A walk in the Lake District from Patterdale to Hartsop offers countless bird sightings, the stars of this piece of nature writing: a trio of swallows.
Although this can be read as a stand-alone piece, it does follow on from my previous piece The Goldrill Bridge. So if you haven’t already done so, you may wish to read that now.
A Trio of Swallows
From the Goldrill Bridge, I find myself ambling along a footpath that will eventually lead me to the bucolic village of Hartsop. As I observe my surroundings—a grass meadow half yellow with buttercups and a plot of trees at the far side, verges thick with greenery and stippled with the violet, magenta, and red of flowers and wild strawberries; and several attractive cottages, their gardens lurid with ornamentals—I am joyed by the abundance of birds that the area is fortunate enough to be blessed with.
A female chaffinch exerts herself whilst tugging on a tuft of sheep wool that is snagged on a barbed-wire fence. After much determination she successfully divests the wire of its tuft of wool and flies off with it, to line her nest no doubt. In the field forage a crew of rooks; a juvenile cries to a parent, demanding to be fed at once. A pied wagtail scurries across an old, slate, lightly-lichened rooftop; if it was to stand still it would disappear in an instant. Beneath the eaves of the same roof, house sparrows have taken over a house martin’s mud nest; the wide, yellow mouths of hungry chicks are triggered into action by the return of their mother. A pair of exotically coloured finches—goldfinches—undulate across the path before me, looking like they don’t belong, looking like an introduced species from some far-away paradisiacal place. Finally, atop a nearby fence post, the plush red breast of a robin stands out, its inquisitive nature quite charming.
I continue onwards along the footpath. Trees, mainly broadleaves, but also the odd coniferous, create a shady atmosphere until I reach the open grounds of a Lakeland farm where Herdwicks graze on lush green grass. The lambs are black and the faces, ears and lower legs of some, but not all, are imbued with a touch of white, so that the pied wagtails with their black and white plumage, dashing about after flies amongst the pasture, and the lambs, munching nonchalantly on their cud, complement each other perfectly.
I saunter through the farmyard and then carry on along the path. Bramble bushes are brimming with pretty petals—white with the faintest tint of pink. Each petal stems from a lemon-yellow centre whose stamens conjure up images of a peacock’s crest. A cornucopia of flying insects quaffs nectar from the sweet inner sanctums of each flower’s centre.
As I move on, the dulcet buzzing of wasps, bees and hoverflies fades, gradually replaced by the increasingly clear music of a mistle thrush played from the apical point of an oak. Accompanying the acoustic performance is a visual display of gymnastics expertly carried out in the canopy by an energetic party of blue tits.
I meander through the oaks, noticing how their boughs reach out far and wide and how their trunks are green and velvety. There is something majestic about these ancient beings. They exude an invisible vibe that draws reverence from my soul.
Suddenly, I am joined by a trio of swallows swerving up and down, left and right, under and over, and back and forth as they quarter the area’s airspace in high-speed pursuit of winged insects. ‘If a roller coaster was designed based on the flight path of a swallow it would be one hell of a ride!’ I think to myself, my eyes now glued to a single bird. The sheer grace and agility with which the swallow navigates through the air is nothing short of mesmerising, a quality that is accentuated by dazzling regalia. The dorsal surface—the back—is so dark blue it is almost black, but even on this overcast morning, it is sleek and satiny with a sheen that shifts in tune with the bird’s tilts and turns. From one second to the next, with one swift and showy movement, the swallow’s inky upper side swaps place with its off-white lower and, as it does so, reveals a fiery throat. The swallows, having now cast their spell upon me, then depart the scene as suddenly as they had arrived, their tail streamers trailing behind them.