I promised myself a late-afternoon walk yesterday, if I could get through the work I'd set myself. Once again, I headed off down Burlees Lane and and up through the wood.
There were a lot of young birds around, being attended to by their parents. I saw robins, great tits, blue tits and swallows. It's a great time of year for a walk in the countryside. Mind you, when isn't?
Young great tit
Hill House Wood
Lichen and moss
Shutting the gate after returning home with the Sunday newspaper this morning, I was treated to a virtuoso solo performance from a wren singing somewhere in the conifer in the back garden. At least, I was pretty sure it was a wren, but it was so loud—almost painfully loud—that I wondered whether it might be something else. But, sure enough, as I listened, transfixed, a tiny bird with an upturned tail flitted out from its hiding place amongst the branches and perched on the topmost twig of the tree. Pound-for-pound, wrens must be one of the loudest animals on Earth—as far as we vertebrates are concerned, at least.
Yesterday afternoon, I spend a most enjoyable hour reading the latest London Review of Books, taking in the sun on the patio. Swallows flopped into and out of view, ducks dabbled invisibly in the still-waterlogged field behind the wall, and a curlew even graced me with its presence.
I can think of worse ways to spend an hour.
I spent a few hours at Burton Marshes yesterday afternoon. I sat in the car for a while, then walked along the track as far as Denhall Quay next to the Harp Inn.
Denhall Quay on the Dee Marshes.
It was a lovely, breezy day. There were loads of little egrets around, quite a few house martins and swallows, the usual hard-to-identify ducks, a kestrel, some coots, and several grey herons.
A moodily under-exposed grey heron.
I've always loved Burton Marshes. They're effectively man-made, exploited by farmers and the military, yet they feel utterly wild and remote. And, most important of all, you tend not to bump into too many other people there.
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The first swallow of the summer, tumbling over the back field first thing yesterday morning as I opened the gate. Only three days later than last year, despite this dreadful spring. If previous years are anything to go by—although why should they be, these days?—it will be a couple of weeks yet before they're back in great numbers. Which I guess is why one of them doesn't make a summer. It's good to have them back, though.
The afternoon was glorious, with a strong, warm breeze, so I headed up to the Moor. Unusually, I didn't spot a single red grouse, although the meadow pipits were back in decent numbers, and there was a lone skylark belting it out high above me for all he was worth.
Stoodley Pike Monument from the Moor
The wheatears will be back soon, I reckon.
Writing at home, I am temporarily distracted by a sudden, rather violent, bout of hail striking against the study window. I walk through to the galleried landing to look out of the round barn window for a better view.
A swallow flies by, twisting and turning in the hail. My first of the year. An unexpected, though not unlooked-for, delight!
This is turning out to be a very strange Spring.
More like summer. Three days of unseasonably hot, sunny weather, with more promised.
I stood for twenty minutes, leaning over the gate near the compost heap, soaking it up. A couple of butterflies, several bumble-bees, lapwings calling, and a pair of rabbits in the back field. I have been seeing quite a few rabbits there in recent months, which is unusual. I think they might have established a new outpost nearby. They have even been digging in the lawn by the compost heap.
The larger of the two rabbits, which I assume was a male, was very active, hopping back and forth, scratching in the soil, and rubbing his chin against spiky, dead nettle stalks, presumably leaving his scent. The sap is rising. He had a sizeable, ginger, Mohican strip at the back of his neck. Do rabbits usually have these? I have not noticed them before.
It's about now that I start looking optimistically for swallows, but the earliest I have seen them up here is on my birthday, 2nd April.
An unseasonably hot end to September—hot enough for it to be July. In a fit of madness, I head up on to the moor. I have decided to check out a couple of the moor's ancient monuments for a project I'm thinking about (on which, you can blame the lateness and brevity of this post). I visit the site of a Bronze Age urnfield, and an ancient barrow known as Miller's Grave.
En route to the latter via Churn Milk Joan, I spot a lone wheatear, flying low across the heather. Surely this wheatear must be the year's last! No sign of any swallows—it looks as if they really have gone this time!
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