It is still too cold to do any gardening that does not involve some fairly vigorous exercise – digging up creeping buttercup (pernicious weed and bane of my life) fits the bill. Stretching to ease my aching back it is easy to spend a few minutes watching the ravens tumble and roll their hoarse cronk grating against the bubbling call of the curlews.
Our garden bird list would be very short if we included only the species which actually visit the garden, so to make life more interesting we include those which we can see from within the garden. There is no robin to solicit a grub while I dig, blackbirds are infrequent visitors and I’m more likely to see a redwing than a song thrush. I do have a resident pair of wrens, I hear them occasionally but they dwell within the garden walls and creep around as quietly as wee brown mice.
Our winter waders (shorebirds) are still around – godwits and oystercatchers feeding on the tide edge, sanderling scurrying about like clockwork toys with turnstone feeding amongst the wrack. The glaucous gulls – pure white arctic birds as pale as ghosts still haunt the shore where a few great northern divers still linger.
The change in the seasons are always heralded by the birds. In the spring it is the gannets returning to their breeding colonies on St. Kilda which indicate the rising of the sap. When the sun makes an appearance this is the cue for the lapwings to begin sky dancing. With their broad wings they are like giant butterflies as they wheel transcribing iridescent arcs in the sky and the mournful peeee-wit call echoes in circles. What lady could resist such an invitation.
There is no dawn chorus to herald the spring – I know that winter is drawing to a close when the whooper swans leave, setting course across the sea for Iceland. I never understood why the collective name for swans is a herd, it does not begin to convey the stark elegance of a phalanx of swans flying over the sea against a wintry sky. I will leave you with this image as I look out over a stormy sky and wind tossed waves and recommend that you listen to the last movement of Sibelius’ 5th symphony ( inspired by the sight of sixteen swans taking flight over his Järvenpää villa).