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May 21st- swifts nest building and moths in the garden

I was up at 4am to check the moth trap. I have to be up early to ensure the birds do not take the moths that settle around the trap. Stepping out onto the lawn in cool misty air (6C) was a joy and as soon as I was outside I felt wide awake. Skylarks were singing nearby and a peachy sky held the promise of another beautiful day. I had a good catch of moths including some really interesting and beautiful species. Most eye catching of all was the first eyed hawk moth of the year. The eyes on the hindwings are thought to startle birds enough for the moth to make a quick getaway. They reveal them to full effect when handled. It is a really stunning species and most people would have no idea that this fairly common hawk moth flies around their garden at night.

Some moths display examples of highly effective camouflage. The Chinese character resembles a bird dropping, so birds don’t eat it- simple as that! It is a really beautiful little moth. The buff tip mimics a broken piece of twig to great effect. Both are incredible examples of evolution. The moths are not sketched to scale.

I had an early walk along the Holbeck. I wanted to paint another dawn watercolour of the beck with May blossom, comfrey and red campion flowers. It was cold and mist was lying in the valley. As I walked I saw individual birds that I have come to know, some singing on regular song posts. The yellowhammer in its usual hawthorn, the reed bunting singing in the meadow, the garden warbler leaving its bramble patch and the long tailed tits that have frequented the same small patch of hedgerow since early April. I know this patch intimately now and I love it.

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Swift Diary

The swifts were nest building today. Because swifts cannot perch like most birds (all their claws face forward) they have to gather material in the air. This often takes the form of feathers, but on windy days fresh green leaves blown from trees are gathered, and during haymaking swifts may find blown pieces of grass. They add saliva to the material to glue it to the nest cup.

I know the pair by their markings now. There are very subtle but definite differences in the feathers around their beaks and eyes. I can study them as they appear at the nest box entrance. I feel certain I know which bird is the male (the first bird back on 5th May) but will not know for sure until egg laying occurs. Having confirmed this I can go back over my extensive notes and learn more about the roles of male and female swifts.

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