Bats up belfries and chicks on chimneys

IMG00409-20140626-0650Peace and tranquility reigned very early yesterday morning on Bamburgh Beach, as we gazed out towards Inner Farne. We appreciate the privilege of putting our paws on the sand before anyone else; later in the day when the temperature reached an unlikely 84 Fahrenheit, the place was transformed and not for us.  We have never known the area so busy, despite the fact that there’s a month to go before the schools break up for the summer. Out on the islands, wildlife is bustling hither and yon: the now-famous Bridled Tern is still in residence, offering his charming profile for keen photographers who have come from all over the country to admire him. Guillemot babies, known as ‘jumplings’, as yet unable to fly, are busy throwing themselves into the sea by way of a first foray-forth. Puffins are everywhere, smiling broadly and flapping wildly as they fly over the boat trips.  This afternoon once the sky had darkened and wind arisen, in fairly choppy water over rocks near the shore, we saw a mother Eider duck bobbing up and down with two little ducklings. As buoyant as corks, they bravely negotiated the waves, keeping close to their attentive mother, though theirs was a worrying kind of independence.  The Mantalinis visit most days, but as yet we have seen no little ones; by contrast, generation upon generation of thrushes, robins, wood pigeons, sparrows and starlings several times a day muscle their way on to the feeders and bird tables, mothers and fathers sharing their precious little ones with us as they all snaffle up the seed.

IMG_1675Up on the roof, Peter, Paul and Mary are becoming more Falstaffian in girth by the day: amazing what nourishment is to be found in crab legs and cold chips! Relative darkness having prematurely fallen and a brisk wind darting drops of rain on the newly-watered garden, the triplets are currently a-bed, watched over by the parent on duty on that charming cowl no matter what time of night or day. Perhaps tomorrow will afford a jollier shot of our favourite family. Most of the roofs round here have their share of guano, courtesy of their respective resident gulls. Some try dissuading the birds with spikes but we are all thrilled that the gulls are unimpressed by such hostility. One of our chimneys, as every year, has jackdaws nesting within it (which can bring its own problems) but we enjoy the cackling of these little crows and knowing that their little ones will eventually join us in the garden we are thrilled to share with them. Yes, the window-cleaner cannot come too regularly at the moment, and the garden seats need washing nearly every day, but what a sad, clean world it would be without the swooping and whooping which characterises our lovely feathery brethren.

PSM_V07_D662_Common_english_batThere’s been much discussion in the British press this week about the damage being done by bats, who are protected, to the historic churches where they often live. Their droppings cover the floor and furniture, their urine scorches monuments and fabrics; the discovery of their very presence halts vital preservation work. Restorers and bat lovers are at war. It is ironic that these sweet little creatures, for whom we all have especially warm feelings as we watch them darting about as dusk falls every evening, should be so populous in buildings that humanity has, for the most part, abandoned, other than for academic interest. Surely, the Great Spirit welcomes them; perhaps they ponder, as do I, on the terrible destruction wrought in those very churches centuries ago and how much of beauty and significance was lost for ever because of the vanity of man, not because of the innocence of the tiny flying mouse.

Go find it, faeries

IMG00358-20140218-0758The lighter mornings are upon us and today the sun came bursting up into our lives. On the early news we heard with warm hearts that in the south the flood levels are dropping a bit. As a boy who cannot bear getting my enormously furry legs wet for less than a really decent retrieve, I can barely conceive what it must be like to sustain life under the conditions which are currently so common. But now the real work must begin: the horrible discoveries of loss and destruction; the protracted process of getting some kind of normal life back, and trying to find ways of making ends meet. It is a new beginning, but not a very joyful one. Coming through the dunes to the beach this morning, however, we all detected a definite feeling of renewed hope in the air. As we rounded the little gate, into the scrubby field where the Exmoor ponies greet us every day, we couldn’t help but feel one of those thrills which the smell of spring – be it ever so faint – instils.

Skylark59 When Kemo Sabe was making her tea, we heard the skylark singing its gracious and sustained song on ‘Tweet of the Day’. Suddenly above us hovered the sound of summer months, even earlier outings and the solitude of the dunes. This blessed and inspiring song transported us through time as we crossed its currently empty habitat. We remember Thomas Hardy’s tribute to this ‘tiny piece of priceless dust’, the memory of whom, like a gentle phantom, brushes over us as we pass. You will return, sweet creature, and we will be waiting, on dry, bright mornings like today when still more of the sorrow has evaporated on the gentle breeze.

If you would like to hear this morning’s ‘Tweet of the Day’ about the skylark, you will find it here:

The first death


Who’ll be chief mourner?

‘I,’  said the dove,
‘I mourn for my love . . .’

Today the news is justifiably full once again of the catastrophic weather conditions which are currently afflicting this country. Someone or other mentioned in the papers that in fact things are not so bad really, and that what folk have been going through isn’t a major disaster, because as yet no lives had been lost in the waters or wind. Well, here on a sunny rather bracing Thursday –  windy yes, but nothing special for up here; where it’s rained really not that much over the last six weeks and the seas haven’t been that remarkable – you can see a little life that has been lost, our friend the herring gull. His natural beauty, the miracle of his lustrous feathers, even on a sandy plain, moves me to thought and brings me to his side. It makes me ponder the countless birds brought down in these biblical floods; the starving thousands of garden birds, cut off from their food supplies. I can only barely imagine the terrifying confusion of the creatures of the underworld – mice, rats, moles, badgers, voles of all kinds – drowned where they lie before they can even think of trying to run from the homes they thought their havens. What will become of us, the onlookers cry? What does the future hold? Is this the autumn storm, the winter thaw, a spring deluge? The world’s turned upside down. In my warm and snuggly bed, I know that more is coming, that more little souls will die.  Who knows what lies in store, for any of us?


IMG_1044This is a special day! Although you all have been living through several such days over the last decade, where the odd-numbered day, month and year go up in a neat progression, there won’t be another one along for a while: this precise mathematical pattern won’t be possible again until the first of March 2105. Will there be any Dickens Dogs around then, I wonder? It is also special because the sun is everywhere and the sky is beautifully blue; it couldn’t be further from how Thomas Hood sees this month in his famous and funny little poem. Up on next door’s chimney breast, where our beloved big herring gulls breed every year, George (one of the twins born to them this season) has returned like a good son, to see his parents. He and his sister regularly land up there and whinny for a bite to eat, meeting up with one or other of the adults who gives them a talking to and then sends them back into the world to get on with it. Over the years of getting to know these generally rather despised gulls, we have come to respect them. IMG_1050They have been building nests on next door’s roof for years, and we’ve watched their every move: first, as they prepared to lay in the newly constructed and rather uncomfortable-looking nest, then as they  cared tirelessly for their hatchlings week after week – for far longer than other birds, or so it seems – guarding them as they change from fluffy large bundles into mysteriously feathered creatures; finally guiding them through the tortuous process of learning to fly, for which the babies are most unenthusiastic. Although this year’s twins are quite grown up now and have probably done all their seabird exams, they still love to return. The bond between the generations is delightful and terribly endearing. Swans we are used to seeing in their nuclear family on the mere not far from the dunes; but gulls? Aren’t they ugly, gluttonous, greedy horrors, ready to peck the sandwiches and chips from your hand? We like their little kneecaps, their beady eyes, their striking plumage, their courage over the water and, most of all, their capacity to show enduring affection for their parents and the security of the home where they first saw the sun: up there, looking down on us, looking out at the islands and the wild ocean they must eventually learn to make their own. Thank you for coming back!