a Cormorant that’s not a Swan? They definitely weren’t Swans… Um…”
And this is where I did the thing that I think the cows found odd (If, of course you first overlook the fact that I had been having a full-on conversation with myself in a field)… I actually turned to the assembled group and asked, “What do you all think?”
They didn’t answer. Instead, just looked at me like I was a moron – or mooron in cow-speak. Fair enough. I suppose I had just asked them for their opinion on ornithological matters… and was expecting a response.
I consulted my phone-based bird ID guide – In my addled mind, I had decided the birds were either Storks or Cranes, but I had imagined that neither were especially likely to be flying over an odd man checking judgemental cows in a field in Surrey.
After a lot of umming and erring, I decided that they were Common Cranes.
Previously, I had only ever seen them at WWT Slimbridge, where they have released some as part of the Great Crane Project’s reintroduction programme, so it was exciting to see some pass directly over me. At the last count, there were estimated to be around 160 Cranes in the UK – most in the Somerset area (reintroduced population) and East Anglia (naturally recolonized population) – so any sighting was a bit of a rare occurrence.
As far as I was aware, I could well have been the only person to spot Cranes in Surrey in the whole of 2016. I was definitely the only person in Surrey to have ever sandwiched a Crane sighting between two lots of staring at a cow’s arse.
The cows have still not answered my question…