The red grouse is a very British bird. I say that not because it encapsulates anything particularly British (although it is widely known as the logo of The Famous Grouse whisky), but because it is found nowhere else in the world apart from the British Isles. However, although it was once thought to be its own separate species, most experts now believe that the red grouse is actually a distinct race of the willow ptarmigan, which lives elsewhere in northern Europe, Asia and America.
Last year, I wrote an article about five birds with brilliant but bizarre beaks – from the wrybill, which has a bill that bends to the side, to the impressive shoebill, which has a massive, hook-tipped monster of a beak that is perfect for catching and holding onto large, slippery fish. But picking only five beaks to include in the list proved difficult, and there were several birds that I initially considered that were eventually cut from the final selection.
No bird can stay in the air permanently. At the very least, they must come down to earth to nest. But the common swift, with a streamlined body that is honed to aerodynamic perfection and narrow, sickle-shaped wings, spends more of its life in flight than any other bird. Its habitat is the sky itself.
On The Nature Nook’s last walk, searching for seals around Berry Head, we heard the call of a great-spotted woodpecker in a small thicket, though we sadly didn’t see the bird itself. This time, we decided to set out to look specifically for these delightful head bangers. Tor Bay has so much beautiful coastline that it is easy to neglect the woodland that is also practically on our doorstep. So Alex and I headed inland for a change, to a place called Occombe Woods, nestled in a valley between Paignton and Torquay.
From our clifftop vantage point, the whole of Tor Bay stretched out before us, a wide, sweeping vista of calm ocean. A light breeze ruffled my hair and I tasted the slightest hint of salt on my lips. In the distance, a flock of gulls – little more than tiny white dots to us – were following a small fishing boat. I turned my gaze downwards, scanning the rippling surface far below, searching for signs of movement in the water.