Saturday, 14 October 2017

Nature Notes

My offering for local community magazines for the month ahead . . .

Another Autumn Walk

After last month’s foray, a rather shorter walk this month, which I made along the canal towpath on a very wet day in early October, walking home from Coed y Dinas. It wasn’t a cold day, and the breeze was light, but the rain was quite heavy at times and the light wasn’t all that good.

But there was still plenty to see, beginning with a pair of swans and their well grown cygnets on the pool formed out of the old route of the canal. I wonder if these were the same birds I saw at the lock at Berriew on the walk I described last month. They may have been, but there are always several pairs along this part of the canal. These were being quite busy in the rain, up-ending themselves to dabble deep down into the water with their long necks. Swans feed mostly on underwater vegetation, but they don’t mind supplementing that with water insects and other invertebrates, frogs and even small fish should these come to hand, or rather beak.

A moorhen dashed jerkily past in front of the reeds, but either didn’t notice me or wasn’t too bothered at the sight of me. This is one of our commonest water-birds, found pretty much everywhere in Britain, and happy to live on smaller ponds than its relative the coot. Its red bill with a yellow tip is distinctive, as is its jerky, flicking motion when swimming or walking. Like the coot it has lobed toes rather than fully webbed feet. Well-grown juveniles are dull brown and lack the red beak; I saw a couple a little further on as I walked.

Not many insects fly when there’s heavy rain, but a large dragonfly came across just in front of me, close enough for me to hear the rustle of its wings, as I left the pool to walk the canal towpath proper. Maybe I’d disturbed it from its resting place. A surprising number of plants were still in flower along the towpath, including my personal favourite, meadowsweet. The towpath equivalent of the “Chelsea chop” designed to bring on a second showing of flowers in your garden is the midsummer mow along the canal, which guarantees a late flush of flowers from meadowsweet and others. The scent is lovely, but I wasn’t going to stop and sniff in the rain. The same scent, incidentally, is present in the leaves and other green parts - not as strongly, but scrunch up a leaf and sniff it and you’ll get a hint of it. Other plants in flower included low-growing speedwells, a pleasing blue, and the yellow of creeping Jenny, not a wild plant, so I suspect garden soil must have been used to build up the bank here during restoration.

A couple of herons passed over, and I could hear a buzzard mew, but the highlight of my walk had to be a sparrowhawk drifting across the fields used for the country and western weekend and other events. I say drifting, for it wasn’t going at any great speed, but this was quite a purposeful drift: a few wing beats, a glide, a few wing beats again, keeping its eyes open for any opportunity. The short wings and long tail are typical; the wings have a rounder shape than the kestrel. This hawk is a superbly adapted and deadly hunter, and always, for me, a delight to see.

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