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.

 

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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Having cleared out the earthquake emergency box and taken out everything that was out of date, I still can’t throw food away.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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Let it go!

When we moved into our home seven years ago, the drive was gravel. I think it must have been regularly sprayed with weed killer to keep it  bare and tidy- so we stopped. We collected handfuls of seeds from local wild flowers in the first  autumn and we threw them on the tidy, dead stones.

A blush of green appeared in the spring. Tiny pinks arrived first

 

IMG_1662.JPGand tentative wild marjoram. Dandelions scrambled yellow and I let them flower for the bees and then seed for the linnets to feed on. Yarrow sprang up eventually and garden lavender even set seed and bushes started to grow.

There is still a bare strip where the car comes in and out of the garage each day, but the rest is a riot of colour and life. Arriving home from work to drive through an explosion of butterflies and a wall of bumble bees is a million times better growling over dead stones and when I wake up in the morning, open my bedroom window and look down, I watch finches picking through seeds and house martins swooping through the insects that have found a home on our drive just because we let it all go!

Cuckoo in the nest.

When we lived in Wales we used to keep watch on the nest of a peregrine falcon. It involved long hours ensuring no one stole the eggs to sell to falconers in the Middle East and while we lay in the grass, we also got to watch cuckoos.

The plump, barred birds picked caterpillars off the bushes and squeezed their inner ends down  their throats like a thrifty dentist squeezing the last of a tube of tooth paste. Since then I have rarely seen them and the only confirmation that the they still exist has came from the unmistakable call of the male bird.

When we first moved to France I heard a few each year and then there were none , but this year, while feeding my sparrows, I  heard a call, loud clear and wonderfully unmistakable .

On the same day we stopped by a thin line of reeds between two fields and listened to the sweet call of a very different bird. If you look closely at the photo you can see a very small bird singing. It is a reed warbler and it is smaller than a sparrrow and weighs the same as an envelope. This is the tiny bird that most often raises the young of the cuckoo. Their own chicks are thrown out by the cuckoo hatchling who has never laid eyes on its own parents . By mimicking the sound of a hungry baby reed warbler the cuckoo encourages its diminutive parents to feed the imposer until it dwarfs them in size. When it is fully grown the cuckoo sets off for the rain forests of central Africa, without ever having seen another cuckoo in its life.

It is an extraordinary story of how interconnected we are on this small planet and how a single evocative sound in one part of the world links us to all of the rest .

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Feathering your nest.

A soft feather pillow to sink into engenders peaceful  sleep and it seems sparrows know it too!

I had been shaking out an old feather pillow on top of the potato peelings on our compost heap and some the feathers escaped. They caught on the dry earth and within minutes our local sparrows were down stuffing their beaks with pillow feathers to line their own new nests. They continued to visit all afternoon until every feather was gone and a small trail of white duck down floated down the quiet street in their wake.

Sound scape.

I wake up to rave music.

The sickening machine deep thump like my own heart about to explode. I take deep, deep breaths. Windows kept shut,  the rumble of the kettle and the calming sound of a teapot filling, restores some equilibrium, until the loathsome perpetrator of this insult  lapses somewhere into unconsciousness and the cacophony stops.

Outside is birdsong.

The sparrows chattering companionably. A great tit proclaiming his territory. A marsh tit tapping open a sunflower seed on the the trellis. The electric cackle of a redstart . A chiffchaff. The first deep pollen furred rumbles of bumble bees.

The neighbour’s dog Harry is let out and barks . The first horse from the stable ambles down the road and Harry barks again. The horse shys and his hooves clatter sharp on the tarmac. Harry smiles.

In the garden the hum of bees is louder. The pear tree is in full bloom and every single tiny flower seems covered in honey bees. Blink and the tree seems still, squint and it is writing with pollinating frenzy.

Overhead a buzzard mews plaintively swinging  into a swoop to impress his mate hanging in the paintbox blue sky.

A couple of frantic and obilivious cyclists whoosh by on thin wheels shouting . Another neighbour retrieves the beer can he left last night in the garden before his elderly mother peers out to admire her pink ribboned Easter rabbit decorations.

After lunch there is laughter under the trees over a cigarette. A desolutotry teenager bounces a basket ball for a few minutes.

Magpies cackle and four black kites glide over head in total silence, their universe so huge, so distant and unbounded.

 

 

 

 

Bald Bush!

This forsythia was the only shrub that existed in my garden when we bought this house and the first spring it flowered magnificently. We took cuttings from it and they all rooted easily.

These daughter plants produced wonderful frills of yellow flowers on every inch of the branches, but the mother plant is now nearly bald of blossom every spring.  We thought we were pruning it at the wrong time, so we pruned in the late spring: no flowers, so we pruned in the winter: no flowers, so we didn’t prune at all: still no flowers!

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So then I wondered what had changed from when we first arrived and I saw the bird table we had place right next to it, which attracts a mob of house sparrows all year round, to eat our left over bread. Obviously the bread was not enough as I remembered I had seen a telltale yellow bud in a sparrow’s beak weeks before. In recompense for all the bread I have shared with them, behind my back they have been systematically stripping the flower buds every year, while we have been foolishly fretting about pruning régimes!

I love feeding the sparrows, so I guess I will just have to learn to love my raggedly parti coloured forsythia bush too!

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First cherry blossom.

The very first  wild cherry trees are blossoming . The white flowers are tiny and the mass of buds look like pearls against the dark branches.

In the forest oxslips are pushing up . This plant was growing on the rim of a badger latrine. I am always amused by badgers’ domesticity. They are very careful about where they do their business and favour dry banks where they can scrabble about without getting muddy and then move to a new site when the first gets too untidy.

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Up in the tree tops crows were mobbing a raven and the racket was wonderfully raucous. As we watched the commotion another large bird was flushed up . At first I thought it was a second  raven, but as it sat apart from the row, hunched and muscular we realised we were watching a female goshawk and I thought of “H. Is for Hawk” and felt privileged to be in her magnificent presence.

LBJ

No, not a new sexual orientation acronym, but little brown jobs: the birds that are hard to tell apart on sight, due to unremarkable plumage.

Chiffchaffs are definitely LBJs , but there is no mistaking their call, the onomatopoeic  “chiff -chaff” simple double note that gives them their name. To German ears they sing “zilpzap”and they have seem to have arrived here in the Alsace this very morning. They winter in Africa and summer in Europe. Redstarts seem to have arrived too along with a smattering of dunnocks.

While we listened a large hare loped out from under the hedge and sat a while on his long haunches, ears up to hear and admire some new sounds of spring and a brimstone butterfly that has survived the winter found a primrose.