“On Easter Day, the veil between time and eternity thins to gossamer”
I was so looking forward to the long bank holiday Easter weekend. I needed time off to revive my work-weary mind and recharged my batteries. Easter was early this year celebrating Easter Sunday on April Fool’s day and was always on the next full moon after the Spring Equinox. They were both days full of tradition, but one was more mischievous than the other and fell on the same day for the first time since 1956. I found one of the prank of staging an Easter egg hunt without hiding any eggs was hilarious. I guess I have to wait until 2029 to stage one, if I remember
There was some escape from the holiday weekend washout on Easter Sunday. It was a bit drier and brighter with the promise of some sunshine and lighter winds. Since Babe had still not fully recovered, we spent the days just chilling out in the casa. It was a lull before the storm as the Met Office had issued a yellow warning for heavy rain that could led to flooding. We were lucky because the yellow warning for snow was issued further north. On Easter Monday, the heavens opened and flood alerts were issued for the 13 Coventry and Warwickshire rivers. Water levels had been steadily rising as a result of overnight rainfall.
I spent the day photographing the spring flowers in the garden that were beginning to bloom. Hyacinths and grape hyacinths were dotted around our casa, filling the spring landscape with colour and fragrance. The sweet scent was the perfect sign that spring had arrived. The hyacinth was probably the most famous blossom associated with the end of winter and the beginning of a new spring season. Meanwhile, the floral cluster of the grape hyacinth was a classic spring bloomer that told me that my thick winter coat could go back in the cupboard for another year. The scent of musk enveloped me, hence the Latin name, Muscari.
From time to time, the solitude and silence was broken by the squawking Starlings, feeding quickly in squabbling groups.. They had a reputation for being one of the noisiest and most gregarious garden birds. From a distance, they looked black but when seen closer, they were glossy with a sheen of purples and green. Their flight was fast and direct and they walked and ran confidently on the ground. Noisy and gregarious, they spent a lot of the year in flocks especially in winter when flocks from northern Europe joined the local population. At the moment, they were heavily covered in white speckles which wore away as the feathers became worn during spring.
The garden had been a dance of birds since the light returned. We’d the usual colourful Goldfinches, ground-feeding Blackbirds, incessant cheeping House sparrows, territorial Robins, cooing Wood pigeons, delicate-looking Collared Doves, marauding Magpies, creeping Dunnocks, tiny Wrens, perky Coal, intelligent Great, inquisitive Blue and adorable Long-tailed tits. They in turn attracted a Sparrowhawk, looking for its next meal. We were putting out new bird-boxes when one landed on the tree checking us out. It was incredible. I was also chuffed to have spotted a pair of Jays flying into the elderflower tree and flying off again with twigs. This pair turned up annually in early spring to build a nest in the nearby woods.
We also made a trip to our favourite playground to check what the natives were up to during the Easter break. The peaceful walk was broken when we were assaulted by a loud commotion along the path by Goose pool. When we looked up, we saw a pair of Song Thrush going after a Magpie. The Thrush's alarm calls were like a football rattle or machine gun. They must had a nest nearby and were vigorously defending it. Magpies were instinctive killers, and in the breeding season they systematically hunt hedgerows and gardens in search of eggs and nestlings to feed their young. They were the avian equivalents of the football hooligan. All was quiet again when the culprit flew off.
When we walked past the Grebe Pool, I took a moment to breathe in the sweet scent of Primroses that were carpeting the eroding bank. The dainty lemon petals with egg-yolk yellow centres nestled among the fresh green rosette of leaves. These drops of sunshine were one of the earliest spring flowers. ‘Primrose’ was ultimately from Old French primerose or medieval Latin prima rosa, meaning ‘first rose’ though it was not related to the rose family, Rosaceae.
‘Now primroses, close shelter’d from the cold
Just here and there some tender flowers unfold’
We made ourselves comfortable at Baldwin Hide and was chuffed when we spotted this Common Sandpiper feeding on the nearby island. It habitually bobbed up and down, known as ‘teetering’ as it foraged along the banks for insects and worms, which were commonly taken from the surface, rather than probing into the mud. Suddenly it flew off with a distinctive flight with stiff, bowed wings and letting out a three-note call.
A Great Crested Grebe sailed past us, struggling with a wriggling dinner. It was a challenge for it to manoeuvre the fish so that the head was swallowed fitst. Finally, after some delicate balancing, it managed to swallow it whole. Then it dived in again to chase after its next meal. These diving water-birds fed on small fishes and aquatic invertebrates. They were swimmers and divers, and pursuing their prey underwater. The Great Crested Grebe, like all members of the Grebe family, had a rounded body, a short tail and legs set far back from the body which allowed them to dive easily beneath the surface of the water. The legs were flattened with broad, webbed toes that propelled them through water when hunting for fish. Fish were also hunted by swimming with its head beneath the surface of the water.
We continued on at East Marsh Hide where there was plenty of action. A Muntjac popped out from the bushes and started grazing on the young shoots of the recently mown Wigeon Bank. It continued feeding lower and lower down the bank and caught the attention of a pair of Canada Goose. The pair started following the deer which seemed oblivious to what was going on. When it started moving towards a clump of reeds, the male Goose chased after it and gave the poor guy a mighty kick, that it went rushing up the bank into the safety of the bushes.
The Muntjac had treaded into the territory of the Canada Geese and they’d built a nest in the reeds. The nest was a large open cup on the ground, made of dry grasses, lichens, mosses, and other plant material, and lined with down and some body feathers. They preferred a spot from which they could have a fairly unobstructed view in many directions. The female chose the site and did much of nest construction. She will do all the incubation while her mate guards her and the nest.
Then 3 Avocets flew in, accompanied by their fluted ‘kloo-it’ and kleep calls with their long blue legs dangling well behind the tail during flight, They were distinctively-patterned black and white waders with long upturned beaks. Looking dapper with a neat black cap, they then started wading and sweeping their beaks back and forth to catch the small invertebrates that made up their diet. Avocets fed by sight by picking prey from the surface of water or mud. In poor visibility and when locating prey from within the sediments, they foraged by touch through water or loose sediments to locate hidden prey. In the deeper water, they swam readily and buoyantly, up-ending like a duck to reach food below the surface.
A Wren then popped its head from the bushes. It was dumpy, almost rounded, with a fine bill, quite long legs and toes, very short round wings and a short, narrow tail which was sometimes cocked up vertically. For such a small bird it had a remarkably loud voice. The trilling song, made up for the fact that this species spent much of its time foraging within cover. Wrens were primarily insectivorous, eating insects, spiders, and other small arthropods.
We also checked out Draycote Waters along with hundreds of other people who had the same idea. Thankfully, we managed to get a parking space as a car was just about to leave. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and the place was buzzing. Unfortunately, the water in the reservoir was quite low, resulting in the natives staying away from the walls. There were plenty of disturbances too as the fishing season was in motion and these sportsmen were honing their sailing skills.
We continued walking on the pavement, keeping an eye on the water. There were Tufted ducks, Great Crested Grebes, Mallards, Little Grebes, Mallards and Coots. A few Wagtails flew in with their undulating flights, uttering that distinctive, two-note "chis-ick" calls. They were frantically wagging their tails up and down as they dashed about the rocks. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long because we were literally eaten alive by midges. These little critters were hard to get rid of and could leave painful bite marks across the skin. We couldn’t stop and had to keep moving that we decided to call it a day.
On the way back, we spotted a group of Alpacas feeding on the field. There was an alpaca farm nearby and I think these beauties belong to them. There were 2 types of alpacas and this was the Huacaya. The appearance was due to its fibre growing vertically out of its skin in small bundles with a tight crimped wave which made the fleece sit vertically off the skin giving it a ‘Teddy Bear’ look. Alpacas were prized for their silky fleece and people were drawn to their sweet personalities and hardy nature. Alpacas make great sheep guards,too, running foxes out of the fields.
Since it was still early, we nipped over to Brandon Marsh and we were greeted by this pair of Buzzards. Their loud repeated mews were raining down on earth. Their plaintive mewing calls could be mistaken for a cat. When gliding and soaring, they held their wings in a shallow 'V' and the tails were fanned. It was currently their breeding season for them. Males could be seen performing aerial displays as they tried to impress the females and warn off rivals. They rose and dropped rapidly, in a manoeuvre known as the "rollercoaster", and completed loop-the-loops. He rose high up in the sky, turned and plummeted downward, in a spiral, twisting and turning as he came down. He then rose immediately upward to repeat the exercise. This pair soared on the thermals, wings outstretched and disappeared out of sight.
We made a pit stop at Baldwin Hide and noticed that the Common Terns had returned. I hoped they would be pleased with the new floating nesting pontoon, the 3rd, that had been erected specially for them. Unfortunately, one of the pontoons had been occupied by a nesting Canada Goose. Hopefully, the eggs will hatch soon and the cygnets gone by the time the Terns were ready to lay their eggs. At the moment, these delightful silvery-grey and white birds were just content to feed and rest.
We went straight to East Marsh Hide and spotted a pair of Muntjac grazing along Wigeon Bank. The bank was a popular highway for them as they used it to cross from one end of the reserve to another. They also had learnt their lessons and gave the Canada Geese nest a wide berth. Muntjac were generally solitary or found in pairs (doe with a kid or buck with doe) although pair-bonding don’t occur. Bucks defended small exclusive territories against other bucks whereas does’ territories overlap with each other and with several bucks.
Our attention was diverted to the sky when we heard the rumblings of an aeroplane. Flying low over the reserve was the Indian Air-Force Historic Flight Douglas DC-3 Dakota airplane. I just found out that a team of pilots flew this vintage aircraft from Coventry to Delhi to join the Indian Air Force Vintage fleet at the Hindon Air base in Uttar Pradesh on the 17th of April. It had been air-tested in Coventry. It had been stationed at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire and received an official launch on the 12th of April from the Indian High Commissioner and the UK Defence and Air Attache. The aircraft christened ‘Parashumara’ and with a tail number VP905, was acquired by MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar with the aim of gifting it to the Indian Air Force Vintage Flight. I am so glad that we’d seen it maybe for the last time on British soil before it left for good.
VP 905 was flown by a joint crew of the IndianAir Force and M/s ReflightAirworks Ltd. Taking off from Coventry, the Dakota covered a distance of 9750 km during its ferry and made stops at France, Italy, Greece, Jordan, Bahrain and Oman. The aircraft landed on Indian soil at Air Force Station Jamnagar on 25 April 18. Air Cmde MK Chandrasekhar (Retd) was granted special permission by the Raksha Mantri to fly on board the aircraft from Jamnagar to Air Force Station Hindan.
Tail No VP 905 had special significance as it was the same as the first Dakota that transported troops of the Army’s 1 Sikh Regiment to Srinagar on 27 October 1947 as part of the J&K Operations just weeks after India’s independence. The Dakota, lovingly called the Gooney Bird, was the first major transport aircraft inducted into the fledgling Indian Air Force (IAF). It played a sterling role in the history of the IAF. As a transport aircraft used to move troops to Kashmir in 1947 to being used in the famous Tangail drop during the Bangladesh War in 1971. The journey that began for the Dakota on 17 April 2018 may have concluded but VP 905 Parashurama, named after the eternal warrior saint, continued to inspire with its legacy each time it flies across the Indian skies hereafter.
We left after the magnificent flypast. On the way out, the reserve was alive with birdsongs. But the songs from the Chiffchaff were the easiest to recognise as they were onomatopoeically named. These tiny leaf warblers were summer visitors and were among the first migrant songbirds to arrive in spring after wintering in the Mediterranean and western Africa. They were extremely active birds, constantly flicking their tails and wings while feeding.
Hush, can you hear it?
The rustling in the grass,
Bringing you the welcome news that
Winter's day is past.