The River Ness

Mas leat an saoghal, is leat daoin’ an domhain

If the world is yours, the people of the world are yours too.

Gaelic proverb on the wall of the Cuach Coffee Shop, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
(A Cuach or quaich is a shallow, two-handed drinking cup, still used on Burns Night in Scotland)

DOES THIS PROVERB mean that if you go out into the world and become a part of it people will accept you and welcome you? It could just as easily be the motto of Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpine), “The Conqueror”, the ninth century King of the Scots who is reputed to have conquered the Picts.

Inverness, known as ‘the Capital of the Highlands’ is the only capital city that I know of where you can look down from a bridge and see the bottom of the river.

10.25 a.m.: A juvenile Herring Gull wheels down to the grassy bank on the far side of the river to peck and preen, oblivious of the people walking past yards away on the pavement at the other side of the wall. My sketches suggest that this is a juvenile that fledged last year because its back is beginning to turn grey (top left). In a first year bird, the back would be entirely mottled brown.

Some of the litter bins have posters on them asking you not to feed the gulls. The gulls are streetwise, hanging around on the bustling pedestrianised high street of the city, on the look out for scraps. They can recognise a bag of teacakes from a hundred yards away; a man and boy walk past, the man holding a white plastic bag of teacakes (for human, not gull, consumption) and soon three gulls and two crows appear.

These crows are black like the Carrion Crows we’re used to seeing in Yorkshire but we also see Hooded Crows which are grey with black head, breast-patch, wings and tail. Seeing this race of the crow always makes me feel that I’m in the Highlands. They’re also the crows that you’re likely to see in Europe to the south and east of the Alps. We see a number of hybrids of the two races.

An immature Grey Heron watches then strikes. I can’t see whether it actually caught a fish but I suspect that it did as it then wiped each side of its bill against the branch that it’s standing on.

Three Herring Gulls swooped down on the Heron and half-heartedly tried to dislodge it from its perch. They then took up look-out posts on the tops of buildings overlooking the river.


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