From a bird’s point of view, though not from a human’s, our local patch is a watery world. Our nearby town of Ripon has three rivers and one canal. The River Ure passes our house. Gravel extraction is a local industry, and once exhausted, these sites are made over to wetland nature reserves. Geese flock here. Autumn and spring are the times when large V-shaped formations pass noisily over the house, honking and calling. The feature photo shows just two – are they greylags? I don’t know. Herons are here – yesterday we watched as one heaved itself from the river, and, battling against the prevailing wind, launched itself towards a distant stand of trees, where it circled, circled, before finally finding its perch. Black-headed gulls follow the farmers as they plough and harvest. I was going to go on a trip to look at coastal birds too, but no – let’s stay local.
This week’s Lens-Artists Challenge is Taking Flight. What to choose? I thought of hot air balloons I’ve seen. I thought of planes. I thought of bubbles magically released into the sky to delight children and adults everywhere. In the end, two ideas insisted on their fifteen minutes of fame.
The first is the starling murmurations which are such a feature of life here early every spring. Once, one even took place over our garden. We were entranced until we saw the state of our car afterwards. Have you seen one? Murmurations take place towards evening, when thousands of starlings swoop and swirl in the sky above their chosen roosting site for that night. Are they keeping predators at bay? Exchanging information before nightfall? Nobody’s sure. But as suddenly as it begins, the display stops, and the birds descent to their roosts, and it’s over for another night. Here are a few shots – and look at the featured photo too.
Then there was our visit to the Farne Islands, a protected National Trust bird reserve off the coast of Northumbria What an afternoon we had here. We saw puffins, we saw razorbills, guillemots, eider duck, fulmars …. sea birds of so many kinds. But if it’s flight you want to see today, we’ll just stick with the Arctic Terns, with their bright white and grey plumage and orange beaks.
Arctic terns are feisty, aggressive birds, fiercely protective of their young, as these pictures may suggest. They are impressive migrants, flying between 44, 000 – 59, 000 miles a year to reach their European breeding grounds from the Antarctic.
Lens-Artists Challenge #144
What a difference. Exactly a year ago, on 13th April 2020, I spotted my first mallard ducklings of the year, with their unusually attentive father shepherding them around the village pond. This year, night temperatures are below freezing, and there are gusty winds most days. Despite the sunshine, I think we’ll have to wait a little longer to see this year’s first brood. Let’s plunder the archives for some memories.
I was one of those ignorant types who thought ‘gull’ and ‘seagull’ were interchangeable terms. In fact ‘seagull’ is a fairly meaningless word, though often used to describe herring gulls. But not, definitely not black headed gulls. These birds we so commonly see round here, some fifty miles from the sea, are quite at home here in the fields. They’re sociable: they’re quarrelsome: they’re noisy. And they’re happiest snatching a meal when tractors are out and about, sowing seeds or harvesting and generally making free food available. As you can see. These scenes are from exactly this time last year, from a farmer’s field just up the road.
I thought a ditty, a bit of doggerel was called for, helped along by memories of a Harvest Festival hymn.
They plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land. Black-headed gulls will follow - rapacious thieving band! ‘All good gifts around us come from the farmers’ fields We’ll scoff the lot, not care a jot and decimate your yields.’ We’ve had some snow in winter. The gulls have had it rough. Now seeds and rain and sunshine mean life’s no longer tough. ‘All good gifts around us come from the farmers’ fields. We’ll scoff the lot, not care a jot and decimate your yields.’ Six Word Saturday
I am an occasional contributor to the Bird Weekly Photo Challenge: and this week’s appealed. Birds that eat fish as their primary diet. Well, I have images of gannets, gulls and guillemots. I have puffins, though not a single photo features one with a beak crammed with sand eels.
But the fish-eater I love the most is the bird I so often see snaffling goldfish from our landlord’s pond: or as I walk the banks of our neighbourhood River Ure : the one I spot as I hang over the sides of bridges and boats in Spain: the one fishing in among the townhouses of Dordrecht, the Netherlands: the one in my featured photo who was flying down the canal-side in Busan South Korea. It’s the heron, the grey heron.
Click on any image to see it full size
It’s not quite the right time of year for birds en masse to gather on a wire. That was last September, when birds of various kinds gathered on the telegraph wires near our house to plan their trip, perhaps to Africa, in complete defiance of current travel restrictions Here they are, in my featured photo.
And here are a few more. They’re not emigrating. I showed the stonechat quite recently, but I like him, so here he is again, looking splendid in his best spring-time feathers.
Click on any image to view it full size.
The cormorant reminds me of a poem I learnt as a child, and which I will still recite at the least provocation:
The Common Cormorant
The Common Cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.Christopher Isherwood
All along the backwater, Through the rushes tall, Ducks are a-dabbling, Up tails all! Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows
These are not the best pictures of shelducks that you’ll ever see, but there’s a limit to what zooming can do. I’ll turn to Wikimedia Commons to help me out.
I seem to have quite a supply of brown birds in my archive, which up until now, I haven’t shared. Here goes:
The rest aren’t square. But they are brown, so Jude can have them for her Life in Colour Challenge.
Click on any image to see it in it entirety, full size, and without its being obliterated by captions.
P.S. My mystery bird has now been identified by the wonderful Vogelsnipser, whose blog should be on the list of anyone who enjoys birds. His pictures are fantastic. Here’s what he says: ‘The bird on your photo is a stonechat (saxicola torquatus). males in early-year splendor dress.’