House martins set for take-off

HOUSE martins are in the same bird family as swallows and swifts, so they, too, will soon be lining up on electricity wires before they depart to spend the winter in Africa.

It is nothing short of a miracle that they can do this, and come back to their original nesting spots in this country six or seven months later.

They often nest in the eaves of houses and these photographs show young martins at a fairly delicate stage of development, and who must be members of a second brood, having been photographed this month.

Resting on an evergreen in a tub, the young feathered martin has probably launched itself from its nest but found flying a little more tiring than expected.

The one in the nest is in a typical spot, under the eaves of a house in the middle of Salisbury and close to a water course where its parents can find plenty of insect life nearby. Its nest, made from mud, is sheltered from the elements even if it is resting on a power line.

The Happy Moonraker wishes them all ‘bon voyage’ and looks forward to their return next spring.

 

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A green lake

This healthy barley crop has benefited from hot sun and heavy rain in the past two weeks. As the wind catches the crop, it looks like a ruffled green lake. Tilly and The Happy Moonraker often jog past and we keep an eye on how near it is to being harvested. Not for a few weeks yet, though.

 

Spring is warmly welcomed

“Please may I have your number,” says one lamb to the other.

Tilly the terrier and the Happy Moonraker have loved watching spring unfold even more than usual this year. After that wet and muddy winter, a week or two of dry weather is welcome.

Snowdrops, primroses, daffodils and, my favourites, narcissi, have done well.

Fruit tree blossom has possibly been the best it’s ever been, and there are lambs, bluebells and wood anemones wherever you look. The persistent cold wind seems to have put off the more sensible butterflies from appearing so we’ve only seen one or two: small white, brimstone and a brave peacock.

There have also been some heavy frosts so anyone with a low-lying garden in a rural area unfortunately had their magnolias and then wisteria spoiled. Salisbury’s city centre ones did well. They are protected by buildings.

Lambs are everywhere, and it is lovely to see how active they become at the end of each day, leaving their mothers’ sides and gathering together for fun and games. A friend who keeps a few sheep next to her pony paddock has been surprised by several twin births and, for the first time, one group of triplets so her midwifery and post-natal skills have been put to the test.

The farmers are now keen for some prolonged rain, otherwise there will be a lot of stunted crops.

Spot the cock pheasant hiding among the bluebells under the apple tree, photographed through the window.

Tilly the terrier rests in the daisies.

 

Feathered friends come calling

At the start of winter I decided to buy a box of 140 fat balls because it would be better value than buying them in smaller quantities. It has worked well, although of course they are loose in the box, rather than in nets, so it has been necessary to keep topping up feeders dotted around the place. Peanuts and seeds have also proved popular.

A friend who knows about these things says that wild birds should not be fed after the end of April, so I’ve somehow got to advise all our feathered customers that there will be no more cafeteria service until late autumn.

It’s been fun looking for more of my bird photos, all taken through glass.

This robin was tugging away at the worm and must have thought several times that he (or was it she?) had bitten off more than he could chew. He did win in the end.

Pheasants, both male and female, are often to be seen outside. It’s just a question of making sure that they can’t see The Happy Moonraker as the camera is lifted.

Great spotted woodpeckers are fairly common, as demonstrated by this one as it pecks away at the peanuts in the feeder. The smaller, lesser spotted woodpecker is seldom seen in the garden, unfortunately.

The last time we had snow I managed to capture this party of long-tailed tits enjoying the buffet put out for them.

Birds of a feather

Photographed through glass: a pair of goldfinches through the car windscreen . . .

WHEN it comes to taking photos of Tilly the terrier, there is no need for complicated equipment. Trying to photograph wild birds, though, is altogether different.

I’ve never used a hide or a posh camera with different lenses, so I think some of my efforts aren’t too bad. Most of them I take through the glass of the kitchen window so I often have to crop away the glare. There is a definite incentive to keep the windows clean.

and, seen through the kitchen window, a hen pheasant who has timidly taken up residence in the garden . . .

and an equally nervous-looking green woodpecker

Tilly appears deep in thought as she guards the Happy Moonraker’s Mother’s Day flowers. No secrecy or special lens needed for this photo.

 

A walk in the woods

Winter sunset across the pond: I just love the reflection, the trees looking like lace.

Winter sunset across the pond: I just love the reflection, the trees looking like lace.

IT takes a certain determination to overlook the grey skies and rain and try to have a busy day. The Happy Moonraker’s first thought is to curl up under the duvet and forget trying to do anything useful.

Tilly the terrier doesn’t seem to notice weather. One day is like any other to her: food, walk, run, food, walk, run, doze, bark, sleep, and then more of the same.

If we’ve managed to pick a time when it is not raining, we have had more lovely walks in the beech woods.

Tilly and the two dogs she knows best, Budleigh and Rosie, know exactly where to go. Tilly ignores them both and refuses to play but the others romp and run and make sure they get as muddy as possible.

Budleigh is an enthusiastic Labrador and Rosie is a high-speed lurcher.

A female roe deer suddenly saw us as we turned a corner on the edge of the wood. Then she was off, through the young crop of oilseed rape.

A female roe deer suddenly saw us as we turned a corner on the edge of the wood. Then she was off, through the young crop of oilseed rape.

Tilly investigates quietly, sniffing and sometimes digging, but she is never far from me. Everything changes, though, if she spots a squirrel. Then all hell breaks loose. That’s when she sounds like a pack of feral terriers.

These pretty fungi (see below) were in the beech woods, just by the path.

These pretty fungi (see below) were in the beech woods, just by the path.

I did well to photograph the little red mushrooms without Tilly’s snout dominating the shot. She was fascinated. According to an identification website, they are called Elf Cups (Sarcoscypha coccinea) and are quite common, although I have never seen them before. They are described as edible but I think I’ll give them a miss.

 

Better days ahead?

Tilly on a beech tree, listening to chattering jays.

Tilly on a beech tree, listening to chattering jays.

Tilly the terrier hopes that her many fans enjoy 2017, and that they receive plenty of cheesy treats throughout the year.

The Happy Moonraker also hopes that the year improves for everyone after a depressing start.

With too many people in positions of power espousing the most loathsome beliefs, the omens are not good. It is up to the moderates to make our feelings known, wherever we are. We can’t look round when some appalling decisions have been implemented and say: “But how did that happen?”

Dog-walkers of the world unite. We have more power than you think.

There are also signs of spring all around, in spite of days of heavy frosts, dreary grey skies, and gardens boasting little but brown sticks. A careful look reveals snowdrops, catkins, and buds waiting to burst open.

We have had some lovely walks. Yes, there has been rather too much mud but you have to expect it at this time of year, and beech woods are always interesting and mood-lifting as we wade through puddles and thick carpets of brown leaves.

At home, when the ground isn’t too hard, the Happy Moonraker can always go out and dig up a couple of leeks. Granted, they are not everyone’s favourite vegetable, but I have devised one or two ways of preparing them which make them acceptable to just about everyone.