WHEN I woke shortly before 7am on Tuesday, the light on my bedroom wall was such a vivid red that I wondered for a second if the building over the road was on fire. In fact it was a spectacular sunrise:
I took this picture from our front door at 7.05am. You can see the silhouette of Pendle Hill on the horizon. I was very lucky because ten minutes later the colour had disappeared.
Like everyone I know the saying
Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight
Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning
Some people say sailor instead of shepherd but the meaning is the same: that a red sunrise means a stormy day ahead.
That being the case, any sensible shepherd in our vicinity would have taken to a nuclear bunker. However the day was very ordinary, with sunshine in the morning and a little rain in the afternoon.
So is the saying any more use than the BBC weather forecasts about which I complained a few weeks ago?
It certainly goes back a long way. According to the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3) Jesus said, ‘When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.’
Shakespeare wrote in his play Venus and Adonis:
Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.
I found an explanation on the Scientific American website. To summarise, the red colour results from sunlight on suspended particles and aerosols in the atmosphere. The sun’s rays pass through a greater length of atmosphere at sunrise and sunset than at any other time of day which is why the colour is more intense.
The adage holds good if weather systems are moving in the usual way, from west to east. Clouds illuminated red when the sun is setting in the west suggests that a weather system is departing and high pressure is building, with fair weather to follow. When the sun is rising in the east, the red colour of mid- and high-level clouds suggests high pressure is being pushed east by a weather system approaching from the west, with stormy weather to come.
There are a couple of reasons why a red sunrise might not herald rain. The clouds may have rained themselves out by the time they get to you, or the winds may not be blowing west to east. I did not look at the wind direction for Tuesday (having not read up on the subject till just now) but I am fairly sure it was from the south, which would explain why the rule did not work. I will take more notice next time.
Last week I wrote about jackdaws, which prompted a remarkable comment late in the day from ‘Wildboar’. If you did not see it, here it is:
‘About 45 years ago, I did some voluntary work for my local RSPCA, an hour in the early evenings weekdays and an hour at weekends when the business was closed. One of my tasks was cleaning, medicating and feeding oil-damaged sea-birds which included swans. I got used to looking after and being around birds.
‘One day I locked down a young jackdaw at home, not because I was a bumbling totalitarian, but because I thought the fledgling was too vulnerable to survive on its own. I was walking in an avenue in a street nearby my home and it fell out of a nest in a tree in front of me, perhaps on a first attempt to fly. I watched it fluttering round the pavement and on to the road for five minutes but it couldn’t achieve lift off. So I nestled it in my jacket and took it home.
‘This is a true story although it sounds like fiction. I put the fledgling in the sitting-room of my flat on the first floor on a wide window ledge and left it with a saucer of fresh water and a saucer of a small portion of cat food with bits of bread. My wife would come nowhere near as she was frightened of birds. The young jackdaw started to call and it did so regularly hour after hour. Within 20 minutes there was a response call from the garden which by the next day had become a chorus. I looked out of the window and saw the one apple tree and the roof of the garden shed cluttered with jackdaws. Going out into the garden to check out this phenomenon, I counted 40 jackdaws all around the garden, most of them perched on the house roof. They had come to rescue their own. If only human beings in totalitarian lockdowns would come together in the same way.
‘On the morning of the third day, I knew the lockdown had to end: the fledgling was vigorous and noisy, the birds outside ready for action. So I nestled the jackdaw in a bath towel to stop its wings fluttering while I lifted up the sash window, then cupping the bird in my hands, extended my arms out of the window and threw it into the heavens. Like members of an RAF synchronised aerial display, two jackdaws swooped out of the sky, fell into line on either side of the fluttering fledgling and then they were flying in formation, three together, back to their nests in the trees a quarter of a mile away. The other jackdaws in the garden leisurely took their departure too, leaving that garden on the Devon coast to the hedgehogs and at night, the hoot of owls from a woodland slope a mile away.
‘I had always known that birds of the family of Corvidae lived in communities but until that time I hadn’t realised that there was also a communal care for the young.’
Last week I also wrote about a white mallard drake which had arrived in our stream with a standard-coloured mate. Since then he has taken a fancy to the area and is now vigorously defending it against all comers, flying several hundred yards if necessary to attack any intruder he has spied. We call him ‘the white supremacist’.