Flowers are growing in spikes in the Dartmoor woodland. Delicate pale green spires grow up from the lichened stones of a granite wall, sprouting upwards from the plate-like little leaves of navelwort. But it’s the spotted purple flowers on the foxgloves that are most evident.
They grow in a screen before a stack of weathering logs, they line a woodland path, they stand sentinel beside the small ford over a stream.
Swallows swooped past the upper windows, flying up to feed their babies in the many nests that lined the eaves of the Dartmoor farmhouse. From an upper window I could see the birds flying out and back across a landscape of towering tors and rocky slopes, before they flashed past me, in, then out again.
There’s another donkey foal on the farm, a male this time to join the female who’s a couple of weeks older. He’s chocolate brown like his mother, and much more inclined to test his surroundings as well as his visitors, rushing forwards with his ears back to see if he can get a reaction.
Bella, the female blackbird in my back garden, was at the back door as soon as I let the dog out this morning. She was very thin, and apart from a brief appearance on the shed roof to make me aware of her presence, she skulked fearfully in the shadows.
As soon as I put mealworms out on the terrace she came down to feed voraciously. I couldn’t be sure if she was taking any away as she repeatedly filled her beak with small pieces, but then swallowed them and started breaking up more.
But when I was out in the garden later I could hear her soft chucking from the gloom under the trees. The leaf cover is now extensive, and I was only aware occasionally a quick shiver in the thickest clumps which may have been Bella feeding a baby.
The branches of the small golden fir shook gently, one after the other as a goldcrest sprang between them, feasting on insects tucked away on the leaves. The bird came briefly into sight from time to time, so tiny that it made a dunnock in the nearby willow look large.
Bella is definitely feeding at least one baby blackbird. This seems to be kept some distance away from the garden as she flies off with the mealworms she gathers. Unless of course this is a ploy to deceive marauding magpies, although there’s been no sound or sight of them since I’ve been back.
I’ve seen no sign of Bertie, the male blackbird, either, and fear he may have died.
Bertie is back, also thin, his yellow beak quite dull, but the indomitable spirit still in his penetrating eyes as they focus on me from his perch on the shed roof.
And Bella came for a lingering bath in one of the dog water bowls that the birds like so much. She seemed much more relaxed.
A flock of greylags floated like a flotilla of warships on the lake at The Vyne in Hampshire, occasionally framed through branches as they drifted past the house.
Straw and dried grass sticks out of the house-martin paired nesting box. Sparrows annexed it long ago, and they’re nesting again. They seem to have attempted a nest on top of the swift nest box too, before deciding against the site.
I woke to the clattering sound of a magpie in the trees at the bottom of the back garden. There was no sign of any of the blackbirds during the day, nor of any other small birds either.
There was a tiny bird corpse on the back garden terrace this morning. Although it’s barely formed I fear it’s possibly a blackbird fledgling. There is still little sign of Bella, the female blackbird.
There was a familiar litter of twigs among the herbs in my courtyard garden. I peered up into the wisteria that smothers the wall of the house, and spotted the untidy platform that is a pigeon nest. When I looked at it later it was occupied, and I was being watched by the beady eyes of a sitting pigeon.
The slender dark shape of the bird on the water wasn’t that of a mallard. It was only when I saw its colouring that I realised it was a female tufted duck, surrounded by tiny diving ducklings. They sprang up off the water, then dived down below the surface, bobbing back up seconds later.
A nearby moorhen with fluffy red-headed dabchicks was also diving, but was much heavier in movement than the adult tufted duck.
Four grey cygnets drifted close together and near to the canal bank, elegant and hopeful, hissing softly at passing dogs. On the far bank a horde of Canada geese congregated, busily preening, their number increasing as more and more birds hauled out to join the party. Just below them a female mallard was flanked by three tiny ducklings, one of them bright yellow and vivid against the dark water and the gloom of the overhanging willows.
Bella, the female blackbird, brought a large baby to the back garden this morning, leaving him in the shelter of the juniper while she foraged on mealworms.
It’s such a relief to see that she has brought at least one baby to this stage, so far evading the magpie menace.
A shaft of sunlight pierced the beech canopy. It fell directly on the brambles and nettles that edged a corner of the woodland ride. A large red dragonfly hovered in the brightness, while a solitary silver-washed fritillary danced in the light, its large wings glowing amber and gold.
Smaller fish hovered in a band just inside the shelter of the overhanging leaves of the weeping willow that stands on the edge of one of the ponds at The Vyne in Hampshire. Beyond this shelter the larger fish lurked in sunshine like submarines just below the surface.
I was standing on my back garden terrace listening to the excited chattering that filled the air. Glancing up, I saw a sparrow clinging to the outer side of the artificial house martin’s nests that the sparrows have colonised. She was busy feeding the babies inside, and it was they who were calling frantically for her attention.
The headlights lit up a group of rabbits, busily dining on the grass of the wide parkland. For a second they were clearly visible, undisturbed by the sudden brightness, then they were hidden in the night’s darkness again.
A little further on, a larger figure could just be seen on the perimeter of the light beam. A dark russet fox sniffing at the grass, then trotting lithely on about her business – in the opposite direction to the rabbit group.
Bella, the blackbird female, perched on top of a pollarded stump on the edge of the garden. One of the starlings sat on the shed roof. Both birds were peering skywards, their heads turning backwards and forwards like meerkat sentinels. Between them sat a female sparrow calling shrilling, an alarm call.
Below, on the bricks of the terrace, crouched a sparrow fledgling. It had emerged from the cover of campanula leaves by the shed and now sat in the open, a few downy feathers ruffling, turning its head slightly, as if bewildered by the noise. But it knew enough not to move from the spot, especially when another sparrow landed in the nearby berberis and joined in the shrill warning. It was only when the noise stopped that the baby moved, flying a short distance into the shelter of the willow.
A shivering of the duckweed on the pond’s surface betrayed the passage of a submerged frog. Shortly afterwards, he clambered, shining wet, onto the rim of the pond, screened from above by the leaves of the arum lilies.
He was only gone for a short time, out under the viburnum plicaturm, before he was slipping back into the water again.
Drying hay was spread thickly across the wide acres of parkland around Tottenham Park in Wiltshire. It looked like a pale straw-coloured sea, heaving gently into peaked waves.
In the distance, beyond a belt of trees, swirled a column of crows, marking the passage of the combine through another field.
Leaving the commotion, a red kite flew above the trees towards us. This species is now a more common sight here than the buzzards, whose calls used to ring out over the landscape a decade or so ago.
People were drifting away from a mass picnic in flower meadows. Above them three red kites circled watchfully, knowing there was bound to be pickings of some kind for them.
Bella, the female blackbird, has been bringing her large baby into the back garden this week. She was still feeding him, but showing him the source of mealworms. And now he’s brave enough to appear by himself on the lawn outside the back door.
Bella’s big baby followed her onto the garden terrace to peck at the mealworms that I’d scattered there. And behind him appeared a doppelganger, another large baby, perhaps even bigger than the first.
The first was probably the elder, and is now brave enough to visit the waterfall pools to sip at the flowing water. He even contemplated bathing.
The second only hovered largely on a nearby branch, drinking in the scene before he disappeared into the apple tree.
The setting sun threw an ethereal pale gold light over just one spot in the neighbourhood. This was the chimney pots where two ring doves cuddled together, warmed by the last of the sun’s heat.
One of the young mallards on the canal had an obvious green tinge to the feathers on the back of his head. He’s acquiring the adult plumage of a drake.
Three black and white plovers wheeled and circled above the downland field, their peewit cries ringing through the air.
High in the sky a cloud of swifts swirled, only just distinguishable as curving sickle shapes against the grey cloud canopy. The babies have dropped out of their nests to enter the aerial world of their parents. Now they are all feeding up as much as they can, feasting on insects, ready for their departure flight that must now be imminent.
Five badger corpses lined our stretch of the road to the West Country. Two were very large, the rest very small.
Ensconced in the Dartmoor cottage we walked through the neighbouring woodland, where a local badger was doing better, building his own extension to the main sett.
Normally we see a herd of brown and white goats in a familiar field alongside our route to the west. Now we see more goats everywhere, and one field we passed was hosting a much more elegant herd, in sharply defined versions of black and white.
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