Sunday, August 23, 2009

Harvest done, swifts gone

click photo to enlarge
Towards the end of my third summer living on Lincolnshire's Fens may be a little early in terms of formulating theories about the region, but one did occur to me yesterday.

I've been watching the cereal harvest come to its end. Over the past few weeks wheat and barley fields have been falling to the combine harvesters, and already quite a few have been turned by the plough. Here and there the odd field is still being cut, but with less urgency than earlier, giving the tractor drivers who haul away the grain the chance to get out of their cabs and have a chat, as in my photograph above. The summers of 2007 and 2008 were much wetter than this year, and the harvest continued well into September, with machines kept off the sodden ground until it had dried. Cereals were left standing to enable them to get as dry as possible, and when they were harvested the grain sheds thundered to the sound of the electric dryers.

However, this year Eastern England has experienced much more typical weather with light but regular rainfall and fine weather. As the harvest winds down at the end of August I've been watching the skies trying to note when I see the last of the swifts (Apus apus). This interesting, fast-flying bird arrives in the UK in May and leaves at the end of August. It is a species that spends almost all its life on the wing, even eating and sleeping as it flies. Its stay in our country is long enough to raise a brood in its nest under eaves and in church towers, the only time it spends on terra firma. So what is my theory, you may be wondering? Well, perhaps it's the case that, in this part of the world, in a typical year, the end of the harvest and the departure of the swifts coincide. Not an earth shattering theory, I'll grant you, but one that I'll test each year. Incidentally, after two "swift-free" days I saw a lone bird yesterday when I took this photograph.

Note 1: The church on the extreme left of the horizon is St Mary, Swineshead, that features in yesterday's post.
Note 2: Today the wheat field opposite my house was cut and I saw one swift.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm (80mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On