The birds were twittering, and so am I

When the summer eventually arrived this year it arrived with a bang and three months of glorious sunshine ensued which finally came to an end last weekend (but I’m still hoping we have an Indian summer). In early to mid June I spent a lot of time catching up with the local migrants, and all the other wild creatures around the village. I saw more swifts, swallows and house martins over Histon than I’ve ever seen and migrant numbers seemed healthy. This maybe because I was out and about and able to see them, or, hopefully, because more of them arrived and bred successfully this year.

The pictures here were taken one weekend in early June when I ventured across the farmland to the north of my village. Because of the wet spring followed by proper sunshine the verges, hedgerows and meadows were verdant and laden with fruit and flowers.

Cow parsley in the meadow against a summer sky

Many of my walks in these fields included lots of sightings of brown hare. I see occasional hares here so it’s no surprise, but what was surprising this year was the sheer numbers.

Brown hares (Lepus europaeus) – males chasing off rivals for the attentions of the ladies

There are four hares in shot here but there were more in the field to the left and more in the same field to the right. It wasn’t unusual to see ten or more on one of these excursions; they also seemed to be enjoying the hot summer. Fingers crossed they had a successful breeding season too.

One of the migrants I’ve been hoping to see for the last three years, and which hadn’t put in an appearance was the yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava, Dansk: gul vipstjert). These little birds are spectacular and completely unmistakeable, and despite being a species of least concern in mainland Europe it is red listed here with only 15000 territories recorded in the UK in 2009.

Yellow wagtail perched on an old farm machine

This handsome chap was my only sighting of a yellow wagtail this year. They are one of those amazing small creatures, like the swallow, which spend the summer here in the UK but overwinter in South Africa. When they’re here they tend to frequent fields with livestock where they feed on the accompanying insects. Whilst there are no adjacent cattle or sheep here there is an enormous pile of manure which also attracts clouds of insects. I’ve seen wagtails here before but not for a several years, so it was good to see one again.

Cock linnet (Carduelis cannabina, Dansk: tornirisk)

And another red listed bird, which I’ve also posted about recently, is the linnet. Unlike the yellow wagtail, despite their red listing, I see linnet in the fields every year, and the occasional flock of several hundred in the winter. They get their specific name from their like of cannabis. Not for it’s pharmaceutical properties (at least as far as I’m aware) but because in the old days when hemp was grown to make rope they fed on the seeds.

The wildlife on this weekend was abundant with a few rarities, so very high quality, but from a photographic point of view it was rather less auspicious. But I hope this skylark (Alauda arvensis, Dansk: sanglærke) makes up for that:

Skylark singing in the sky above my head

Skylark are not easy to capture because they’re ususally too high in the sky, or  moving too fast, or in a sky which is just too bright for good photography. But on this occasion the lark was very accomodating and there is just enough light to give the plumage a diaphanous quality which I really like, without overexposing it. The skylark is also red listed due to collapse in its numbers as a result of intensive arable agriculture, but there is a healthy population of them round here and there are often too many to count on a warm sunny morning!

By the way, I’ve just linked my blog to a Twitter account which you can have a look at here: @Thenaturephile. There’s not much in it yet as I only set it up at the weekend, but if you fancy taking a look please let me know what you think.

11 responses to “The birds were twittering, and so am I

  1. So interesting to see such different “local” birds in your area. I’ve never birded in the UK or Europe, so have never seen any of these species.

    • Hello Sue, I’m pleased you like the British birds. The UK is a good place because it is on migration routes and we have our own ‘resident’ migrants coming from Africa, Siberia, the Arctic, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, so our birdlife is constantly changing. I believe we have 268 species listed as resident by the RSPB, and I don’t know how many other non-residents visit our shores. I’ve managed to photograph around 110 of them so far, so still a long way to go to see all of them!

  2. Wonderful shots taken by you!

  3. Beautiful photograph of the Skylark, Finn. I know how difficult that shot must have been.

    • Thanks Meanderer. On this occasion it wasn’t as difficult as it can be. The lark rose off the ground just a few feet away from me and rose quite slowly, so I had probably 10-20s before it was too high.

  4. We headed down to check out (nose about at) the lovely covered seating that a builder was making at the Auld Kirk Church next door and as we were sitting in the frigid sunshine with the dogs we noticed sparrows at the church! Looks like they are nesting, not all dead like we thought :). Must be going to be a reasonable spring, our weather reporters suck at telling the weather but my bet is on the sparrows knowing what is what ;). Loved this post. Full of birds and life and green. Hope your winter goes easy on you this year. I don’t use twitter…but I can see the appeal to a twitcher ;)

  5. Your photo of the skylark is amazing! I struggle to see them even when I can hear them; to photograph one like that is a real achievement. I had no idea there was such a thing as a yellow wagtail. I love the wee black and white ones, which are common in my part of the world, but I would dearly love to see a yellow one now that I know they exist. I also see hares fairly often but usually one at a time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than two, or possibly three, in one place. I think you can eat still kill and eat them in England, is that right? It’s illegal up here, I believe. I love to see their long ears and powerful hind legs, they remind me of very small kangaroos.

    • I believe it is illegal to kill hares, hare coursing wsa banned under the Hunting Act 2004, but until that there was a hare coursing event every year in Lancashire called the Waterloo Cup. Thankfully that’s now faded into history.

      Yellow wagtails are gorgeous. When you see one perched on top of a hedge illuminated by the sun the colour is absolutely vibrant. There are very few in your neck of the woods so you would be lucky to see one there, but when you’re further south have a look around livestock paddocks. They’re easy to spot if they’re there.

  6. Early June–ah, yes! I remember it well… It’s rather sobering (I almost wrote “frightening,” but it’s not that far yet) how rapidly the seasons progress nowadays. It helps very much to make the best of them in the time that we have. I love your shot of the skylark.

    • Seems like a long time ago now. I’m pleased you like the skylark, I’ve spent lots of time trying to photograph them and they’re normally a tiny speck against a vast expanse of sky, but this one behaved!

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