I stared through the wooden bars of the gate that separated the churchyard from the parkland beyond. Staring back at me curiously were the black eyes of a lamb. She was sprawled at ease just beyond the gate, enjoying the sunshine, her ears translucent in the light, her nose as coal black as her eyes. Nearby her twin was furiously suckling their mother, but this one lamb lay at peace with her new world, fascinated by my appearance.
We went through a lower gate so that she shouldn’t be disturbed.
A tiny orange-tip butterfly fluttered over the emerging plants on the edge of the canal. It shone brightly in the sunlight, as if newly minted.
A cuckoo called persistently from somewhere in the water meadows between the canal and the river.
Creamy drifts of cowslips lifted their many-headed flower stems just above the grass of the orchard at The Vyne in Hampshire.
Some distance away on the lake I could see a tiny bird bobbing underwater and re-emerging further along. Behind it, an even tinier bird imitated the movement of its parent. It was a little grebe, a bird I haven’t seen for a while, and its baby.
The first swifts were screaming overhead in the sunny sky first thing this morning. Soon after there was a house martin above the garden too.
Three pairs of greylag geese and their joint flock of tiny goslings were feeding on the flower-spattered grass beside the lake at The Vyne in Hampshire. The goslings kept close to the adults, who took it in turns to raise their pink-billed heads and stare around, looking for possible danger.
After a while they drifted into the water and swam downstream for a short distance, to emerge on the bank and saunter up towards the daisies again.
In the morning there were about thirty swifts swirling overhead on the air currents, their screaming cries ringing through the air.
Later that day an orange square in one of my rose bushes caught my attention. It was only as the parent sparrow arrived that I realised it was the gaping maw of a baby sparrow. The colour disappeared as the parent stuffed the baby with food and the baby’s mouth closed over it.
Bella, the female blackbird, was collecting damp moss from beside my back garden pond and flying round to the side path with it. I went indoors to look out of the hall window, and had a perfect view of her building a new nest, based on the top of a fence post, sheltered by the climbing hydrangea stems and leaves.
From time to time she would fly off to collect moss or slivers of plant stems from elsewhere, but always she’d come back to soak them well in the waterfall that feeds the pond. And the nest grew, a beautiful deep cup that blended with its background. Once I found her in the front garden, pulling blades of grass and soaking them in the bird bath there. She clearly knows exactly what materials she wants and where to get them, and is an exacting builder.
I hope her nesting and breeding will be more successful this time than I fear her earlier attempt this year was. Only at the beginning of this week that I found a dead blackbird hatchling, perhaps a few days old, on the grass of the front garden. I don’t know how it came there, but suspect the increasingly obtrusive magpies that have moved into the area had found the nest. And I’m afraid that this baby would not have been the only casualty – if his nest was raided his siblings have probably died too.
The road to the west led us through a landscape of green and cream. It was the lovely green of newly opening leaves on the trees, of grass growing with spring energy on the verges and in the fields. The cream layered hawthorns and ashes, and the colour grew thicker and creamer in the cowslips that frothed over the ground as if painted onto the green.
On Dartmoor gorse blazed on the sides of the road that led down into the Webburn valley, where cuckoos called and called, the sound ringing out without cessation. The first of this year’s foals stayed close to her mother on Widecombe green.
In Cornwall bands of blue and white gleamed under the sun along one side of the Cornish estate drive. Bluebells scented the air, and the wild garlic left an occasional more astringent trace.
The daffodil flowers in the fields above Helford village have died since I was last here, but along the creek there are more bluebells to scent the air, and wild garlic growing so thickly that it looks as thought the ground is covered with snow, with paths worn through it.
The woodland above the creek is awash with bluebells spreading in great sheets up the slopes, while wild garlic lines the paths and stripes the dead leaves on the woodland floor.
The beach at Hayle stretched away towards the lighthouse at one end. The sand was only marked by the curling waves creeping up it, with the occasional black mound of seaweed on the tide line and a bleached crab skeleton.
Further on, closer to the lighthouse, black-backed gulls, adults and juveniles, stood patiently on the sand at the sea’s edge, waiting for the tide to turn. Within seconds of that, a flock of sandwich terns appeared, demonstrating why they have the beautiful name of sea swallows. Their wings curved like their inland namesakes, they whirled, dived and re-emerged, creating a pattern of black and white swirling movement against the blue sky.
And beyond them there were the larger diving sea birds, gannets, clearly also enjoying the fishy largesse of this spot.
A large Cornish fox trotted confidently along the path at the back of the cottage and up the shallow steps onto the sheltered shrub-enclosed lawn, just a couple of yards from where I sat over tea in the conservatory. Five minutes later he trotted back down the steps, along the path and onto the drive, heading towards the fields and bluebell-filled woodland.
He was a beautiful healthy creature with a fine ginger coat and thick black tip to his tail. He was supremely confident, presumably hoping to get for his supper one of the rabbits that come out to graze on the old paddock. And there was absolutely no doubt whose garden this was.
The Cornish hedges have grown into a different aspect along the lane towards the quay since I was here in March. Slender hart’s tongue ferns have reared up their new leaves, tips curled like a cobra’s hood. Bracken fronds have unfurled to show their dragon-like snouts. Common sorrel stems are dotted with apple-blossom colours. But bluebells are also the predominant flower here – bluebells with primroses, bluebells with greater stitchwort, bluebells with celandines, bluebells all on their own, spreading over the slopes of the valley, lining the walls alongside the earthen track.
The light bright green of newly emerging beech leaves screen the Cornish valley. Below, a stream runs down to the Helford, its course echoing the line of the path above.
At the end of the path was the quay on the creek, where the water remained high although the tide had started going out. The silence was so still that the beat of a cormorant’s wings was loud as it flew upriver. The water beneath it rippled gently, regularly, in a pattern like a fish’s scales. Further out, the creek surface was dippled and dimpled, presumably as insects landed and were snapped up by the hidden fish. And drifting around us came the tiny seeds of the beeches lining the bank, blown free by a gentle breeze.
Rooks and crows flew into the meadow beyond the Cornish cottage early this morning, just as the sun came out and the scarlet forage harvester went past on the far side of the wall. The grass in the meadow was cut two days ago and turned yesterday. Today the birds were coming to wait again in anticipation of more activity and the provision of more food, possibly seeds, certainly insects. Soon it was working up and down the meadow, sucking up the grass and chopping it, before it was sent down a chute into the trailer of one of the three tractors that followed behind it.
A little later I could see a large flock of rooks busy scouring the stubbly grass of a nearby meadow where the grass had already been gathered.
Goonhilly Downs, in the centre of The Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, can look a bleak place. But there are always things of beauty, and today a cuckoo sang from the depths of the hedgerows that still grow around the poor fields of one of the tiny crofts that were once actively farmed here. And from one of the hedgerows grew a lilac tree, scenting the air with purple flowers, which matched the colour of the violets clustered under a nearby rock.
Sycamores line the hedgerow walls of the garden at Godolophin. There’s the scent of honey from their dangling flowers and the buzzing of bees, perhaps the rare Cornish Black Bees that live in one of the hives in a nearby meadow.
The predominant wild flower colour is changing from creamy white to pink in a variety of shades. The purple pink of orchids in meadows, the paler white-tinged soft pink of apple blossom in tucked away orchards, the clearer lipstick colour of campion in the hedgerow verges.
We missed the dolphins off Hayle beach. Today was a rough day, when the waves heaved and tumbled in darkening shades of blue. Yesterday was calmer and a pod of dolphins came to play in the sea here. No matter how hard I looked I couldn’t see one today.
The Cornish robins have trained the visitors at Roskilly’s Farm. Two adult robins had parked two youngsters close to tables in the courtyard of the restaurant attached to the farm. Their speckled breasts, just tinged with orangey-red, proclaimed them as juveniles rather than babies. Although they still fluttered their wings and opened their gaping mouths wide when either of their parents approached with crumbs.
The youngsters were old enough to peck desultorily on the ground, but they hadn’t yet learned the adult technique of approaching a table and eyeing the person eating a scone with confiding confidence that they were entitled to a share of it.
There’s an old barn above Helford, where the door stands open for the returning swallows. Their blue-black bodies arrowed in and out at speed, barely avoiding us as we paused there, looking across a flower-filled meadow. Their nests inside the barn held babies, and those babies were vociferous eaters, so the adult birds were kept very busy.
It was silent in the Cornish woodland as I walked down to Helford river. Except for the soft chucking of an adult blackbird warning his or her babies to stay quiet and out of sight. The sound was very clear in the stillness of the early morning.
Two proud parents stood upright beside their tiny babies on the mudflat of a Helford creek. The tide was out, and the white of the swan parents was brilliant against the bright green of the fields and trees behind them. The cygnets, though, were tiny balls of smoky grey fluff, fairly recently hatched.
One of the local fishing boats was at work on the Helford river. Behind it, gulls were at work too, harvesting any of the catch that was rejected and any of the fish that evaded the net.
Swallows again, swooping in and out of the old Dartmoor barn, flying low under the lintel of the open doorway in the granite wall. They and their ancestors have nested here for generations, and the farmer who lives next to the barn was pleased to see this year’s birds return, and relieved, as their arrival was later than usual.
There’s a donkey foal, ten days old, at one of the Donkey Sanctuary farms. Already she’s steady on her feet, confident with the staff and volunteers who visit her.
The newly laid hedges outside Widecombe are already green with new growth, growing much more thickly than before. They only partially screen the meadows beyond, where new calves lay almost hidden among the flower-laced grass.
This proud Blackface ewe brought her lamb down to shelter from the sun under an oak that stood on the slope above an ancient Dartmoor farmhouse.
Coming back to southern England from the far South West, the most striking sight is the banks of white. The hawthorn hedges, planted when land was enclosed in the eighteenth century, have burst into bloom.
A roe hind’s blunt head lifted suddenly from the long grass. She had been grazing peacefully here in the early morning sun, as we strolled along one of the paths cut through the grass in the lower garden of the Hampshire country house. She looked directly across at us as we came to a halt, and then she was springing away to the shelter of the trees of the nearby wilderness.
The harsh loud chacking of a magpie filled the air as I worked in my garden this afternoon.
The nest that Bella, the female blackbird, was building in the hydrangea petiolaris along the side path two weeks ago is complete, a magnificent deluxe structure. But it’s empty, and Bella skulks fearfully around the back garden. Her passage is mainly noticeable by the shivering of the shrubs and trees that she’s creeping through. It looks as though the magpies may have cleaned out her eggs, if they didn’t frighten her off before she laid them.
There’s another, smaller, nest deep in the back garden, and she set up a fearful panicked racket when I inadvertently went near it. This may be a later alternative, but she doesn’t appear to be sitting on eggs there.
Bertie, the male blackbird, has also barely been visible in the garden. But he has perched on top of the golden cypress this evening to sing out his territorial tune.
The magpies seem to have taken over the row of lower cypresses at the foot of the garden. And one of them takes the best vantage point, the peaked gable of a nearby house where it can look down over a lot of garden.
There was a tiny mouse scooting across the flowerbed, moving out with lightening speed and then back to cover in a pile of dried leaves, so that I only saw what it was when it stopped to feed on fallen birdseed. It was so small that its translucent pink rounded ears like seashells were half the size of my little finger nail.
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