Second broods on the move

Young swallows in the nest
Young swallows in the nest

The second flush of youngsters has now hit the countryside and gardens everywhere.

Some small birds have now reared their second broods to fledging and my garden is once again alive with their peepings and flutterings. There are young coal, blue and great tits, siskins and I also have two young great spotted woodpeckers coming to the feeders. They are flighty and very easily scared, shooting off into the trees at the slightest movement. They are easily identifiable from their parents, having red on the forehead and onto the crown of their head (the adult male has red at the back of his neck and the female no red at all on her head).

I am pleased to say that I have hedgehogs in my garden and that as a result of them, along with the frogs and toads, thrushes and violet ground beetles, my hostas are hole-free. This year, so far, I have not seen any young hedgehogs, but the adults are frequently trundling around the garden in the evenings. While we were away for a couple of days my son was entrusted with shutting the cat in the porch overnight, and one night he had an amusing encounter with one of the hedgehogs. The cat does not always come when you call her in the late evening, particularly if she is distracted by something she considers more interesting or more worthy of her attention. So my son, leaving her food out in the porch, went to look for her. Eventually finding her and returning with her to the porch, he discovered the hedgehog tucking into the cat’s food. The cat decided that she did not like the look of this prickly creature and promptly shot back out into the garden. My son, muttering to himself, turned his attention to removing the hedgehog. It, however, had different ideas and scuttled off into a corner. Now normally, a hedgehog’s defense is to roll up into a tight ball, so he thought that by donning his thick gloves, all he had to do was pick it up and put it outside, but this particular hedgehog decided to stay “un-rolled” and fight. It squirmed, threw its legs about, grunted and tried to bite him! He eventually managed to remove it, still protesting. Of course, by this time the cat had vanished again and he had to start all over again. It took him nearly twenty minutes to achieve the simple task of shutting the cat in the porch. He said it was like a Laurel and Hardy sketch thanks to a non-conformist hedgehog!

I found four swallow nests built on the rafters of an open-sided wooden porch. The adults were flying out and in at speed, feeding the young. One nest in particular was literally spilling over with youngsters. They were almost fully feathered and with five of them in the nest it was a bit crowded to say the least. Tails, wingtips and heads hung over the edge of the precariously tilted nest of straw and mud, and in the midst of the scramble that ensued when an adult returned with food l was convinced at least one would fall out. However, clinging onto the rim of the nest they fluttered their wings until they could raise themselves back over the edge and squash into the packed nest. I am sure that they could fly if they tried - perhaps they were just prolonging their last days of security in the nest, being waited upon by mum and dad. The next nest, by contrast, had some quite young, still fluffy chicks in it.

I watched four soaring buzzards against a lovely blue sky full of bright white cumulous clouds one day. It was obviously two adults and two young and they called out to each other all the time as though the youngsters were uncertain and needed re-assurance from the adults, just like a human child trying something new. Suddenly from below, in the tops of the trees came another, long, drawn-out call. It took me a little while scanning with the binoculars to pinpoint the bird, but there in the branches near the top of a scots pine was another buzzard. The calls of the adults were perhaps also to encourage this slightly more timid bird to launch into the air with its siblings. Although I watched for a while, it remained where it was. No doubt it will eventually pluck up the courage.

I had some time sailing again last week and on one of the days, it was absolutely flat calm, - no good for sailing but great for wildlife spotting. There were lots of porpoises about and they were easy to spot on the mirror-like surface of the water, a dark triangular fin, unlike the curved fin of the dolphin, and the air was so still that, even when they were quite a distance away, you could hear the “huff” as they exhaled. Porpoises are not so easy to follow with your eye as dolphins as they tend to spend less time at the surface - a couple of rolls there and then they disappear below the surface for a time and there is no way of knowing where they will re-appear. We even spotted one dark fin with a small one alongside - a mother and calf - fabulous to see!

There were also flotillas of guillemots, sitting on perfect reflections on themselves, young birds and adults together, the young constantly “peeping” to keep in contact. As we drifted by them, almost like a signal had been given, they all dived together and re-surfaced a bit further away. A few black guillemots were about too with their white wing patches and sealing wax red feet. The inside of their beaks is also this vivid red.

On the hills the next day, which had turned very windy, a family of ravens was “playing” in the gusts coming up off the hillside, twisting, turning and looping, chasing one another and dropping out of the sky like a on old, oily, rag. Sometimes their flight was light like a piece of burnt paper on the wind and at other times they powered down in a swoop almost like a bird of prey. I had to admire their mastery of their element and they really looked like they were having fun. the strong wind brought their loud, deep “croaks” to my ears, a sound that I always associate with wild, rocky crags.

August is a great month for observing young birds and animals, both interacting with the adults or setting off on their own and is a interesting time for walking.