Sunday, 13 May 2018

may blossom and cuckoos

belted Galloways grazing the marsh

Moving along the canal, we pass through very definite wildlife neighbourhoods, even though their boundaries may be invisible to us, and the reason for those boundaries not perceptible. So, as we moved up from Bishops Cannings to this spot to the east of Pewsey, we saw the lapwings flapping around at Allingham, just as we did last year when I drew them there.

lapwings seeing off a buzzard from their nesting field
And I heard the first yellowhammers as we approached All Cannings, where we moored up briefly to dump rubbish at the bins there. Another stop at Honey Street to fill up with water, then on past Woodborough Hill where the weather started getting all dramatic, and the following wind had me scudding along rather faster than I would have liked, past the moored boats at Lady's Bridge and into the relative shelter of Widewater, where Nigel the swan was presumably resting after gorging on passing canoeists, because he was fast asleep on the nest in the reeds. Now there's a bird that's unashamedly territorial; which is of course why we called him Nigel.

Woodborough Hill, just before the rain

Here at Pains Bridge, east of Pewsey, I take my morning walks even more quietly than usual, in case I see the badgers again. It was on May morning last year I met one carrying a cub in her mouth, up the path that leads down to the young river Avon. I've not seen them again this year, but there's plenty of snufflings where they've scraped for worms, and latrines, and the occasional footprint preserved in the baked-hard mud.

the Marlborough Downs

The whitethroat is singing from the same trees as it did last year, occasionally flitting up into animated songflights. And the bullfinches cross between a hawthorn close by the boat, over to the ash tree on the other side, calling in a gentle piping that sounds like a slightly wheezy harmonium on its softest stops. They are very shy birds, but one flew up into the big oak where the kestrel sometimes perches, and hunted through the outer branches, its colours strikingly warm in the sunshine.

We hoped to hear the cuckoos here, and so we did. I've tried calling them with my swanee whistle, but either they were affronted by my performance or indifferent to it, although once the local cuckoo circled widely round the mooring, calling with a distinctively hoarse -oo following its cuck. One morning I saw two kestrels flying towards me along the canal, then as they drew level I realised that they were cuckoos. 

The early morning bumping along the side of the boat that I've learned to associate with the hunting otter had me falling out of bed and scrambling onto the foredeck as stealthily as possible; I got there in time to see it surface in mid-canal; then it saw me and dived with a plop. Ripples and bubbles showed where it meandered over to the overhanging bushes, and then the water stilled. I think it may have a hover over there; we saw it again a few more times, and once in company with another otter.

When we arrived, just less than a fortnight ago, the hedges were white with blackthorn blossom. Then it began to fall, and a windy day blew it all away. Then the apple blossom on the wildings came, and is now falling too. 

apple blossom

The hawthorn flowers appeared as neat round buds three days ago, and the pigeons took to nibbling them. And now the flowers are beginning to open up. It's striking the difference between here and Bradford on Avon, where I went on Friday to drop off some canal maps at the Cross Guns; the difference in elevation between here in the Vale of Pewsey and there is 280 feet. But there, the hawthorn is already in full flower, the blossom appearing to cascade down the trees. 
Here's Stanley Spencer's May blossom.

The wild cherries along the wharf were sufficiently advanced for the pigeons to get interested, and there were several of them snacking away. You have to be sharp to get a bite of a wild cherry; the birds will strip the tree in next to no time, almost before the fruit is even ripe. And the blackbirds will make disapproving cluckings while you take your share. Passive aggressive little beasts.

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