Last week we witnessed a phenomenon that occurs here in the UK during late July and early August. It provides a feast for the birds and can be quite spectacular. I refer to the Flight of the Flying Ants.
The high humidity we experienced for a few days was the trigger needed to begin mass swarming of the ants as these tiny insects monitor the day length, humidity and temperature to pick just one day a year to mate.
The natural instinct of the ant is to spread and form new colonies and with this aim the queens fly high into the air before mating with the males. Another marvel of nature and evolution is at work here because only the strongest and fittest males will manage to keep up with the females. The offspring of different colonies will come together thus blending the genes of the species and ensuring its survival.
I have read that the ants all co-ordinate leaving their nests on the same day once a year, but I find this statement to be very misleading. I do agree that a whole colony and indeed many neighbouring colonies will co-ordinate their flight to occur on the same day. However this flying of the ants will be witnessed on many days on which the conditions prove to be suitable.
Feast for the Birds
The first sign that alerted me to this event taking place on Monday of last week, if my memory serves me correctly, was the antics of the local Starling population. They were darting into the air from the conifer, pausing briefly in mid air, performing a pirouette, then returning to their place on the tree branch. It was marvellous entertainment, a bird brained ballet at its finest. Starlings young and old alike were taking full advantage of this natural feast.
I then saw as I looked up and down the neighbouring gardens that the sky was filled with birds. Starlings and House Sparrows were busily collecting the winged morsels everywhere and House Martins swooped endlessly in an effort to catch as many as they could. The flying feast comes at a time when the House Martins need to eat as much as they can, they are building up fat reserves in readiness for the long migration to Africa which they will shortly be undertaking.
But the biggest jaw dropping spectacle, were the Gulls. There were literary hundreds of them, ranging from those flying low down above the rooftops to the countless number that spiralled skywards, rising up and up in ever decreasing circles until barely visible, just mere specs against the backdrop of the sky.
And we live nowhere near to the sea.