Saturday, 15 May 2021

Silent Spring

It certainly has been a silent spring so far, and I know I have 'banged' on about it already, but it is very worrying. It has been so cold, that vegetation growth has been very slow to grow, in fact the vegetation looks more like it does in late winter/early spring, than mid-May. Walking along the cliff tops, with Gail, in northwest Cumbria yesterday, there was very little evidence of much growth, other than some of the flowering plants. Similarly, in the uplands, this lack of growth and low temperatures is playing havoc with the breeding season for upland waders. And it is quiet, very quiet!
Earlier in the week, I was back in Bowland at my client's farm with GT, having a look (again) at some of the breeding wader fields. Stopping off at various spots as we drove round it was very quiet, with a distinct lack of any activity. There had been a spurt of growth brought on by recent rain fall, and dare I say it, by a slight increase in temperature, but not by much. As such, the ground conditions were now starting to look reasonable in terms of sward height, diversity of structure etc, but still very little activity. It might just be that these birds are going to be late this year, rather than not breeding at all, so I suppose we will have to wait a little later to see what happens. 
We are certainly seeing various bits of unusual, or should that be unseasonal behaviour, and as we walked round the farm, we came across a flock of at least 30 Meadow Pipits in some damp pasture for example. This flocking behaviour is more indicative of early spring, as these birds move to northern and upland breeding haunts, so are they just late?!
Whilst watching the Meadow Pipits, GT picked up a male Hen Harrier that gave a magnificent fly past and entertained the three of us for a minute. Earlier, and higher up the farm, we had been treated to a male Cuckoo singing away from some overhead wires. Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me, there's a lesson there somewhere, but it thrilled my client nonetheless. 

Yesterday, Gail and I completed a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) on the coast in northwest Cumbria. We completed the survey under full cloud cover, with a light northerly wind. Further to my comments about the cold, slow spring that we are having, a few finches were still on the move, which is getting late now, and we had four Goldfinches, three Linnets, three Siskins and nine Lesser Redpolls over. Part of the area that we were surveying, is perfect nesting habitat for Linnets, and as a result we counted 31 birds in this area. 
Within the survey area are three small arable fields, and it was pleasing to see a pair of Grey Partridges in the spring cereals, as well as a pair of Skylarks. Whitethroats were singing from patches of bramble and scrub, and we recorded five singing males, plus a further three other birds that remained un-sexed. The only other summer migrants we had were two female Wheatears, three Swallows and a singing Chiffchaff
The site holds at least three pairs of Stonechats and we saw a male carrying a large caterpillar, that he would have undoubtedly been feeding young with. A further two singing Skylarks were encountered, and the only raptor we had was a male Kestrel
I haven't seen any Swifts close to home yet, but on our way home we had around 20 Swifts along a section of road that runs alongside the Rivers Derwent and Marron. The classic poem about Swifts is by Ted Hughes, but I like Robert Macfarlane's words about Swifts from his book 'The Lost Spells' with Jackie Morris:
Spin, world spin!
Swifts are here again,
shredding the sky in
their hooligan gangs;
those handbrake-turners,
those wheelie-pullers,
those firers-up of
the afterburners,
so - 
Whirl, birds, whirl!
You havoc-wreakers,
thrill-seekers, you
gung-ho joy-bringers,
you drifting, gliding
so - 
Imagine, now, imagine!
Just how far and fast
these Swifts have
flown to be here;
the deserts crossed
non-stop, the seas
traversed, the mountain
ranges spanned,
so - 
Fly, heart, fly!
Follow Swifts on their
screaming tours to
flicker far out over ocean,
hunt a storm-cell's
shifting edge or pierce
a cloud's slow-motion,
so - 
Think, now, think!
If one year Swifts
did not appear;
the sky unriven,
rooftops silent, all
the watchers waiting,
hoping for a gift
that stays ungiven,
so - 
Spin, world, spin, and 
send Swifts back
and back and back
to us again!   

I think I'll leave it there.
Primroses (above & below)


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