Apparently, the collective name for a group of llamas is a cria herd. This is not something that I expected to be thinking about when surveying woodland for birds this morning.
Picture the scene – I’m in a river valley in spring, leaves are pushing through their protective coverings to emerge fresh and almost glowing in the morning light.
I’m looking forward to walking through an ancient semi-natural woodland, where the atmosphere is one of straining growth from the soil right to the tops of the trees.
I arrive just as the sun is coming up, driving my car slowly along a bumpy, dusty track alongside the wood, listening for birdsong; I’m excited at the prospect of finding pied flycatcher, willow warbler, chiffchaff and blackcap, all of which I have recorded here previously.
As I pulled the car off the track onto the start of the woodland path, a large shape appeared from behind the trees. My path was blocked by not 1 but 4 llamas!
Far from being shy, the hairy foursome came right over to investigate. I couldn’t see a fence between the animals and me – it looked like they were roaming free. I’m no stranger to livestock, but this was my first time up close with such peculiar animals.
As the llamas leaned in, giving me an involuntary crash course in lamoid dental hygiene (their proximity allowing me a ring side view of their pretty impressive gnashers), thoughts raced through my mind:
- Can I get out of the car ok?
- If I manage 1, will they follow me?
- If 1 and 2 are without incident, how long will I need to watch behind me?
- Can I still do the survey?
There was no clue from the llamas expressions – nothing to give me any sign of intent. After an initial once over from the cria herd (I knew that would come in useful), I finally decided (with some relief) to exit the car and slip quietly away into the woodland.
The survey from this point was pretty much without incident, although I felt my pulse quicken when I found first a male pied flycatcher, followed by a female, and then three more paired birds investigating bird boxes down by the river. This, and the male blackcap singing just above my head on the way back to the car later, was a superb result.
The woodland flowers were also breathtaking and the colours were super-saturated in the early morning warm light. Interestingly, although there was no sign of other grazing animals, the woodland ground flora was dominated by less palatable plants such as dog’s mercury and ramsons, perhaps suggesting a previous influx of sheep – more on this in another blog post.
I’m now mulling over the whole experience and I can’t help thinking – is there a role for large, social camelids in woodland conservation and management? Something to come back to at a later date, perhaps.
Footnote – it turns out that llamas are also part of a group known as the Tylopoda, or “bump-footed”, from the peculiar bumps on the soles of their feet – fascinating!