Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Red Letter Day!

Having got back from a work trip at midnight on Friday, it was straight out into the garden on Saturday morning to discover all the things that had changed in the eight days I had been away. As I left home to drive to the airport on 20 March, the last bird I saw was our first spring migrant of the year – a Chiffchaff zipping about in hawthorns next to the stream. Sure enough, on my return, one was singing strongly and others have followed. With the warm south-easterly winds of the last few days bringing Saharan dust (not to mention chemical pollution from mainland Europe), it is not surprising that other migrants have been arriving in force. Sitting on the nearby sea-cliffs later on Saturday morning we saw several Sand Martins and one each of both House Martin and Swallow – not bad for 30th March – while the following day brought the first singing Blackcap to the garden; a sound that will be a constant presence in the dawn chorus from now until June.

It was this evening, 2nd April, that things really got exciting, though... After work I headed up to the top of the wood to finish clearing up a tangle of blackthorn that blew down in the winter storms. I had worked up a good sweat and was just packing up when I heard Herring Gulls calling loudly en masse, as they sometimes do when attacking a bird of prey. It being early April and a prime time for migrating Ospreys to be heading north to Scottish (or, these days, Welsh or English) breeding grounds, I optimistically hurried to a  spot with an open view across the valley, fully expecting to see a Buzzard, or perhaps a Carrion Crow or Raven, being beaten up by the gulls. I was astonished and thrilled in equal measure to see an Osprey gliding past above me, high over the valley, in the direction of the nearby coast. As I watched, spellbound, the Osprey swapped the gulls – by now in retreat, seemingly satisfied they had seen off the intruder – for the harrying attentions of a territorial Sparrowhawk! Within seconds the Osprey had disappeared from view without so much as flapping its wings once, mastery of air currents enabling it to conserve as much energy as possible for the still-challenging journey ahead. I suspect it had been looking for a safe overnight roost in the well-wooded valley when it was spotted by the gaggle of gulls attracted to muck-spreading on adjoining fields. The evening was heavily overcast and the light already fading fast, so I doubt the Osprey will have gone very far. It's strange to think that it is almost certainly roosting in a tree within a few kilometres of where I am sitting now, ready to continue its migration in the morning – weather permitting – in all likelihood heading for a nest-site somewhere by a Highland loch or river, having spent the winter in West Africa. Bird migration: awe inspiring, endlessly fascinating and an incredible privilege to witness such a moment without leaving home. Our first Osprey in 14 years of optimistically looking up when the gulls make a racket!

And what of the garden? So much to see, so little time; spring racing past bringing something new every day. Here are just a few recent highlights. And I didn't even mention the Violet Oil-beetles or the Lesser Horseshoe Bat...

Bundles of multi-coloured dogwood & willow stems cut in mid-March
A haze of Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign' with hellebores behind
Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl' – a beguiling new acquisition
Narcissus 'Canaliculatus' – diminutive but highly scented
Narcissus 'Minnow' – in pots on the terrace
The powder-blue cool sophistication of Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'

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