4 April 2020

As predicted, my head-cold has evolved into an irritating cough.

Spotted a pair of mallards walking down the centre of Crown Street this morning. Jen and I took lock-down provisions to her mum on the other side of the valley. I sat in the garden taking in the view while Jen and her mum caught up on news from separate rooms.

The view of Hebden Bridge was as wonderful as always. Rooks and jackdaws wheeled in the breeze. A nuthatch called noisily from Crow Nest Wood. Canada geese flew down the valley. And a robin celebrated spring from a budding tree.

Robin

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3 April 2020

Spent most of the day in a head-cold fug. Or it might have been last night’s strictly medicinal Laphroaig whisky. If experience is anything to go by, my head will be much clearer tomorrow, but I’ll have developed an irritating cough that will drag on far longer than is reasonable.

Another bitterly cold afternoon walk around the lanes. Scarves and woolly hats order of the day. But, again, lovely occasional bright patches.

Upper Calder Valley hillside

2 April 2020

My birthday. Plenty of wonderful birthday books to keep me entertained during the lock-down. How did they know?

Birthday books

With impeccable timing, the head-cold I’ve been fighting off for weeks finally decided to kick in with a vengeance. (Definitely a head-cold. Definitely not coronavirus.) The weather turned brisk and blustery, so our afternoon walk around the lanes was considerably brisker and blusterier than of late. Occasional breaks in the clouds illuminated random patches of distant landscape in a wonderful side-light. Thank Canon for my zoom lens!

Upper Calder Valley hillside

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30 March 2020

En route to the kettle first thing, I glanced out the dining room window and stopped dead in my tracks. The low sun had just crept round the side of the house, illuminating the top-most branches of the cherry and hawthorn trees. I had never seem them look so stunning. The photo I took doesn’t do them justice.

Sunlight on trees

A short while later, I popped outside to add some stuff to the recycling bins, and again stopped dead in my tracks. The sycamore by our workshop was bathed in a magnificent side-light. Again, I had never seen it look so stunning. This time, I think the photo does do it some justice.

Sycamore bathed in light

Later still, as I was bringing in some washing, a roe deer leapt over the fence from our neighbour’s garden and trotted off at a leisurely pace across the fields. I guess that confirms my suspicion as to who was responsible for all the mysterious divots on our front lawn last week.


28 March 2020

During the last few evenings, a massive spider has taken to appearing out of nowhere and running at breakneck speed across the back of my sofa—if spiders do, indeed, have necks to break. I’m rather fond of spiders, so am not usually startled by them, but I don’t deal at all well with unexpected noises or movements, so the spider’s sudden appearance has made me jump out of my skin at least three times. Tricky blighters, spiders.

It’s that time of year when the moon begins to make fleeting appearances in one of the circular pitching-eye windows above our living room. The windows hark back to when our living room was a barn, and hay would be pitched through them.

Pitching-eye window

It always delights me to see the moon shining through this window. It all feels very Stonehengey and Indian Jones-ey, seeing a celestial body align like that.


27 March 2020

Whatever it is that occasionally leaves deep, triangular divots in our lawn was back overnight. My best guess is a roe deer, although Jon across the way blames badgers for the identical divots on his lawn. I would love him to be correct: I am spectacularly jinxed when it comes to encountering badgers!

Mysterious divot

A second garden bonfire in two days. As I made my way deeper into the huge pile of garden trimmings, I unearthed the remains of four more Christmas trees. I lopped off and incinerated all the branches, keeping the trunks for firewood. Nothing burns like dried Christmas tree branches.

It was surprisingly hazy as Jen and I took our evening walk around the lanes. With this virus lockdown, perhaps I’m not the only one to have been lighting a few bonfires!

Hazy Calder Valley

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Postscript: A few days later, I received strong confirmation of my suspicion that the mysterious divots in our lawn were caused by a roe deer.


26 March 2020

As I stood near the rough patch in our garden making a phone call yesterday, I couldn’t help noticing that the large pile of garden trimmings we’d dumped there over the last couple of years was unseasonably dry. What better excuse could I possibly need for a bonfire? Unfortunately, the pile was too big to burn safely, so, this afternoon, I dug out the garden incinerator and spent several smokey hours disposing of old Christmas trees, prickly twigs and branches, and dried leaves. They burned so quickly, I had to work constantly to keep feeding the fire.

Garden incinerator

Yesterday’s curlews were still burbling in the back field, and, at one point, the raven I spotted last week flew past. I hope I’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

It felt more like June than late March as Jen and I took our walk around the lanes in the evening. The fields above Ernest’s looked almost parched.

Jackdaw

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25 March 2020

An hour-long chat with a friend on the phone. The weather was fabulous, so I stood outside, leaning over the back gate for the call. All sorts of avian action was going on in the garden and surrounding fields: a male chaffinch attacked his own reflection in the arched barn window; starlings shot back and forth in a mini murmuration; rooks and jackdaws cavorted; goldfinches twittered; and a pair of curlew burbled above the back field. It has been the most glorious start to spring.

Curlews

In the evening, Jen and I took a walk around the lanes. As we headed along the farm track, I spotted an approaching buzzard being half-heartedly mobbed by a pair of rooks. Buzzards are relatively rare around here, what with it being sheep- and grouse-country. But as the ‘buzzard’ flew nearer, I realised it was no such thing… I was looking at only my second ever Hebden Bridge red kite. What a thrill!

Red kite

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24 March 2020

While pottering in the garage this afternoon, I was interrupted by a frantic twittering from outside. A handful of goldfinches were mobbing a passing kestrel. Mobbed kestrels always have my sympathy: there they are, minding their own business, simply wandering about on the lookout for the odd vole to murder, but can they get a moment’s peace from cowards acting all macho once they’re in a gang?

A few minutes later, I was thrilled to find a couple of broken snail shells lying on top of a flat stone at the edge of our lawn: a thrush’s anvil. Snails used to be unheard of in our garden; now they’re everywhere. I recently wrote a chapter about our changing mollusc population.

Thrush's snail ‘anvil’

The hawthorn leaves were beginning to open when Jen and I took our lockdown-legal single piece of exercise around the lanes in the evening. According to folklore, young hawthorn leaves are supposed to taste like bread and cheese, so I popped some in my mouth. They tasted surprisingly pleasant, like nutty lettuce—and not remotely like bread and cheese. But, as we neared the house, the after-taste was considerably more bread-like.

Less than a week into the lockdown, and I’m already reduced to eating leaves.


23 March 2020

Due to the coronavirus crisis, Jen began working from home today. So I vacated the study and moved office on to the dining table. One unforeseen advantage of this move was that it gave me a distracting front-row view of the bird table. Philip the garden pheasant was looking magnificent in his spring plumage as he prowled around all afternoon in search of seeds dropped by other birds. There were plenty of goldfinches around, as usual, as well as house sparrows, dunnocks, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, and the occasional greenfinch. Annoyingly, one of the local magpies has worked out how to circumvent the supposedly crow-proof feeder in the cherry tree. Highlight of the day was several fleeting bird-table visits from the local coal tit. They never hang around: in, grab a seed, out!

The temporary office.

After Jen finished work, we took an evening walk around the lanes, making sure to ‘socially distance’ ourselves from other strollers. Curlews were burbling in the fields. The weather was glorious. A perfect start to spring, were it not for the damned pandemic.