The garden is blessed by the arrival of swallows and sand martins every spring.  One fine morning in early April a little voice calls out announcing the returning summer fairies. The sand martins usually come first, little flocks of brown and white twitterers returning to their nest sites in the banks of the river, and a few days later the swallows come. Sometimes the first thing we notice are little gatherings on the telegraph wires, all twittering together. This year I noted the first ones on April 12th.

We have never been a nest site because the barn is long and low, although our TV aerial provides a favourite singing post and rest station. But this year is different. One day in the middle of mowing the grass on a pleasant day in May, the Machine Gardener left the mower outside the shed where the wheeled tools are kept and went out to buy more petrol. It takes about half an hour to drive into the village, have a chat in the shop/petrol station and come back again. The mower was refueled and the cutting finished, but by this time the swallows had inspected the machine shed, door left open pending the return of the mower, and taken a fancy to the stepladder we keep hanging on the wall. Little blobs of mud were stuck to it. The anchorage for a nest.

” So we’d better not shut the door then, because it would be nice to have swallows nesting,” says I. So we don’t shut the door, and the mower now has to be pushed into the shed, not driven – we don’t Want to put them off, and pushed out, ditto. It’s heavy this mower, but it would be nice to have swallows…..and gradually the little blobs became a nest and in the fullness of time, 5 white eggs appear and eventually tiny chicks. By some strangeness, every time we try to peep in, the parent bird who was not there when we sneak into the shed appears out of the sky as if by magic to check what we might be up to. Every time, even if we wait for them to go out and then sneak in to try to steal a glimpse. We think there are at least two chicks and they become stronger and the twittering gets louder as parents arrive with food.

And then this morning, in the darkness, I spy a swallow’s  child sitting in the ladder and there are 2 more in the nest.


Within half an hour of this picture being taken, the chicks had left the nest and the safety of the shed and were soaring with their parents above the trees, above the farm and the fields and the river and revelling in the strength of their little wings and their innate sense of acrobatic flight. They flew for perhaps a half hour, resting occasionally on the tall farm buildings or the ash trees, before returning to the safety of their own little nest. And we saw there were four of them. Four little summer spirits with eyes shining in the camera’s flash  and a parent came in just to check us out, as usual, as we took this picture.


all in a day

It is a good day that begins with a visit from a kestrel. It was one of those days today when,on my morning visit to let the chickens out, I was visited by a kestrel, hunting above the meadow in the clear morning sky. I have seen kestrels  regularly and sometimes they sit on the telegraph wires, but watching them hovering is always a joy.  There’s been a hobby here too this summer, plying his hunting trade amongst the flocks of swallows and sand martins, whilst the kites and buzzards soar above the valley. There seem to be good numbers of both, suggesting there are plenty of rodents about.

Beside the pond, a female grass snake has a regular basking spot amongst the long grasses where the morning sun shines. She takes to the water if we disturb her, sometimes sliding across the lily leaves before submerging.This week she sloughed her skin, leaving her old one caught in the moss and rushes by the water’s edge. We were going to turn out the compost yesterday, but the first turn revealed newly hatched baby grass snakes, and hastily recovering them, we left the job for another day.

The season is spinning towards the end of summer, and the garden is turning blue and purple again with  the flowering of the asters and verbena. Clouds of butterflies decorate the swaying verbenas- the late season stalwarts of Red Admirals,  Small Tortoiseshells and Painted Ladies. A single Holly blue visits the California Poppies. Earlier this year there was an abundance of Small Coppers and of the moth fraternity, Vapourer moths, their larvae now marching across various plants, backs topped with tiny dense toothbrush- like bristles.

The garden chores are becoming autumnal . We need to start hedging, and many overgrown shrubs need to be reduced to better shape and smaller dimensions. There are seeds to sow and plans to draw up for autumn construction. The days shorten but the job lists lengthen, as is always the way as one season gives way to the next.

At the end of  the day, returning to the chicken coop to shut them safely away, the kestrel has been replaced by hunting bats, and fat rabbits lope lazily down the bank and out of sight. The calls of buzzards are replaced by the hooting of young tawny owls , husky voices down amongst the willows, rehearsing stories of the cold to come. It is still summer, but the lease is almost up.