The Island Diary Part 3: the birdlife of Seil

Poet Kenneth Steven and his partner Kristina moved to the Island of Seil in the Inner Hebrides this year – in his third blog he introduces some of the wildlife of their new home

Published: May 16th, 2017 at 8:41 am

We didn’t know the island house was in such a special place to begin with. But the grass stretches down into what once was moorland; beyond the fences are dwarf willows and wetland that become in the end a small loch. The stream that feeds it is tidal, and the loch itself is like a living thing that shrinks and grows according to the tides.

Tidal lochan on Seil – a wildlife haven

The land in between is treacherous; only the occasional island deer (and there are remarkably few) is able to dance across untroubled.

We only really understood how special the place was when we sat outside at that far end of the garden and nature came to us. The geese that squabble and grumble at the near edge of the loch would fly over us in sixes and twelves, so low you could hear the murmur of their wings.

Wild geese on the lochan.

One day as I sat at the table down close to the garden’s end I heard the strange sounds being made by little birds close in by the willows. They were almost like the zip of a fishing reel. As I listened, I realised they were bringing back a memory from earliest childhood. It was so deep in my past it was as though I had to struggle to pull it up from an old and all but forgotten well.

The memory was of going bird-watching with my father when just five years old. What came to me was the scent of the place and the spring bushes, and the sound of those strange little birds. Grasshopper warblers. That was what they were.

Grasshopper warbler – more usually heard than seen

It was some time later that we first saw another kind of bird altogether, ghosting over the wetland, with wings somehow hunching as it flew – a pale and beautiful thing very obviously hunting. A bird of prey we recognised at the same moment.

‘A hen harrier!’ we rejoiced together, and Kristina was scrabbling for the camera and we were madly rushing to see it better before it was lost from sight. And then it graced the garden with its presence; sat atop a post and devoured whatever it was it had caught.

Sometimes a pair of ravens fly right over, and it feels like some kind of premonition, whether of good or ill. They’re playing with the air and talking to one another all the while, and sure of where they’re going. They might be Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s ravens, and flown right out of Norse mythology.

One thing’s for certain: we never knew this would be quite such a special place. 


Photos by Kristina Hayward



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