Country diary: Garden is alive with sound of bird song

Delighted to hear the song of the yellow hammer.
Delighted to hear the song of the yellow hammer.

Having a lively, energetic Parson Russell Terrier ensures we enjoy country walks together. Tigga has a real zest for life that we find simply irresistible.

The Rev John ‘Jack’ Russell was a keen country sportsman who lived in Devon in the 1800s. He wanted a terrier small enough to get down a foxhole, but with long enough legs to keep up with horses on the hunt. He bought a dog called ‘Trump’ from a milkman, and developed a strain of small, long-legged, wire-haired terriers.

Full of character and determination, Tigga is always ready to enjoy whatever the day has to offer. Together we’ve watched a pair of blackbirds nesting between the glass of our greenhouse, and ivy-covered fence. We’ve listened to the excited “cheeps” when food was delivered to the chicks and admired the devotion of the adults.

Our back garden has a patio with stone walling. Between the pavers I planted various alpine cuttings that would attract honey bees and bumble bees. June is the month when such flowers create a multi-coloured carpet, and insects zoom in. However, they also conceal colonies of ants! Weeding can disturb a frantic colony of worker ants. They immediately defend their territory by discharging a vapour of formic acid. It’s usually targeted at my ankles, causing stinging! We don’t destroy ants however, as all creatures play a vital part in nature’s food chain, and green woodpeckers love them.

On warm, sunny mornings around 6am, we’ve watched a blackbird on the patio picking up ants and placing them beneath an up-lifted wing. This is called self-anointing, and is repeated on the other wing. The ants, by discharging formic acid are ridding themselves of any pests such as lice.

This week, I’ve been 
delighted to hear songsters that I hadn’t witnessed for some considerable time. The yellow hammer was such a feature of country hedgerows, rattling its refrain which resembled, “Little bit of bread and no cheese.”

The song thrush, which unlike the blackbird, has undergone a massive decline in some places, sings again! Each song phrase of two or three syllables is repeated two to four times.

The first summer songster we heard was the chiff chaff, which arrived on the first day of spring. This tiny warbler, with its monotonous song – “chiff-chaff, chaff-chip” has been calling incessantly every day since!

With the passage of June, the flamboyance of spring has waned. Trees and hedges are seeding, and only the cream, frothy umbels of elder flowers, and sprays of soft pink and white dog roses remain.

Digby invited us to view his cotoneaster horizontalis. Hugging a wall and spreading fish-bone shaped branches, its millions of pink buds had attracted masses of bees feeding there.

This season has been a good one for Michael’s bee-keeping, with the liquid gold prized by many honey lovers. This hobby is demanding, but well worth the effort.

In local gardens, the problem of slugs and snails prevails. Our vegetables, which Michael grew in troughs and pots however are thriving well, and runner beans race to the garage roof-top!

Our neighbour, while collecting snails one evening, was startled on discovering something, with a long tail on the path. By torchlight, Christine recovered a smooth newt, the commonest of our three newts. She returned it to the shade of her garden pond.