Sunday, June 14, 2009

Willow warblers, Wild flowers & Painted Ladies

In the calm of this evening, the sweet song of a willow warbler drifts through mys study window from the top of an alder tree thirty yards away. Ah! He has raised his first brood and is establishing his territorial rights for his second brood. That is great! For a few days now the garden has been full of young willow warblers, easily identifiable by their light eye-stripe. If we have a good Summer the birds might manage three broods. I hope so.
One sign that the ecosystem is healthy here is our resident sparrow-hawk. We see him now and again, and I have written poetry about him. I once saw him take a resting swallow straight off the telephone wire. But, more usually, he picks off a siskin or a coal tit - here is the poem. I call it 'Sparrowhawk'. I read it publicly only last weekend at The Force 12 Writers Festival at Belmullet, here in Co. Mayo:


He'll be along shortly
hugging the river's bouldery course
then a twist and lift will bring him
gliding silently over the gate
to arc round the willow tree
where peanuts hang invitingly
for greenfinch, blue tit, coal tit -
his intended prey!
Even though when they
see his silhouette
they seek to resist their fate
it's almost too late by then -
a slow-motion death-dance follows
as they dash out all instinct and panic:
A mistake!
This is his moment.
This is how he
earns his daily bread, his survival.
He presses his honed advantage,
an almost casual talon-snatch
seeing him carry away his kill
for a frenzied feed in his plucking tree.

So it goes from week to week -
one can't help but admire his technique,
perfected over a hundred Millennia.
He captures perhaps one in three:
To watch him kill, is poetry.

(c) Mark F Chaddock 2009

With the warm bright weather the vegetable growth has picked up - it needed to. Even with the fleece we have permanently covering the raised beds the vegetables were behind for this time of the season.
The wild flowers by the river have been commanding our attention. We are lucky to have the beautiful wild flag iris; the early purple orchid; ragged robin; flowering plaintain; ox-eye daisies; rhododendron ponticum; buttercups; dandelions; birdsfoot trefoil and many more. We are like children again - I spend time trying to capture their beauty with the camera; their relationship with sunlight.
We were beautifully swarmed by migrating Painted Lady butterflies on 31st May. They were racing everywhere in pairs in their tens of thousands - I do not exaggerate - and then after two days they were more or less gone again when the wind changed direction carrying them south towards mainland Europe. But they must have left behind a legacy of eggs from their flight of passion. And later in the season the island will be overrun for the second time by Painted Ladies. What a wonderful promise! Eileen spotted the bright green clustered eggs on a Torbay palmtoday; I'm not sure what the caterpillar foodplant is, but I doubt it was Achill's palms that attracted them here.
Have a lovely week :) Mark

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