Our Kitchen Window

Our kitchen window looks to the south over land dropping down to the valley’s river.  Underneath the waving of tan reed bushes, where I imagine once were green pastures, the land lies crinkled and rocky.

There is an endless magic show outside this window.  The sun poking from behind clouds and the riotous birdsong in the trees and hedges surrounding the house.  This past week, we heard the return of two more of our migratory birds:  The Cuckoo and the Grasshopper Warbler.  Almost overnight, the leaves on the trees are beginning to unfurl.

And, the swallows are back.  We saw four flying about earlier this month.

Most of us are perpetually short of time, but now we are bathed in it.   By the close of the day, I wonder how the hours flew past so effortlessly?  No doubt I lost track of time observing ripples crossing the water of the pond or birds splashing in the bird bath.  Have we always had so many bees on the Willow catkins?

Like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, I have busied myself intently observing the happenings beyond these panes of glass.  Unlike Jimmy Stewart’s character, I do not have a broken leg.  I’ve recorded in my journal a week of kitchen window observations and remind myself that each of these details happens just once, like an introduction or a death.

 

Dartmoor

Fog Rolling in on Dartmoor

Monday

Today I spotted a small Tortoise Shell butterfly landing on the catkins of the Willow tree.  This very tree self-seeded itself about five years ago.  Things grow slowly here, so it is currently the size of a tree half its age, but it is coming along nicely.  This gives us both hope as Roger recently completed planting 120 trees in our fields.  I did not help.  Instead, I finished filling the certainly-more-than-a-mere-120 potholes along the track.

Next, we have the veg beds to complete before planting out in a few weeks.  And there sits 16 tonnes of rocks to shift as we build up our gabion wall to protect against erosion.  We’re busy.

 

Tuesday

While chatting with one of my brothers, I watched a solitary ant roam about the window ledge, then up and over the screen of my phone.  It paused, perhaps taking in the image of my brother as he laughed at a joke.  I wonder, when will we get our annual ant invasion?  Every spring, for one-day only, the ants come marching into the kitchen from the window or under the cabinets.  For a few hours, they are everywhere.  A proper horror show invasion!   We throw open the windows and the door and within about an hour, they are all gone.  It’s as if they have a nest deep in the stone walls of the house, emerge when conditions are just so, and then head off on their summer adventures.  Was this first ant on a scouting mission, distracted by the conversation between me and Peter?

 

Wednesday

Tonight there will be a Pink Moon, the full moon of April.  Last night we saw the preview of this Supermoon casting the most splendid shadows across the land.   But, as this day has rolled on, the clouds have increased, giving a hazy effect to what had been otherwise a clear blue sky with sunshine.  There will be no lunar observation this evening for us.

“It’s happening Reg, something’s actually happening Reg!”  In the distance, a thick cloud of smoke is filling the air, adding to the haze in the distance.  I hope it is my neighbours having a bonfire, the result of a lot of gardening work, but I will call to confirm.  It’s been so dry lately, a fire could easily travel.

In the upper right-hand corner of the window I watched a spider cast her web.  I am captured by her design and abilities to hang, drop, hang, attach, leap, hang, drop, attach, hang, knot…..

 

 

Thursday

Oh my!  The spider’s web trapped a plump fly.  She’s feasting on it but I can only see this from a distance.  Too close and she retreats, her meal safely wrapped in her web.

There’s a light frost covering the ground and most of the daffodils are blooming.  I had planted an extra 150 bulbs last autumn.  The small white flowers on the Blackthorn have emerged.  We put the hedges in almost four years ago and this is the first flowering we’ve had.  They are finally establishing themselves.  Small daisies are appearing in the grass, a cheery presence.   Seemingly overnight, the nettles are growing in and amongst the hedge plants.  I will go out and cut them to make soup and pesto.

 

 

Friday

What madness!  The chaffinches just chased the Great Tits off of the bird feeders.  Our hens just chased the rabbits (yes, more than one.  Little buggers!) and Jackdaws from the bird seed laying on the ground.  A big rat poked its head out from under one of the shrubs.  Of course, all I need to do is say “damn rats” and off Millie and Brock go to issue their barking orders to who is permitted to gather socially at the feeders.  Rats are not on their accepted list.  Of course, all the other birds fly away too, but are now returning.

Ah, two Siskins!  We haven’t seen them in ages.  Green Finches and Gold Finches are joining the crowd too.

 

Saturday

Those nettles have grown.  I must get busy and do something about them before they become too big, too tough and bullish to confront.

Atop one of the dead trees on the other side of the river a buzzard is perched.  Earlier I watched her circle above and then drop like a rock to the ground.  I wonder what she’s caught?  She’s busy now preening and sitting comfortably with a full belly.  I do love birds of prey and their “top dog” pecking order.

 

 

Sunday

In all of this quiet, it is shocking to see three separate helicopters fly over.  Where are they headed?  What are they transporting?  I don’t think I’ve ever given this much thought before.

Bold as brass, a Stoat ran past before diving in between gaps in the stone wall.  Is this what was attacking the baby rabbit the other day when I heard those horrible cries from the wall?

 

 

Any day

All this activity outside the kitchen window.  The living room window offers a view of the pond and different observations.  Meanwhile, the radio plays the news in the background of my hide.  The daily release of stats with the humanity behind it incomprehensible.  I get up to turn it off and resume my perch.

As the evening begins to creep in, there is a silence like sinking into sleep.  A calm and settled place.

Ooh, there went a bat!

Rap-Tors

Dartmoor

With record amounts of rain so far this year, it is a rare occurrence to be out for a walk without waterproof outerwear covering every inch of my body.  I know on this particular occasion I am taking a small risk as the weather could change in an instant, back to punishing rains and winds, but my weather app is telling me there are a few hours before the rain sets in for the rest of the day and I am happy to take the risk.

As Roger, Sam and I head out onto the moors, the sky is a blue-grey and the tors look especially brooding on top of the hills.  The sun has tentatively peeked out, affecting sepia toned lighting akin to an old photo found at a flea market.  With the wind to our backs, we three march up past Crockern Tor, and then north along the ridge.

We sloshed through the boggy paths past Litteford Tor and Longaford Tor, and carried on towards Higher White Tor.  On route, we pass sheep that will be giving birth in a few weeks.  We hear the sounds of dogs barking as they work with the farmer on the other side of the valley to gather sheep.   After about forty-five minutes, we reach Higher White Tor, clamber to the top and pause taking in the views.  The sun is now casting our shadows across the gorse, reeds and granite boulders.   The sudden flapping of wings turns our attention as a pair of Curlew fly away, low to the ground.  Looking up to see the parting clouds, we glimpse a Buzzard circling overhead.

We sit and watch, trying to determine where this magnificent bird will touch down.  Moments later, another Buzzard joins the scene and the two lazily drift arcs in the sky, either hunting or waiting for a clear moment to feed on something perhaps already lying dead down below.

To a bird of prey, the world is three categories: food, threat, or simply irrelevant.  The three of us are solidly in this last camp.  I’ve learned from many walks that coming upon a bird of prey sitting atop a fence post with its vice-like feet and solid long talons, fixing me with its steely expression of extreme indifference, I can safely watch back with curiosity and admiration.  That’s right, I am neither food nor threat.  In moments such as these, I would hate to be a vole, small bird, mouse, rat, fish, rabbit, or hey, even one of our chickens.  I wouldn’t stand a chance.

Birds of prey are powerful and fast, graceful and nimble as they soar above upland landscape.  And yet, despite appearing ferocious, they are fragile.  I suppose that is what being a bird of prey ultimately means.   They sit on the top of the food chain and their numbers are essentially controlled by the amount of prey available to them.  Almost anything can potentially tip the delicate balance of their ecosystem.  They are hunted, become accidental victims of attempts to poison other wildlife, or fail to thrive because of even a reduction in caterpillars upon whom the small prey feed.   I know many who do not like to see a bird of prey pass by the bird feeder, fearing the future of other garden visitors.   But, the presence of a bird of prey indicates there is ample food available, a strong indication of an environment in balance.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t see them at all.

As if on cue, this Sparrowhawk entered our garden. I concede it is a lousy photo, but it was stormy outside and all I had to hand was the camera on my phone.

As if on cue, this Sparrowhawk entered our garden. I concede it is a lousy photo, but it was stormy outside and all I had to hand was the camera on my phone.

And who can deny that it is darn thrilling to spot a bird of prey.   They are spectacular and spellbinding examples of power and grace.  Possessing top predator status can’t be easy and that means they will never be as numerous as other birds, so there is a certain novelty and happy surprise to seeing these elusive creatures.  Since moving to Dartmoor, we have spotted Red Kites, Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks, Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, and Hobby.   Roger once spotted a pair of Peregrine Falcons in this very spot we are watching the Buzzards.  We have yet to see a Merlin.

Sometimes it’s not the seeing, but the hearing that lets us know they are in our midst.  The other night, we were awakened by a strange noise.  Still half asleep, I thought maybe we had mice in the ceiling.  But it was loud, too loud to be a nest of mice.  Roger went to investigate and announced that the sound, a pecking sound, was outside on the roof, not in the ceiling.  While instantly feeling relieved, I did stop to wonder what in the world is making that racket at this time of night on the roof?

It is too late in the season for Santa, but it had to be something nocturnal and something that could get up onto the roof.  That ruled out badgers, foxes, moles, deer, and presumably the Wisht Hounds from Wistman’s Wood.  This left us with the possibility of bats or birds of prey.  With sound as our only clue, we believe it was an owl eating its catch.  A mouse, rat, mole, rabbit or even a bird was likely being dined upon – whole! – above us as we attempted sleep.  Soon the sound stopped and we drifted back to sleep, content with the knowledge of a balanced and working ecosystem surrounding us.

 

        Related articles:
Enhanced by Zemanta