Thursday 11 April 2024

Has it stopped raining yet?

It has been one of the wettest winters I can recall. The local ponds are all full to the brim, wader passage (such that we ever get here) will be virtually non-existent. I'd rather them be full than empty, as that would just be disgusting around here, and as we head into no doubt another record-breaking summer we need every ounce of water we can store as the levels will fall very quickly with the kind of temperatures that are commonplace these days. Ounce? Drop, maybe. Large sections of the patch which are not ponds are close to becoming ponds, or at the very least incredibly waterlogged and boggy. And bird-free of course, even though from a distance it looks really quite attractive. But of course what do I know? I am not a bird, and as Jubilee Pond constantly reminds us what looks completely grim from a human perspective seems to be very attractive to birds. So the reverse is probably true - to me it looks great. To a passing bird, meh.

The deluge is showing signs of easing, finally, and occasionally a funny yellow ball can be seen in the sky. This is very pleasant, and both and my plant-growing environments have begun to feel warm again. Only briefly of course, but I have sown the seeds of what will eventually become my annual bean harvest and now have a nice collection of seedlings that I will soon plant out. Concurrent with this change in the weather we have finally seen a bit of migration, although I missed by far the best day of the year by virtue of being somewhere else that was also very waterlogged. So waterlogged in fact that the streets had all flooded and the residents were having to get about in boats.

Even though I missed the fun at the weekend, the mornings have provided an opportunity to partially catch up. We've had a good passage of Common Redstart (unusual for Spring) including a lingering bird that has started to sing, the first Swallows have been passing over,  the regular Reed Warbler has put in an early appearance on Shoulder of Mutton pond, and in the last couple of days the first Whitethroats have arrived and are tentatively singing whilst getting booted around by Robins. Patch birders are never satisfied of course, and t
houghts are turning to what we might get next, and all local birders worth their salt have a mental list of targets and have fine-tuned their birdy radars for specific species. I am on high alert for Ring Ouzel for example, the 'tsiep' of a Yellow Wagtail, and for that first rattle of a Lesser Whitethroat. Any day now.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Easter weekend

I've spent all weekend on the patch, birded it three days out of four. The result, a stonking bag of spring migrants one Willow Warbler. One. That's it. Barring this one bird, not a single migrant of any note. No Wheatears, no fly-over waders, no hirundines, no nothing. It is hard not to be disappointed over four days. The numbers tell a different story as I ended March way above average on 83, but those are just numbers - all you need to see is one individual of one species and you're done. A more interesting stat is how many passed through. If I purposefully ommit Chiffchaff and Blackcap as they now overwinter in small numbers and are thus seen way before migration has officially started, the only passage migrant to appear so far this year prior to April 1st's Willow Warbler has been Wheatear.  The first of these was on March 16th, the next day it was joined by another, and a little later that week, the 19th, I picked up another male whilst Nick found a female. So what's that? Four birds if you're feeling generous? Since that day there hasn't been a sausage. Yes there was a Partridge, and you could say that a few Red Kite passing over are also migrants, but what I am trying to say in a far too roundabout way is that it has been shit. Four days of complete freedom to bird the patch, no work, no committments, and one single Willow Warbler. Unremittingly shit. Luckily I have other hobbies too, but I won't bore you with those. Suffice it to say that I have put in some serious shifts in the greenhouse and garden with which I am extremely satisfied.

So a weekend of pottering around basically, something I am extremely good at. I did exciting things like sweeping, pruning, and going to the dump. I have been middle-aged since I was about 19 and am now really beginning to hit my stride. As I took a lunch break on one of the days I wondered aloud to Mrs L whether this was what retirement was like. For some reason she put her head in her hands, I am not sure why. It is nice to spend time at home with the family, and I can only assume she is looking forward to it as much as I am.

The weekend also revolved around food. It being the holidays we have a full house here, and with the five of us it made a bit more sense to push the boat out a little. Of course some dishes were sniffed at - chickpea and chicory salad was not met with universal acclaim for some reason although Mrs L and I both liked it a lot. What irritates me is the picking and choosing, or that we will spend hours cooking a substantial meal and only a few hours later they will be swarming in the kitchen again, wolfing down cereal and toast as if they haven't been fed for days. Teenagers eh? Was I like this? The highlight of the weekend was probably our Italian meal, I haven't stopped jabbering about Italy since I returned from Piedmont in early March. I imported a load of goodies including a local pasta called Tajarin which we had as a primi piatti with some of my home-made ragu, and it was every bit as good as the dish I ate in an osteria in Alba. 

In other (now sadly regular) news the fence battles continue unabated. There was some minor respite on Good Friday, and for a moment we thought our anonymous adversary had perhaps gone away for Easter. Unfortunately they had not as we arrived on Saturday to one of the most egregious slashing incidents thus far that required the CoL team to come out and repair it as it was beyond the volunteers. On Sunday and Monday there was virtually no damage at all, but this morning it had been cut again, albeit only a little. Perhaps as we now re-enter the normal working week it will all start up again, my pet theory is that weekdays are more likely than weekends as people are up much earlier in order to walk their dogs before work, and the damage has always occured before we get there in the morning. So, a bum note to end on, but the Skylarks continue to sing - perhaps as many as four birds. Fingers crossed.