Sunday 17 June 2012

HESC provides swift solution to World's problems

Following another wet week and the local rivers bursting their banks in sympathy, this weekend has been largely dry so far, though blustery. Dark clouds and the occasional shower scampered across the sky, spurred on by a strong south westerly wind.

Yesterday, following an industrious morning, we decamped to Stony Stratford for lunch and a little pre-holiday shopping, to garner a few requisites for my trip to north west Scotland. Thicker fleece, waterproof trousers, that sort of thing. I must be the antipathy of the quintessential sun seeker.

By late afternoon, we were itching for some fresh air and nature, though with all the wet weather, 'itching' is probably an ill-advised term to use. Biting midges are making the most of the conditions at HESC, so I was hoping that the wind would keep them at bay, or at least offer us some respite from incessant attack.

Other insects were finding the meteorology challenging, too. It was only due to Our Lass's keen eyes that any damselflies were seen, mostly Azure but with a few Common Blues, all tucked away in the vegetation, riding out the 'storm'.

As ever, during bad weather, a Song Thrush was singing his heart out from a song post hidden by some trees. There were brief choruses of other bird song, mainly warblers, as the necessary business of defending a territory carried on, regardless of the rain.

Following a walk along a sheltered path between two hedges, which was where most of the midges were congregated, we took refuge in the Far Hide. Looking out over the main lake, there were very few waterfowl to be seen, a couple of Mute Swans, a smattering of Canada Geese, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, the odd Coot and the inevitable gaggle of Cormorants. Very little in the way of ducks or waders.

The music from a nearby festival carried into the river valley and gave a surreal feeling to proceedings, as we watched the patterns formed on the water surface by successive gusts of wind and listened to the various bands.

Whilst our quota of duckage may have been poultry paltry, this was more than compensated for by the presence of hundreds of other birds. Now, this is going to sound a bit heretical, but I think  lakes are a poor place for bird watching unless you're carrying sufficient optical power to spot a Lunar Long-tailed Duck on the Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility). Inevitably, wherever you are on the perimeter of a water body, most of the bird life will be out in mid-lake at best, or, more likely, tucked into the reeds diametrically opposite your current position. Yep, water is wasted on ducks.

So it was a pleasant surprise to feel in the thick of things, as hundreds of hirundines and several Swifts, hunted over the surface of the lake and the bordering vegetation. The bulk of this aerial armada was made up of House Martins and Swallows, with just a few Sand Martins to be seen amongst them. The twittering of Swallows is such a happy sound to my ears, only bettered by the gentle buzz of a contented Martin. And, boy, were they contented. The flock must've been feeding on a huge, invisible (to our eyes) cloud of insects, as the action was non-stop. Swooping, soaring, swivelling and scything, the massed ranks of blue and black cut a swathe through the air, and hopefully the midge population. I only had the camera on my phone to record this and inevitably failed miserably in the attempt.

Swallows and House Martins in action
The whole panorama of the lake was 180 degrees of fly annihilation, and as the hide was offering shelter to the reeds immediately to our front, this was where many insects were. Swifts would appear from our left, like the blur of a knife blade, cutting across the top of the vegetation and then out, low, over the water. Some would wheel on a pin point, right in front of us, as if redefining the laws of motion and physics. In fact, you could almost believe that their feeding behaviour was a solution to global warming. It felt as if their wings could slice through the bonds of a carbon dioxide molecule, releasing pure oxygen into the atmosphere and coating their feathers with carbon atoms. Perhaps they do, that's why they're black?


laligalover said...

OMG! now resorting to a camera phone! My previous comments obviously fell on deaf ears. Just as well I have a vivid imagination bro', nevertheless another description of your outing which made me feel like I am stood beside the two of you.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Aw, that was a sweet thing to say. You must be getting soft in your old age. Never fear, the trip to Scotland should provide ample opportunity to deploy Very Wrong Len, who is going to receive a bit of help in the form of a x1.4 converter. That is, if it doesn't rain all week. Love and hugs from your little bro.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Double OMG! How the hell did I use the phrase "contented Martin" and not mention Sunday afternoons (appointment necessary or knock loudly)?

I hang my head in shame :o(

holdingmoments said...

Great account of the Swifts. I never tire of watching them.

Enjoy your trip up norf.

Tales of a Bank Vole said...

Ah! so skulking off to the highlands where Culicoides impunctatus is unable to penetrate your So Soft Skin. Leaving the HESC faithful to dice with the (literally) man eating Culex pipiens (biotype molestus) - I have the lumps to prove it.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thanks, Keith. Latest reports from north of the border by the Admiral suggest the midges are already making their presence felt. Oh dear.

Tony, flattery will get you nowhere, except possibly a stamp-collecting fair. No, that's philately. I'm now worried that the copious quantities of insect repellent I'll need to use will also repel the insect I'm going to see. Talk about on the horns of a dilemma!