If any of you own fruit trees, especially apple or pear, you are probably feeling a little overwhelmed by now.
I know I am, the trees in my little garden are groaning under the burden of ever-ripening fruit and, a bit like the magic porridge pot, there seems no end to the harvest!
It started off with the first couple of pears being picked rock-hard and totally under ripe, such was the family’s impatience to start unloading the weighed down boughs. In seemingly no time at all this transformed into piles of over-ripe fruit in bowls on every surface in the houses; apple sauce being eaten with everything, including cereal; and a daily task to clear the grass of rotting windfalls in case the boozy fruit attract hundreds of wasps to a garden with a toddler.
So I am a little jaded with apples and pears, to say the least. And yet, fast forward 10 months to August 2012 and things will be totally different. We’ll be cheering and waving tiny flags under strings of patriotic bunting, everything will have an Olympic theme and I will be craving my own, home-grown pear!
Its so easy to become complacent, so hard not to resist taking for granted riches you see every day. I have found a similar tendency creeping into wildlife watching too.
There was a time I would have dropped everything to photograph a Sabine’s gull on Exmouth seafront, or a grey phalarope: wow! For the past couple of weeks both these beautiful species have been loitering just off the beach near the lifeboat station, and I’ve still not managed to get down to see them!
The Sabine’s gull is named after 19th Century scientist Sir Edward Sabine, originally from Ireland, Sir Ed was something of a polymath and while on Arctic exploration with the Navy he sent back dead specimens of a gull which he had not seen before. It was identified by his brother as a new species, originally put in its own genus and named after its discoverer, and so the world got Xena sabini, later changed to fit within the wider gull genus it is now known as Larus sabini. It is a truly beautiful gull, the only genuine tri-coloured seagull.
The juvenile birds which have been seen locally have a dark eye and bill, making them look a bit like winter plumage black-headed gulls. However the back of the bird is a dusty grey, extending up the back of the neck to give a hood. A white body and black wingtips can be seen when resting, but when the gull takes to the wing it shows off this colour with a fabulous triangular pattern across its back. They breed in the high Arctic, and winter off the coast of West Africa, so Autumn and Spring migration is the best time to look out for the odd one passing by, seems we struck lucky to have these few spend such a time on our beach?
The grey phalarope is another interesting bird, which should have sent me dashing off for a closer look. Known to UK birders as grey phalarope, in its breeding plumage in the high arctic you would not recognise it from this name as it is a vivid burnished orange in colour. However, unlike most birds it is the female which is the more brightly coloured as she does the displaying and leaves the male to tend the eggs.
They look like slender grey and white waders, however they are far happier at sea than their coastal counterparts. They have a wonderful habit of pitching up on the surface of the water, and whizzing round in tight little circles, nipping tiny organisms from the water’s surface with their thin bill.
To see either of these birds is a notable occurrence, but to have both in the same place at the same time is really remarkable. To be able to get an awesome photograph of both birds, together in the same photo is truly astounding! So, throw off your autumnal, jaded glasses and look afresh with the rosy-tinted ones you once wore. We are so lucky to call this place home.