I have always been fascinated by the sky and the things that appear in it. I love watching sunsets and moon rises, waiting until the last light fades from the golden sky, or seeing the first glimpse of the ethereal white orb as it passes over the horizon.
The moon has a special place in my heart. I follow her phases and look for her each night the sky is clear. The brightest light from the full moon casts deep shadows in the dark around my unlit house. On these nights we rest with the curtains pulled back, the moon’s reflected glory shining in through the windows; she helps me to sleep and wraps my dreams with tranquility. This was how I slept last night.
On dark nights, when she is new, I wait until the sliver of the crescent may be visible and I take time to search the western sky, just before sunset, to catch sight of the pale shape. It has become something of a ritual, a ceremony to honour the passing of another month, and I love the continuity that sits within the unending wax and wane.
The passing of time is also marked out in the turning of the seasons within the nightly star-show. Just now Pegasus is about, its large, square form dominating the view for me, and I await “Mr Orion” into the northern sky soon, marching across the heavens through the winter, I know spring is coming when Leo is high in the sky in February, the familiar sickle of the proud lion’s head rising earlier as the days get longer. The unchanging pole star and the circling Ursa Major, the famous Plough, with the attendant “W” of Cassiopia are welcome and reassuring sights for me on a dark night. Their constant but consistent movement reminds me of our place in space, our “3rd rock from the sun” status and the ramifications of that state. We are but small dots, blips in the cosmic history. This sense of perspective, as well as the beauty, fill me with an awesome wonder that I never fail to feel whenever I observe the sky and its celestial bodies, which are for me heavenly indeed.
Yesterday was a lovely sunny day, just the sort you want at the end of August in this part of the world where summer is showing signs of being over. J and I decided to take a day out and go over to our local RSPB reserve for a spot of birding. For the uninitiated this is not a euphemism, we really do look at feathered birds, and in J’s case we record all sightings for his future use and possibly for posterity as well.
Little Grebe feeding chick (from http://www.thamesvalleybirds.co.uk)
The day turned out to be a wonderful mixture of walking and watching. We walked the stony footpaths alongside the fruiting hedgerows, and took the visitor trail up to the reed-screen hides. On my previous visits the waterways had been quiet, lovely to contemplate but not noteworthy to a more serious birder than I. On this visit we were pleased to see a young Little Grebe whose peeping was insistent, and we watched as its parents dived for food. As the young chick begged it was rewarded with small tidbits.
Further along the way we were graced with a glorious display by two Hobbys. These small falcons are seriously acrobatic, and as they swooped and dived for dragon flies along the reed edged water channels we watched in wonder. Once the birds had taken their prey in the air they then bettered this aerial feat by feeding in the air, taking pecks at the insects caught in their talons. This spectacle went on for over five minutes, and neither J nor I had ever seen this activity for that long before. It was certainly a memorable moment in my birdwatching career.
Great Crested Grebe carrying chick. (www.northamptonshire.gov.uk)
This was all topped off for me by a sight I have had on my “to see” birding list since I was about seven; a young Great Crested Grebe riding on the back of its mother. We had walked up to the furthest hide and on the way we passed a fellow spotter who told us that he had seen a grebe with some very small chicks. Very small chicks are normally around much earlier in the year, but the wet weather this spring has put back some breeding efforts so we were lucky to have them around. As J set up the telescope, I scanned across the water with my binoculars, I saw the grebe and its young but we needed the ‘scope to get more detail as they were across by the far reed bed, about 100 metres away. When I put my eye to the ‘scope I saw the sweet sight of two very tiny stripy headed chicks scrambling up their mother’s back. I squealed with absolute joy at this and watched as they snuggled into her down, disappearing out of view for a time (so much so that J didn’t see them for a while!)
So, a beautiful day and a great time spent in the outdoors. In the local pub, over cider, we assessed our visit; we walked and watched for four hours and saw over thirty different species – I know this as J diligently recorded each one. The encounters portrayed here sum up the magic of the day for me; to have the opportunity to see beauty at first hand in the commonplace happenings of nature is a great privilege.