I love BIG weather. The downside is it can cause flooding, take off the garden shed roof, cut off the phones or hinder travel but it makes you feel small, a little bit helpless and even insignificant, and in this modern world where we're each at the centre of our own personal universe- a sense of scale within the wider world probably isn't a bad thing.
Today's strong winds brought down a few boughs and the odd tree but they weren't the strongest to date but they were relentless and unseasonal and when combined with the driving rain they made today a bad day to be a wild bird.
The farm as a whole is already struggling to cope with the heavy and continued rain we've had. It is of course much-needed but arriving all at once as it has makes it seem like Mother Nature is being sarcastic. We lamb our sheep later than many farms as it allows us the time to comfortably get all the cattle out of their winter housing and into the fields- it also means the weather is typically more favourable and the lambs can be born outside with minimal human interference- but it looks like the gamble didn't pay off.
This year the young stock are still indoors, the dairy herd are turning their fields to mud and lambs are being born into constant rain and biting winds. You know your fields are sodden when they attract Mallards, dozens of Starlings and a daily flock of foraging gulls that has now reached over 200 birds.
Today's strong winds and rain saw many birds seeking shelter; the bird feeders were abandoned, the sky empty and even the most persistent species like the gulls and the corvids were overpowered and depleted in number. Occasionally Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps were still singing, but from the hedgebottoms not the treetops.
Perhaps the saddest site of the day was a scattering of little black dots on a bankside that turned out to be a flock of Swallows. As I approached I could see their feathers were drenched, their wings hanging by their sides, and they appeared exhausted as they made little effort to move despite my presence. 'Our' Swallows were already sheltering in the farm buildings but these were clearly someone else's birds- probably headed north but stopped in their tracks.
I've seen Swallows on the ground before, but only odd birds, and always by the side of puddles in the farmyard as they collect mud for their nests. This was something different, but I backed away. It was unlikely I could do anything for them that wouldn't risk more harm than good- even trying to gather them up would probably be a rather misguided and destructive affair. But I did resolve to keep an eye on them.
I thought about those Swallows for much of the day- all the trials and thousands of miles they'd endured to get here and I then thought about what they'd arrived to. Yet the more I thought about them, the more I realised just how smart and how tough these little birds are.
Yes, the conditions weren't exactly Swallow-friendly but rather than continuing to fly on unsuccessfully they (guided by their survival instincts) had decided to cut their losses and sit it out. They were basically doing what I'd do in their position. What's more they'd chosen one of the farm's few south facing banks to land on- they were safe from the north-easterly wind, and indeed the rain. The howling winds blowing just a couple of feet over their heads were enough to keep many would-be predators off their cases.
So today's Swallows were a sorry sight and I don't believe in sugar-coating a pill, no matter how bitter- but, drenched and exhausted when flying was impossible- they'd taken a rather practical plan B. A decision that turned out to be the right one as 5 hours later, when the wind had died down (a little) they were all back on the wing, zipping along the woodland edge and catching any insect brave enough to take flight. They'll be gone tomorrow and if you live north of Derbyshire they might just end up somewhere near you.
Big weather can cause big problems, but the environment is full of little survivors that are capable of great feats of endurance. Some species are more delicate and prone to suffer but you'd be surprised at how good they are at pulling though when more is at risk than just the phone connection or the garden shed roof.