A few months ago, in The Fall and Rise of Nature, I posted pics of an Indian Chestnut tree that had just fallen in our local woods, reflecting on the richness of life that generates from dead wood and the importance of leaving Nature to do her own thing with fallen trees.
This week I witnessed evidence of that regeneration as several blue tits flitted about for ages on the fractured trunk of that Indian Chestnut, poking about in the arboreal sinews. I thought at first they were looking for gaps to nest in, but soon concluded they were more likely seeking out tasty invertebrates to feast on.
As well as the blue tits, a single wren skulked about (as wrens tend to do) at the base of the tree.
Maybe the slow, sunny transition from midwinter towards early Spring had triggered the release of insects from hibernation.
Whatever the case, this little buzz of bird life around the dead tree was a delight to behold and meditate on.
Sometimes, when we fall, we fall towards – rather than from – grace.
(Apologies for the slightly poor photos – best I could do!)
I was fascinated by this unusual looking cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) diving in a small pond in Alexandra Park, Hastings, yesterday. I even saw it come up with a small fish and gulp down the silver slither in a flash – too fast for me to get a photo of that brief moment unfortunately.
With its striking white head and neck, I assumed it was a young bird, but after a bit of an internet search, it turns out this is a cormorant in breeding plumage.
Of further interest (I knew nothing about cormorants before, even though we see a lot of them here in Hastings), to find one in breeding plumage this early in the year, and in the south-east, and with this much white, it was almost certainly the somewhat smaller, ‘continental’ subspecies sinensis.
I learned that colonies in the south-east, particularly inland colonies nesting in trees (which we see regularly in this area), usually contain a mix of sinensis and carbo and no doubt mixed individuals with parents of both subspecies.
When seen head-on, this handsome bird’s face reminds me of an emu!
Isn’t it incredible how vibrant and colourful many animals become to attract a mate? I think, if I were another cormorant, I’d definitely take a look at this gorgeous beast and go “Phwoar!”
I like my early morning dog-walks before work. The fresh air, the quiet, the solitude. The connection with nature in our local woods. The opportunity to reflect and pray.
And yet even the contemplative and spiritual aspects of the morning walk tend to be functional.
They serve as tools – resources to enable me to face the challenges of a demanding job, rather than pleasures in and of themselves. I keep an eye on my watch, aware of my limited time before the start of the working day.
But when Saturday comes (to quote an Undertones classic)….
It’s a different matter. I do the same thing, but differently.
Prayer and meditation are more mindful, less focussed, more open.
The colours around me are brighter. The fresh air feels fresher. Everything’s slowed down.
Saturday walks are a bit later. Nature is a bit more awake. As am I.
The sense of connection with Nature and with God feels – maybe not stronger, but clearer.
I take my time. I take my camera. I notice more, and enjoy some relaxed and relaxing photography.
Good robin photos are ten a penny on t’internet. But no harm in adding a few more.
I took these – with delight – yesterday, on Saturday morning…
This summer’s nature sightings in the UK have been marked by a myriad of marvellous migrants, swept across our shores by successive heatwaves.
One of the most obvious has been the Hummingbird Hawkmoth. A friend who doesn’t follow butterfly & moth groups tells me that even her Facebook feed was awash with photos of these myth-like moths.
I imagine this has been a record year for them here. I’d never seen more than one at a time in the UK until this year, but this summer we regularly had 2 or 3 on the buddleia that invitingly overhangs our garden from next door.
I’ve seen more photos of Clouded Yellows this summer than ever before. Their bright, warm colouring seems to reflect the sunshine of their homelands in Southern Europe and North Africa. My own attempts at photographing them have been, as usual, not that successful – they never seem to stop for long. This is my best effort this year…
But my butterfly – and migrant – highlight of the summer (and a first for me) was the Long-tailed Blue I had the pleasure of discovering at Birling Gap on 29th August.
Again, if the sightings I’ve read about are anything to go by, I suspect this has been a record year for this tiny butterfly that somehow journeys all the way from the Mediterranean to Southern Britain. Females, after mating, make the epic flight back to the Med to lay their eggs there.
A more familiar sight to most people is that of swallows….
I had the privilege of watching this large flock swooping over a waterway in Combe Valley near us in East Sussex, on 12th September, presumably feeding up on insects before their return flight South.
Likewise, terns are a staple part of the British seaside scene and yet always such a joy to watch, set apart from the more ubiquitous gulls by their angular wings plummeting in descent after small fish.
Like the swallows, these juvenile Sandwich terns, photographed on 20th Sept, were no doubt filling up before returning southwards.
Migration is, to me, a mystery and a miracle. There are no doubt scientists for whom it is less of a mystery but, I hope and suspect, still a wonder. After all, our understanding of the miracle of migration is still in its infancy, and these birds and butterflies use ‘superpowers’ way outside of the five senses we’re familiar with.
Birds, it is thought, navigate by ‘seeing’ the earth’s magnetic field. A chemical in the eye called cryptochrome, that is sensitive to magnetism, could be key to this theory, according to a recent study.
Other recent research suggests that one of the creatures most famous for its mammoth journeys – the Painted Lady butterfly – might be using a solar compass in the club-ends of its antennae to steer its way.
Like the Long-tailed Blue, Painted Ladies also return to the Continent (often at a height of 500 metres above ground) – a phenomenon only discovered during their bonanza summer of 2009.
There is so much yet to discover about the magic of migration.
How birds, butterflies and other animals, some tiny, succeed in covering such phenomenal distances.
How they find their way to suitable destinations.
And, in many cases, successfully navigate back to where they hatched (a process known as philopatry).
And we – when we’ve been moving and shaking and doing our thing in the world – do we also instinctively know how to return to our centre?
To our place of stillness, where our identity needs no proving or defending?
To Presence, where we can drink of the river of wisdom and resilience, before again facing a manic world?
“Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
From Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
(Photos all mine, but no copyright. Feel free to use / share, with my blessing!)
“To everything, turn, turn, turn There is a season, turn, turn, turn”
This peace-seeking, biblical song by the Byrds was released exactly a week before I was born. Which feels nicely, vaguely, auspicious.
Another byrd, the turnstone (Arenaria interpres, a type of sandpiper) – is a joy to watch, as it turns over pebbles, turns over shells, turns over stones, along rocky and shingly shores, searching for prey – even lifting rocks as big as its own body.
Here in Hastings & St Leonards, turnstones are a common, slightly comical sight, continually blustering along our promenades and beaches throughout the year.
These photos were taken on Bulverhythe beach in West St Leonards at dusk in midwinter. Hence the slightly drab appearance here, in their winter plumage. In breeding season, turnstones are more colourful, their wings mottled with chestnut-orange shades.
My wife and I have often wondered where they nest. But perhaps they don’t nest here. Apparently turnstones are migrants to the UK but are seen all year round as different populations arrive throughout the seasons.
For the turnstone, there is always a season to turn, turn, turn.
And for those who enjoy and contemplate the marvels of nature, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”
PS: Don’t forget to check out my Home page and ‘About’ page, for more Spirit of Nature stuff.
The other day, driving through Norman’s Bay along picturesque Pevensey Levels, stuck the whole way behind a car going at 25mph, I was getting increasingly frustrated.
I mean, I know the road’s a bit curvy, but come on!
But then…as I rounded a bend, there flying almost towards me was the first barn owl I’ve seen for I don’t know how many years – and probably the best view I’ve ever had of one.
If I’d been driving at my usual speed, I would have reached that point in the road earlier and wouldn’t have seen the owl.
A reminder to me from the One that “God causes all things to work together for good” as the Bible puts it (and no doubt similarly in other traditions), and if we will only go with the flow of situations that are challenging or even painful, rather than resist, we will see the good things that are designed to flow out of them.
A reminder of the benefits of slowing down, whether by choice or enforced.
Although they’re now a thriving garden bird (6th most common in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch survey), we’ve rarely seen goldfinches in our garden over the years.
So it was sheer delight, a couple of weeks ago, to see a flock of about twenty pass through. Here are a few of them on our neighbours’ tree against a sky that really was that colour (no filters)! A gorgeous sight, even if I was slightly disappointed they didn’t come to our feeders that day.
Thankfully, the very next day a number of them properly stopped by in our garden…
After that, I did what any nature-lover would do: I went straight out and bought some nyjer seed, of course, in an attempt to keep them coming back.
The nyjer seed is now in situ in the garden and we’re having (still sporadic but) more frequent visits from these striking birds. There were two goldfinches at our feeders this morning. As I rushed to get my camera (too late, because they’re still not stopping long), my young daughter’s response was “Oh my gosh, they’re so pretty!”
Hopefully, as these flighty finches become more accustomed to our garden, there’ll be more and better photos to come.