We wandered over to the park for a late evening walk this weekend. The further along the dam that we got the more insects there seemed to be. We turned and looked towards the sunset – there were so many insects it almost looked like a snow drift. They were rising up out of the grass – no wonder the swifts were so numerous.
Away from the water we didn’t expect to see so many, but as we looked across the fields it was as if they were smoking – the trees across from us looked hazy. I’ve seen film of starling murmurations where the birds move in waves and group and separate in response to signals from each neighbour. This looked like the insect equivalent – they moved in waves, obviously travelling along with the movement of air over the cereal crops. The swifts were having a great time. No swiftlets would be going hungry that night.
Up in the tress the greatest concentrations seemed to be round the oak trees. Was this because they are broadleaved and so more sheltered, was it because they were pushed by the wind to congregate or was it because oak trees are home to more insects than other trees. Or was I wrong, did it just look that way because of the light or because the oak trees were generally bigger than the willows? I have no idea.
Not only were the swifts out in force in the park that evening, but jackdaws were heading back in number, obviously it is a favourite roost of theirs. The same seems to be true of the local teenagers.
Despite my best intentions, I haven’t been to the country park since the last bank holiday in May even though I know the tern chicks should be hatching any time now. After a warm, sunny day spent unsuccessfully trying to photograph bees, I went looking for the chicks and I wasn’t disappointed.
I counted four chicks on the two new rafts – a couple looked slightly bigger than the other two – these latter were from one nest and stayed close to their parent. The older chicks were more mobile and spent some time wandering in and out of the pipe shelter that they’d been provided with. These were just the ones I can see. There are another four tern rafts that don’t give good views. I have a theory that those on the very old rafts might be the lower ranking or younger terns that might have had to make do with what they could get, in which case they might hatch a bit later. I could be completely wrong though. The oldest looking chick was just where I expected it to be following the early courtship and mating of the parents.
I also saw another tern removing bits of broken eggshell from the nest area, so hopefully there are some more fluffy little ternlets there.
The swan was at its grumpiest again. This time the family of greylag geese bore the brunt of his ire. Fortunately the adults were giving back as good as they got and, once again, they were both attacked by the terns dive-bombing their heads – serves them right.
I don’t know what has happened to the Canada goose family, but it appears to be the place to hang out for Canada geese – I gave up counting when I reached 84.
I was a bit concerned about the heron chick – I couldn’t see him anywhere and thought he’d either fallen into the water or was much older than I initially thought. I saw one of the adults across the water, and eventually saw the chick in the nest. I think he’d wandered up the branch a bit and was hidden from view behind a tree trunk.
Over the noise of traffic and terns I managed to use my new found powers of warbler ID and heard a willow warbler calling away as well as blackcap and chiffchaffs. These seem to be much noisier in the evening – I haven’t heard any in the last two weeks when I’ve been in the park early in the morning!
My new highlight though was a couple of little ringed plovers. I’ve seen them before at Brandon Marsh, but never at the country park – it seems there’s always something new to see here. Who needs exotic locations?
This is Charlie Elder’s second book. Following on from his earlier ‘While Flocks Last’ (which I own and now plan to read again) where he went around the UK to find forty birds on the UK red list which means they are in serious decline, the author now gads around the UK looking for 25 rare or hard to find creatures. As well as birds he’s included insects, mammals, amphibians and marine life.
Charlie Elder is undoubtedly very excited by nature and keen to bring to our attention the plight of many of our scarcer creatures; you have to be over a certain level of enthusiasm to spend time sleeping in your car, endure various boat trips to islands to find black rats and to get up at the crack of dawn to go scuba diving in the sea off the south coast of Britain.
The scarce creatures chosen to feature in the book, whilst they do deserve to have that descriptor, are, as the author points out, entirely random. And, this is the problem for me. The narrative just doesn’t seem to flow in the same way that other, similar books such as Patrick Barkham’s excellent Butterfly Isles or the authors aforementioned While Flocks Last. His enthusiasm just didn’t come out of the page and grab me, it didn’t make me want to find out if he spotted all of the 25 beasties on his list. Whilst there were some interesting bits of information about the animals in question, it almost felt like a book about the hardships the author endured to go and see them – which of course he decided were all worth it in the end.
Maybe it is just that there are other and better nature books, or maybe the whole seeing a number of things in a year is a bit jaded, or perhaps it is just the sheer amount of travelling that the author did just to see these creatures that didn’t work for me. (Good job all that nature was ripped up so he had some nice roads to travel about the country on to see these rare and threatened species.)
If I was to rate the book, I would sit on the fence and give it three stars out of five – not bad, but it did seem as though the author was trying to think of subject matter for another book rather than already having a list of creatures he wanted to see before it was too late.