Sunday, 19 December 2010

Signs of the Times: Autumn #4

More comparisons between the British countryside of today and that from 1959-1961 in the paintings of Charles Tunnicliffe in the Ladybird "What to look for..." series of books.

"...Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

John Keats (from “To Autumn”)
(Copyright: Ladybird Books)

Autumn Picture 4
A bit of a shorter account this time around as there are no species featured here that I haven’t already written about in this blog series. Nevertheless, here is another attractive Autumn image to enjoy; it does seem like ages since we saw the swallows, house martins and sand martins massing on wires and roofs in preparation for their southward Autumnal migration. In reality it was only a few weeks ago (maybe early-mid October here in Stirling?) when the last birds finally headed off on their long, risky journey to the heat and relative comfort of sub-Saharan Africa, wherethe food supply of flying insects, unlike in the Britishwinter, isn't jeopardised by low temperatures!

I have already posted, in some cases quite extensively, on the three related species, the swallow (Hirundo rustica), the house martin (Delichon urbicum), and the sand martin (Riparia riparia). In all three cases, I reported on a variable recent history for these species, which seems to be linked to the arrival or otherwise of seasonal rains in the Sahel and other sub-Saharan desert regions where these birds spend their time during the European winter. You can read more about the swallow in earlier posts here, a post including the house martin here, and I looked at the fate of the sand martin in Britain over the past 50 years here.

Perhaps it is the very obvious departure of these summer visitors, their “here one minute, gone the next” exodus that makes their massing for migration such a strong symbol of the departing warmth of summer and the ushering in of the shorter, colder days of Autumn. It always seems as if swallows and martins reappear much more gradually in Spring than they disappear in Autumn!

Looking forward to their return in 2011...

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