The water-meadows are alive with insects as we approach midsummer, and the birds are taking full advantage of the seasonal bounty. On a riverside walk yesterday, I was delighted to spot a hobby (Falco subbuteo) as well as the usual squadrons of housemartins and swifts. This gorgeous bird of prey, about the size of a kestrel but with the rapid, swooping flight of a swallow, is a summer migrant visitor to these shores. Fantastically fast and manoeuvrable, it snatches dragonflies out of the air – a truly astounding feat of talon-eye coordination – then eats them on the wing. I can’t help noticing that Nature is often at her most beautiful and inspiring when predators and prey come together, even if it’s just birds and buzzing things in the drowsy fields of a Sussex summer.
Summer has made this peaceful pasture
A theatre of operations,
Where two vast blocs – immortal foes –
Are flung together for another round of attrition.
On one side, the teeming insect hordes
Infinite in scope and number,
Seethe and swirl in Brownian clouds,
Dab momentary circles on the water.
For every one that falls, a million wait to take its place.
Ranged against them are the birds.
The hobby, hanging on the wind,
Makes sweeping skirmishes along the riverbanks,
His thought-quick talons take down
Dragonfly and demoiselle in savage, surgical strikes.
The swifts and martins skim the grass like glossy scythes
Slicing gnats and mayflies from the air above the silver meadow.
There can be no armistice, no truce or treaty
In this Million Years’ War both sides are doomed to lose.
And in their beauty, and mastery of their savage art,
I claim the spoils of this sublime and graceful slaughter.