© 2014 by Barbara Copperthwaite.

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Rattle and hum

All day, the Swifts have been flying above me, crying out euphorically. In olden days they were known as Devil Birds because of their screaming, but to me they sound like they are bursting with with joy. They remind me of 12-year-olds freewheeling downhill on their bicycles, screaming : “Woo-hoo, look at me! Look at me! Look how fast I’m going!” It makes me grin every time I hear it. All too soon they will be gone, so I am making the most of them, soaking up the sight and sound while I can.

At Highbury Park, I heard another sound of summer. For the first time this year, while standing beside the long grasses, I can hear Grasshoppers making their distinctive noise, the anthem of all blazing hot summer days. The rattle is not of death, but life.

A Ringlet landed right next to me for a second, distracting me from the Grasshoppers’ percussion. In amongst the lower and mid-levels of the grass, only rarely popping above the stems, were deep brown Ringlets, and shimmering at the top level and just above were the Large Skippers (no Small Skippers yet, but they are always a few days behind their larger brethren). At this time of the early morning both butterflies are very active, patrolling their territory, and the grass was dancing with their movement. Just standing there watching them in the bright sunshine, against the green grass, it suddenly struck me as a curious thing that two such opposites such be found in the same place: the dark beauty of the Ringlet and the dancing beams of orange that are the Skippers.

The Grey Heron was up in a tree overlooking the Longpool, whether cooling down in the foliage or using the vantage point to seek prey, it was hard to tell. Somehow, when up a tree, a Heron always looks that touch more exotic, like something I would see in Africa rather than a common bird of the UK. Below it, the Coot gave its loud cry, which is very different from the Moorhen’s yet still reminds me of a broken bicycle horn – it is hard to find a less exotic comparison than that, and suddenly thoughts of Africa disappeared and I was home once more.

A group of all-female Mallards gathered together, resting on land just by the pond, ready to slip into the water quickly if disturbed. At this time of year the males go very drab and almost look like females as they go through a moult, but of course they keep their tell-tale yellow beak. So you might suddenly see a load more females, when in fact it is not…it is males in their temporarily drab plumage. They will soon get their dapper clothing back.

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