In the walled garden by the track to the beach is a stand of venerable old sycamores. They are among the taller trees to be found on South Uist, but nowhere near the height one might expect of them, considering their age.
Faced with constant winter gales, they have seemingly expended as much energy reaching outwards as upwards, resulting in a complex tangle of branches and twigs.
The lowest parts of many trunks are completely covered in velvety green moss, while higher, as this begins to break up, several species of lichens encrust the branches.
As the trees come into leaf, less and less light finds its way through to the ground beneath, but today, though the daffodils are yet to open, yellow celandine petals gleam in patches of sunshine between a complex tracery of shadows cast by the sycamores. And, within this pattern of light and shade, several birds are feeding nonstop, probing the turf and extracting any edible morsel before dashing forward a few steps to repeat the process.
Only when one of those feeding flies up into the trees, startling 10 or 12 others and causing them to descend to the ground like leaves dislodged by a gust of autumn wind, does the true number of the flock become apparent. Half-camouflaged by the fractured sunlight falling upon every mottled and be-lichened branch, hundreds of redwings are resting as they await the next stage of their long journey.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 18 Apr 2016.