Monday, 28 April 2014

Let's go fly a Kite

Last weekend my other half and I found ourselves back in the Brecon Beacons, and walking up the tallest hill in the southern half of these fair islands. Let me tell you, once you've tried real mountains these piddly sub-1000m mounds of earth just don't command the same kind of respect - and I live in Essex where, as I may have mentioned in the past, even the speed bumps get contour lines. Yes the top might be hidden by cloud, but there's not even a snow-line. That's not to say I didn't wonder once or twice on the way up why I put myself through this, but there was never any doubt that we'd reach the top, and the view from the summit is stunning.

My abiding memory from that climb is Skylarks all the way up, absolutely everywhere, singing their little hearts out. It really is an amazing sound and the sheer number was enough to make me happy, even if the views consisted of small black specks against bright blue sky (in Wales! Very unexpected, but most welcome).

However, since I was walking, I didn't have a camera, so you are rescued from pictures of small black specks. Instead, you get pictures of Red Kites, you lucky people.

Yes, we did Gigrin farm. Yes, I took the long lens. Yes, it's as good as cheating and there are a dozen blurry, overexposed photos for every one of the four half decent ones below, but it's hella fun. I don't have an expensive camera or even a particularly good lens, so I was going for Character. I wanted Kites Doing Interesting Things to compensate for the fact that the photo quality wasn't going to be anything special. Fortunately, Kites feed a bit like Terns, except that instead of plunging into water they perform death defying last second pull outs when they dive for food. It is a joy to watch.

Besides of which, take a hundred photos and odds are you'll have 4 good ones to share.

And if you ever find yourself up that way and in need of a bed and breakfast, I can 100% recommend the New Hall Guesthouse in Llanwrtyd Wells. It is friendly and awesome and the breakfast is amazing.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The three signs of madness

The first sign of madness is well known to be hairs growing on the palms of one's hands.

The second sign of madness is, of course, looking for said hairs.

The third sign of madness is less well known, but no less serious. It comes in the form of an hallucination, and strikes suddenly and without warning. It leaves the sufferer disoriented, confused, and if they are unlucky enough to tell others, slightly mocked.

Today I thought I saw a Swift. In February. Which is ridiculous.

The vision lasted about half a second. It took the form of an explosive, whippy-winged, swift-sized ball; briefly silhouetted against a bright blue sky (surely an hallucination in itself) as it crashed into my field of view from behind a rooftop, turned on a wing-tip and disappeared at warp speed whence it came.

**A brief aside** I love the word whence. I should use it more often.

I know it can't be a Swift. Everything I know about birds and migration tells me that I won't see a swift for at least another three months. The trouble is, I'm having real trouble thinking of anything else it might have been. Nothing else flies like that; it just felt... swifty. The only birds I can think of that come close are also 2 months away and, consequently, just as unlikely.

I have not yet dared consider that we've just had three large storm systems sweeping in across the Atlantic. For sure I'll be doing a lot of staring out the back window for the next week or so, but I'm pretty sure urban Essex is not the first stop of choice for American passerines so let's discount that possibility for now.

So I throw this riddle out there to the world, in the hope that someone can show me a path back to sanity. Any suggestions? What am I missing? This is one dodgy ID that even I couldn't have mistaken for a pigeon at a funny angle, so what could it be?

Put me out of my misery please. Suggestions in the comments.

This is not the swift. But it is a swift. What looks like this?