Rose Cook is the latest Featured Writer. Her poems are always deceptively simple and are full of striking imagery that can blow you away. Her voice is so assured and nuanced I can hear it in every word she writes: she is a skilled and captivating performer. Her latest collection, with an amazing image on the cover, is called Notes from a Bright Field where themes of identity and motherhood are explored.
I know Rose likes birds because she has written about them in her Oversteps book Taking Flight, so here are some more field notes … eight small swallows were clinging to the top wire of the fence between the fields. They had not just fledged but they were diminutive swallows with short tails and no long streamers. And at least one or two of them bore little patches of red on a throat, the males. They can only be …what 3 or 4 weeks old maybe? They did look slightly wobbly clinging on the low wire but as I opened the gate they took to the air like the swallows they are and skimmed low over the nodding heads of grass seed. Looping back they swerved past me as if they were playing Dare and I heard their small chattering voices, not yet fully twittering yet. Their flying was getting more skilled but they won’t be able to achieve what their fathers can do till their tail streamers develop because these apparently increase manoeuvrability. They still have a couple of months left to practise before they will need to fly to Africa at10 metres per second, which is approx 24 mph. A day later they were nowhere to be seen: they must have taken to the high wire and the bigger skies over the moors.
Here Is a picture that I found on a swallow site of their tail feathers sprouting: not yet ready to fledge:
That same morning a family of goldfinches was sparkling among the seed heads. The father takes on the youngsters and shows them the ropes, teaching them how to be goldfinches. They undulated out of the grasses where they must have been feeding on the seed of hawkweed. They use their beaks to prise open seeds and then scoop out the contents with their long tongues.
A small Greater Spotted Woodpecker comes to eat peanuts. He is perfect in every respect with the nape of his head already red. He isn’t quite brave enough to see off his harlequin-coloured father who flies in like a sparrowhawk, all spread wings and gusto. But he has recently learned how to hang off the feeder and help himself now. I think there is a sibling around, too.
A single blackbird with browny gold feathers and no yellow beak follows the male, who owns this territory, around what I think of as my garden. The father is showing his offspring, male or female (impossible to be sure yet), where are the best places to feed and how to stay safe. I have left the redcurrants on the bushes (each one a tiny world) and every morning they both zoom out of the leaves, the father clucking as if he assumes I would mind: it is the least I can do for the song we enjoy from dawn to dusk from March- May or June. As you can see, they only choose the ripe ones. They don’t leave much behind.
But I think back to other summers and there should be more than just the one adolescent: the trouble is the week after fledging is the most vulnerable in a blackbird’s life (any bird). Blackbirds can’t fly at all well at first and spend much of their time in the undergrowth waiting for their wing feathers to grow and their muscles to develop. Cats are their worst predator. (We don’t keep one for that very reason, but a brazen farm cat from next door patrols our garden especially in the evenings.) So there seems to be only one from that brood and all its necessary frantic, hard work. It is possible that the female is trying to squeeze in another sitting as she hasn’t been around for a while.
August is said to be the quietest bird month and I’ve heard it called the hammock month. But there is plenty to watch: the air in the sunshine is brimming with bees, hoverflies, little white pug moths and butterflies of all kinds (Red Admiral, Skippers) darting in and out of the bramble, knapweed, yarrow and rosebay willow herb flowers. And, at night, so many spectacular moths come to the light we keep the windows closed. Summer hasn’t been as rich as this for years. ‘All these things I saw as if they had been my own, as if I were going again slowly through old treasures long hidden away, so that they were memoried yet unexpected…. ‘ wrote Edward Thomas of the summer of 1908 in The South Country.