Fat Fledglings, Fish and Fluttering

A day in the garden – part 3


Part two was all about the sounds I heard while spending the day in the garden – but what of the sights?

It’s amazing what you miss when you’re ‘busy’. Weeding, digging, planting, pruning are all rewarding activities if you’re into gardening, and you do get a pleasing result for your efforts.  But how often do any of us take the time to really look at what we’ve created and to raise our eyes beyond the fence to what lies beyond?

This is what I saw when I stopped and stared…

The garden is terraced – three levels in all. The top two levels are buttressed by beautiful, dry-stone walls built with sandstone reclaimed from the original croft buildings.  The lowest level can’t be seen from the house and it’s at the lowest level that you will find the pond – an amazing, little, bio-diverse ecosystem.  

Every spring the pond is a romantic rendezvous for zillions of toads and frogs. The massive bonkathon which takes place over several days is sound-tracked by the loud chorus of bullfrogs singing to their lady-loves. Afterwards these amorous amphibians disappear as suddenly as they came (so to speak) peace returns – only the trickle of the waterfall from the filter pump to be heard – and the pond is filled with spawn a foot deep. A few weeks later baby frogs and toads emerge and disappear just as their parents did – to where, I don’t know.

One of the many parents-to-be

The pond is one of my favourite areas of the garden – but I hadn’t been down there for weeks. You see I was in mourning. All our fish –about fifteen, gorgeous, fat, golden and blue orfe – which have thrived on our neglect for years, had died. Seen off either  by the extremes of last winter, despite the husband making air holes in the two-feet thick ice that persisted for weeks –  or, when Spring eventually came, taken by the heron which lurked at the pond’s edge for hours, days on end, biding his time till one of them swam into view. By June I was sure they were gone – sure that if they’d emerged from their winter stasis at the bottom of the pond, as they’ve done every other year, they’d ended up in the heron’s belly.

However, as I was on a mission to take in everything in the garden, I braced my self and descended the steps to the pond’s edge. waterlilies spread out across the surface – plump and indolent, red-hot pokers stood to attention on the bank at the far end, pond-skaters skimmed the surface of the water – and then I saw it – a flash of orange, then another and another, followed by the darting of two creamy-coloured shapes. Just by the lily pads – five fish! Three golden and two ‘blue’ (a misnomer as they are in reality cream) orfe.


I did a little jig of celebration, punching the air, and shouting ‘yes!’ What survivors these little fish are – well some of them at least. Seeing them was at least as exciting as seeing a pod of about fifteen of common dolphins swim up the loch two days earlier – but that’s a tale for another post…

All the time that I was outside, I was aware of two sorts of fluttering on the periphery of my vision. Butterflies – Small Whites (also known as Cabbage Whites, I think) bobbed and weaved through the plants and, overhead, swallows swooped and soared constantly.

A little field mouse chancing her luck also darted into vision a few times – scrambling out from between the stones of the rockery wall to grab some bird seed from the slab of rock that serves as a bird table.

opportunist mouse

A colourful line of washing clapped in the stiff breeze – it would be dry within a couple of hours of being hung out. I know I’m probably a bit sad for feeling this – but I get a deep sense of satisfaction when surveying a washing line of clean laundry.

And, out on the loch, ferries heading to and from the Outer Hebrides made regular appearances while several fishing boats trawled for mackerel and shellfish. As it was a clear day the mountains on the island of Harris were easily visible when I looked north – dark purple against the blue sky and to the south the triangular peak of Ben Tianavaig was the distant focal point.

Overhead the sky was gentian blue and cloudless, the blue marked only by high vapour trails.

But just as it was the birds who provided the predominant sounds for my day outdoors, it was also the garden birds who were the predominant sight. True the plants came a close second in all their attention- grabbing glory but the birds were just so entertaining – as well as being in their glorious full HD colours. At one stage I counted fifteen different species all present at once. The most numerous were the chaffinches but there were also plenty greenfinches, siskins, blue tits, great tits, starlings, sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds and, the perpetually airborne, swallows and swifts. However, it was the appearance of a single robin that really made me smile. These little birds with their optimistic and heartwarming song are dear to many. We usually have a couple of breeding pairs in our hedges, but, while they’re raising their young, these always rather solitary creatures become even more withdrawn from bird society , so it was pleasing to see the return of at least one of their number.

Whole families appeared – parents and fat fledglings – the latter still flapping urgently, beaks agape, demanding to be fed – in spite of being larger than their mums and dads. At one point two parent sparrows and their four young lined up on the front wall – the parents flitted back and forth to the seed feeders and painstakingly filled their lazy youngsters bellies.

From my garden I’ve seen golden eagles, sea eagles, sparrowhawks, peregrines and I’ve even had a hen harrier sitting on the lawn –and awesome though those magnificent birds are, it’s their little garden cousins who really do my heart good.

upside down feeding!

By three o’clock in the afternoon, cloud began building – the northerly breeze replaced by the stronger and prevailing south-westerly. There was rain in the air by four. So it was time to gather in the washing and retreat indoors.

That night before going to bed I looked out at the garden and loch. Both were bathed in the light of  the big, bright yellow moon that peeped from between the fast-moving clouds. I realised the nights have got darker in the last couple of weeks – only a month ago it was still light at bedtime. I felt a slight pang that summer  – like life – speeds past so quickly but I also felt glad to have been blessed with the time to stand and stare at my corner of our beautiful, precious world.

If you want to see a full-screen slideshow of the photos (plus extras) in these last three posts click on this link to Flickr  A day in the garden July 2010

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