Crow with Sweet Chestnut

crow with sweet chestnut

fungi on stump
Fungi on stump.

Perching on the iron fence by the Lower Lake at Nostell, a carrion crow is struggling to extract the sweet chestnut nuts from their spiky green casings. Two of the spiny husks have become firmly Velcroed together.


Fungus by woodland path.

The experts at nut gathering are the grey squirrels. They are so intent on burying their cache that you can walk past within a few feet of them and they won’t even bother to look up.

They’ll poke their heads down amongst the leaf litter in several spots in succession. One suggestion is that they’ll dig several ‘fake’ holes which they’ll leave nothing in, to confuse any rival squirrel that might be watching them.

The Pleasure Grounds by the Lower Lake are the most popular with squirrels, not just because of the sweet chestnuts but also because no dogs are allowed. Up by the Obelisk Lodge we’d seen a dog walker we know chasing her dog along the cycles-only path.

“She’d seen a squirrel,” she explained, “They’ll stand there, deliberately teasing the dog!”

We think that we saw the squirrel that the dog had chased. It dashed at a frantic pace across the driveway beyond the Obelisk Lodge and shot into the bushes, which resulted in a startled cock pheasant bursting out, grockling in alarm.

Some squirrels do seem to egg on the dogs. In the park, one spaniel was barking in frustration and straining on its lead but the squirrel it had spotted was on the other side of the electric fence (and probably knew that it could scamper about with impunity).

Cirrus and con trails

There’s a windy swirl of low pressure, the remnants of ex-Hurricane Oscar, approaching across the Atlantic. Over to the west we can see a distant bank of cloud but here it’s sunny and still with wisps of cirrus and streaks of con trails against the blue sky.

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Carrion Crow

There’s often a carrion crow on the old felled sweet chestnut trunk near the Lower Lake bridge, feeding on grain that’s been left there and frequently being photographed. You can see in my photograph that it’s stuffed its crop with grain.

A few rooks feeding alongside jackdaws on the turf in Obelisk Park also have full crops, but they are more likely to be feeding on earthworms and insect larvae, such as leather-jackets: the caterpillar-like larvae of the crane fly.

grey squirrelUnder a yew near the Menagerie seven grey squirrels have gathered. They’re turning over the leaf litter and stopping to nibble at frequent intervals. One appears to have found half a nut, probably an acorn that it – or another of the squirrels – had hidden during the autumn.

We disturb the adult grey heron yet again. This time it was hoping to be left in peace at the top end of the lake beneath the Cascade Bridge. It takes off, clearing the clapper stones of the Druid’s Bridge with inches to spare.


The flock of fieldfares are still around. Wigeon have left the now completely ice-covered field pool. There’s a pair on the Middle Lake, along with two pairs of gadwall, tufted, the usual mallards and swans and an increasing number of goosanders, some swimming in pairs.

There are more wigeon on the ice-free Upper Lake, which isn’t accessible from the Park.

As we walk along the edge of Top Park Wood, a kestrel wheels from tree to tree ahead of us.

Crow Courtship

10.30 a.m.: Four carrion crows are foraging towards the lower end of the parkland below the Obelisk Lodge at Nostell. I’m guessing that there are two males and two females because two of them are bowing and cawing: rival males. This genteel approach to courtship doesn’t last long.

 The rivalry erupts into a scrap as the males go for each other. At one stage, one of the males briefly ends up on his back, defending himself with legs and beak. Despite the fracas, the foursome stays together as we walk off up the slope.

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.