Friday, 22 June 2012

The sadness of a summer flood

A midsummer flood is a melancholy thing.

We have one now. The river has broken its banks north of the village. A great crescent of water - silvery at a distance, but turbid and scum-fringed up close - has thrust into the field like a hand. Its long, skinny fingers probe between the ridges of the potato haulms. The tubers will be drowning underneath if it doesn't loosen its grip quickly.

Black headed gulls are floating incongruously among the taller docken (I like the Scottish plural). Oystercatchers and curlew stand at the water's edge as if at the seaside. In another low part of the field a pool has appeared across the path. Buttercups are craning their necks to keep their heads above the water, the flowers floating on the surface like leafless waterlilies. But they, and most of the wild plants that fringe the river, will probably survive unscathed. They're adapted to the occasional, short-lived inundation.

But I worry about the sand martins. Their nest holes pock mark the sandy cliffs of the river, the tiny openings disguising a tunnel that can stretch nearly a metre into the bank. It will have taken them up to 10 days to build. At the end will be a chamber smaller than an apple, lined with feathers, leaves and grass. All under water now.

My reference book, Birds of Scotland, says that the first broods mostly fledge mid to late June. It may be that at least some chicks have escaped a watery grave. But it also says that during prolonged cold periods, of the kind we have undoubtedly been experiencing, females delay laying, in which case the young would still be in their nests when the flood came.

When I walked through the field today the chocolate-brown adults were still wheeling above me, catching up insects as they went like tiny vacuum cleaners. I do hope they were feeding themselves, and not gathering food to take back to the nest. That would be very sad. Sand martins are suffering population declines because of drought in their African wintering grounds. It would be ironic indeed if floods were their downfall here.

5 comments:

  1. Hi! I'm finding your posts quite interesting, being one who also appreciates nature -- from my perspective here on the Saskatchewan prairies. Will be checking back again.

    you can find me at christineevelynvance (dot) wordpress (dot)com among other places. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Christine. Thanks for the comment. Amazed that someone living in Canada has found my blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was googling my own blog to see where it might be found on the google lising, and I found your post about swallows. Since I'm very much a fan of swallows--or swifts, you call them--I had to read what you wrote :)

      My own ancestors came from Gallowayshire, I believe.

      Delete
  3. Hi Sue , It's sad about the sand martins. We suspect several holes were flooded out in Lancashire too. Not sure if there is time for a second brood :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. The weather seems to be hitting wildlife all over the country. On the Isle of May many of the puffin burrows have also been flooded and the chicks lost. Particularly ironic as it's been a bumper fish year, and the pufflings were doing very well. I hear its all because we are experiencing a double dip El Nina - perhaps as a result of climate change, and even more difficult to tackle than a double dip recession methinks. Shame the politicians don't seem to make such a big thing about the former as the latter.

      Delete