Our Patch: Where Have All the Swallows Gone?

By on Tuesday, September 17, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanWe returned from a fabulous (and very sandy) beach holiday on the LLeynPeninsula in mid Wales at the end of August.

Over the last few days there, I noticed Swallows gathering on the telephone and power lines, and was thinking it would make a great photo to accompany an ‘Our Patch’ submission. swallowsOn my return to Prescot however I was dismayed to note that they already seemed to have left here.

The Swifts, who loudly hail their own arrival, depart much earlier and don’t congregate in the same numbers, so disappear almost unnoticed. The swallows – fat from all the insects they’ve gathered– are seen in great numbers, heralding not only their own imminent leaving, but for us, the end of the school summer holidays, too.

Although it is still mild, and the evenings are fairly light until around 8.30, there are lots of other signs that summer is rapidly leaving us. I didn’t hear a Chiffchaff or Sedge Warbler out walking today, nor spy a single butterfly. There are bees dead and dying in almost every pocket of grass, and whilst I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m grateful not to have seen a wasp since we got home.

The trees and plants whose blossom, catkins and flowers filled our spring and early summer with a host of colours have given way to seeds and berries, providing the start of the season of plenty for birds and mammals before the harsh fingers of winter take their grasp.

Taking advantage of the Thistledown are large flocks of Goldfinches. These common, garrulous birds are a gem with their crimson faces and gold wing flashes. They are familiar garden birds, but to my frustration, they rarely visit our feeders, preferring to help themselves to the seeds of native plants allowed to grow in the corners of the garden instead.

We have an Elderberry bush in the front garden and every afternoon it almost bows to the ground with the weight of the starlings, who visit for a few minutes, demolishing all the ripe berries. In autumn last year, just for a minute or two, a male Blackcap visited the same bush and swallowed several berries, presumably to fuel his journey to his wintering ground. It’s terrific that our wildlife can be so adaptive and opportunistic; insectivores taking advantage of some sugary fruit before a long flight, the juveniles of seed eaters’ enjoying an insect-heavy diet in their early days.

The seed heads on all of the long grasses are dried and brown now, rustling in the breeze and providing excellent camouflage for the many species of micro-moths. Seemingly all creams and browns, they are practically indistinguishable from each other (I really have tried); they are invisible until disturbed by curious legs, when they weakly flutter to a better hiding spot, revealing themselves just for a moment.

There seem to be Crane Flies (daddy-long-legs) everywhere at the moment, and whilst they can be annoying to us (particularly in the evening when they are attracted to our lights), they are a great source of food to many creatures.spiderWe particularly like to find a spot where a garden spider has set up a web and watch them grow almost visibly on their diet of big juicy flies.

I confess to finding amusement in the late summer and early autumn reading the Facebook statuses of all my arachnophobe friends and family – the number of tarantulas who seem to make their way into the bathtubs and living rooms of Prescotians is mind-boggling.

These great big male house spiders are simply looking for a little romance, so cut them a break, scoop them up in a glass and put them outside – after all, the chances are that the night they spend with a lady spider will be their last!

Photo (top): Swallows – Conor Lawless


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.


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