Our Patch: Dog Days of Summer

By on Monday, July 15, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanIt’s been a week of finding wildlife in surprising places for me this week.

Having run out of some essentials – bread, bananas, wine – I had to nip out to Cables Retail Park.

As I entered the roundabout I was on a near collision course with a House Martin. Although the houses here are very new, our wildlife is already making a home there. On the front of many of the houses are the upside-down mud-igloo nests of House Martins.

house_martinWhen out and about people may see House Martins (pictured) and swifts, and assume due to their general shape and movement that they are all swallows, but we are lucky enough to have all three in Prescot for the summer, and their aerial acrobatics are well worth a look.

Swifts are the largest and fastest of the three. If you see a brown, swallow-like bird with a torpedo-shaped body and scythe-shaped wings, that screams past – literally, as its call is like a banshee – that’s an aptly named swift. These guys eat, mate and even sleep on the wing, only landing on their stumpy legs for nesting and feeding their young.

Swallows are blue-backed and ruby-throated, with creamy plumage underneath, and they also have the identifiable long forks in their tail. They’re expert hunters and it’s particularly thrilling to watch them flying over the surface of water catching insects and occasionally taking a drink without missing a wingbeat.

Easily confused with swallows at first glance are House Martins; the fork in their tail is shorter, but the surest way to identify them is by their white ‘rump’ band.

orchids_2

There were several active nests when I drove past, so there are lots to see, and as they’re out in the open, they’re easy even for small children to enjoy.

I found orchids!

I had no idea we had orchids in Prescot, although I’ve learnt a lot about them over the week, and I’ve discovered they’re relatively common. I took loads of pictures as I couldn’t believe this beautiful flower was here just a metre off the beaten track. We have Common spotted-orchids, marsh orchids, and hybrids of the two, as well.

They are flamboyant spikes of amethyst and fuchsia, with lance-shaped leaves which seem to point to the flowers and command, “Look at my beauty.”

When I rushed home to tell my family they were somewhat underwhelmed; even as I frantically uploaded my pictures and struggled to identify them, the most animated response was “Oh, can I have a biscuit?”

orchids_3

That said, I still think they are incredibly beautiful, and it feels like I’ve discovered a taste of the exotic right here in my patch.

Spotted: Fantastic Mr Fox

As this spell of beautiful sunshine continues, it gets harder for our dog, whose coat is designed for cooler climes, to manage a morning run.

To that end I have the privilege of getting up before the sun, so we can be out and about before the earth warms. I grumble about feeling tired, but sometimes, being up too early catches our wildlife out, and I get to see something amazing.

Tuesday this week, as we crossed the railway bridge on Cumber lane, I looked down at the rails. There is always something lovely to see, even if just the meadow flowers growing along the embankment, or sparrows, chaffinches and long-tailed tits flitting about in the hedgerows. There was a bit of a commotion – a blackbird chipping its warning call, a magpie clacking its own. I wondered if a cat was about, or they were objecting to our presence, but when I saw the skulking movement my heart skipped a beat.

There, bold as brass, was a red fox. It weaved in and out of the undergrowth never pausing long enough for me to snap it, but I got to watch it for over a minute. I must say, it seemed in fine body condition with a very bushy brush, a real treat for a wildlife watcher.

sparrowhawkMy last and briefest sighting was right in my own (well next door’s) garden. When the birds go quiet outside, it usually means our resident female sparrowhawk has taken flight, or has taken a starling for her lunch. When I had a look on Thursday, she was actually perched on the fence (pictured).

It’s difficult to get a sense of scale, but I have seen this bird take a young magpie, she’s an impressive hunter with a very long tail, distinctively barred and she is massively larger than her mate.

None of what I have written about this week is rare or very difficult to find, but with a little patience and luck we can all enjoy the wonders our fantastic patch has to offer.

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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.

Images: SJ Jarman, except
House Martin (Ken Billington, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

3 Comments

  1. peter frances

    Monday, July 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    sj loved the column, there used to be quite a few orchids growing on the other side of the roundabout by Whittakers garden centre,we have sparrowhawk we I live probably not far from you

  2. Jacquie

    Monday, July 15, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Your writing is very descriptive and I enjoyed your first blog post and now your second.

    Must keep my eyes peeled for birds, as you’ve described.

  3. Elizabeth Bamforth

    Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Each evening, about 10pm small bats can be seen flying over the garden in Driffield Road area. Before Whitakers Nursery was developed a few years ago, when you walked through the Garden Centre in the summer months, you were constantly dive bombed by many Swifts or House Martins. But not these days. We, too, are visited by a Sparrow Hawk, with many a kill on the lawn.

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