Hill Farming, Lambing


Birdwatching Ewe

What is bothering this ewe?

Apparently in early labour, suddenly she sniffs the air and looks up into the trees.  She is completely distracted from the job in hand and agitated — whatever it is, she does not like it!


Circling  above her is a large bird of prey — a buzzard, it wants a really good look at her.  Like the magpies that bounce (half flying, half jumping) around the nearby pasture, he is interested in the cleansings (placenta and membranes) and they seem to  sense a ewe in labour from miles away.  In fact this one has taken up residence in the stand of mature oak trees just above the pasture which gives him prior claim — or so he thinks, the crows and magpies think differently.

He swoops low ‘buzzing’ our ewe.



Then he perches in the tall hedge to watch her — and waits.  She can’t settle.

Sheep in labour are very vulnerable and with any threat their contractions will cease for a time.  I don’t think that a buzzard, or indeed a domestic cat, is much of a threat to an adult sheep or a healthy lamb but there is something in their primitive background that responds to the shadow of a hawk, the shape of a cat and of course the bark of a dog that really upsets them at lambing time.  Dog walkers should bear this in mind because even the best behaved dog on a lead, can spook a ewe whose labour may become prolonged so that her lamb dies or, if she is beyond the point of no return , she may drop the lamb and run.

We like to see the birds of prey — we were very excited when we thought we saw an osprey recently, so are reluctant to chase them away.  Anyway, while I was wrestling with this dilemma this buzzard got bored waiting and flew off.

The ewe slumped immediately to the ground and finished the job.


I am not a buzzard or a cat and she let me approach to help her with the first lamb and soon she had two beautiful, tall, strong lambs running at foot, one male and one female.


A Miracle? That’s what we need.

It is an apparition — a visitation — something from beyond our world — or perhaps from a time long gone —  extinct in Wales for decades, centuries — usually only seen with the dragons and griffons on coats of arms drawn long ago.  It is the Welsh fish-hawk, gweilch y pysgod,  hovering once more over the shallow waters and mud flats of the Dovey (Dyfi) estuary: an osprey.SONY DSCThe strenuous attempts of local, national and international ornithologists have been successful in luring back a single pair of nesting ‘fish eagles’ to a  muddy, midgey corner of Wales.  The female now sits on an untidy nest on a man-made platform at the top of a very tall pole.  They have returned from West Africa, where they migrate, to breed and lay their eggs.  She incubates them while fed by her mate who fishes in the waters around.  She looks out, moving her head jerkily to scan for intruders and all the while the CCTV mounted on the nearby pole scans her — recording her every movement and the visits of the male and those of the little train that clatters past every hour, around the water’s edge on its way to and from the university town of Aberystwyth.  Students on the train, often of natural sciences, know she is there and point her out to fellow travelers.

The nest is a place of pilgrimage — a birdy shrine.  Birdy folk come, they walk the half mile along the new board-walk to the soft-wood cathedral in the marsh — the new observation tower.

From the weather proof lounge at the top they can divest themselves of their long distance lenses and state-of-the-art cameras and unwrap their sandwiches.  There is a telescope fixed on the precise spot and, once you know it is there, you can indeed just see the nest platform with the naked eye and once you get the image home and magnify it — bingo:

The live-feed from the CCTV is excellent (you can view it online) — displayed on wide screens in the cathedral and at journey’s end — the gift shop.  It is also transmitted to the hide near the car park  for those who cannot make the pilgrimage along the board-walk through the peaceful marsh where only the dim twitter of warblers and reed bunting reminds us that this is a habitat — a sanctuary for birds — you can’t blame the usual inhabitants for keeping their heads down today — there is an osprey about!.

Thanks to Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust for their permission to show photographs Creative Commons License   taken from their live feed.  View the birds yourself at http://www.montwt.co.uk

Dovey Estuary

Dovey Estuary