Get out of the city and into na­ture with Roger Har­ri­son

Harefield Gazette - - LEISURE -

My in­ter­est in na­ture be­gan watch­ing ducks and grebes with my dad, and has con­tin­ued over the last 12 years via weekly vis­its to Welsh Harp Lake in my lunch breaks. I’ve been amazed at what can be ex­pe­ri­enced so close to the north cir­cu­lar, Brent Cross and the M1, and I hope I can share its story through the year

ONE of my favourite mo­ments of the year at Welsh Harp Lake, and a sure sign that sum­mer is ready to be­gin comes with the re­turn of two much-trav­elled birds, the swift and com­mon tern.

Both will have made long jour­neys from var­i­ous parts of Africa and both are supremely aerial, with the swift hav­ing such mas­tery of the air that, in good health it has no nat­u­ral en­e­mies, as noth­ing is ca­pa­ble of match­ing its com­bi­na­tion of speed and ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. With their sharp, rapier wings and small, almost black sil­hou­ettes against a blue sum­mer sky, they can re­sem­ble lit­tle clouds of Chi­nese throw­ing stars as they wheel about with wide open mouths in pur­suit of tiny in­sects. So specif­i­cally de­signed for flight, they are in­ca­pable of perch­ing, can even sleep while fly­ing, and af­ter first leav­ing the nest, may not land any­where for a full three years un­til they them­selves are ready to breed.

The tern’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties are more vis­ually ap­par­ent, given a bit of ob­ser­va­tion.

Ap­pear­ing as a slightly built and more grace­ful type of gull (not in­tended as a put-down to gulls – I re­ally like gulls), it pos­sesses a dif­fer­ent kind of agility, its lightly bounc­ing pa­trols up and down the lake be­ing in­terupted by a sud­den hand­brake turn and dive, on oc­ca­sion almost seem­ing to defy the laws of me­chan­ics, and I’m sure the sort of thing that would tear apart any man-made craft.

It com­pletes the move ei­ther with a head­long plunge into the wa­ter af­ter a fish, to some­how pro­pel it­self ver­ti­cally back into the air, with a shake to get rid of ex­cess mois­ture, or more of­ten at Welsh Harp, an­other abrupt turn

cen­time­tres above the wa­ter to pluck an in­sect or fish from the very sur­face. I could watch them all day.

These two are joined by var­i­ous mem­bers of the war­bler fam­ily trav­el­ling back to the lake and sur­round­ing woods and bushes to breed. Small brown birds, not eas­ily spot­ted or iden­ti­fied on sight, they are as their col­lec­tive name sug­gests more known for their var­i­ous songs. These range from the sim­ple lilt­ing ‘chiff-chaff ’ from the bird of the same name, a hall­mark of spring, to the manic call of the sedge war­bler, which sounds as if it’s recorded a more con­ven­tional song, and think­ing it un­ex­cep­tional, cut the tape in pieces, stuck it to­gether in ran­dom or­der and adopted that as its sig­na­ture. Most of these fall silent once mates have been found and the se­ri­ous busi­ness of chick-rear­ing be­gins, but the swifts and terns will be in ev­i­dence over gar­dens and lakes re­spec­tively for the next few months, and are al­ways worth tak­ing the time to mar­vel at.

n WEL­COME RE­TURN: The com­mon tern as pic­tured by Juha Soini­nen and the swift, pho­tographed by Pau Ar­ti­gas, are sure signs that sum­mer is here

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