Friday, 12 July 2019

A silence of swifts ...

A ruckus in the hen’s run. A fox. No casualties. All’s well.
Hot border in flower

The effervescence of spring garden bird song has faded. Migrant blackcap and chiffchaff continued to the end. Resident thrushes: robin, song thrush and blackbird haven’t given up yet. A mistle thrush, crisp in new plumage. There’s a calmness now as adult birds begin their annual moult and plants put their minds to serious growth.

Thousands of rooks occasionally pass overhead at dusk on the way to their roost, their wings gap-toothed with missing feathers. A young robin in faded pink bib - its’ adult plumage emerging. They leave the nest as little bundles of brown. A hollow knocking on the dead silver birch stump announces  a grubby juvenile great spotted woodpecker. Tits in juvenile plumage empty the feeders each day. A gangly pheasant poult - no longer a chick- on the terrace. At least one has evaded the foxes and crows so far. 
Only 22% of young birds make it through their first year. Our house sparrows are still in the colony box above the kitchen door, the male carrying feathers. Hopefully a second brood?

Bullfinches are around - we hear their welcome single note call.

There’s a dead mole on the drive. Moles are aggressive and drive their young from their tunnels at this time of year. Adults have been known to fight to the death. I was harvesting potatoes and ran my fingers through the soil to find missing tubers. One had slipped deep into one of the mole tunnels that undermine the vegetable garden. No one told the moles that ours is a no-dig garden. They’re everywhere.

My neighbour asks about the owls. Our young tawnies continue to call in the evenings. He’d felt a brush of feathers over his head: he must have got too close. At this time of year, a large part of a tawny owls diet is young moles that temporarily don’t have the refuge of burrows. On the farm we have ringed a single barn owl chick.

I put the hens’ food away at night. Beneath the hopper I uncover a lovely wood mouse. Untroubled, it sits, liquid eyes. A bank vole belts between borders across the terrace. Another sighting of badger on the trail cams, this time enjoying the trickling water feature Roger has created in the stumpery. The source of the trickle is the clean water flow from our biodigester. The camera records seventeen species of bird there.

Our meadows are busy with ringlet and meadow brown butterflies. Cinnabar moth caterpillars throng the ragwort. Cobalt blue vipers bugloss is flowering for the first time. Greater knapweed has joined its lesser cousin. There’s a cloud of white bedstraw that’s new as well. And two orchid flowers! Inverted pink cones. From 2016 seed? I avoid them with the scythe as I take out seeding dock.

Now is the time that my inner seed collector emerges. A bulky bag of crackly yellow rattle seedheads yields lots of treasure. I cast it in meadow. In the vegetable garden, kale and rocket seeds ripen. My gardening forebears habitually collected their own seed from the most-vigorous plants ensuring that, over time, they built up a strain that fitted their conditions like a glove. This habit has been lost to many modern gardeners. They buy seed from the large companies whose seed is frequently not even of UK origin. Locally-provenanced seed suits local conditions best, ensuring healthy plants and good harvests . 

Second early potato 'Colleen' yielding 1kg per plant
We are now entering the season of abundance. Cropping vegetables: early potatoes, salads, spring onions, early carrots, broad beans, mange tout and that amazing accelerant called beetroot; and fruit: redcurrants, blueberries, blackcurrants, strawberries and summer raspberries. To keep the salad succession going: lettuces, basils, coriander, fennel and dill have been planted.
Well over 30kgs of organic vegetables and fruit brought to the kitchen since I began counting in March. Ours is a a very sandy site. After young plants have been planted, we do no additional watering. 

Further slow worm sightings. Jill misses them each time until finding two beneath one of the refugias. I had some old rubber foot mats from the car: they work perfectly. Slow worms, voles and toads hide beneath. Red and black ants make nests. Beetles, worms and pill woodlice enjoy the protection too.

A swarm of bees in the vegetable garden. Then silence when we look again. No characteristic cluster. The bees were probably not from our apiary. Perhaps from a feral colony that had absconded in a previous year and holed up in Crimea Plantation next door?

Some of the capped solitary bee tubes have opened - presumably young bees have emerged. Broad-bodied chasers sit above, grateful for the easy meal. 

I’m continuing my mass clearance of invasive parrot feather from the pond. I keep telling myself that two hours will finish the job. I’m accompanied in my work by great diving beetle, emperor dragonfly and common darter - as well as broad-bodied chasers.

The fragrant garden, prairie beds and hot borders are hitting their stride. 
Rosa 'Sunny skies' in the Fragrant Garden
Roses in every shade. Lavender. Tall lovage and fennel. Towering artichokes. Worryingly, deep scuff marks. A snuffling badger hunting voles on the edge of the lawn. It’s getting closer. And more confident.

Our organic harvest has prompted me to return to using locally-grown and milled organic flour from Nottingham’s own Greens windmill. The flour is milled from a bio-dynamic farm in nearby Sutton Bonnington. Excellent too. 

The Lamins Lane hedgerow is superb at the moment. Overgrown with cleavers, brambles and nettles. Red admiral, speckled wood and painted lady butterflies join the ringlet and meadow brown there. Lots of small birds. And frequently red-legged partridge. There are signs to say that the hedge will be cut at the weekend so I text my friend the farmer and he calls back. He's an unreconstructed kinda guy seeing me as an environmental storm trooper and refers to me as 'the Ayotollah'.

A wonderful summer. But where the sky should be screaming with summer migrant ‘Devil birds’ there is nothing. We are losing one of our most-amazing birds. The silence of swifts

No comments: