Swallows and Foxgloves and Daisies – Oh, My!

By on Monday, July 8, 2013

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Saturday morning [29 June] was glorious! The sun hadn’t yet broken through the cloud cover, but it was warm and still, a great day to spot wildlife.

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With Daddy on child-minding duties, I headed off to Whiston Woods with the dog.

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After tramping through the woods, and acquiring myself a bracelet of nettle stings, I decided to head up to ‘the point.’

As we skirted a farmer’s field, I was treated to a rainbow of flowers, from the beautiful, bumble-bee-shaped bells of the foxgloves growing along the banks of the brook, to scarlet poppies dotted amongst the creeping and climbing buttercups.

My favourite ox-eye daisies were open everywhere, and there was a further delight as we climbed higher, a couple of patches of cornflowers, the truest bluest flowers you’ll ever see.

2013-06-29 08.26.42As the dog chased pigeons she disturbed numerous flying insects which were gathered quickly by swallows, skimming so close you could feel their wings flapping.

I have often seen pictures of swallows, showing the spots on their tail feathers, but today I could see them clearly for myself. Truly the herald of summer – it’s no wonder these jewels of the air are so well loved.

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On to Stadt Moers

Monday was cooler, with showers, but there was still plenty to see at Stadt Moers Country Park. Straight from the school run, with the perpetual Monday promise of “the health kick starts today,” we took a wander along the main path.

My two-year-old son was the first to hear the raucous arguments between a gang of fledgling great spotted woodpeckers. We tried to count, but they were too fast; darting in and out of the trees one minute, fluttering their wings at a parent bird the next, in the hopes of a juicy grub or two.

The noise was amazing; I’m surprised it didn’t attract predators, but perhaps the fear of a poke from a feisty parent’s bill is deterrent enough. I think ‘peckers’ are now amongst my son’s favourites.

stadt_moers_lake_300Later, as we once again discussed why falling in the lake would not be a great idea, we heard another cacophony. This time our eyes were drawn to a grey heron being mobbed by a large gull.

As it was silhouetted, I couldn’t determine the specific type of gull, and it made me contemplate why a gull would be attacking a heron anyway. Well, one school of thought is that with its long neck tucked in, a heron in flight vaguely resembles a hawk, and so other birds will instinctively drive it away.

As this heron tried to retaliate it, however, it straightened its neck, giving it the appearance of a crane, and the gull continued to mob.

Another reason birds might wish to drive a heron away, is their catholic diet… basically anything they can swallow they will, and a chick would make a delicious snack.

Seeing two huge birds locked in aerial battle was terrific but short-lived, as the gull decided better of it, and allowed the heron get on with its business.

From Water to Woodland

So from the water (without a paddle, I’m glad to report) to the woodland. Fairly quiet here today, but glancing through the bushes I noticed two little brown birds flitting. As the boy and his dog were busy digging a hole with a stick, I took the chance look closer, and realised that this was a pair of whitethroats.

whitethroat_birdThese are a type of warbler, birds no bigger than a sparrow which each year migrate to Africa for the winter and back here for the summer. It’s astonishing to think that these tenacious little birds can fly these distances in a matter of days; no mean feat when you consider they have spent all the spring raising the next generation, and so have only a few weeks to build their reserves before flying to their wintering grounds.

Once their journey has started they are at the mercy of the elements, predators and, of course, us humans, who shoot millions of migrating birds every year.

Although their looks are fairly dowdy, their song is pretty. There was alas no performance for me today though, so tired legs were put back in the pram ready to start our journey home and not a minute too soon –  the heavens opened!

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SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

Photos: SJ Jarman
except Stadt-Moers lake (Prescot Online)
& Whitethroat bird (Ken Billington)

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