I wrote about these slow flying, heavy beetles a few days ago.
This evening, I was putting clean sheets on the bed when the deep buzzing of a May Bug caught my attention. I quickly cupped it into a jar, as shown, before taking it out to the back garden for release by the goat’s willow.
The photograph is the view from the tail. It shows the egg laying protuberance of a female.
On the head the two feathered antennae, like grotesque false eye-lashes, are visible.
With wings folded the Cockchafer is the size of a man’s thumb; with wings buzzing, it looks like a blurred flying ball. I will sleep more easily without this specimen crawling around my bed.
Of course, as luck would have it, the day I decide to rest from writing about the local wildlife and environment, when I am out on an evening cycle ride in rapidly-failing light, I spot a herd of red deer. They are happily rooting around in a harrowed field. They have dared to amble right up to the edge of the local market town. They stand in the last field before the parish sports field.
The antlers of the dominant male are obvious, even in the heavy shadows stretching from trees lining the far side of the field. There is also a smaller male in the group whose immature antlers are just visible. The rest of the herd contains at least three adult hinds.
As is their way, the deer gather in the centre of clearings and open spaces for safety. Such a position allows them to see, hear and smell what is approaching and gives them plenty of options for a safe exit. Aware of me stopping to watch from the roadside hedge, several of the deer look up and the large male moves nervously around the herd, before they set off in a higgledy line towards the darkening wood. One of the younger does was grazing by the top edge of the field before I arrived, but she silently and quickly re-joins the herd as soon as the other animals become twitchy.
The adult stag leads the unhurried retreat, although I sense that they are on a knife-edge, ready to run for cover at the slightest excuse. The dryness of the ground is noticeable from the dust that these nine big beasts kick up as they dissolve into the gloaming.
At the Salthouse church of St Nicholas a nest of blue tits has been established, despite the extensive repair work to the external flint and lime mortar. The parent birds have found food in a nearby garden and are shuttling to and fro to top up their hatchlings. As one bird leaves and crosses the west face of the church, the other is already flying towards the gap in the stone work with more food.
The birds have done well to find this site for their home. The gap in the wall is just the right size for them to squeeze in, is about six metres up the face of the building and is sheltered from the wind off the sea.
This is a busy time. A blackbird scurries across the dusty street. Wrens are darting into gaps in hedgerows. House martins have returned to the mud bowls under the eaves they have been visiting for generations at a nearby cottage. In the wild plum tree there is a commotion of chirping from a nest full of small birds chiding the adults to bring, “More! More! More!”
I have reached a point where I am unable to deliver, “More! More! More!” of this series.
I am very fortunate to be living in these strange times in such a beautiful place. Knowing that I would be looking out for something to write about here each day, has made my daily exercise more than just a duty of self-care. It has been a blessing to be able to immerse myself in these surroundings.
With the gradual loosening of restrictions on lockdowns around the world, we are now at a time when we must reconnect and find ways of recovering and re-structure our lives together. What I have seen here emphasises to me the importance of doing this in ways that allow the natural world to thrive alongside us. Our good health, in all aspects, depends on everyone working together to ensure this is so.
I will continue posting bits and pieces about wildlife and my natural surroundings while I continue on my travels.
Thank you all for the “Likes” and comments you have sent in about these 59 posts. It has been a pleasure to hear from you.
The cowslips have finally given up the ghost. Their yellow petals have faded, vibrancy lost, they wilt. Job done.
In the woodland at the foot of the heath, on the slope of the hill, bracken ferns are beginning to unfurl. Sprouting strong from below the past year’s brown litter, the firm green shoots, follow a curled fist of new leaf, punching upward.
The broad leaves of foxgloves are also pushing through now among the thinly distributed blue bells. A foxglove’s leaf is soft and its tip curls ground-wards because the midrib is barely strong enough to hold the emerging weight. It will be a few days yet before the fox glove shoots emerge and flower from the centre of the plant.
On the last patch of rough ground before the shore, a grasshopper warbler sits on the apex of looped bramble. Its churring might pass for that of a cicada in Spain, or Greece. A small brown bird with little remarkable about it, except its calling. In the English countryside there is nothing quite like it. As with all small, brown birds it is far easier to hear them than to see them; so it is a treat to see this Little Brown Job (“LBJ”) on song and so easily identifiable.
Further along, sat on the crown of a small bush, is a linnet, with its double patch of pale red across its breast. It basks in the last of the sunshine, without making any noticeable noise.
I pace out the width of the beach, from the low water-line to the peak of the shingle. It is more than 75 paces. I notice a small starfish, its five legs closing up from dehydration, just over 30 paces from the low tide line. It will have been there since the tide began to retreat about seven hours ago, but has yet to be gathered up by a gull, or passing crow.
A crab shell, orange and brown on the outer surface is nearby. It is brilliant white within. I pick it up and although it measures the breadth of my right hand, it weighs just a few grammes. Dried out in the sun and air, the discarded shell is friable. I drop it and watch how easily shards break from the once hard carapace when it hits the stones.
From the arête of shingle bank, I look inland and my eye is caught by the white shadow of a barn owl swinging back and forward over the pasture. When a barn owl turns, it can seem to do so within its own length. It pivots on the broad inner wing of the arc and loops itself quickly into a new direction.
I watch this ghostly hunter sink toward the grass, then rise again, before it suddenly drops deep into the field. It is out of view for a few moments before it reappears. Like the kestrel, the other day near Wiverton, the sign of a successful catch, is the flat, fast, straight flight across the chase to a more sheltered spot, to somewhere captured prey can be dealt with uninterrupted.
By the main road a broad drain runs beside a lay-by which is the preferred sales pitch of an ice-cream van in summer. On the still water a family of seven mute swans trail along, disturbed by human presence. The father makes a threatening sally towards the roadside where I am walking, the mother leads away the train of ugly ducklings, (who are really very cute, grey, fluffy bundles) along the far side of the water. One of the five cygnets is distracted by some random speck floating nearby, before it realises it has to hurry up to rejoin the end of the flotilla speeding behind the imperious mother.
Where the water broadens into a duck pond, a couple of mallards are beak-down, tail-up. exploring the murky water, creating distinct circles of ripples by their dabbling.
The sunset is spectacular. The flat sea mirrors the deepening blue of the sky. The north-west horizon is marked by a strip of deep orange, under-scored by the dark strip of a fog bank. Due north the clarity of the air gives perfect sight of the 88 wind turbines churning elegantly in the breeze.
Along the beach fishermen have made camp. Their long lines, already cast, loop languidly out into the water.
When this particular set of evening colours is displayed there is the promise of a cold night, but the night sky will be spectacular, with the third-quarter moon and the stars for decoration.
In the garden a hole in the ground, sealed to hold enough water to form a small pond, now has two water iris plants and some marsh marigolds in an earthenware flowerpot. Some old bricks set in the water keep the lip of the pot above the surface. Some large stones give some character in and around the pond, that measures about 18 inches in diameter.
It is already home to two common European frogs, one small male and a much larger female. Will any frogspawn be laid, or is the pond too small?
The rats have been less obvious in the garden since all the feeders have been redistributed. A new metal, red poppy has been planted. The idea is to provide a feeding tray for small birds that can be easily seen from the kitchen, without it being accessible to rats. Advice has been taken and petroleum jelly can be used to grease any poles that the rodents might wish to explore.
The ornamental poppy has a substantial lip, so unless the rats bring rope and tackle, it should be a safe spot to leave some nibbles. Within minutes of being stuck in the ground and seed placed in the red “flower” a slender robin arrives and tucks in.
On my cycle ride this morning I saw a pair of black caps, a pied wagtail singing from a telephone cable, blue tits and gold finches. Gold finches are everywhere I have travelled around England these past five years. Either they are thriving, or I have my own personal flock of small, tuneful creatures.
A pair of swifts led the way for a while along the coast road. I nearly lost my balance on the bend while following their swooping and dipping. As “Lockdown” regulations change there is a need to be more cautious on the roads. There is noticeably more traffic this week already.
Over the ancient port up the road, a yellow Coastguard helicopter circles, making an obvious movement, tilting side on toward two people enjoying a rare conversation in the street. This manoeuvre is similar to that made by police helicopters when filming groups of football fans at high category matches. The two people move another foot further apart, uneasy at being observed so obviously.
A Saab cabriolet passes me with its roof down. The number plate ends “BLX” I am mildly amused. Perhaps the driver had paid for his car from a lottery win and had been able to stick his job? Or was his number plate an expression of frustration at the over-whelming scale of the challenges we collectively face at this time?
The health minister advises that “social hugs may be possible in the Autumn.” That is something to look forward to for the more tactile members of England’s population, although for others it will be a time to retreat deeper into isolation, in case it is taken as an instruction.
Back on the beach. The tide is on the way out. Two of the three tiers of shingle are visible. From the water line to the top of the shingle is a climb of about ten metres. The depth of the beach this evening is maybe fifty metres from the top to the foaming wash. The beach has three distinct shelves.
Despite this being a receding tide, the north wind drags heavy, breaking rollers to the shore. I walk along on the ridge on the second shelf. Pebbles spill seaward under my tread if I get too close to the shelf edge. The waves surge up to the raised line of rounded stones, occasionally pouring over the step.
The wind is unrelenting. It is cold, about five degrees centigrade.
At Great Eye the only evidence of sand martins is the line of nesting burrows they have excavated over the years on their summer visits. The lie of the land is such that their colony directly faces the North Sea. The burrows can be up to metre in length and are always several metres up a sheer face, offering security from non-flying predators. I wonder how they are dealing with this cold wind off the water.
Even the sand martins struggle to keep a footing when waiting outside a nest hole for access. One of the returning adults may fly straight into the hole, but I have seen them land just underneath the entrance and then flip up before disappearing into the cliffside. When another adult, or two, arrives at the nest site they have to cling to the sandy bank and wait to enter. Sometimes they just wait until the original returnee comes out and they fly off together. As with the greylag geese and their goslings, I notice that some nests have more than a pair attending. Have the females arranged additional home help? Are the males competing to support the young, not certain of paternity?
When I first closely watched these birds yesterday, I noted that the colony’s adults would all arrive over the top of the sandbank together in a loose flock. There was then a lot of activity and chatter around the sandbank for several minutes, before the flock would gather again and disappear over the grassy top to seek more food. Few if any adults remained on duty.
Today I find them at their feeding site. A small, shallow lake that is set well back from the shingle bank. The sand martins are struggling to maintain balance in the forceful breeze. Any gliding they do is for short periods and unstable. Adjustments to catch midges and mosquitos have to be matched by adjustments to keep steady flight. They stay close to the water’s surface and rarely fly above the height of the hedge that offers something of a wind-shield. The journey back to the sandbank at Great Eye will be heavy work.
As I make a way to the village, a solitary avocet is being knocked around by the gusts. Its long legs do not look strong enough to carry the black and white body. The bird is leaning into the wind to remain as upright as possible. When the wind strengthens it wobbles, unsteady on its pins; even crueller is when a gust blows by and loses strength suddenly, causing the bird to nearly fall onto to its chest. It is moving as if punch-drunk. The avocet is determined to scour the pond for food despite the blustery conditions. Its upward-curved beak, as fine as its spindly legs, is a delicate piece of engineering that is quite strong enough for the work required.
Today I see only one hare grazing, huddled in the lee of a hedgerow. The mute swan sits tight on its huge nest in the reed bed along the drain, hugging its clutch of pale green eggs. Rooks are dispersed evenly across the marsh plugging away at the turf.
A flight of four mallards, (three drakes accompanying, (or chasing) a lone duck), somehow manage to maintain a fixed display formation, despite the unfavourable flying conditions.