Something in the air…
As you can see, we’ve put out some fishing nets at The Old Byre. So what are they for, given that we aren’t actually on the shoreline, and salmon don’t normally turn left up the burn? Well, they are actually to catch the little-known Hebridean Flying Fish Exocoetus inchegal*. Now a rare delicacy, the Hebridean flying fish or ‘floatie’, so-called as it seems to float in the air, was once a staple of the Western Isles, as can be seen from the many old etchings and early photographs of nets stretched out in the air. Although among the best flyers of all the flying fish, they are sadly given to showing off how far they can glide over land, and having eyes better suited to the denser medium of water, their vision when airborne is somewhat myopic and they can’t easily spot the nets laid to intercept them. The population crash caused by over-fishing (sadly later seen in more well-known fish like the herring), and the subsequent unfamiliarity of outsiders with this piscian wonder has led to mis-interpretation of these illustrations, which are often mistakenly thought to be of fishing nets drying, or of spent nets finishing their working lives as windbreaks. These days the floatie is most commonly seen on moonlit nights, often on Fridays after 11pm, or around illicit stills, where it is said to be attracted by the smell of peat and cheap spirits. They are usually seen in pairs, when they are referred to as ‘my best pal, youse are’.
I’m not a twitcher, but I enjoy watching the local birdlife and have started a list of Byre birds. The list currently stands as Chaffinch, Common Blackbird, Common Buzzard, Common Raven, Common Starling, Eurasian Jackdaw, Eurasian Siskin, European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch, European Robin, Great Tit, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Mallard, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wagtail, Redwing, Rock Pigeon, Sparrowhawk, Twite. This excludes gulls, which I haven’t attempted to speciate yet. An honoury mention for the Cuckoo, one of which has been calling unseen this week. These are birds that I have seen from the Old Byre, standing in the grounds or from the house, if not necessarily on the property. I’m not suggesting that we have sea eagles at the bird table! Lets face it – they could probably take it away if they wanted… The buzzards certainly do hunt around the property and take voles and shrews out the front [the ones the cats haven’t caught yet…], perching on the telegraph and electricity poles. If you want to know the full list of birds for Skye, the place to go is the rather excellent Skye Birds website.
* If there really was a Hebridean flying fish, Exocoetus inchegal would be a reasonable name. Exocoetus is a genus of flying fish which, among other things, gave its name to the Exocet anti-ship missile that came to fame in the Falklands conflict 30 years ago. Somehow, the ‘flying fish missile’ doesn’t sound so threatening. Inchegal is the Latinate form of the gaelic Innse Gall, which is now usually used to refer to the Outer Hebrides only, although there doesn’t seem to be any etymologically sound reason for this.
Currently listening to: Through Low Light and Trees – Smoke Fairies