Another trip to the feed merchants this morning, mainly for wild bird food. We feed our wild birds all the year round and have a super variety right outside our kitchen window. This morning there were 24 chaffinch - the males looking absolutely splendid in full breeding plumage. All the way along the lane the hedge tops had pairs of birds - yellow hammer, dunnock, blackbird, jackdaw.
It is a real Spring day today = the weather behaving exactly as it should do on the first full day of Spring. It is set to get cooler over the next few days and already, this morning, the wind has veered round to the North West, but still there is that faint haze over the land and that sense of waiting which I always feel this time of year. and that smell of rising greenery. And it is not just we humans who sense this - the birds too are feeling it - you can tell by their behaviour. As I pass by Black Plantain two blackbirds are scrapping in the middle of the road. I have to stop and blow my horn before they move. All along the ride male pheasant strut about, startlingly brilliant chests stuck out, vivid green heads up and alert for any sign of a rival.
Here and there, where there has been shelter from the wind and full sunlight, the hawthorn hedges have begun to burst forth. Where there is a bit of wild gooseberry in the hedge it is already green and almost in flower. There are faint touches of blackthorn here and there - as you will see from my photograph it is still a bit scrappy - but another warm week and it will be full out. Then we shall get some cold weather because we always get what is called a Blackthorn Winter up here. And if it is accompanied by a sharp frost or two then that puts paid to any hopes of sloe gin (or in my case, sloe vodka as I hate the taste of gin).
Primroses, those delicate, custard-coloured, most English of flowers, are out in the hedge bottoms and everywhere are the bolder daffodils. And, if you want an even stronger attack on the eyes - some gardens I pass have bushes of forsythia bursting over the wall.
Because the ten miles journey follows the course of the river, pairs of ducks, mallard or teal, fly across the road in front of me. They nest early and some will already be sitting, although - if you believe Beatrix Potter in Jemima Puddleduck, ducks are bad sitters. A few years ago a duck made a nest by the beckside just outside the gate of my cottage in the village. I have posted the photograph above - you can see how little she bothered about camouflage. She sat on fourteen eggs for about six weeks and then abandoned them as they were obviously unfertile. During that time noone saw a drake anywhere near so we came to the conclusion that she had not learned about the birds and the bees! Within one day of her deserting the nest all fourteen eggs had been eaten by something (magpie, crow, stoat, weasel?)
We do get a few teal or mallard ducklings on our beck in Spring, but sadly a lot of them disappear so that usually the mother duck ends up with only two or three babies. These she guards well as they swim up and down. We usually hear her warning quack as we pass, so get a glimpse of them.
Soon it will be time for the swallows to return. They usually arrive on the farm anywhere after about April 12 th, having completed that tremendous flight from Africa and returned to the nesting site where they were born. These fantastic birds use the same nests - hastily repaired - year after year. On the subject of swallows, in today's Times Simon Barnes reviews what sounds to be an excellent book about swallows - it is called "A Single Swallow", written by Horatio Clare. In it he follows the swallows from the southern tip of Africa back to his home in Wales. As Barnes says, "they are birds of transit yet they have the greatest fidelity to their ancestral breeding grounds." That sounds a book worth reading.
This week the farmer has finished the fence he was building to enclose the paddock. I must say he has made a jolly good job of it. Now all he has to do is to creosote it to match the existing fence higher up the field. He has bought a splended fourteen foot wooden gate to put on - it should look really good when it is all finished.
Enjoy your weekend, folks - and those of you in UK - make the most of it as icy winds are on their way back. All I can say is that if this last week was all the spring we are going to get, that is more than we had last year - and I have revelled in every single day, in every minute of warm sun on my back.
Finally - I couldn't resist showing you these fine lads - three Texels and two Suffolks - their job finished for another year, now enjoying the freedom of a meadow all on their own. Tess gave them a good barking at and they came to see what all the fuss was about.