Tag Archives: birds

February 6: and then comes what shall come— Brownings I.

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Robert Browning is writing to Elizabeth Barrett, his secret fiancée. She has told him of her dependence on morphine, as prescribed by her doctor, who is reluctant to take her off it, but agrees to do so, ‘slowly and gradually’. Robert is keen for her to get out and about, for she has been housebound for a long time, and offers her some encouragement. He writes this day, February 6, 1846. His home at Camberwell was still in Kent then, while Elizabeth was in Central London, under the jealous eye of her father.

‘Slowly and gradually’ what may not be done? Then see the bright weather while I write—lilacs, hawthorn, plum-trees all in bud; elders in leaf, rose-bushes with great red shoots; thrushes, whitethroats, hedge sparrows in full song—there can, let us hope, be nothing worse in store than a sharp wind, a week of it perhaps—and then comes what shall come—”

Elizabeth (‘Ba’) had written of when the drug was prescribed:

I have had restlessness till it made me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides palpitation—as if one’s life, instead of giving movement to the body, were imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me morphine, and ever since I have been calling it my amreeta* draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very slowly and gradually.

  • The drink of the Hindu gods, conferring immortality.
 from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846”, available on Kindle or online. 
The Apricot is also in bud now, and will soon flower, leaving us to fret about late frosts killing off the developing fruit. Comes what shall come …
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Midday Busker

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The great bell of the Cathedral was chiming the hour, but that was not the sound that caught Abel’s attention. It was a blackcap perched on a fence about eye-level to both of us – Abel was lifted up on the bike seat so could see clearly. And hear and ask, what’s that bird?

When the little bird had ceased warbling, we looked up in the trees around the theatre and Dominican and spotted a pair of wood pigeons. We had been talking about them a few minutes before, when we saw a few town pigeons foraging outside a café.

There’s no need to be 3½ years old to marvel at the blackcap or the robin, blackbird or thrush’s song. Listen out, and be grateful!

Ron Knight via Wiki Commons

The Big Bird Watch 2019.

 

We, the half-barrel group of gardeners  at L’Arche Kent – had been looking forward to the Big Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.

The moorhen just walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!

watch the dunnock

There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for L and G was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They managed the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year, and they were too shy to present themselves for the photoshoot a couple of days later.

What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird-man flapping his wings and frightening the others away.

Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!

Photos: top, MMB; lower, Przemek Forek.

Butterflies in Winter.

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The village school’s reception class is called the Butterflies, and they brought a hint of Spring to a winter’s day at the L’Arche garden. The four and five year olds came to learn and exercise a few gardening skills, to meet some of the community and enjoy the winter sunshine.

Of course, the sun shines as brightly in the village as in the city. And it’s generally quieter there, unless a tractor or chain saw is on the go. The inner ring road runs roaring past the garden so it’s never really quiet. But we, sometimes grudgingly, ignore it and so did the children, though one boy noticed the trains accelerating from the station, something he would not hear at school.

Everyone noticed the sirens as the two fire engines raced past. Drama that does not happen in the village! I looked up from my planting to see three of the girls, arms linked, dancing in a circle, chanting nee-naw, nee-naw, taking pleasure from the sounds, taking pleasure from being alive on a sunny winter’s day in the youth of the world.

And my mind’s ear remembered the blackbird who lifted a telephone warble into his song, and the thrushes and starlings who also make music of our human racket, even getting me halfway down the garden path to answer a starling’s phone call, and I thought, why not? Why not dance when the world is young, and your friends are around you, and you have a day off from routine, and so much to be grateful for? Words are not always enough.

Picture from FMSL

1 January: Singing in the New Year.

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It was a great pleasure that the first bird I heard this year was a song thrush from a bush in a neighbour’s garden, closely followed by blackbird, starlings, pigeons, jackdaws … suburban Canterbury on wings.

I gave greater pleasure to Mrs Turnstone when she heard that in the course of tidying the woodstore, separating the kindling from the logs that had been hastily laid on top of them, I had seen a woodmouse scurrying to safety. She had not liked laying down poison for the rats that had infested the other end of the garden, fearing for the colony of mice that has been here longer than the family Turnstone. This year’s Mrs Tittlemouse is made of stern stuff.

A grace note to the story: the kindling was 18 month old apricot. Clattering the sticks together released the scent of the fruit, just as the leaves did. See ‘Two unexpected autumn gifts’, November 24th 2018.

Killers

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September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.

There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?

A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.

It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed  themselves and their children.

We humans know better than that of course.

(Another day at the same place.)

Parallel lives

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Mrs T often comments that we are allowed to use the birds’ territory for our garden. Two examples of this today.

It was time to prune the apricot tree, but some of that must be postponed. As I cut through a shoot some 3 metres above the ground I saw that the fork leading to it was occupied by a brooding collared dove. I’d seen the nest before, but it was built while we were away for a few days, and I thought it had been abandoned as a silly place to build. It was a silly place to build, but it was not abandoned, so it will have to be respected. Unless she abandons it again.

The second example was the cock blackbird, leading one of his daughters around the garden, demonstrating the art of pecking food from the floor, or even aphids from the prunings of the apricot tree, while we sat at our evening meal. At least it is peaceful co-existence; neither doves nor blackbirds are aggressive thieves, unlike the Canada geese in the Royal Parks!

Baby blackbird from a previous summer.