I look forward to seeing my first swallow of the year. Usually in the London area they arrive around the 15th April – an astonishing feat of punctuality when you consider the vast distance they travel. Some however get it wrong; I once saw a single bird hawking over Connaught Water in Epping Forest in thick March snow, and wondered if swallows mightn’t be better off if they had evolved the ability to hibernate as people once believed they did, in the mud at the bottom of lakes.
They’ve been around the south of England for over a month now, the screeching daredevil Swifts arriving not long after. In truth it is swifts we see most often in my part of London – exhilarating and rowdy they mob and scatter between the house roofs, impossible to catch on film, for me at least. And to tell the truth I don’t even try, the clue to the pleasure of watching swifts is in the name.
Once I was lucky enough to be doing a bit of work on a local nature reserve when a gigantic mixed flock of swallows and martins swooped in and wheeled and twittered in their thousands over the water – the site comprises grassland and a disused reservoir. It was exhilarating, beautiful and it was my first day there – in my eagerness, I’d turned up early. I thought that every day would start like this. When the ranger arrived he told me I’d been lucky, because I’d actually seen the birds arrival from Africa – it was indeed April 15th.
Last September when camped on the Isles of Scilly, we watched the swallows in their restless gathering as they prepare for the gruelling journey back to Africa. Sitting on a hot deserted beach on the tiny island of Gugh, we watched as twenty or more arrowed back and forth across the sand just a few inches above the ground, effortlessly changing course over stationary and moving obstacles as they hawked for sand flies. I aimed my camera at them as they flashed past and caught nothing but blurs, but then again, sharpness isn’t the point. Frozen perfection would never get across how it felt to watch these mercurial creatures.
To read more Nature Notes, why not visit Rambling Woods – in fact, why not write a Nature Notes post of your own?
It’s been so busy here with orders and commissions, and as a result I know I’ve been neglectful of my blogging friends – taking an age to reply to comments and not keeping up with my blog reading. I wish I could say this slovenly state of affairs will improve but in fact they’ll be taking a nosedive as of tomorrow – because I’m going away for three weeks and will have absolutely no internet access in that time. I can’t deny it, I’m thrilled skinny!
First off R and I will be going to Cornwall, camping near St Just on the Land’s End Peninsula. There are many rare wild flowers and insects to be found in the area as well as some great walking and beaches as good as you’ll find anywhere.
After a couple of days exploring this lovely place we’ll be catching the Scillonian III from Penzance to The Isles of Scilly (pronounced “silly”) where we’ll be camping on the beautiful Island of St Agnes, by far and away my favourite of these enchanted islands. A haunt of rare migratory birds (though we’ll be too early for most of those) and carpeted with wildflowers, St Agnes also has the best snorkelling and rockpooling I’ve ever done in the UK – here’s hoping that the sea will be calm and the water clear! And not least because that ferry journey is never anything less than rough… although it’s worth it for the sightings of dolphins, basking sharks and the heart stopping flight of hunting gannets. You can fly across to the islands, but watching dolphins play on the bow wave of the ship and rare birds gliding alongside it is a lot more fun.
So I’m dragging out the field guides, polishing up the binoculars and getting all nerdy at the thought of all that wildlife. I need to take a notebook too, because there will be a lot to remember. And a lot of shells to collect for jewellery making purposes. Oh, and there will be a lot of cream teas to eat, but that’s another story.
Then it’s back home on the ferry and the sleeper train – arriving in London at 7.00 am – and a day in which to unpack, do laundry and make a fancy dress astronaut costume, repack and then catch another train and another ferry to Bestival on the Isle Of Wight! I have to admit I’m a little bit daunted by that bit, but I’ve never failed to have fun at Bestival so it has got to be worth it.
For the Cornish part of my travels I might be able to Twitter, but as we get further from the mainland on the ferry journey to Scilly the phone signal will start to fade out and I probably won’t have any reception at all once we reach the islands. So it will be a genuine break for me – in a place where technology cannot follow. I can hardly wait.
PS:- It’s possible that if you leave comments after Friday morning they will not show up for a very long time, as I will not have a chance to moderate them. I do love geting comments though, so if you leave some for me anyway it will be a lovely thing for me to come home to.
Where is this tropical seascape with it’s turquoise water and brilliant sky? You may be surprised to learn that it is a mere 30 miles or so off the UK coast, and I took this photo while leaning over the rails of the Scillonian III, the ferry boat which plies it’s trade between Penzance and one of my favourite places in the whole world – the Isles of Scilly. I’ll be there early in September, so you can expect some pictures of my adventures there at some point – but as to the skies we’ll see… I’ll have to trust to the weather!
For more beautiful and fascinating images of the sky around the world, visit Skywatch Friday!
Welcome skywatchers! Ready for a glorious sunset? My first Skywatch Friday was such fun that I knew at last I’d have a chance to share one of my favourite views of all time, and here it is. This was taken from the camp site on St Agnes, a tiny island off the southwest coast of Britain. R and I holiday there most summers, staying in our little tent on a camp site that looks directly out onto the Atlantic, with seals and seabirds as our neighbours and the best sunsets I have ever seen anywhere, bar none. The crashing waves are our lullaby and I would sooner not go at all than swap this little piece of heaven for the comfort of a hotel.
This is the exact view that we get as we are cooking dinner. The ocean is studded with the silhouettes of jagged uninhabited islands, and far away on the horizon is the sweeping light of Bishop’s rock lighthouse. Seabirds call to one another as they fly to their roosts, and eventually, if the air is not too damp, the sky will be crammed with stars.
Look at skies from around the world with Skywatch Friday!
PS: To those of you using Blogger:- Some of you have your comment settings in such a way that I can’t come and say hi and thank you for your visits or tell you how fantastic your latest shot is; I don’t have a blogger or open ID account. I just wanted to say thank you for your kind comments as I don’t want you to think I’m being rude and ignoring you!
I’d hoped to get the Snowdon hike written up and online by now, but life got in the way as usual. Today I’m catching the sleeper train to Penzance, and with luck by this time tomorrow we’ll be riding the ferry out across a choppy Atlantic swell to the Isles of Scilly. This means you won’t be reading about that Snowdon hike any time soon, but it also means I’ll hopefully be returning with some more stories and pictures from one of the British Isles best kept secrets. I’ll be completely offline so I won’t be able to read or comment on anyone else’s blog either – no doubt I’ll have a LOT of reading to catch up on!
I’ve been a lousy host recently – not answering comments and the like, plus I’ve been lucky enough to receive a blog award, my very first at that, which I’ve neglected to share. This shoddy behaviour can’t continue, so maybe a break will see me come back refreshed and a little more… organised? I’ll be back some time around September 10th, so come by and visit then and perhaps by then I’ll have that award up and gleaming on the virtual mantelpiece.
Meanwhile, here are a few pics I’ve taken on previous visits. The sunsets are on St Agnes, my favorite of all the Scillies. The campsite looks out directly onto the Atlantic and the Bishop’s rock lighthouse, and these are the views we see while cooking dinner in the porch of our little tent. That tropical looking sea is actually about 25 miles out from the Cornish coast on a freakishly calm crossing. I doubt we’ll be so lucky tomorrow! Come back to visit me in September; I’ll tell you ALL about it.