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Drake smew at Tophill Low- 28th January

Tolly and I had a great trip to the Yorkshire Water reserve Tophill Low on Saturday. This is a reserve is still an active water treatment works dating back to 1959.

We went to look at diving ducks, particularly pochard and a drake smew which has been spending the winter there. Smew is a species I dreamt about seeing as a child as I immersed myself in bird books.  Until I joined a trip run by the Newbury Ornithological Club as a young teenager and saw one on gravel pits near Slough- a moment I have never forgotten. Since then I have seen them occasionally, especially when we lived in Wiltshire where they used to winter at the Cotswold Water Park.

A drake smew is simply sublime, mostly bright white with soft grey vermiculated flank feathers and black lines which look like they have been painted with a Chinese brush. It is a ‘saw bill’ duck which means it has a serrated bill to grip the fish it catches during very long dives. It was surprisingly camouflaged at times as the water looked very bright, itself vermiculated by lines of dark reflection.

We were very lucky- on a vast reservoir the smew had chosen to be close to the hide and it remained so for the duration of our visit. We really had time to take in the beauty of this bird, Tolly’s first, until eventually we  had to leave. It always feels odd dragging oneself away from the sight of a rare and beautiful species such as a smew, it’s always much easier to leave when a bird flies away or the views are poor! I want to stay for more, but there must be a cut off point so we decided to leave after it began to rest with its head tucked into its back plumage.

The lovely name of smew is apparently a very old derivative of small. It is indeed a small duck when seen next to larger pochard and coot. Smew is such a lovely word to say! On account of the drake’s plumage (the females have a russet coloured head) smew are sometimes known as ‘white nuns’. The bright cold tones of a smew suit it well to a freezing winter’s day- always a memorable sight on some of the coldest and darkest days of the year.

We were so grateful for the opportunity to see this beautiful duck and the abundant pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck it was keeping company with. In addition we saw great crested grebes displaying and a water rail in the marsh hide. We’d thoroughly recommend the reserve if you haven’t been. Link here
https://www.yorkshirewater.com/things-to-do/reservoirs/tophill-low-nature-reserve/

A range of original watercolours(some of which feature in my blogs), prints and cards is available on my website  https://jonathanpomroy.bigcartel.com/category/original-paintings-water-colour

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Sketching fieldfares by the studio

Now the air has turned milder there is less urgency among birds feeding in the garden. More species are singing, and singing for longer- marsh, coal, blue and great tits are now in full song. Great spotted woodpeckers are drumming in the woods, green woodpeckers are ‘yaffling’ frequently again, while nuthatches pipe their exotic sounding notes from the upper canopy. Robins are singing for much of the day while song thrushes still only sing at dawn and dusk. Blackbirds hold back, as if to tease those of us who long to hear their rich fluty notes again.

During the second winter cold spell I have had fieldfares a few feet from the studio, lured to a generous supply of apples and pears. They are very beautiful birds, one of those birds I would consider travelling a long way to see if they were not so widespread in the winter. But they are shy and will take flight sooner than the blackbirds they compete with. They display interesting and extreme postures during competition for food, spreading their tails wide in a fan shape high above their backs. Visiting from Scandinavia I cannot help wondering where the fieldfares on our lawn will breed. I feel responsible helping them, knowing that people in Scandinavia will look forward to their return in Spring.

Nights well below freezing have been followed by days where the temperature climbs only a fraction of a degree above zero, if it does at all. Although we have not seen snow these have been very testing times for birds. The ground is locked in frost and windfall apples have proved a lifesaver for fieldfares, redwings and blackbirds in particular. In nearby Ampleforth the orchards have been filled with hundreds and hundreds of fieldfares- certainly over a thousand at times. I see people walking past them barely looking and want to shout “have you really looked at these birds, do you know they are from Scandinavia, aren’t we privileged”? Yet with the slightest hint of milder weather they are off, back to the fields to search for worms and other invertebrates. This sudden switch in diet proves what an essential food windfalls are in icy weather. The glut of apples from the last growing season has undoubtedly saved many fieldfares, redwings, blackbirds and other species.

I feel very lucky to have observed the fieldfares so close and to have helped them, but with milder weather and noticeably more light I am beginning to allow myself moments when I think of the approaching spring. When the sun feels warm I can almost hear the first chiffchaffs in the wood opposite- all to come.

All text and images copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2023

A range of original watercolours(some of which feature in my blogs), prints and cards is available on my website  https://jonathanpomroy.bigcartel.com/category/original-paintings-water-colour

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January 16th- en plein air painting near Whitby

In winter my en plein air working day is limited to time between school runs but I have become quite expert at timing my way back from anywhere on the North York Moors to St Benedict’s CP, Ampleforth in time for 3.30pm pick up! Yesterday had all the ingredients for a great landscape painting day. A band of heavy snow in the morning moved south east to reveal cloudless, gin clear winter sky in the afternoon.

It was quite an experience standing by the churning sea at Sandsend. Big snow flakes and airborne pieces of wave foam were whipping horizontally past me. The waves slammed hard against the cliffs sending plumes of water about twenty five feet up. But it was spectacular and with cold fingers I managed to produce some useful sketches. The snow kept going for much of the morning giving a reasonable covering inland from the coast and especially up on the moors.

After a warm up I headed to Goathland. By now skies were almost cloudless- I could still see the morning’s band of snow in the distance above the south east horizon. But now I had the joyful sight of sun on fresh snow. It was still widely -1C on the moors and the snow showed no signs of melting. I spent some time looking at and colour sketching the gorgeous blue shadows on snow. The only bird I saw was a single red grouse flushed as I positioned myself to sketch near the village.

On the south side of the North York Moors there was no snow. Driving back to Gilling East I began to miss the snow covered landscape I had left behind. I felt I had spent the day in another world.

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2023

 

A range of original watercolours(some of which feature in my blogs), prints and cards is available on my website  https://jonathanpomroy.bigcartel.com/category/original-paintings-water-colour

Snow, surf and foam at Sandsend- January 16th. Available in my gallery/ shop.

Sun on snow at Moorgates, Goathland Moor- January 16th
Sun on snow- North York Moors near Goathland, January 16th.
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December 12th- the school run that saved a lapwing’s life

It seems so long ago now, the intense freeze before Christmas. Now in the new year, mud abounds with mild temperatures preventing frosts and orchards quiet where before they thronged with the sound of hundreds of fieldfares and redwings feeding on windfall apples.

But the afternoon school run of December 12th became quite extraordinary and very moving. On rounding a sharp bend between Oswaldkirk and Gilling we were met with the sight of fifty or so lapwings low in flight, but almost simultaneously we saw a single lapwing stood in the middle of the B1363- almost without thinking I checked the mirrors, the road was clear and I quickly turned around to park in a nearby layby. I ran back up the road and soon managed to catch the lapwing. Immediately the problem was evident- the outer primary feathers were encased in ice. The daytime maximum temperature was -1.5C and as darkness approached the temperature was plummeting.

I handed the lapwing to Tolly in the back of the car. He carefully wrapped his hands around it, holding its wings closed for the duration of the short journey home, holding it close to keep it warm. I did a stint as a trainee ringer many years ago and held many birds but I have never held a lapwing. For every swift I have painted I must have painted two lapwings. It is a bird I am literally drawn to and is always my first choice to sketch when I sit in a hide confronted by an array of different species. I have probably missed finding much rarer species because of my addiction to drawing lapwings!

I love the winter plumage of lapwings, the sheer variety of markings, colour and crest length, but to hold one was such a privilege; small dove like in size, it was passive, its big eyes observing me and Tolly. These eyes give great low light vision; seeing them so close made me think of the lapwings I heard displaying at night during lockdown.

Aware that we had to act fast I didn’t stop to draw the bird from life but quickly took a few photographs to use to work up the sketches here- no wild bird should be held against its will for any longer than necessary. Gently we melted the ice and on a low setting of the hair drier we dried the crucial primary feathers. Midwinter dusk was approaching fast, it was already freezing hard so I wanted to release the bird before dark. After its quick visit to my warm studio (which displayed several lapwing sketches!) we drove the bird to the field where the flock had settled.

Holding the wings shut I found a good open spot to release the lapwing, mindful of the fact if it didn’t fly I could recover it. But, it did fly and went straight towards the settled flock about two hundred metres away. In seconds it was indistinguishable from the others. I wonder, did the flock move on that night, where had it come from, Scandinavia, or was it a British bird? The intense cold at that time saw many lapwings moving south and west to milder climes.

When releasing a captured bird you have to try to to embrace uncertainty, it is wild and vulnerable from the second you let go. But we had done our best. Tolly and I will never forget that school run in deep frost under winter twilight- the day we saved a lapwing’s life.

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2023

 

A lapwing’s life saved- 12th December 2022.
The lapwing on the left is our released bird imagined back in the wild on a blustery winter’s day.
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Where have the tree sparrows gone?

In 2020 we had a large, seemingly ‘bombproof’ population of tree sparrows in Gilling East. I am ashamed to admit this now, but they made me frustrated at times when they stuffed all the swift boxes with nest material as soon as I unblocked them in May. They evidently much preferred swift boxes to standard type nest boxes. I had of course provided alternative nest boxes for them and several pairs nested in our roof. Their incessant chirping, particularly unpaired males was a constant sound throughout spring lasting until midsummer. Within two years of this, silence.

In summer 2021 we had at least eight pairs nesting in nest boxes or under tiles. This summer there were just three pairs all of which only managed one successful brood. They have all but gone now with no autumn flock, which in the past easily numbered thirty or more birds. I should add, they have not been replaced by house sparrows which are still a mega in our garden even though there are small nesting populations within 200m.

Concerned by this, last weekend I sent an email to the York Ornithological Club in hope that it was just a very local problem. Sadly very similar reports came from multiple locations in the club recording area. But why? The habitat hasn’t changed. This monumental decline is certainly not driven by lack of nest sites. I have not observed any birds dying of disease. Perhaps the decline is driven by lack of food, particularly in winter or could the very cold late spring weather have played a part in breeding success?  For now the cause remains a mystery, but the drop in numbers is very similar to that I observed amongst tree sparrows in Berkshire as a teenager. The habitats remained unchanged but they vanished almost overnight.

In the noughties tree sparrows increased rapidly in Yorkshire, much more so than many other areas of the UK. For now all we can do is speculate as to why they have gone, but it shows how quickly populations can change.

We moved to this area of North Yorkshire in 2009 and were thrilled to have tree sparrows nesting in the garden. The species was one of the first I remember identifying with my first pair of binoculars when a pair nested in a nest box in our Hungerford garden back in the 1980s. I treasured them, they were often described in books at the time as a scarcer ‘country’ relative of the house sparrow. Truly you don’t know what you have got until it has gone- I look out at my studio feeders which two years ago swarmed with them; in winter they gathered noisily in the beech hedge, visible from my drawing table. Now I watch in the hope of seeing one again…

All text and images copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

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Pallid swifts at RSPB Bempton Cliffs and at Redcar

Last Sunday I couldn’t resist the urge to see and sketch a pallid swift. With several records of pallids on the Yorkshire coast Tolly and I set off for Whitby where three were reported at Saltwick Bay. But reports that they had gone had us swerving at Pickering in the hope that reported birds would remain at Bempton or Buckton. Now, I have to confess travelling an hour or so to see a particular bird doesn’t sit easy with me but for a rare swift species I allow myself an exception.

We arrived at Bempton in cloudy but bright conditions to the news that a pallid swift was indeed still showing near Staple Newk viewpoint, a place familiar to us from two wonderful sessions watching the black- browed albatross. We jogged most of the way there with several birders we passed reporting that it was still there.

On arrival we spotted it quickly, at first well below the cliffs. Binoculars allowed views at times that identified the bird as a pallid not a common swift. As Tolly remarked, Bempton is always brilliant on account of the scenery alone, but to see a pallid swift there against a turquoise sea was the icing on the cake. We had one particularly good pass from the swift when the sun came out. At this point the bird suddenly fed higher, preferring to be in the sunlight out of the shadow of the cliff, but then suddenly it vanished.

A dramatic front of cumulonimbus clouds was approaching from the west. You don’t need to know much about weather to see that these indicated some very wet weather approaching. We had planned to go to Buckton where four pallid swifts had been reported, but the weather made the decision not to very easy. We went to the cafe instead for hot chocolate and pasties! Here we watched the torrential rain and saw some drenched birders arrive! We were thrilled to add pallid swift to our Bempton list.

Yesterday morning with Tolly back at school after half term, James Robson kindly messaged me to say that there was a pallid swift at Redcar. Aware of the change to cooler conditions this week I decided this might be my last good chance to sketch a pallid swift, so I drove straight there after the morning school run. On my way news came in that the single bird had been joined by another!

It was to be my lucky morning. I arrived to see a small group of birders moving lenses in unison as two pallid swifts swirled around the seafront area. I decided to head inland a block to a car park which enabled more views of the bird with the sun on its plumage. I positioned myself at the end of a quiet alley and began to sketch. I set out to record the bird as I saw it with my eyes and 8x binoculars. There are some stunning photographs online which show every detail, but this not really what the eye can take in so I hope my sketches give an impression of the species as seen with the naked eye and binoculars and show some features which distinguish it from common swift.

I was treated to repeated low views and being alone could work undisturbed save the occasional curious Redcar resident chatting to me. Being so used to sketching common swifts I was determined to sketch these birds as I would a common swift in the hope that this would enable me to observe some distinguishing features.

The plumage was a warmer lighter brown than common swift overall though this was not always easy to see, indeed the body often looked dark with the head brightly illuminated as the birds mainly flew into the southerly wind which meant they were directly facing the low sun. Structurally I noticed a more stocky appearance, with the head and neck appearing more chunky than common swift- I say this being very used to seeing common swifts very puffed up in cold weather. Both birds displayed a broad ‘hip’ of plumage (actually soft belly/ flank plumage in front of the vent/ undertail covert area) which showed particularly well on approach. I have not noticed this feature as exaggerated in common swifts but have seen several recent photos of pallids in different UK locations clearly showing this feature. The length from head to tail appeared shorter than common swift probably due to the more stocky build. There seemed less distance from the trailing edge of the wing feathers to tip of tail than in common swift whose tail area seems longer. The diffuse pale head was very different to the bright white masks of juvenile common swifts I have seen. Even at its palest point the throat and forehead of palid was not as white as a juvenile common swift and had a very slight ochre tint. The extent of the pale face which gradually darkens away from the throat and forehead makes the pallid’s eye really stand out as a very dark mark.

The birds appeared to be finding plenty of food above this very urban setting and stayed in the area all day. They were clearly successfully feeding as one sketch shows the gape open to take an insect, but their feeding movements were almost constant.

I sketched for a couple of hours then decided to be sociable and chat with some other birders. Some of their photographs showed every detail and while it is tempting to refer to photos I was determined to record what I saw. I must confess also to feeling uneasy about the major influx of pallid swifts. While it is my good fortune to sketch them it is certainly possible that this influx is as a direct result of climate change. Unprecedented late October warmth over Western Europe recently under a low pressure system that has driven southerly winds is undoubtedly the reason I was sketching these birds.

Whatever the reason it is wonderful to observe those swift shapes and challenge myself to record some of the finer details of identification. At times the swifts flew very low over the roof tops. Forgetting they were pallid swifts for a moment I could strongly recall seeing our swifts approaching their nest boxes, transporting me back to summer on this the first day of sunset before 5pm. While seeing scarce swifts is wonderful, for me it can’t match the thrill of having common swifts nesting under my own eaves. 

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Magnificent Bempton Cliffs. The pallid swift, shown on the left hand page preferred to feed at around 100 feet when we arrived, it fed in wide circuits out over the sea before moving in towards the cliff then out again.
At times the body of the swift looked very dark with head illuminated as it faced towards the low sun. With shadow on the body the colour often recalled the plumage of a common swift. But the more diffused pale on the head always looked different from adult and juvenile common swift with the eye and very obvious. Upperpart views in sunshine showed warm lighter brown(dark ochre). The colour at times not far off sand martin in similar light.
Sketches, some of which show the broad ‘hip’ frequently observed in both birds when seen approaching (actually caused by loweŕ belly/ flank feathering in front of the vent/ undertail covert area). Body shape in both was variable with plumage sometimes puffed up then pulled in, but head and neck always looked thicker compared to common swift. As always with swifts the twist and flex in the wings creates some fascinating shapes. Foreshortened wings seen on side profiles is a challenge I enjoy sketching. This page also shows how much shape can vary with breast/belly feathers puffed out or pulled tighter to the body.
The top right sketch shows the chunky head and neck. Being very used to drawing common swifts I would consider this wrong if I were sketching that species. The same sketch shows the loose belly feathers in front of the tapering vent/undertail covert area.
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October 19th- large migration of redwings and fieldfares over Gilling East.

I watch weather models avidly to plan en plein air landscape painting and assess potential for seeing birds, but more than a few days out they are often subject to change. With a recent relentless westerly bias in wind direction I have been watching them with interest and hoping for a switch to an easterly direction. Why, because birds due to arrive from Scandinavia become ‘stacked’ there in strong headwinds as they wait for some assistance from the wind to cross the North Sea. Sure some battle on and I have seen quite a few redwings and a few fieldfares but the first easterlies were almost guaranteed to prompt a large migration of birds to the UK.

Initially I was disappointed. Stepping out on a fairly mild dawn with broken cloud I heard one or two redwings and there seemed to be an increase in blackbirds, but there was little on show- perhaps they were stopping to feed as soon as they saw land, after all we are around thirty miles inland from the east coast. But scanning the sky as the light increased I soon picked up large flocks of both redwings with some fieldfares. Nearly all were flying at a height that made them all but invisible to the naked eye. They were also nearly inaudible at this height. But the more I scanned the more I found, all moving roughly WSW in direction. Flock after flock after flock, flying with leisurely wingbeats aided by that easterly breeze.

It was notable that very few were descending, they kept on going as far as these ideal migration conditions would allow. I did think about heading for the coast this morning but there is something very satisfying (not to mention more environmentally friendly) about staying put and seeing what turns up over the garden. I must have seen around 2000 redwings and 500 fieldfares pass over Gilling East this morning but I was not watching constantly, interrupted by the school run etc. Actual numbers must have been many times higher. I also logged a woodcock seen flying very high north west, several golden plovers, a redpoll and a brambling.

Bird migration was happening on a huge scale on an October morning above Gilling East, but without paying attention to the wind direction and access to a pair of binoculars most people would never know. But I was left stunned and moved by the scale of what I had seen.

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Fieldfare studies- watercolour
Redwing studies-watercolour
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10th October- fly agarics, magpie inkcaps and redwings.

I’ve been embracing autumn. The change in the colour of the trees over the last few days has been rapid- leaves are beginning to fall but the best autumn colour is all to come. Beech trees are one of my favourites at this time of year.  After rain, their trunks and branches can look very dark, contrasting with the glowing leaves. While autumn is spectacular in bright sunshine with crisp blue sky, I find on very dull days some autumn tree colours can really shine out of the gloom, standing out more than on brighter days.

I sketched at Yorkshire Arboretum yesterday. I filled my pockets with sweet chestnuts to roast on the fire this weekend and spent time right down on the earth sketching fungi. The most obvious of these were the fly agarics. I cannot stop looking at them and painting them, each one is like a newly discovered treasure. There are so many stages to see, from magic little scarlet button forms almost hidden in the grass or leaf litter to large upright toadstools, so often battered or slug eaten. They are mostly found near birch whose bark can provide a fine backdrop.

There were also some fine specimens of magpie inkcap. They emerge from the ground and develop to their maximum size within a couple of days then quickly drip ‘ink’ as they degenerate. Redwings were arriving constantly- fresh in from their North Sea crossing they dropped down to gorge themselves on hawthorn berries. They are shy but I had some good views and as I love seeing swifts arrive in spring, so I love seeing redwings arriving for winter. So far (11th October) relatively small numbers of winter migrant birds have reached Ryedale, held back by near continuous strong westerly headwinds. Such conditions can be interesting because when the winds do eventually fall light or switch to an easterly direction birds can pour into the UK from Scandinavia, as if the flood gates have been opened.

I have been painting the landscape several times daily in the last couple of weeks, making many studies of the rapidly changing autumn tree colours and the dramatic skies which have accompanied fast moving Atlantic weather systems. These skies and their effect on the landscape below are a constant source of inspiration so I have many recent watercolour studies piled up in the studio. The variety of colour in my autumn sketches is proof that although the days are shorter and colder the landscape can offer an incredible feast for the eyes. Sketching can help me make the most of these short days; by really looking and taking in these intense scenes I can hold on to them through the dark evenings and I find myself incredibly excited at what the next short day may bring. So I look at the weather forecast anew and see wind and changeable conditions as a blessing and the next source of inspiration.

All text and images copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

 

Magpie inkcaps and fly agarics- watercolour.
Redwing studies- watercolour
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House martin season coming to a close.

Monday and Tuesday saw our last brood of house martins fledge. The nest, by my son’s window has seen its fair share of tragedy with unsuccessful broods in 2020 and 2021. Last year was particularly tragic- the male disappeared when the nestlings were about two weeks old. The female could not keep up with feeding on her own and we were heartbroken to find her and her three nestlings dead in the nest in late September.

Fledging for house martins can be a rather protracted affair. After their first flight the fledglings return to the nest regularly for a few days and usually roost with their parents. As I write they are all back in the nest box being fed frequently by their parents. This period enables them to gain flying experience and map the local area. Within days they will be on their way to Africa.

This year we have seen at least thirty house martins fledge from our eaves, all from artificial nest cups. This offers some hope for the recovery of the house martin population in Gilling East and surrounding villages. Our artificial nests have enabled six pairs to maximise their breeding performance. After a very cold May set breeding back they were able to lay eggs quickly without having to expend valuable energy building a nest. I would hate to see a world where all house martins nest in artificial nests, one of the great joys of studying house martins is looking at individual mud nest structures, but for now needs must. 

I have made many watercolour sketches of house martins this year. I find their bold markings irresistible with splashes of deep midnight blue mixed with sepia and Payne’s grey in their upper parts. Subtle colour on their white underparts are a challenge to paint especially as they are often depicted within the shade of the eaves. I have a large body of work on house martins now- I have always found projects on single species very rewarding.

They remain amongst my favourite birds. I don’t really do lists of favourite species, but some have associations with my past. House martins shared our eaves at our house in Hungerford where I made them chicken wire and gummed paper nests after school! I was fortunate to have them play out their lives a few feet above my head at break times at both primary and secondary school in Hungerford. We had them on the first house we bought in Westwood, Wilstshire, then through our time in Ampleforth and Gilling East, so I have rarely lived without them each April- September. They are a constant through my life and since attracting swifts way back in  2003 I realised that they were especially delightful during the relative silence after the swifts’ departure.

So as the last of our house martins inevitably depart in the next week or so I can reflect on a successful season. A season in which I have studied and sketched them more prolifically than ever. As we hear the last of their calls there will be a short gap before the winter thrushes descend on the village. These thrushes will fill most of the gap before the first house martins prospect our nests again in April. I will miss them but there are countless autumn and winter spectacles to be enjoyed in their absence.

All text and images copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

A3 sketchbook watercolour studies of adult and recently fledged juvenile house martins- Pottergate, Gilling East.
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Swifts and lightning- bullfinches and marsh tits feeding on honeysuckle seeds.

Yesterday evening, as the thunderstorm approached, hirundines ascended to take insects carried aloft in its up draughts. I lay back in a sun lounger gazing at the building clouds and listening to the increasing volume of approaching thunder. The rain was so heavy that the noise it made on the tree canopy was audible about a minute before it arrived- when it did arrive it brought the wonderful smell of petrichor.  After seven days of near continuous blue sky and maximum temperatures daily exceeding 30C all that grey was a relief to the eyes. I studied and sketched the structure of the storm as it approached. A characteristic shelf cloud preceded vertical streaks of torrential rain. Cloud to cloud lightning sporadically danced across the sky- occasional strikes, roughly every two minutes producing lovely, lingering rumbles. I love watching lightning with a passion and each jagged arrangement was savoured and etched on my mind.

A few minutes before the rain fell our late breeding swift pair arrived, joined by another pair, perhaps another late breeding pair from Gilling Castle. I watched them scooping up the thunderstorm’s insect bounty and sketched their shapes for the ten thousandth time this year! As the rain really set in, the second pair vanished and ours descended to the nest box to accompany their single chick. It struck me that though dramatic to me this thunderstorm must be dwarfed by some of the storms our swifts have seen over Africa.

Four (possibly five) second broods of house martins seem to be doing well under our eaves. It is possibly their activity that has attracted the swallows that are gathering on our wires each day. In turn this has attracted a very regular hobby that chases them in fast tight manoeuvre flights around the houses. Thirty to forty, mainly juvenile swallows are at eye level on the wires outside our upstairs windows. Their constant twittering has been absent through much of the summer, in a village that used to host several pairs. None have nested nearby but I have been filled with hope seeing them.

The honeysuckle has been attracting bullfinches and marsh tits in recent days. Their target is not the luscious red berry flesh, but the seed within it. If we sit quietly in the garden the bullfinches creep around within the plant trying not to be seen, yet all the while utter their soft, rather deep, whistling contact calls. Marsh tits by contrast snatch a berry and carry it away. In every garden we have had honeysuckle has attracted bullfinches and in this area the seeds never fail to attract marsh tits. Honeysuckle can provide great cover for nests and its flowers attract some bumble bees and lots of moths, so for me it is an essential wildlife garden plant.

All text and images copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Approaching thunderstorm. 15th August 7.37pm.
Swifts and cloud to cloud lightning
Marsh tit and bullfinch on honeysuckle.
Juvenile bullfinch in morning sun.