Just after dawn this morning we witnessed something very odd and heartening.
Everyone knows how the wicked cuckoo preys on the poor little birds (reed warblers, dunnocks, meadow pipits), laying an egg in their nests which hatches into a monster that evicts the other natural nestlings and grows huge on the tireless efforts of the adoptive parents.
This morning we heard the first cuckoos, up in the forestry. There were two males vying for territory, skirmishing in the treetops. Here is one.
The two birds had quite distinct calls so we could monitor their conversation! Both had the striped breast that is said to mimic a sparrow hawk — a cunning ploy to frighten the prey hen bird from her nest and give the female cuckoo time to lay.
The little birds out and about today were mainly willow warblers and robins but whichever they were some of them were not afraid of the cuckoos.
In fact groups of little birds were attacking the relatively huge cuckoos and driving them off their perches so… Not just feckless victims!
When I was a houseman my legs were blebbed and bubbled by the bites of the fleas from the feral cats that lived within the hospital grounds — but things have moved on.
Hospital cats are now more professional — they have come in from the cold, are properly trained and equipped, have regular health checks and probably mandatory immunisations (long before the other staff!)
The thing about cats is that you cannot exclude them if they don’t want to be excluded and some cats just have a vocation! So the NHS works with them, not against them.
Somewhere in Britain, probably everywhere in Britain, Buster here (or a cat like him) guards the confidential waste in the office of the emergency department. He keeps his wits about him as he dissipates the stress of staff, his mouth shut, the perfect confidential mentor and counsellor but as a member of the occupational health psychiatric team, as you can see, he does have his own panic button.
Lovely day in Mid-Wales with a strange sound drifting over the forestry pond — like softly spoken geese. Not geese, not any bird, certainly not cicadas on this chilly, bright spring day. They are the muted tones of amorous amphibians — lovelorn toads!
Thirty, maybe fifty, in the pools of sunshine around the margins of the upland pond.
The smaller, more numerous, males clinging,piggy-back, onto the fecund females, bulging with eggs. Others joining in and some with their heads above the water calling.
See the strings of fertilized eggs and (below) an exhausted male!
There is still a lot of water all around us, the land drains and the rivers fill.
Spring is suddenly upon us and the fields are filling up with weary ewes with new lambs — still very young and keeping close to their mothers.
The reservoir is full to overflowing and the water pounds down the River Clywedog, below the dam.
Up above the dam on the reservoir the water bailiffs plough the surface with their extraordinary craft — seeding the waters with trout, scooping them out of the tank and gently laying them in the water — quite large fish, refreshed while in the crowded tank by a constant stream of water.
Further up the bank the bird wardens are sorting out the nesting sites before the return of the ospreys. The woodpeckers are drumming and the blue tits are whizzing about in couples.
Back at the farm we have a new species on the bird-feeder!
Although many of us have now had our Corona Jab it is pretty clear that until everyone is immunized, or has survived the real thing, this virus will remain ready to pick off the vulnerable. Things are not going back to normal immediately. But we can start to think about the reduction in restrictions. I can think about a walk with a friend and wonder how long it will take to get a hair appointment. We can look forward to seeing our grandchildren in the garden and we can look forward to some better weather!.
In some ways it will be scary when it all ends — the everyday pressures will build up again — the outside calls on our time. The visits to friends, the entertaining, the volunteering, getting things done — the new barn — Sunday lunch for the family — outings with the children –gardening — sorting out the dentist — the eye test — the gammy knee! All the things that have been simmering on the back burner while we have been grumbling about our winter lock-down — while I have been quietly writing, reading, and painting!
Soon all that free time will evaporate so today I took the first step towards getting my next book published — writing a synopsis, looking for an agent, covering letters etc while I still have the time. We’ve all got to finish our lock-down projects before it’s too late!
During this cold weather there is a lot to be said for getting the birds to come to you rather than plodding about the countryside wondering where they have all gone. They are not stupid — they are on the feeders! This year we are blessed with several greater spotted woodpeckers — this is a male with a red flash on the back of his head — the females have only red under the tail. They have been drumming for over a week now so we know spring is coming!
In Wales the feeder is surrounded by a miasma of flitting great tits and blue tits with the occasional coal tit, siskin and, if we are lucky, a mob of visiting long tailed tits. Our gold finches have gone somewhere warmer. There are chaffinches too and a robin who has learned to perch.
In the East Midlands, Bill’s feeder is also used by the ubiquitous tits but dominated by green finches and gold finches. Each bird feeder gives a snap-shot of the local bird population. There are chaffinches and a pair of bullfinches.
Beneath the Welsh feeder the swelling flock of pheasants are excavating, ekeing out a living from the rejected sunflower seeds — the nuthatch is very picky! They are very hungry since the gamekeeper stopped feeding them but have had the good sense to move up the valley, away from the guns. In Kettering their niche is occupied by a fat wood pigeon and they all bicker with the resident squirrels!
Following my recent freezer debacle I put some rapidly defrosting pheasant legs in view of the bedroom window (don’t worry, they were shot in the valley — no bio-hazzard). Within a couple of hours there were 8 buzzards circling above. Here is one of the two that were on the ground.
It is not just the feeders that the small birds visit — they like the spiders webs on the window frames, a long tailed tit was knocking on the window recently
This blackbird forages on the bank opposite my study window giving me the evil eye and sometimes flying at the window — it’s not me he hates but his own reflection!
As snow and ice cover the eastern counties of Great Britain, Wales is bathed in celestial light — for a trice.
It’s chilly with a strange east wind (of change, perhaps). The prevailing wind here is nearly always wet and westerly — it brings our weather from the Atlantic and snow storms from America — not so today, its coming from the Urals (I’ve got my Russian hat on.)
The sheep have not been gathered in, against the storm, but wait in disgruntled groups for fresh silage, the sweet smell of which precedes the shepherd on the crisp cold air.
Our valley is muted in the winter shade but the tops are bright, scoured dry by the icy wind.
which sends the turbines spinning and brings the snow ever closer — unless it all drops on England first!
Putting on my glasses while leaving the bedroom I noticed a spec on the lens, thus distracted, I walked into the low beam which floored me, moaning and clutching my forehead.
I struggled downstairs clutching my re-booted head which remembered that I had not checked the freezer since I had switched it on several days ago in such bright sunshine that I could not see the little indicator lights. Never mind, I had thought, loading it with frozen fish, scallops, squid and prawns — I’ll check it when it gets dark! It has been dark on and off several times since but today it is bright again so, ever adaptable, I open the door to feel how cold it is. I am knocked back a second time this morning , this time by the disgusting smell of corruption — of rotting flesh — wasted seafood — green slime drips out onto the floor. I pause and experience a wave of sympathy for the poor fishermen whose produce rotted in Calais because of the wrong paperwork, then start lobbing out my lovely fish as Bill retires gagging.
Back to basics, I pull out the freezer and trace the wire to a plug that I had forgotten in a cupboard I don’t use and switch it on — all the little lights sparkle into life — well at least the freezer works but there is another whiff. In that cupboard with the disused wedding presents from the one before last there are signs of mice — that distinctive musty smell (Mus musculus) and tell-tail chocolate sprinkles — really disappointing, as I had thought we were rid of them.
So I set to — washing out the freezer, the cupboard and the floor — I set the mouse traps by the likely looking hole, a job I hate, then I rise with a sense of completion and crack my head on the overhanging work-surface, sending me reeling a second time and wondering what new horrors will be jarred to the forefront of my mind.
But for those of you who are stuck in other places or don’t want to get out of your warm beds, here is a walk through the crunchy frost — watch out for the frozen mole hills covered by a dusting of last night’s hail and this morning’s crystal dew — they stub your toes and send you sprawling on the now unyielding turf.
See the lane in the middle distance — treated last night with grit and salt (during a rain storm that washed it all away) and now frozen and deterring visitors — Bill is looking for the postman –the computer says his parcel is on its way but I know differently. Just as we have decided not to venture out to shop — we will fall upon the mercy of our store cupboard (my armageddon stash) and I will secretly hope for much more snow so that we are confined by something different –something that makes us cut wood and bake bread! Something reassuringly traditional!
Meanwhile we inspect the sheep and marvel at the beauty of their surroundings.
By afternoon it is beginning to thaw but only until sunset and more is forecast.
What a difference a day makes — the clear blue sky has bought my fair weather friend out onto the banks of the Trannon to wonder at the thundering of the water and bemoan the absence of aerial activity.
No thermals yet for the buzzards and kites, not even the cronk of a raven… The kingfisher and the dipper have moved downstream. But what is this new roar above that of the rushing river. Right above our heads:
“All the way from Lakenheath,” said Bill “and probably in less time than it’s taken us to walk down the valley… ” He had a strange far away look on his face, “Jet noise — the sound of freedom!” he said, quoting the bumper stickers of the 80’s.
I only hope that my friends who remember protesting at Greenham Common with the same expression of nostalgia will have forgotten this by the time we meet again.
There were three F15Es (I need 3 — one to jump, 2 to adjust the camera and 3: bingo!) They made several passes over our valley and then were gone, doubtless marvelling all the way home at the strange water-world beneath them — all the way from Wales to East Anglia, in less time than it took us to walk home for our lunch. It will have been a spectacular journey today.