36 degrees of perspiration 🥵

If you live in Britain you must be sick of hearing about it: England recorded temperatures of above 40C this week for the first time on record. Wednesday the 20th July was 230 years in the making, and it didn’t feel great.

Why 230 years? The Industrial Revolution is described as beginning around the 1790s and the epic burning of fossil fuels since then has built up so much carbon in the atmosphere that the globe is warming at a rate that earth’s current residents haven’t ever had to deal with before.

Why am I mansplaining this? I spoke to someone the other day who said that we should just enjoy the weather.

36C in my garden in the shade

My body seems to want what Western Ireland had to offer on the hellfire day, 17C and cloud, rather than the 36C my West Sussex garden thermometer clocked up in the shade. Not much enjoyment there.

It was so harsh the spiders had to leave their nooks because it was too hot under the black painted wood of the shed. A few hours later when the sparrows reappeared they went hunting for eight-legged snacks.

Spiders leaving their usual nooks due to the extreme heat

I’ve spent much of the past week feeding my cat in-law, doing regular evening and morning walks across town. I’ve noticed birds behaving differently: a green woodpecker feeding in the middle of a quiet road, a jay sitting on a gravestone at 9pm, and butterflies fluttering around the garden at dusk.

I’ve found a local house martin nest is occupied for another year in the old part of town, the parents flying around before 8am when it was nearly 30C. It turns everything inside out.

I’ve also noticed how many front gardens have been paved over and how much of a bad move that is when the mercury rockets. It also looks terrible. It’s another product of cars becoming status symbols, especially when 3 of them are sitting in front of your house. That house is now several degrees warmer because of the lack of vegetation or water.

Extreme crop of a peregrine flying over my house

Recently I’ve heard a bird of prey calling from high above my house. Last week I managed to get a photo and a sketchy video. I sent the video to my friend and he confirmed it was a pair of peregrine falcons. I’ve heard them almost everyday through the heatwave, and even woken to them at dawn. I wasn’t sure if that was a dream, however. I’ve been suspicious that they might be local having spotted them flying over the town and also heading south, probably to the South Downs and one of the old chalk quarries. Maybe their exposed perches have been too hot for their talons, sending them out into the sky.

Thanks for reading.

The Sussex Weald: stars in a different sky

The Low Weald, West Sussex, January 2021

A second wave of Covid has thrown us back into lockdown in England. You can only leave the house for essentials and exercise. It’s much harder now that the night falls early and the window on experiencing daylight has narrowed. But the days are lengthening and spring is building in small ways.

At night the foxes are making their blood-curdling cries and other social calls. They are breeding, probably just outside the back door each night.

On clear nights I sit on the edge of the bed and, with lights out, can see stars. The three lights of Orion’s Belt shine bright, but not more so than Sirius to the south-east. It’s the brightest star in the sky.

Out on my exercise for the day, I stand in a frosty glade of bracken. Silver birches are clustered at the edges, ash branches have collapsed and fallen to the ground. Their twigs reveal leafy lichens, in some places known as oak moss. There are real mosses too, little green pin cushions with their sporophytes poised.

The birds are foraging for life in this time of scarcity. A jay moves between trees and shrubs, flushing white wing-bars as it flies. Nuthatches are dripping from the tree trunks in both number and sound. Further away the hooting of two tawny owls ruffles out of the trees, half-baked. Are these early territorial warning signs? Spring, indeed.

Alarm calls break across the branches and bare blue sky. It is a beautiful day. Knowing these alarm calls mean something is happening, I look up at the patch of sky over the clearing. From the north-west two birds fly close to one another, on passage. To identify them will take a process of elimination:

  • Wings too sharp for sparrowhawk
  • Too small and direct in flight for buzzard
  • Too big for merlin
  • Hobbies are holidaying in Africa
  • Tail too short for kestrel

They’re peregrine falcons, stars in a different sky. Perhaps they are returning to the South Downs and an early morning hunting pigeons in the towns. Maybe they’re a pair getting to know each other and seeking a place to breed. Wherever they’re going, bit by bit, winter is edging away with them.

The Sussex Weald

Poetry: The falcon etched

Malham Cove-1

The falcon etched

Wait with the falcon etched
into cove rock at Malham,
meadowsweet aglow
in the fields below.

Wait for the falcon etched,
with those cheeks streaked,
drawn like the scars
on the limestone it enlivens.

Does it ever move,
bird or fossil.

This dale holds great riches
for those talons and talents
to savour.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2017