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!

Mahler and the martins

220px-Emil_Orlik_Gustav_Mahler_1902On Sunday morning, to the glorious soundtrack of Mahler’s Symphony No 5, we found our imaginations soaring with the aerial antics of our house martins. The morning was very warm and sunny, a wonderful change from the dank and murky days we’d endured previously. The plankton of the insect world was rising from the fields and with them – as the second movement swirled into life – our martin family, whose darting and dashing and dry chattering around and about the rear of the house nabbed our attention, so we watched in growing amazement at both their presence and what they were doing.

Having emerged from their nest at the south of our house, the family was flying free over the garden and over the patio, rising and falling, transfixing us – we poor earthbound things  – with their agility and purposefulness. Their noisy calls from on high drew our attention to their clinging in twos under the eaves. It was as though they were practising for an air show, pushing off into a round of flight before returning to the precarious foothold above the windows, where the lintel provided a generous half inch of solid ground to which to cleave. What was all this about?

DSC01682Kemo Sabe was the first to notice that where the little creatures had been holding fast, brown blobs were apparent, muddy blobs which certainly hadn’t been there before. Nest building, or practice for it anyway, was underway. Was this to be a new nest, an additional one for the younger generation or for new arrivals to the colony? The adagietto gave us time to think.

Only the day before, having breakfasted as usual, our little blue tit family had upped and quit their fur-lined nest-box under the wild rose. The parents began undertaking much longer flights to serve them, nipping over the fence, high above the neighbouring gardens and up the lane to an oak full of the caterpillars they love which we can clearly see from upstairs. It felt then, as Mahler’s music unfolded loud and clear, as though the inevitable sadness of losing our daily visual commentary on the vicissitudes of the blue tits had been assuaged by the invention of the house martins, whatever they were up to – and still are – as the days roll by and the blobs in one area coalesce into the base for a nest.

Whatever the answer may be, we cannot hold, or truly understand, any of these creatures, any more than we can explain in words why this sublime orchestral exploration of life’s light and shadows is so electrifying and why, as we watched their spirits unfolding in the sky, its twists and turns enhanced and expressed the birds’ activity to perfection that Sunday morning. We thank you Radio 3  for this auspicious choice. Most of all, we thank you as warmly as we can, Herr Mahler: has there ever been a composer so life-affirming, so all-embracing, so moving?