Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Staring up at the sky

The weather has been beautiful this week, less like spring and more like summer. I’ve been working on the base for my greenhouse and, as usual, it’s turned into a bigger job than I thought.
The greenhouse was just too large to sit on the area where the conifers once were, so I’ve had to take down a retaining wall and expand the area, rebuilding the wall and taking it a brick higher than it was to get the level I need.
It didn’t take long to realise I needed more sand, so the job was put on hold while Travis Perkins delivered a tonne, deposited in a big bag on the drive. Tomorrow, I will hire a cement mixer and get cracking in earnest. It should be finished by Friday afternoon.
As well as a good bit of digging and pick axe work, there has been a fair bit of thinking time, drinking-tea time and staring-at-the-sky time. We really should spend more time staring at the sky, it’s surprising what you can see.
On Tuesday, I heard the tell-tale mew of a couple of buzzards circling effortlessly in the warm, rising air. They were circling and heading north to south, about 200ft high, looking for lunch. As they got over our house, the rookery on the high trees along the old A47 came alive with squawking as the rooks recognised a threat. They may have young chicks in the high nests and there’s nothing like a tasty young rook for dinner if you happen to be a buzzard.
Like the RAF spotting a Russian bomber, the rookery dispatched an interceptor – a rook which zoned in on the nearest buzzard and immediately attacked it. They didn’t bother with the second bird, which was lower and kept a wider mark, but the first one got a real roughing up.
The rook is a much more nimble flier, it can turn faster, out-climb and out-dive the bigger raptor. Despite the buzzard giving it some warning cries, the rook just kept diving in at it, biting at its tail and grabbing a feather. The buzzard didn't want to interrupt its free ride and was reluctant to join the scrap. It kept its wings outspread and let the thermal take it away from its attacker and over the rookery. The rook stayed with it for a good five minutes and then flew back to base. I wonder if they have a rota, whether they take it in turns to ward off potential threats or whether this one is the resident scrapper? I wonder if it's a male bird or a female?
I said they were like the RAF scrambling an interceptor and, a little later in the day, we had a close encounter with the RAF. There are fewer low flights across the village these days, but we get the occasional Tornado bomber flying low. They're not flying supersonic, but even so, you don't hear them until they are on top of you and you don't see them coming because they are flying so low. I was just having a lean on my spade, when I caught sight of this one coming over. It was very low - lower than the buzzard - there's a brilliant broadside view of the plane at a slight bank as it skirts the village, an explosion of noise and then it's across Bukehorn Road trailing a thin plume of exhaust smoke undulating behind it. Holly, meanwhile, has gone barking crazy; running up and down the garden - she loves loud noises!
The nights are drawing out and there was a wonderful sunset yesterday evening. I was able to watch the orb of the sun disappear over the horizon. Some time after sunset, it was still quite light - too light to see many stars - but Venus was brilliant, climbing higher in the western sky. It's really shining in the hour after sunset.
I'd watched it for a few moments, when I was aware of a flicker above. It was a pipistrelle bat, the first one I've seen this year. It would be enjoying the warm weather and the insects which have exploded into activity.
Today, I'd just finished digging out the line of the trench where my greenhouse base will go and was enjoying a beer on the patio. I was looking up at some gulls soaring high on a thermal when I spotted three familiar shapes. They were swallows - well house-martins, to be precise, but no-one talks of the first house-martin of the summer.

Like the bat, they were enjoying a meal of insects carried up in the warm air. Anyway that's a date to mark - April 15: the first swallow. I know one swallow doesn't make a summer, but there were three of them, so I guess it's officially here.

Footnote: I was sitting in the garden a couple of days later and saw another buzzard up in the air. Like the one buzzed by the rook, it was circling on thermals, heading north to south, soaring without beating its wings and gaining height quite quickly. As it got over our house, I expected a rook to be dispatched to head it off, but instead the buzzard folded its wings slightly and headed dead west in a shallow dive at great speed, aided by a brisk easterly breeze. How wonderful it would be to be able to fly like that. It didn't beat its wings once, just used air currents to get around at high speed.