Monday, 6 June 2016

That familiar conviction…

From time to time, I forget that kestrels can fly: so used am I to seeing them simply suspended (the majestic puppets of an invisible deity) – tail bowed, almost motionless, even in the strongest blusters – or merely spiralling (a little like a lazy lark): withdrawing upward for a better sighting of their prey. But, on Thursday, making my way by the Avon, a keen example flashed close by me: gliding (a little like a sizable swift) fleet and fluent across a burgeoning field of barley – winging perfectly parallel with the tips of the green fronds (and only a few inches above them) – reminding me that these raptors’ abilities in the air are manyfold and magnificent.

I had found myself on the route of an almost identical (in almost every fashion) stroll to one I embarked on two years ago: encountering (again) not just my first damselflies of the year (banded demoiselles: as always, on these verdant cow-parsley-crowned banks); but perhaps premature butterflies – including bejewelled peacocks and small tortoiseshells: both of which wouldn’t – shouldn’t…? – normally be around (in such numbers, anyway) until July. (Having said that, I did espy a rather pecked and pale mature peacock, today, torpidly sunbathing….)

I was also lucky to spend a few minutes, on my rather leisurely walk – when immersed deep in stippled woodland, shadows, and thoughts – observing both a chiffchaff (which I heard before I caught sight of); and then an almost perfectly-camouflaged treecreeper – speckled with markings that merged with the leaf-filtered dancing dapples of sunlight on bark: demonstrating perfectly its apt appellation with its characteristic entertaining flits and scurries… – before a friendly chocolate Labrador nudged tenderly at my knees in welcome: craving a little attention (with which it was duly rewarded… well, until its much livelier companion spaniel requested the same – albeit a little less politely…)!

I was reminded of all this, earlier today, by another within-reach windhover – displaying more (to my mind) typical movements… – as I mooched up Windmill Hill (exhibiting my own such “typical movements” – i.e. ponderous plodding, and swaying steps). At first, I was more entranced by a solitary red kite: bewraying not one simple flap of its splayed fingers as it traversed the Tysoe-facing slope against the prevalent easterlies; directed only, it appeared, by that inimitable rudder of a forked tail. (Such poise; such beauty; such grace….)

But then the kestrel rose – although not to a great height – directly in front of me: cruel beak and talons noticeably empty. At first, I assumed it would simply drift, habitually, to one of the many power-lines and posts that straddle the hill. But no….

Soon it dived again: a small pause above the ground; and then, this time, victorious… – although the resultant worm, trembling in its beak, seemed a meagre reward for such unsparing skill. As the bird quivered over the tall hedgerow, not far from my path, I lost sight of it; but wondered if this quarry could be (partial) breakfast for one of this year’s progeny.

Later, coming down the hill towards Epwell Road, joining the witless Compton Wynyates ‘road to nowhere’, I noticed (and was grateful) that the rights-of-way here have finally been re‑scribed – albeit crudely, with some form of crop-killing spray. A cynical (rather large) part of me wonders if this would have been carried out at all, were it not for Saturday’s Tysoe Windmill Run.

And yet the more popular, direct footpath from Shipston Road had obviously only been re-instituted as a consequence of those runners’ pounding feet pulverizing the field of clover-rich green manure as they descended. If my fellow wanderers, today, are anything to go by, there is still some confusion as to where the authentic route lies.

By the way, the reason for the lethargy of my loitering circuit of Windmill Hill, this morning – apart from the obvious avian attractions (additionally, rare yellowhammers; the usual truculent rooks, and cheeping dunnocks by the dozen) – was the long tail of a virus which finally floored (well, bedded) me, over the weekend.

I therefore missed the chance to admire the stalwarts taking part in the above event. However, I was delighted to witness (from my bedroom window) the village’s transformation – especially yesterday, in the glorious seasonal warmth – into Bourton-on-the-Water (or some such similar Cotswold tourist hotspot), thanks to the National Garden Scheme (NGS); and the ten kind hosts who welcomed so many visitors onto their becoming plots. Never before have I seen – or had the opportunity to rejoice at – our “small, blessed corner of Warwickshire” so inundated with such a wonderful plethora of checked and striped shirts, oft-inappropriate shorts, and fascinating (mostly straw-based) headgear!

The Good Lady Bard – who toured the gardens in yesterday’s sunshine (summoned by a full peal of bells); passively gleaning only complimentary reactions: not only to the individual plots, but also to people’s discovery of the wonder that (we, of course, know) is Tysoe… – was exceeding impressed with both the horticultural talent and passion on display; as well as the obvious skill and effort that had gone into organizing the whole shebang.

Huge thanks, therefore, to the marvellous Julia Sewell: whose idea I believe this was; and to all those volunteers whose implementation of her plans was impeccable.

At last, it feels like summer has truly arrived…!

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