How beautiful is night!
A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
No mist obscures; nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain,
Breaks the serene of heaven:
In full-orbed glory, yonder moon divine
Rolls through the dark blue depths…
A dramatic supermoon accompanied this year’s Perseid meteor shower, one of the most anticipated events on the sky watcher’s calendar. Supermoon occurred when the full moon coincided with its closest point to Earth. Two days before the streaking balls of fire reached their peak, the moon reached the point in its orbit that was closest to the Earth, known as ‘perigee’. This meant that it was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons during the year. I was wrapped up warm in the cold night but the moon was so bright that I’d black spots everytime I looked up in the sky. After an hour, all I could see was the very beautiful, bright shining moon and watching bats hunting low.
We knew when the bats were out and about because the moths were dashing into the house to escape. They were everywhere that we have to make sure that we weren’t stepping or sitting on them. They were always welcome to use the house as a sanctuary as long as they don’t mind us sticking our lens in front of them. With their striking colours and dramatic patterns, the beautiful butterflies were welcome visitors in any garden. Mentioning moths to most people and they’ll be clutching their cashmeres, sticking grease-bands around their fruit trees, and casting a worried glance towards the oak trees at the bottom of their garden. The moth continued to be seen as a dowdy cousin at best, a downright ugly sister at worst. But not to us. Moths were shy creatures, preferring to camouflage themselves from predators with great style and wit, and many were creatures of the night. They were delicate, beautiful and helpful visitors to our gardens. What’s more, they were, too, now under threat. Besides their pollinating properties, moths were crucial to the garden ecosystem in another way, they were a favourite snack of many other wildlife. Their presence was a chance for us to meet these secretive creatures face to face and as you can see, they were utterly gorgeous. They were the jewels of the night.
Apart from photographing those in the house, we were always out in the garden at about 9 pm every night. There were hundreds feeding on the thistles, Buddleias and the berries. A few which were so intoxicated from the juices, that they didn’t bother flying away. We also had the opportunity to witness a few pairs mating. Aah… When love was in the air, the female secreted a pheromone to signal that she was ready to make little moths. An interested male will approach and ‘sing’ her a courtship song composed of a series of ultrasonic pulses. Who says romance was dead. we have a small garden, yet it was amazing to see how many moths we encountered. An elephant moth was on my wish list but so far, we haven’t seen any, yet.
There’s a kind of white moth, I don’t know
what kind, that glimmers
in the forest, just
as the pink mocassin flowers
~The moths by Mary Oliver~
Earlier in the week, after the sunny and dry spell, the UK was battered from the last blast of Hurricane Bertha. The hurricane formed in the warm waters of the Caribbean, lashed the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands with winds up to 90 mph. Although downgraded to an ‘Atlantic storm’, the tropical storm brought chaos to the south coast and the Midlands was in its death throes. Weather warnings was in place as the storm loomed over the Atlantic. The tail-end of the storm resulted in fierce winds, heavy rains and flooding. The Met Office had issued a severe yellow warning which indicated that “the public should be aware of the risk of flooding due to heavy rain as well as strong winds and large waves, particularly on the coast of southern England and areas bordering the northern Irish sea”.
“The dry seasons in life do not last
The rains will come again”
~Sarah Ban Breathnach~
Temperatures too plunged as the weather system brought down cold air from Scandinavia in its trail. Summer was brought to an abrupt end with chilly winds pushing the mercury close to freezing. The remnants of the Atlantic storm were still circling close to the UK pulling bitter air in from the north. Coasts in the north were also battered by 50 mph gale force winds while the Midlands faced increasingly blustery conditions. I wore a thick coat with gloves and a hat while waiting for the bus in the morning. Autumn seemed to be in a hurry to arrive. And in the garden, after the rain storms, these Dollar Princess fuchsia were bathed in droplets.
These late arrivals to the summer ball were a delight with their double flowers, cerise-crimson recurving sepals and purple petals. They were the only plant that managed to survive when the garden was left to its own device when I was ill. During the hot summer, the plants had not been watered and dead-headed. It was quite disheartening to see the weeds and grasses competing among the bolted rockets and mizumas. But then, things always slow down when August hits. The roses were looking a bit weary but at least the sunflowers were slowly perking up.
We also made another trip to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. It was a lovely drive down until we hit the miles after miles of road-works. I was hoping to come across bikers on their way to the Bulldog Bash festival at Long Marston but not today. Instead, we came across tractors hauling loads of hay. We arrived to a very busy reserve and had to park at the overflow car-park. Thankfully, this time our membership cards went through the machine. As we were walking towards the hides, the familiar thunderous roar whizzed above our heads. Were the Red Arrows stalking us, again??? I don’t mind.They can follow us on our adventures at any time.
It was practically empty at Rushy Hide. All the eggs had hatched and the chicks had fledged. The bushes on the islands were looking bare because they had been trimmed down. We saw a few of the elegant black and white Avocets feeding in the lake. Their long- upturned bills sweeping sideways, catching invertebrates through the slightly opened curved part. A Pied wagtail flew in with their looping flight before descending into a glide. We watched it indulged in aerial fly-catching and quickly darting after the insects with their rapid repeated twitters.
From here we crossed the bridge keeping an eye for water voles. We know they were around but we didn’t see any today. Martin Smith Hide was empty and so too was the tack piece. We opened the windows to let out a Speckled Wood which was trying its best to escape. From Martin Smith Hide, we spotted more Avocets and Common Sandpipers bobbing up and down on the mudbanks. Suddenly a flock of Goldfinches flew to the thistle and teasel bushes besides the hide. All we could hear were their high pitched rapid ramblings or tinklings as they extract the seeds using their long fine beaks.
We then walked back towards the main ground and stopped by the Caribbean Flamingo enclosure. They were as squabbly and short-tempered as ever. But, hang on, in the middle of the island we saw grey, fluffy down with squidgy, wobbly legs. They were chicks. They had been nesting at the back of their pen, tucked away and out of sight. As usual, all these cute youngsters were all grouped together into a flamingo creche and babysat by a few adults at the back of the site.
It was such a hot day that we’d a very expensive ice-cream each and cooled down in the Wader Shore enclosure. Not much activities, as most of the waders were having a siesta. I don’t blame them because it was just too hot to be out and about. But they woke up when the warden came in and topped up their feeding stations. It was lovely to see them squabbling among themselves. When she left, we rattled the locks again and the birds perked up. They crowded around us which made us quite guilty. Naughty … naughty.
We left the waders, making sure that no one was following us out. We headed straight to the South Lake hide. Thankfully, we missed the bird identification session and the hide was quite again. But not on the mudbanks. Black headed gulls, Lapwings, Canada Geese and Greylags were making themselves heard. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were busy feeding on the mudbanks. These long-legged, long-billed wader was still in their breeding plumage with rust-brown neck and breast. These large, graceful waders were very distinctive when flying, with their bold white wing bar, large white area of rump and tail-base and black terminal tail-band that gave them their name.
And then a quick stop at the flamingo lagoon. Aah.. Lots of fluffy, grey Greater Flamingos bundles were wandering around. More were hatched as the summer progressed. The 30 or so chicks were currently prancing around, getting under the feet of their long-suffering parents whilst demonstrating lots of lovely natural behaviour. They have moved away from their nest mounds and were forming creches in the large sanded part of the nesting island. It was lovely to see them practicing the intricate moves of the adults. There were lots of short stumpy legs being stretched as well as wings and necks being waved around in a rather crude imitation of the adults. The shouting, argumentative streak of adulthood will follow soon.
Before we bid goodbye, we checked out the playground by the canoe safari site. We were hoping to see the Mandarin ducks but they were not around. The delightful Nenes were wooing the visitors to feed them with their doe eyes. But what caught us was a new species that we’d never seen before. It was a knob-billed duck or comb duck. It was an unusual, pan-tropical duck found in the tropical wetlands of sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and South Asia. It was one of the largest species duck with a white head freckled with dark spots, and a pure white neck and underparts. Only the males have large, black knob on the bill. We spent some time watching this handsome chap grazing and dabbling .
We were walking along the footpath when we spotted a Great Crested Grebe still in its greyish-brown breeding plumage. The head was very stunning with its spectacular black crest on the forecrown, and conspicuous ruff around the head, from the cheeks to the hind crown and nape. It was strange to see one still in this plumage because it should be gradually losing the colours. It was enjoying the late evening sun, paddling in the lake, contemplating what to do next. We’d coffee and sandwiches in the car while enjoying a magnificent display of swallows swooping low over the fields.
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night here is lightning, but it quivers all alone.”
~Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting~