Arrivals & Departures

Throughout June and now into July the seasonal tide has yet again been turning. It would be easy to feel sad as the flowers wither and the birds fall silent but it is this steady march of the seasons that makes nature observation so interesting. Each stage has its own beauty too, even in death and decay.

Walking through the now dry, brown grass, so different from the lush green of spring, there is a sense of nature having spent herself – flowers fading, pods popping and the wind carrying the seeds away like ashes in the breeze. I came across a lifeless form – a shrew – and wondered at its demise. Maybe in the heat of the day it had failed to find water or maybe its 14 months of life were simply up. I left it in the dying grass on parched soil, its final bed.

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But fluttering over this solemn scene of weary stems and finished life there rose a myriad of butterflies, delicate and beautiful, fresh from the cocoon – like other-world nymphs or Valkyries attending the slain. I watched dancing Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Meadow Browns accompanied by the occasional Common Blue and Tortoiseshell as they rose on the breeze coming back to settle for a second before flickering away over the grasses again. I could not help but marvel at the combination of their humble origins, their exquisite beauty and their ephemeral existence – barely touching the earth except to delicately sip sweet nectar. You get a sense that you are watching life beyond death, something extra special, a promise of another spring.

Of course, while all too easy to romanticize the spectacle, this plethora of insect life also supplies the hungry mouths of the growing flocks of swifts and hirundines gathering in the skies in anticipation of their journey south. The skies and telegraph wires become a great departure lounge as fledging birds join the adults feeding and resting before the long flight ahead. I noticed a still active nest of Swifts on our road a couple of days ago and empathized with the sense of parental stress as the adults tore in and out at break-neck speed, no doubt rushing to meet the migration deadline as one would rush to get all the family to the airport on time!

While there is a sense of departure in the air there still continues to be a lot of new arrivals. The adult bird song has been replaced by the raucous and squawky calls of young interspersed with the worried tut-ting of the parent birds. Many resident birds are on their second or third brood – I noted two families of new ducklings last week and have encountered countless baby Blue and Great Tits on my rambles. One particularly pleasing encounter was a family of Little Owls, the fluffy juveniles crashing around in some trees as they got the hang of their new freedom.

Today the heightened activity and calling of the Wrens indicates that their young too have fledged and are now no doubt precariously perched in various bushes as their parents flit back and forth with tasty morsels. I was also surprised to find an unopened Blackbird egg on the ground – evidence of yet another brood on its way. This is in addition to the three young birds that fledged successfully in our conservatory – a safe place but with one oversight by the parent bird: no easy exit for new fledglings! I obliged and the young birds can now be seen around the garden so far having avoided run-ins with cats, Magpies, foxes and whatever else might challenge their existence.

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Blackbird Egg

For some birds the fight to survive means they get to stay put and enjoy the garden throughout the winter. For others, like the Swallows, it means they get to go far abroad for a long winter holiday the other side of Africa. Others, like the family of Blackcaps in our garden, will maybe choose either to go or stay: staying being the increasingly popular option for this species. Either way, the changing seasons elevate this island land once again into a great transport hub as avian summer visitors prepare to leave and winter visitors begin to arrive. Some, of course, are just passing through, maybe even making an unscheduled stopover, and it is these more unusual and sometimes exotic species that get the pulse of every birder racing!