‘What lovely behaviour . . . ‘

20170718_101406Overhead, as the afternoon comes to an end amidst a warm glow, the sky is full of  shrieking gulls cheering their children on their maiden flights. Gathering confidence, the tyros swoop and hover, embracing and enjoying their freedom more, encouraged by their relatives’ masterly manoevres. Our seagull family has this summer produced three healthy offspring – Teresa, May and Boris – whom they attended with customary attention to detail and aggressive protectiveness. This week, without much in the way of the attendant drama to which we’ve grown accustomed over the years, all three have quickly quit the chimney cradle and local rooftops and headed into the summer sky.

Adult herring gulls take their parental duties with Biblical seriousness, putting many human families to shame. Now that the tourist season is in full swing, some words from No Country for Old Men come to mind: ‘Who ARE these people?’  The piles of astonishing litter replicate daily: little ones’ hats, shoes, sandals, spades, kites, flags, plastic toys, are cast on to the sand, and lie there for days – of little worth and given less thought. Children run hundreds of yards ahead of their elders – focused on their phones or chatty friends – along perilous ground and into unanticipated dangers. Should they break an ankle in a rabbit hole, or gash themselves on another’s broken glass, their parents wouldn’t know until it was too late. Screaming as they run in panic towards doggy-kind of whatever size and shape, cut adrift from parental guiding hand, too frequently they seem more an encumbrance than an integral joy. We trundlers, on our afternoon and early morning routes, held on our leads lest we offend, simply by being there, stand to attention and patiently let them pass, sometimes for ages. No one is really thinking at all, or thinking of anyone else, come to that! Hey ho!

20170728_112659.jpgIn the black elder in front of the house, a collared dove sits quietly and utterly relaxed upon what looks like a really comfortable bowl of a nest. Yesterday while gardening with Barnaby for company, Kemo Sabe glimpsed the tufted baby peeking over the edge, its parent away temporarily to find a bite to eat for them both. Attentive and always alert, yet peaceful in its gloriously comfortable little home, we are thrilled by its presence and honour it silently.

These things, these things were here and but the beholder/Wanting, as Gerard Manley Hopkins – whose birthday falls today – once said.

 

 

A week of sun and sausages

120px-Sand_Martin_(Riparia_riparia)_(14)The sand martins have begun to return to the nesting holes! Joy unconfined! Proof, if proof were needed, that life is gathering speed in our midst and that we – the watchers and the waiters – are worth the candle.  The wind-blown nesting places which have lain forlorn – and indeed unseen – as we passed beneath them on the 20160425_073658darkest mornings, are now alive with the chattering of the creatures which, with miraculous accuracy, have located them as home for yet another breeding season.  As of today there are at least four pairs, but, when the wind turns southerly again, numbers will shoot up and soon the dawn will be full of their gossiping voices.

20170331_125642Around and about our home itself, our friendly neighbourhood bird life is busy, too. Any returning house martins will be terribly disappointed to find that the boxes erected especially to attract them to our eaves have one and all been commandeered by our fat little sparrows, most numerous of ‘the ones who stayed’. Even the two natural clay martin nests are now providing bed and board to chatty couples, late risers though they be; unlike the sand martins they never celebrate the early morning sun or greet us on our return home after the run. But the dawn chorus of blackbird, robin and the rest is intensifying day by day and the dawn obliterates the moon ever earlier. Our jackdaws have kept an eye on their chimney throughout the winter, and now look set to get cracking with a brood. The feeders are kept full, so starlings newly returned to them can have a mouthful, too and, to the box in which they successfully raised their clutch last spring, have returned our blue tits, busy all day, every day, and so conveniently near the nuts and fat balls.

20170401_141432But if the birds know what they are about, that is more than can be said for the sausages. It says it all about the serendipity which characterises our little posse that a family get-together last Saturday at the Scottish Dachshund Club Championship Show, ended with both Nicholas and his sister, Tiggy, having qualified for next year’s Crufts. Having achieved second place in their respective classes, the terrible twosome will now be heading Birmingham-wards next March, ‘for the experience’, as they say. This picture captures all the chaos of the aftermath, 20170401_120107both from the confused disposition of the certificates (which, in a way, says it all) to the restlessness of pup Frederick, their tiny nephew, whose intervention displaced the intended line up. We are grateful to the friendly judge who found Tiggy and Nico worthy: it was a lovely surprise. Who knows, once he reaches six months young Fred will probably honour the ring with his presence and may even qualify as well!

‘Springwatch’? We’ve got everything right here!

20160524_065845We hear that BBC’s Springwatch is going to be filming on the Farne Islands again for the new series of this extraordinary live programme, shortly to be nightly on our screens. Whether it’s the puffins, gannets or guillemots – of whom there are currently thousands stinking out the islands with their guano – the Farnes have no shortage of wonderful bird life during the breeding season with which to delight the audience, and that is without mentioning the seals whose inquisitive antics always draw the cameras.

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But on our own little beach trundle this morning it was all too obvious what wonders this area of Northumberland provides by way of a daily feast, the sea fret yielding gradually to intense sunlight upon the incoming tide which had even cast up a little pink sea monster, beautifully disposed upon the sands.

20160524_065220On a less glamorous, more everyday level, as May deepens into the lushness of June, everything around us on our daily perambulations seems remarkable. The heath behind the dunes and everyone’s gardens never look lovelier than now: birds never more songful; creatures  – great and small – never busier. Skylarks abound, and always do, but summer warbling visitors of all kinds are singing away from every type of bush. We have lost the curlews inland for now but above us the swallows dart and the martins chirrup. The dunes are drilled full of sand martin holes and the terns fight each other, over what we cannot know.

20160524_065933On the stone wall which separates his haunt from the hares running amok in the neighbouring field of winter barley, father pheasant patrols in the early morning mist. Fearlessly, he addresses the crow who comes too close to his family concealed nearby. Every year it is the same.

20160524_071804On the beach, near the horrid pool, the lumbering and much-loved toads have reappeared, mated and now – encouraged by the sun – their tiny offspring have wriggled into life, thousands of them 20160507_072124dancing for joy in their brackish backwater, straining for growth even as the water  – such as there is – recedes. How remarkable that year after year the parents return to find this little pool – a stone’s throw from the sea – retaining enough rain water (the only pool for more than a mile) to give their progeny a chance.

All that without even mentioning our nesting gulls! Finding the spikes a very acceptable sprung interior for the wads of dried vegetation they’ve pushed between them, affording the couple what looks like a very comfortable bed, they are once again ensconced on the chimney stack, awaiting the birth of this year’s brood.  Up there they now contend daily with our jackdaw family, whose nest is in the rear chimney, laying down the law to them regarding when to approach. Come one, come all, I say.

 

With a little help from his friends

IMG_1755 On this morning’s Radio 4 repeat of Tweet of the Day, we were reminded that, despite the feeling that these birds are everywhere round here, the herring gull is actually on the red list for conservation, its numbers declining in coastal areas. As regular readers will know, however, we have always supported our local roosting herring gulls and the antics of this year’s brood  – Peter, Paul and Mary – on next door’s chimney. Last week I reported that Peter’s early attempts to stretch his wings resulted in a fall to a lower level. Well, since then, we have IMG_1743come to look into his delightfully beady eyes, a privilege we had not anticipated and have had to become actively involved in his care.  Within a day or two of taking up his post on the bay window he flapped to the ground and since that time has wandered back and forth, up and down the drive, sheltering under the generous rhubarb leaves and making his needs known to both us and his parents by his plaintive peeping. So out have come tins of sardines and tuna to share with him, and he has been drinking and bathing regularly in the Mantalinis’ washing-up bowl. He recognises us all and, though careful of IMG_1751his own safety, obvious trusts us.  As for his siblings: they flew off within a day of his initial fall from the chimney and though occasionally perching on neighbouring house-tops from time to time, have all but left their childhoods behind, concentrating now on the more advanced courses a gull must pass in order to achieve independence. Though Peter can fly his way out of danger, he shows no desire yet to make a break for it and, while he makes up his mind about the time to go, we will keep an eye on him. All this dithering reminds us of his great-great uncle, Nigel, two years ago – it was ages before he found the confidence to leave home. Bless him!

If you would like to learn more about Tweet of the Day, in which British birds and summer visitors are celebrated, you will find its webpage here on the BBC site:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s6xyk

 

 

And if one brown seagull should accidentally fall . . .

IMG_1730One of Uncle Jonny’s nicknames (and he had any number, ranging across the gamut of his funny ways, talents and naughtinesses) was The Seagull.  One of his particularly loving young friends always referred to Uncle Jonny by this soubriquet, which was indirectly derived from a rather pretentious little book popular years before our dear old friend was born. Maybe for this reason, as well as for its own venerable qualities, the seagull  – more properly the gull, as a pedantic bird watcher insisted – has always had a place in our hearts, standing in as our living ones do for our late lamented brother with his own inimitable kind of fun and games.

It looks as though the saga of this year’s intense rearing is finally drawing to its end, with yesterday bringing the crisis in which the cherished siblings started their vertical jumping with simultaneous arm-flapping, imitating the action of a helicopter hovering, however briefly. As a result of this discombobulation, Peter ended up a little further from home than he had intended, landing on the slope of the roof, down which he slid backwards, arms outstretched, until he braced his flippery feet against the guttering, all the while facing towards the tiles, hanging on for grim death. The final IMG_1727indignity came when he dropped a storey, to land on top of the front bay window, where he has now been for over twenty four hours, by turns standing to attention and curled up sleeping.  This charming drama was watched with engaged excitement as it initially unfolded yesterday morning by the visitors breakfasting across the road, who shouted their encouragement to poor Peter as they downed their Full English Breakfasts.  It is almost impossible to see this dear creature as a ‘flying rat who should be shot’, which was a local’s denunciation of this child struggling for independence from its doting parents. They have continued attentively to feed and sit with Peter where he landed, no doubt hoping to tempt him back to their eyrie but he won’t be persuaded and he seems quite happy where he is until he gains the confidence for his first flight.  While patient Paul remains in situ on the chimney breast, Mary’s helicopter routine landed her on the roof ridge, just a hop away from the place of her birth, and there she has squawked her way through the day. As I write, I have only noise to report about, but fear not: both we and the kindly neighbours have tinned mackerel ready should extra rations be needed, or should one or other of the triplets fall further. Our arms are ready!

More fur and feather

IMG_1701 In the short few days between taking these shots of our famous triplets – the top one was taken last evening –  you can see how fast they are developing their adolescent plumage from the fluffy down which recently adorned them. Tended by their adoring parents, Peter, Paul and Mary are bigger than ever and ever hungry. Until recently, when one of them peeped for something to eat, the tiny but piercing noise would be accompanied by a gentle but perceptible lifting of the wings, an endearing trope indeed. In turn each is now extending those little wings, strengthening their resilience in preparation for the harrowing first flight, whenever they are ready to try.  How extraordinary that a seabird so commonplace, and indeed so loathed by even some of the people round here (happily not Works All Hours and All God’s Creatures Welcome, whose chimney stack features here), daily brings so much pleasure and joy to us as they go about their little lives.

IMG_1689The simplest things are so often the most precious. Indeed, as I write this, Kemo Sabe has had to greet and feed the visiting Mantalinis who are currently chowing down on the front lawn, their glowing colours and splendidly mottled feathers a wonder of the world. Similarly, the rotund sparrows which bustle and beep in all the bushes, dashing across the garden from rose to honeysuckle, cheeping and chirping with joy apparently undiminished by a turn-down in the weather, such as we had yesterday. The opulence of nature is adorned with the glories of commonplace natural life: tadpoles in the pond, snails on the gate, and starlings, blackbirds and thrushes thrusting nutrition down the throats of the next generation as quickly as we can keep the supplies topped up. Together as we are, all year round, our native species and we the creatures of the house are all in it together and all the better for that.