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Afternoon Performance at Farlands Cottage July 2, 2013

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Sitting in the sun after a virtuous uphill and down dale couple of hours around Kinder Reservoir:  the terrace in front of the house looks across the River Kinder to our own amphitheatre. A cushiony canopy of tree tapestry creeps up the valley side opposite, no two trees alike in colour or form.

On the buttercuppy terrace below, blackbirds and thrushes pull up worms, nuthatches nip in and out of the shrubbery and a little chestnut-mopped still-to-be-identified bird zips past and disappears.

Most of the performers in today’s show are staying out of sight, though and it’s being acted out in the whole hillside in front, below, behind me, and half a mile on either side.

Way off to the left, a cuckoo calls frantically, moves on and calls again repeatedly.  Away up on the moor, lambs raise their heads and bleat out for mothers they’ve lost sight of.  Deeper reassuring answers follow – all’s well up there, before the harsh grating sounds of pheasant interrupts from the moorland.  At my feet, bumblebees mumble in the late May blossom.

Away to the right and handy for the bird table, blackcaps sing their boundaries and then a family whisks in and out of the Cotoneaster.  That answers an earlier mystery: the chestnut-headed bird is a young or female blackcap.

Again, the cuckoo calls – the middle of June and still looking for a mate.  Late, like the May blossom, after the cold spring.  Now, a male lapwing repeats his peewit call.  He’s quartering his territory in the sky and showing off his flying skills.

For brief seconds, a silent bullfinch flits onstage, to be replaced by more leisurely cabbage white butterflies, already discouraged by netting on the vegetable plot.

Underneath the brocade of sounds, the river mutters and gurgles from the reservoir, hushing and shushing past mossy water-rounded rocks and boulders.  Then the wind moves round and sets a stand of trees silver-leafed with its whispers and murmurs.

Our anonymous bird from Sunday threads through the show, taking its turn, moving and repeating the recital along the valley: a whistling, whirring warbling throaty call.  Eyes half-closed, I consider whether this might be the black grouse we saw on the moorland at Christmas.  Except that the mating calls from their leks are meant to be confined to dawn and dusk and its mid-afternoon here.  With the sun heating my bare arms, I resolve decisively that I’m too relaxed to research and investigate.  Instead, I allow the fearless wren’s peeping diversion, signalling his disappointment at our invasion of his territory.  Which sets off the blackcaps again, after a couple of short trills like a stubborn car engine coughing into running.

Deep, calm breaths sample the sun-loosened scent of herbiage on the lower terrace.  Close at hand, a healthy ash tree, delicate but tall, sways with its feet in the river.  Sycamores to either side suggest there’s been human habitation around longer than Farlands – it’s a safe timber for making spoons, food containers, and toys.  Further still into the auditorium, a single horse-chestnut is well beyond the stage where leaves resemble new green gloves looking for an owner.

Birdsong ceases in an instant – an alien intrudes: the workday helicopter stashed by the reservoir starts up, the rhythmic sounds of the rotors bounce off a bunch of valley sides, disguising the exact location.  As it rises, the clatter becomes less muffled and the echo splits, crosses and veers at different frequencies, reaching our ears like Surround Sound.  Still a member of the invisible cast, the reverberation follows its pull-off behind and to the right.  This close to the Pennine way, I’d bet on the hopper holding footpath-repair materials.

Above, a disturbed heron glides silently past before gradually, the concert begins again, only to be drowned out moments later by the helicopter returning, recharging its hopper, and leaving again for the next valley over.  Each time the concert reopens, it takes a more strident tone in competition and desperation.  Our signal, with the weakening of the sun’s warmth, to retreat for the day.


Peace, perfect peace June 26, 2013

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Sunday 16 June

Staying at Farlands Holiday Cottage in the Peak District for a few days.  Secluded and cosy, we spent Christmas here en famille.  Now back to recharge batteries in this peaceful sanctuary overlooking the River Kinder.  Yes, that River Kinder, direct from Kinder Downfall, via Kinder Reservoir.  As a special treat this week, I’m chicken sitting – three Warrens and three little bantams – and enjoying the fruits of their labours.

Popped down the road yesterday, for a chicken-duty handover with C and even in that short time, heard a cuckoo calling and a bird sound I did not recognise at all – a quiet whirring warbling whistle.  I’ve certainly seen birds here that don’t haunt Nuneaton back-gardens and copses, but this is a new one on me – I may have to hide in the woods with the binoculars.

A couple of the banties were missing when I went to introduce myself – with a little wholemeal bread, so they’ll get the habit of being pleased to see me.  C said they were going broody, but no good will come of it – there’s no rooster.

Still worried not to see them at bedtime – couldn’t leave them out for the foxes.  I’d then I spotted them cuddled up together in one of the nest boxes.  So cute until you try to take the eggs.  First time I’ve been savaged by chickens.  Such brave little things, but far too tiny to terrify.  What a new experience – being pecked by chickens as I gently feel for eggs under their warm and slightly moist bodies.  Their breastbones feeling so fragile where they’re a few feathers missing to keep the eggs warm.

The eggs they were hiding this morning were a bit of a surprise – Warren eggs, much bigger than the banties’.  Now, the nest-box is hardly big enough for the two banties to share.  I can’t imagine a Warren wanting to get in there and lay at the same time, and with the Warrens so much bigger, there’s no way the banties could cajole one in if it didn’t want to go.  So did the banties move the eggs from another nest-box into their own?  There’s a lip into the nest-boxes, at least an inch and a half tall.  Have they really rolled them up and out of one box and into another?  Well, one of the eggs was damaged, so it’s a possibility.

Also a bonus – I felt obliged to use the cracked egg straight away, my first egg of the week, still chicken-warm.  Lovely yellow yolk.  Good morning ladies!