Saturday 27 November 2010

O, For The Wings

Female Sparrowhawk

At the beginning of November when the harvest bales had been gathered in and the adjacent field lay empty, a female Sparrowhawk graced us with her presence by landing on the post next to our bird feeders, where flocks of Sparrows graze for hours on end. With so much food on tap, she is becoming a frequent visitor.

The Barn

This morning's weather has brought us a light dusting of snow and temperatures of minus 6 degrees. Brrr! indeed...but, with it comes the company of our feathered friends. From a very young age I have always marvelled at the infinite beauty of our garden birds; each with a different set of claws, feathers and beaks; each created for a different purpose.

Bird Tracks In The Snow

My Hubbie rose early and braved the freezing temperature - his breath visible in the chilly air - to top up the feeders and the already groaning bird-table with seeds, nuts and dried fruits. For, though a sudden fall of snow is always a bit of a shock to the system, what better way to spend a cold day than watching the antics of the birds at all the feeding stations?


As the day wore on, the Chaffinches perched high up in the Rowan tree to feel the warmth of the sun. They are with us all year round, but perfectly camouflaged when the trees are covered in leaves. And what a wonderful sight they make on a snowy day with their plumped-out chestnut feathers.

At The Bird Feeders

I love the bare bones of the garden in Winter, the silhouettes of the trees and shrubs, the frozen ponds, the outlines of birds. Rather than finding the garden boring at this time of year, the birds bring it to life once more, feasting on the remaining berries, gorging on insects around the eaves of the house and prizing open teasels and other perennials to extract seeds.

Male Blackbird

Part of the secret of having a garden is to find pleasure all year round, and not solely when the trees, shrubs and flowers are in bloom. Close observation reveals so much. Snow is a perfect backdrop for intensifying the colours of the birds. As they come closer for food, we are able to tell their food preferences, where they like to feed and be entertained by the behaviour of the pecking order.

Robin Redbreast

In surveys, the Robin is often chosen as Nation's most popular bird. Partly, this is because it is easily recognised by everyone, is common the length and breadth of Britain and never leaves our shores. It's daily appearance is a reminder of God's constant presence, and so the Robin has been chosen as a symbol of the ever-present God on our Christmas Cards, for, like God, he is always with us.


Robin is a ground feeder. He is not designed to be an acrobat, suspended upside down on the hanging feeders, like the Titmice. He, and his friend the Dunnock, are often found scrabbling under shrubs for grubs and insects. I love his habits, as he bounces upon his legs and cocks his head to one side.

Female chaffinch

Chaffinches also sing wonderful songs to us, and, as they prefer safety in numbers, we always have huge flocks of them at any one time. But, whatever the bird, each has its own charm, its own beauty, its own reason for being part of the ongoing life of the garden. Birds don't cost much to feed and the pleasure they bring supercedes any effort required by us to have their presence in our gardens. I love 'em all!

The Bird-Table

This month's video is called Our Feathered Friends. The music is Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina's Mass, Missa Papae Marcelli, for 6 voices, Kyrie. It begins with the Sparrowhawk, moves on to footage of hundreds and hundreds of Crows and Rooks foraging in the adjacent field, followed by the antics of the garden birds at the bird-table, and, lastly, skeins of Greylag Geese flying in formation over Barleycorn. Enjoy!

Monday 1 November 2010

Pause And Reflect

Sunset At Barleycorn

October began with a few breathtakingly beautiful sunsets which made me pause and reflect upon the past 20 years we have spent in this paradise of ours. And though I have mentioned some of this before, many new bloggers will not have heard the reason why we came to be here. It was not the newly-built bungalow, pretty though it was, which caused me to turn the car and return for a second look.

Tractor and Baler

Rather, it was the adjacent barn with its high-pitched corrugated roof and crumbling stone walls which spoke to me. Its decay had a story to tell and I wanted to hear all about it. The more I gazed at it, the more I felt drawn to the bare patch of ground which was crying out for a steward to lovingly bring it to life, though, little did I expect that steward was to be me. I say steward on purpose, for we only hold the keys to our gardens for a time.

Seasons of Mist

My vision was to create a garden for wildlife where insects and birds and mammals would be encouraged to come and visit or, better still, live in harmony with us. The house is mostly hidden from the road by tall indigenous trees and shrubs, but, once you have walked down the long drive and turned a corner, it is like finding a secret garden.

Fairy Necklaces

Our two ponds are the jewel in the crown of the garden, for they attract all the wildlife which comes to drink and bathe and feast. At first they were empty except for a soup of green algae. Nowadays, however, they support a colony of frogs, toads and newts which live and breed in them and gorge themselves on the myriad of pondlife creatures.

Autumn leaves

The remainder of the garden is made up of many island beds which contain trees, shrubs and nectar borders to give sustenance to insects, butterflies, birds and our all-important bees. At this time of year everything is either wearing or shedding its wonderful Autumnal coat of colours and I find pleasure in the dying back of the season.

Joseph's Rock Rowan Tree

Now is the time to appreciate the bare bones of the garden - the trees and shrubs in silhouette; the fairy necklaces left by hundreds of the most amazing nocturnal architects of the garden; the magical change from green to yellow, red to bronze; humdrum paths carpeted with a bed of soft colourful leaves; ponds frozen in time or the drip, drip of trees whose frost is melting in the misty sunshine. What is not to enjoy?

Hosta Foliage

And did I mention the songs in the garden? Our frogs serenade us on sunny days with their deep croaking. The bird-feeders have become magnets to hungry birds and their many and varied songs waken me each dark morning. Best of all the thousands of Greylag Geese have returned from Greenland to overwinter on adjacent fields. Each morning I hear their cries and rush out of bed, like an excited child, to watch their magical arrows moving across the sky.

Pond lilies and Foliage

Skein after skein passes over our house and I watch the repeat performance each evening as they make their way back to the shores where they nestle down each night. I especially love their cries when they are invisible, flying through fog, calling out to one another for safety and guidance. How do they know where to go? We have all heard the explanation, but, it is still a wonder of Nature and a pleasure to behold.

Balloon Over Barleycorn

The balloons which fly overhead are so low we can call out and have little conversations with those in the basket. Visitors come from all over the globe. A few years ago some of our family took such a ride and flew over my garden and the village. It was a magical experience, though interesting when the wind took us down to land in a field with a herd of cows, instead of a fallow one adjacent to it.

A Tiny Shrew

Even after 20 years I am still amazed at the variety of wildlife living next door to me. Taz, the barn cat, brings us presents and leaves them on the doorstep... sometimes a Fieldmouse, sometimes a Vole, occasionally a little Shrew. Late at night we sometimes see or hear Foxy who comes by hoping to find some chicken carcass which Taz has left. On red-letter days we might even see a Weasel or a Stoat, a Barn Owl or a Tawny Owl, a Badger or Hedgehog crossing the road.

Taz, Asleep In The Sunshine

Everything is welcome for each plays its part in the magical web of life here at Barleycorn. Every creature brings the garden to life and fills my heart with pleasure, for, what was once a derelict plot of ground, has now been transformed into a garden for wildlife. I am living my dream and sharing it with all those who enjoy coming here to visit.

The first short video is called Autumn At Barleycorn. The accompanying music is Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No 1.

The second short video is called Fairy Magic At Barleycorn and the accompanying music is from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The track is Between The Cold Moon And The Earth.

The third video, much longer, is called Barleycorn Ode To Autumn. The accompanying music is Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major-11 Adagio. I hope you enjoy them all. They were taken throughout October.

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