Tag Archives: birds

Hail and farewell

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When we moved to our home in Canterbury there were house martins nesting on neighbours’ houses; we did not get them because the chicks would have baked in the direct noonday sun. One house opposite had hung little balls from the eaves to warn the martins off. Super house proud, or possibly paranoid about droppings. Remember Tobit!

It’s been years since there was any excuse for excluding the birds. No martins have nested hereabouts for many years. Newcomers have never seen them nesting: what you don’t know, you don’t miss. The same goes for the martins: their memory of living on our street has gone; they will not return.

I’ve seen very few matins or swallows this year, but last week as I was walking across the field behind our house I saw two martins overhead. I guess a couple of this year’s brood, getting into fettle for the flight to Africa. God Speed them there and safely back!

 

Who’s been sleeping in my hedge?

We could have called this the hedge trimmer’s reward, because it was an hour’s work on the rampant ivy that brought these two creatures to light. Notice how the golden moth’s pattern breaks up its shape, and in the other picture, the grey moth matches the spider’s nest web to its left. The hedge provides a home for these creatures, away from most of their predators, so it will be trimmed, not massacred, every couple of years. More welcoming for insects and than the plain brick wall that was here when we moved in; it houses robins and blackbirds most years.

 

 

1 June: Richard Jefferies I: Apparent indifference

walk5I was looking for something else when I came across some of the extracts I made from Richard Jefferies’ “The Gamekeeper at Home”, first published in 1878. Ian, a lad I once taught, had an ambition to become a keeper, and enjoyed reading this book together, despite the sometimes old-fashioned language. He had the capacity to stand and stare that Jefferies describes here. The book is available at Project Gutenberg.

Often and often, when standing in a meadow gateway partly hidden by the bushes, watching the woodpecker on the ant-hills, of whose eggs, too, the partridges are so fond (so that a good ant year, in which their nests are prolific, is also a good partridge year) you may, if you are still, hear a slight faint rustle in the hedge, and by-and-by a weasel will steal out. Seeing you he instantly pauses, elevates his head, and steadily gazes: move but your eyes and he is back in the hedge; remain quiet, still looking straight before you as if you saw nothing, and he will presently recover confidence, and actually cross the gateway almost under you.

This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference.

And then …

baby robin 18.5.19

Abel was riding behind Grandad, across his favourite bridge in the old Tannery housing estate. A few yards on, he announced, ‘I saw two baby ducks.’ Grandad did not see them, but Abel missed out on the grey wagtail chick with its parents, (or was it two chicks with one parent?) by the Glebe. He missed our blackbird cock feeding a chick as big as himself on the scraps of fat fallen from the fatballs that the starlings have been telling their chicks all about, very noisily.

But we’ve all seen the baby robin who is already as tame as its parents, here perching on the bike’s handlebars. Spring is fun when you are nearly four or even nearly 70.

First thing in the morning.

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No, I was not best pleased to be woken, well before dawn, by a loud conversation under my bedroom window. But when the two men had moved on there came a burst of song from the bushes next door – not a robin,  but a  wren  Follow the link to the RSPB website to hear the song I heard and see a portrait of the little bird. Was I reconciled to my rude awakening?

The previous day we had watched one foraging along the river bank, in and out of crevices, decimating, we hoped, the number of insect pests ready to attack the garden come Spring.

And come spring, as she certainly looks like coming, will there be a wren’s nest here, in a crevice in the brick wall, hidden by the weeds and ferns, all but inaccessible to any predator? Let’s hope so: there was last year! This is Solley’s Orchard, a little open space in the centre of Canterbury. There was a flour mill nearby, hence the foaming water from the old sluices.

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

APRICOT.MAR2017.small

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 …