Spotted this guy in next door’s holly hedge this morning. At first, I jumped to the conclusion that the spotted breast meant that we had a thrush here. We do have a local thrush, but he only makes himself known as spring nears, usually by singing, very loudly, from the top of the silver birch tree near the gate in the evenings. Once he announces his presence we expect to hear the similar, but less repetitive, voice of the blackbird as he, too, moves on from his chiding ‘tk tk tk’ as we walk past him in the hedge, to a full-blown improvisation from the larger of the bushes, and, as spring settles in, from the gable end of the roof.
However, on further consideration, we have decided that this guy is probably a juvenile blackbird. Despite the eponymous intimations, blackbirds are only black sometimes. As juveniles, they are often greyish-brown with a spotted chest – betraying the fact that they belong to the thrush family. I’m fairly sure that this guy will be a nice even black with a bright yellow beak by the end of summer.
When it comes to vocal accomplishments, the thrush certainly has the volume – though some might say he lacks imagination. But the blackbird is the master musician, his never-ending variations on a theme are a pure delight.
After a mild but cloudy few days, today was more wintery. It was bright and cold, and with the cold came dry clear air. In fact, it was so dry that all the wet roads dried out – leaving us with a light dusting of frost on the fields and verges, and occasional patches of solid ice where the night’s rain had left a slightly deeper puddle. The sun shone down on us, but with very little warmth and the frost and ice tended to just ignore it.
Once again, I had forgotten to put my gloves on when we left the house. Gloves complicate everything, from fitting the key in the lock when locking the door – to pressing the shutter release on the camera. You spend double the time and effort, perhaps even triple: take your gloves off; do what needs to be done; put your gloves back on, and repeat every half a minute. Naturally, today, when I came to press the power button on the camera – my fingers were so cold and numb it took longer than if I had had my gloves on.
With the sun being so low in the sky at the moment, we generally walk downhill – into the sun, only stopping at The Dog’s insistence – until we get to the beck. Then we walk home, up the hill, with the sun at our back. This gives us better photo opportunities. This was one of those opportunities. The mountain on the skyline is Criffel, and it is miles and miles away, over the other side of the Solway Firth, in Scotland.
You know when you have people coming to visit, and you said about two-ish? Then at two o’clock you just need to have a quick vacuum round and then everything will be ready, so you get the vacuum out and pull the wire out all over the floor and are down on your knees messing around with wall plugs to try to find the one you can take out without switching something important off? You finally find a spare socket and plug in and are about to switch on – when there is a knock at the door.
Your guests are standing there. ‘Hello,’ they say, ‘You did say two o’clock, didn’t you?’ as they notice you in your tracksuit bottoms with the vacuum in your hand.
We find ourselves in a similar situation. Here we have Snowdrops springing up all over the place and we really thought they wouldn’t be here before the end of January. A few more days, a week or so at the most, and we’d have everything in apple-pie order – but no they’ve turned up now.
Well, what would you do? Shall we sit them down with a cup of tea while we finish the cleaning then go and get changed? Or shall we try to bluff it and pretend they’re right on time and that we were just putting the vacuum away?
It was a nice this morning, so when we came to the bridge over the beck, I stopped to look over the railings.
The beck was chuckling away to itself in a contented sort of way – not as if someone had told a funny joke but more because it was feeling pleased. Everything that shouldn’t be there was being washed off downstream – and anything that should be there had been manoeuvred safely to somewhere it would stick. Life was organised and arranged to its complete satisfaction.
The hedges, as we wove our way down the hill, were full of the cheerful cheeping of various assorted small birds and we had received a warm ‘tic, tic, tic,’ from a passing blackbird. The nasty cold wind of the last few days had blown itself out and there were only a few small fluffy clouds to mar the blue of the sky.
Standing there, the sun was warm on my back – a pleasant change indeed – the sun doesn’t have much time for us these days. He is putting in a lot of overtime down in the southern hemisphere at the moment, you know.
The general feeling of relaxed contentment was contagious and I stood there for a while contemplating my shadow, thrown on the far bank. Is this, I wondered, what they mean when they talk about our ‘Comfort Zone’? The Dog finished snuffling in the brambles and became restless enough to interrupt my reverie, so, reluctantly, I left my warm spot and started back up the hill, homeward.