A really wonderful good news wildlife story.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/20/formerly-extinct-ibis-taught-to-migrate-by-following-light-aircraft

Next time a micro light goes over I’ll be watching for the ibis!

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Sun rise, sun set …..

I love being on holiday and having the time to spend whole days in the garden, not just snatched moments between work and sleep!

Evening primroses are wonderful flowers that uncoil themselves in the twilight and become luminous saucers of pale yellow in the darkness. Watching their opening from a garden seat,  as the blackbirds fuss themselves down to sleep, is one of the great pleasures of high summer. The flowers are open all night and as soon as the bees and butterflies wake up in the morning, they throw themselves into the generous feast of pollen and nectar .

In the early morning, there  is time to explore the fields that we usually blurred by in the morning commute.

Green finches wheeze companiably from the hedgerows; sparrows explode in raucous flocks from the ripe wheat and poured over everything, like thick cream, is the complex beauty of the blackcap’s song.

On the edge of the yellow wheat, poppies are starting to open. The green calyx of the bud is being shrugged off like an uncomfortable hat. The flower stem is vibrating visibly with the effort of releasing the petals. A moment’s waiting as the sun rises and the poppy is open; crimson petals still frilled with the shape of the bud. A moment more  and a bumble bee has found it and vibrates in ecstasy in the brand new black pollened centre of this poppy, that will have dropped every scarlet petal by the mid day sun.

The opening of the flowers mark each wonderful, transient day of our holidays and of our lives. Enjoy!

Snow in Spring time.

Along the stream crack willows grow. Planted generations ago to provide wands for basket weaving, periodically the willows are still cut back  hard and I fret about the birds that used to feed and nest in them.

And then they grow back thicker and lusher than before, noisy with black caps, loud with lovely yellow hammers and wheezy with green finches.

And then they set seed and a blue May morning is filled with down shaken from a pillow and impossible snow flakes drifting down, caught on a breeze, confusing the eyes with delight.

Look hard at the blue photo and you can follow their transient trajectory too!

Weekend.

There is so much to write about at this time of year I don’t know where to  begin. Winston brought me a slow worm and dropped it delicately at my feet to admire. Pixie brought me a vole and chased around the kitchen and killed it. The garden is filling with flowers. There are orange tipped butterflies on the wild ladies smock blooming in the lawn. There are violets in the tussocks and wasps shaving the wooden garden bench to make their nests. The cat drug valerian is managing to grow faster than they can rub it back down in their ecstasy . We have seen our first swallows and our first house martins as they swooped on by . The ants have woken up . There are bee flies on the honesty flowers and humming bird hawk moths on the cowslips. The blackthorn is still beautiful . The peas and the potatoes are planted. The only absurd part of this wonderful race of fantastical spring glory is that some joker still expects me to leave it all on Monday and go to work!!

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New season resolutions for Earth Day.

The garden has just started to wake up after a bruisingly long winter. The forsythia is about to burst into golden Easter glory, the daffodils are straightening up to trumpet the new season and the birds are all shouting their spring songs.

There is still snow under the hedge and birds are still very hungry. It seems to be the same every year: every shop in France, Germany and Switzerland has run out of sunflower seeds, bird seed and fat balls just when it gets really cold and the end of season birds need our help most of all to survive until the spring can feed them with insects.

There is horribly worrying research to show how insect numbers are collapsing in Europe because of our love of pesticides and desire to cut every road side verge, grub up every  hedgerow and trim every garden shrub to a stump. Now the research shows that bird number are also crashing and especially here in France. Birds need insects and without them the birds will simply cease to exist.

I have been lucky enough to live in this corner of France for eight years now and in that time I have seen so many hedgerows grubbed up; old trees taken out and not replanted and ditchs shaved and shorn of every plant week on week in the growing season; so that there is nowhere left for wild flowers; for the insects that rely on them and for the birds that feed upon the bugs.

I hadn’t planned on this article being so shouty. Gardens are places to escape bad news, they are peaceful havens of good sense in a crazy world; but even our gardens are linked to the wider world. The birds that fascinate us through the winter feed and breed in the countryside around us. The butterflies that surprise us on a warm afternoon need flower filled meadows to feed on; the bees need orchards to sustain them.

We can’t control what happens in the countryside, but we are in control of our own gardens. I moved to France for space and for the ultimate luxury of a real garden and this has become my sanctuary and often my salvation.  As we look forward to a new season and take pleasure in every unfolding blossom and every green shoot,  let’s decide to make our gardens places of real beauty and wonder for as much life as possible.

Let’s NOT

use pesticides

use hebicides

cut down trees and bushes

be afraid of letting the grass grow

cover the soil we own in concrete.

 

Here’s to a fantastic year full of colour and fruit, beauty and life. Here’s to the gardens, allotments and parks of The World !

 

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” And for that minute a blackbird sang”

As there is nothing to do in the garden except morn the flowers buried under the snow I thought I would share a poem instead.

Adlestrop

By Edward Thomas
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Source: Poems (1917)

This is a great favourite. It is a poem about nothing; about a delicious absence of unwanted noise and movement and about the great beauty of the sound of blackbirds.

Blackbirds are the first to sing in the morning and the last bird to chuckle down to sleep in the evening.  Gardens are plotted and mapped out by the territories of singing blackbirds  :  ” all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire” and all the places beyond are the kingdoms of blackbirds.

 

 

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Murmuration.

Some words are worth saying just for their sheer beauty  – murmuration is one.

Try saying it out loud and enjoy the rolling, soothing sound.

The word describes one of the great unexpected delights of bird watching: the huge, sweeping, boiling cloud that starlings form before they settle to roost in enormous numbers.

If you want to remind yourself of this magnificant fluid aerial spectacle, click on this link.

The last time I watched it was at Llangorse Lake in Powys Wales. For thirty incredible minutes the sky was alive with the twisting and blooming shapes of thousands upon thousands of noisy starlings wheeling and dancing before stettling suddenly in the reeds to sleep.  Not only was it visually extraordinary, but the noise that starlings make is as raucous and sociable as teenagers squealing with supressed news on the first day back at school .

My garden is still covered in snow and loud with competitive bird calls, as they squabble over apples and the last of the bird seed. The blackbirds cluck and fuss, the field fare hiss and stamp, but they all step back for the 30 boisterous starlings that periodically descend from the winter skies to hoover up everything going.

Starlings were once very common, but are now on the UK red list of endangered birds due to a dramatic and not fully understood decline. I can’t imagine they are doing any better just over the water here in France, so I am delighted to share my bumper bags of cheap Coop ugly apples with them.

They chatter, wheeze, pipe and trill to each other: a Twitter storm in the real world of real, beautiful birds in a cold early spring!

 

 

 

© cathysrealcountrygarden. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and images without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cathysrealcountrygarden with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Couscous and chicken for the birds.

E9383AE1-1FAC-4BBC-A936-B352CF5742C2.jpegThe unusually low temperatures have continued here. It is the end of a long winter, the birds are tired and hungry and I have time, for once, to feed them.

The cold has brought new visitors. Gangs of blackbirds demolish the apples thrown out for them. Starlings have come to ground to flaunt their shiver of green sparkles against the dead grass. The marvellously painted goldfinches have finally discovered the niger seed feeder they have ignored all winter and a solitary field fare, puffed and fluffed against the cold eats sultanas and the apples left over by the black birds.

The sparrows can’t eat their crumbs fast enough before they freeze and I have taken to putting out hot couscous that stays unfrozen just long enough for them to eat it on their table.

As ever, the shops run out of bird seed at this time of year, as they are determined to sell us spring things, whatever the evidence of their eyes tell them to the contrary.

So I dug to the back of the food cupboard to find what I could use instead and came up with: dried figs (chopped up), raisins, sun flower kernels, oats and couscous ( cooked) and rice (cooked). I found soya beans which I boiled up. The birds wouldn’t touch them. I also threw two chicken legs  onto the shed roof, which wonders of wonders, tempted in a red kite and a buzzard !

Possibly the most useful thing I have contributed so far is a regular kettle of hot water into the tin tray that is my bird bath. As all the water is ice at the moment, birds really need something to drink and the circles of ice in the picture are the emptied offerings, which shows how long it has been cold. My reward, when  I was pouring the kettle, was the distant drumming of a woodpecker and the high, sweet mewing of a buzzard calling for a mate in the clear air.

 

© cathysrealcountrygarden. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and images without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cathysrealcountrygarden with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Carnival with forsythia.

It’s Shrove Tuesday and I forgot to make pancakes.

After an interminable month of grey skies and rain, the sun appeared for a whole, wonderful ice cold day. Greenfinches appeared in the birch tree, a few field fare burbled over and two loud ravens called across the blue sky, their heavy dark wings beating the air. In a thermal of heat, red kites and buzzards spiralled up, mewing and fighting in a confusion of lust and aggression.

Shrove Tuesday is the day to use up all rich foods before the abstinence of lent and the only memory we have of it in Britain is flipping pancakes in a village race.

In other countries it is part of carnival ; that hedonistic party before the forty days and forty nights of lent that prepared the faithful for Easter.

In my current neck of the woods (Basel ) carnival  is an oddly irreligious scaring away of the spirits of winter with three beautiful days of grotesque, frightening masks, discordant music, drums and solemn drunkenness .

My small contribution to frightening away the winter is to bring my first branches of forsythia into the house and watch them slowly bloom in the warmth of sunshine and firelight.

Embrace.

Before my first Christmas in Switzerland I went looking for mistletoe to add to the holy and the ivy of a traditional English winter decoration.

I was living in the suburbs and found ivy easily enough and holly in a nearby copse of trees , but no mistletoe. For me mistletoe is a mystical Druidic thing that loves apples trees, needs a golden scycle to cut it and will inspire strangers to kiss beneath it and is absolutely essential for Christmas.

In the copse  of conifers and hornbeam behind our apartment I found tantalising snippets of mistletoe lying on the ground; solitary twigs of two simple leaves and the odd pale white berry.  I looked up into the trees, searching for the familiar ball shape of a mistletoe plant suspended from a branch, but there was nothing. Maybe someone had been here collecting before me and these leaves were their debris.

Eventually I was reduced to buying an over priced  sprig in a local  florists, but I wondered where they had found it, so far from apple trees.

And then came the New Year storms: howling gales ripping off branches and uprooting whole trees. In the felled conifers were hundreds of little mistletoe plants, living their parasitic lives amongst the thick evergreen branches quite hidden to my ignorant eyes. It had never said in my English botany books that mistletoe lived in pine trees and yet here was the abundant proof, littered on the forest floor.

This week in France, the storms came again and the woods are crashed with fallen limbs and boughs, but I was still amazed to see the mistletoe in the unexpected embrace of the felled pine tree. Such odd, but comfortable bed fellows!

Rien à Déclaré

E3401D3B-4830-481B-BD0F-8C75AB96C701.jpegI have just finished rewatching a very funny Dany Boon French movie set on the French/Belgium border in 1993, the year European  borders were opened and no one needed customs officials anymore.

The film came out in 2010 and shows what happens in a little border town that basically is no longer a border and how the French and the Belgian customs men have to learn to accept each other as fellow human beings. It is a film about the stupidity of racism,  full of slap stick, silly stereotypes and a soppy romantic ending.

It opens on New Year’s Day, when the laws change and the people can move freely and the irony of watching it while waiting for Britain’s borders to slam shut was not lost on me.

I try hard to avoid all controversial subjects in this blog, for all the blindingly obvious reasons . Maybe it will be just as funny when the border guards and customs people separate Britain from our neighbours in Europe. Maybe standing in queues and being suspicious of foreigners will provide us all with a rich vein of reverse humour.

I cross European borders everyday to shop, to visit friends, to go to the doctor, to work: it is as easy as crossing the street. I want everyone to feel as free as I do right now, walls do not always make good neighbours and the fun comes when you don’t need them at all. Then maybe we will all have Rien a déclaré.

Crow

img_1339Anything wild catches my eye.  Surrounded by day in Swiss concrete, there is little moving to distract me: except the crows.

In the bare branches of the stunted municipal trees they hunch and wait for a dropped sandwich; a popped pringle; an unloved apple.

They throw back their necks and caw jubilation to waiting mates .  Unfurl shake of black shawl wings and sky borne : quartering and dividing the dark tarmac, deciding  how to achieve the ground and to eat their quarry.

Swoop. Decent. Great wings folded and tidy they step delicately martial across their parade ground of discarded dinner and impale a morsel in anthracite black beaks .  Food inspected, assessed, consumed, they return replete to the bare winter tree  and watch us, intelligent sentinels, as the darkness falls.

Feed the Birds

Winston, my cat, is glowering at me from the mat.

He is not allowed out this afternoon , to give my birds a chance to feed. November has little to recommend it, but it does mark the start of the  winter bird feeding season. The feeders are festooned with fat balls, the tables are loaded with seed and the birds have arrived in style.

First the blue tits swarmed in, then came the great tits and sneaking in amongst them a jauntily quiffed crested tit.  Then the robin spotted the food, then came a few chaffinces, a solitary green finch and a smart nuthatch followed. The white back of the head stripe announced a coal tit and suddenly twice the size of everything else there was a fat billed female haw finch, who bullied everything else away for half an hour of solitary gorging.

Winston was still inside, still in a rage and then to add insult to injury a sparrow hawk swooped through the trees looking to do some feeding of her own from amongst my new guests.

Why is she allowed to hunt and not me?

Oh, Winston the injustices of the world are manifold. Have a stroke instead.

Looking for Crumbs.

As the season changes I am just about to start feeding the birds in the back garden. Big bag of bird seed is on the shopping list for Monday and the bird feeders are out of the shed waiting to be cleaned.

I have a bird table on the other side of the house, which up until now  has been the sole territory of the sparrows and has been filled daily with bird crumbs, leftover couscous, crumbled crackers and what ever else didn’t get eaten that day. In the last few weeks it has been taken over by blue tits, great tits and even a jaunty crested tit. There has obviously been some sort of turf war and I am curious as where my squabbling and normally numerous sparrows have gone.

Today, there was a new twist as I noticed honey bees rolling about in crumbs of discarded flapjack. The last flowers have secumbed to the first frost , but the warm weather has encouraged the bees to keep flying and the sugary flapjacks were obviously just what they needed to refuel  on a still November afternoon.

The Watchers.

We watch the birds and the birds watch us.

They are harvesting the maize here. The plants have ripened for months and are dry sentinels guarding the hard yellow cobs that will go for bio fuel or animal feed. Enormous harvesters are shredding the stalks and a glistening stream of grain pours into the following truck. And watching from the orchards are the chaffinches.

A few have been here all summer, but now there are hundreds and they are following the harvest. What do these huge roaring machines look like to these little birds? How did they learn that the rumble and diesel smell means grain to eat as they pick their way through the chaff with the newly arrived winter migrants?

The storks and the buzzards recognise the ploughs that turn over insects and voles to eat in the summer and my sparrows recognise the bread board being shaken each morning over the bird table to scatter crumbs for them.

We think we are the observant ones, but really we are just one set of eyes amongst many watching all around us!

Three quarters of the flying insects are gone.

This article from the Guardian newspaper explains the terrifying decline in insects that is happening in Europe. I heard about it on a radio programme as I was rushing out to work and like so much bad news, I jus hoped it wasn’t true.

Unfortunately it is true and I know it . 

When I would drive home in dusk twenty years ago, the windscreen of my car would be covered in dead insects. Driving down a country lane in the summer was to push through all manner of bugs and butterflies, but now the glass is hardly dirty.

The air is empty. We have trimmed all the hedges and the field edges, we have patioed our gardens and insecticided every crop and plant that we grow. We have tidied up everywhere and now there is virtually no where left for a bug to feed, which means no bugs for the birds to feed on, no birds for the mammals to catch and so on up the food chain.

I don’t want to know this. It is too depressing, but that won’t stop it being true.

So in the spirit of the saying that it is better to light a candle in the night, that to curse the darkness, I will not be tidying my garden this weekend. I shall leave every over grown plant and tatty seedhead; every untrimmed corner of rank grass and every heap of uncollected leaves in the hope that a few hard pressed insects will find a home there and survive for just a little longer.

Here’s to not gardening in the dark!

https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/21/insects-giant-ecosystem-collapsing-human-activity-catastrophe

Robin’s Bread

Spindle berries are my favourite fruit of the autumn. From inconspicuous little green flowers in the spring, the oddest, brightest and most extravagant seeds grow.

The fruitcase in an astounding lipstick vibrant pink and when ripe they open to display a fluorescent orange seed. Most plants make do with dry seeds in a papery dead case,  but the spindle pouts its glory in colours that seem almost artificial and unnatural in their unexpected vibrancy.

The wood is tough and sharp and was used to making spinning spindles, knitting needles and even toothpicks. Folk law says when used to make a meat skewer, the wood will keep all meat impaled upon it sweet.

In Germany it is called Rotkehlchenbrot or Robin’s Bread and from watching the bush in my garden I understand why . The robins adore the orange fruit and hang upside down on the long branches to pull them out from the pink lips. Black birds and black caps will eat them too and the poisonous seed passes harmlessly through their digestive tracts to be flown to new hedgerow places, where they take root and eventually make more bread for the hungry robins!

 

 

Autumn Equinox.

Today the sky was full of birds. Hundreds and hundreds of swallows passed over the garden on their long journey south.

Our village is on a major migration route in the autumn and the spring.  Serious birders set up telescopes on the field below the church and scan the skies as all types of birds leaving the north are funnelled by the river valley and the first folds of the Jura Mountains into columns high over head. The garden is under this line and my husband spots honey buzzards, bee eaters, ospreys, cranes, storks and even a vulture from the comfort of the front porch.

Today no binoculars were needed to see the birds . At times they streamed by, at other times they wove and stitched the air as they caught insects above the apple trees and the willow and all the untidy greenery of an autumn garden . Then the sky was clear and they seemed to pause,  come back and feed again, criss crossing the blue sky a thousand times and counting them became an utter impossibility. The air was all slicing wings, tail ribbons and unceasing movement and strangely all of it was completely silent. No twittering, just determined hunting and then moving on: the season has changed.

 

Hungry birds and missing caterpillars.

Having cleared out the earthquake emergency box and taken out everything that was out of date, I still can’t throw food away. So I continue to cook unwanted food for my colony of sparrows!

Having proven that house sparrows, blue tits and great tits will eat instant noodles, my latest experiment proves they will also demolish a packet of mini macaroni in 24 hours flat!

The bad news concerns the caterpillar living on the geranium on my desk at work, which grew visibly hour by hour . I did wonder how it would fare over the weekend with no one to admire its hairy plumpness and unfortunately my misgivings were well founded. On Monday morning he was gone. He may have crawled out the window;  he may have metamorphosed  into a butterfly and flown away in record time; or he may have squished by the cleaner. I leave you to decide.

On the upside a swallowtail caterpillar is eating the fennel in my veg patch safe from    offices and zealous cleaners. I am banking on this one making it to butterfly!

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