Saturday, 28 February 2015

Sunday Talk for the Second of Lent

I don’t know why I do it, it only makes me cross. I was reading the letters column the other day in one of our local papers.  I won’t say which one, though it doesn’t really matter; they all have the same effect on me. And don’t get me started on the letters page of Church Times.  It's not that I necessarily disagree with the things people write.  I'm often just as angry as they are about being messed about by petty officialdom, or by the government, the European Union, or whomever - including, I have to say, the Church, from time to time.  Yeah, I can see where they might be getting it wrong; but what does annoy me are some of the facile comments and simplistic solutions that so many of the writers of letters then produce.

Because I think - if it was really as simple as all that, don't you think someone would have sorted everything out by now?  And anyway, I think, being naturally bad tempered and cynical, if people who write letters to papers really are as good as they think they are at knowing what should be done and how things should be run, how come they’re not up there doing it, instead of the present bunch of no-hopers who are supposedly running the show?  Or the no-hopers on the other side who hope to be doing it after the election in May?

I suppose most people who write letters to the press really just want a bit of a rant, and to get stuff out of their system. Even if they end up transferring some of their crossness to me. And of course, it’s true that a bit of a rant can do you the world of good.  I was rung up a couple of weeks back by someone who just ranted on for about three minutes, then said sorry and hung up.  Since I wasn't in, they’d spoken to my answer phone - but I can’t think it would have been much different if I’d been in.  I don’t think they wanted anything back from me, just for me to be a sort of sponge, soaking up some of the frustration and annoyance that the person who rang was obviously feeling. 

It was someone I know, by the way.  Not well, but a bit.  They haven't yet got call centres that call you up and rant at you.  Though that could be an interesting next step.  So the letters page and my answer phone were perhaps meeting a very similar need - and while they may not solve all our problems, just letting off steam probably does do some good.

Anyway, Peter has a bit of a rant at Jesus in today’s reading from St Mark’s Gospel. "No, Lord,” he says to him (in the version of this story in Matthew and Luke), “this shall never happen to you!"  Jesus has told the disciples that he's going to Jerusalem, and that he’s going to suffer and to die there.  Peter was dead angry: angry at what sounded to him like a prediction of failure. In effect Jesus had said: "I'm going to Jerusalem, and when we get there, it'll all go wrong."  So Peter has a rant at Jesus.

And Jesus then rants back.  "Get behind me, Satan!"  he says to Peter.  "You think as men think, not as God thinks!"  But the answer, to Peter, is simple.  If heading for Jerusalem is only going to lead to suffering and certain death, then don't go there.  Change your plans, if you know they’re bound to fail.  Well, that may be the way of the world, Jesus tells him (and us) - but it's not the way of God.

And Jesus then goes on to say something that really is quite powerful, and rigorous, and shocking, even, and he says it to all of us: those who come with him must deny themselves, and take up their cross.  You can’t accuse Jesus of conning his followers by offering them an easy life - or of asking his followers to face anything he’d not faced himself.  Following Jesus means imitating Jesus, being as like him as we can be, and taking his example to heart.  It’s like Paul wrote in one of his letters, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."  We call Jesus the King of love, and to love is to give of yourself, to surrender yourself for the sake of the other. 

Another title the Church gives to Jesus is “the Man for Others”. All that he does, he does in service to his Father and in love for those who need his care. That even included those who would hammer nails into his hands and feet and play dice for his possessions. Tough words - those who want to save their life will lose it. But Jesus is himself the message he preaches; and here he says to Peter and to us:  "What you see in me, try your best to be yourselves.  Love one another, as I have loved you."

To deny ourselves means to say no to our own interests, our own ease and comfort, and our own natural desire for a world that will serve our own needs, so that we can say a full and whole-hearted yes to the call of God. Jesus says: whatever you try to hang on to you’ll lose.  If you try and save stuff and hoard it up it just turns into dust and gets thrown away.  Life and love are gifts from God to be spent, not kept, to be used and not just used up.  To take up the cross means to risk our life, to spend our life, not to choose the safe option but to use our life to explore and pioneer, and, more than that, to care.

Well now, when I've calmed down a bit, and I look more carefully at the letters page, I think I see a common theme in the ones that really make me cross.  They’re usually people wanting to keep the world the way they like it, so they can be comfortable, and look after number one, and be content.  But reading on I discover that not all the letters are like that.  Some of them come from people who're looking for something better, not just for themselves but for others too:  people who want peace, justice, racial harmony, tolerance, charity, mercy - positive change, that all can share.  So let me repent of some of my own ranting and thank God for those people.  Thank God too for all who today still dare to take up that cross, still dare to love their neighbours as themselves, still dare to set self aside and persevere in the loving and gracious imitation of their Lord.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A Second Visit from the Sparrowhawk

Drama this morning at our garden feeders: one of our grey squirrels was feeding on peanuts when a sparrowhawk swept down from our house roof and aimed itself straight at the squirrel. At the last moment, the squirrel turned to face its potential nemesis, at which the hawk veered away into the wood. The squirrel dropped down from the feeders and remained stock-still for a few moments before scampering away. I've no idea whether a sparrowhawk would normally take something of the size of a squirrel, but this one was certainly prepared to have a go. Whether he had been perched on our roof waiting for something worth taking a pot at, or whether he had simply swept over the roof and down at the feeders in the hope that something might be catchable, I don't know. In the latter case the bird wouldn't necessarily have been aiming at the squirrel as such; in the former case, it would have.

Monday, 23 February 2015

And Again

Another cold day, with sleet, hail and freezing rain at times, though some sun as well that looked nice from where I was sitting in a warm office, but clearly wasn't, to see the pinched faces and turned-up collars of the passers-by. A busy day, and very little time to take note of anything much, but it was nice to see daffodils beginning to open in a number of places - cold or not, the spring maybe slowed, can't be stopped.

On my way home, a good sight of a kestrel, hovering, swooping, hovering again by the roadside. These birds really are masters of the air, and it must take some skill to hover on a day like today, when the air concerned was particularly turbulent at times.  I passed a buzzard sitting, looking to my eyes rather disconsolate, on a hawthorn hedge. This isn't something I would have ever seen as a child, as buzzards then were both scarcer and also much less prepared to be as close as this one was to human activity.

Sunday, 22 February 2015


Miserable day today, so far as the weather was concerned. Garden emptied of birds by strong wind and rain, though, before that, delighted to see a party of long-tailed tits not at the feeders but prospecting busily through the elm branches behind us - they would go to the very tip of each twig. There's very little weight in these birds!

Saturday, 21 February 2015


This afternoon, a sparrowhawk swept through our garden - slate grey wings looking beautiful in today's cold but clear sunshine, a skilled and effortless transit of our patch, so in control. Our visiting birds had all scattered in plenty of time, and didn't return for quite a while. It was probably twenty minutes before we saw anything more than a couple of chaffinches. That leads me to think awhile on how for some birds, the blue tits that are among our most common visitors in particular, life is about being scared all the time. They will dart up to the feeder, grab something quickly, and flee, having first perched somewhere and looked around anxiously in every direction to make sure the coast is clear. Often they don't make it to the feeder at all, having been spooked by some real or imagined danger. Today one blue tit made a dash for the feeder only to bounce straight back, the blackcap being in residence and quickly on to him.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Woodpeckers again (etc)

A very wet start to today, but mild. The garden was once again full of long-tailed tits, which are the most delightful birds to see, almost fairylike in their delicacy.  A little more drumming from the great spotted woodpecker this morning, and both woodpeckers were seen, one at the feeders and the other not too far away.

A nice lunch with friends at Pontesbury. I love the Rea Valley and miss living there. Perhaps one day we'll move back. There wasn't enough time today, but sometime soon I shall repeat last year's spring walk around Pontesford Hill. The spring flowers there are always great, and I recall dawn chorus walks around the hill back in the days when we lived at Minsterley - the birdsong was wonderful.

I missed posting yesterday, so I haven't mentioned the tree creeper I saw the other day. I know there are always tree creepers around here, but it's rare to actually see one. You just have to be in the right place at the right time (though I did once know someone who - most unusually - had one that regularly visited his feeders). The mouse-like, jerky movements as the bird scurries up the trunk of a tree are a real giveaway, and I just caught that as I stood at the kitchen sink; that's the first one this winter, but two winters ago we had one prospecting the brick retaining walls in our front garden, and I was able to watch it for quite some time. That was a very cold spell, hence the comparatively unusual behaviour.

In all the rain this morning a mistle thrush was perched on the top of a tall cypress over the way from us, singing away. This bird is know for singing even when the weather is awful, hence the alternative name of stormcock.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Another Heron

I was away from home for most of yesterday, and had no chance to post a report, but, having seen a heron standing on the verge by the main road the other day, I had a repeat of that experience (different location, therefore presumably different heron) yesterday. This one was more readily spooked, and flew slowly across in front of me, looking rather prehistoric as herons always do (to me, anyway).

I wonder what is so interesting on the roadside verge? I'm guessing ditches, and therefore perhaps frogs, perhaps frogspawn (not sure whether herons take frogspawn, but there do seem to be some sightings).

Today, the garden is very busy, and we have had a band of maybe eight long-tailed tits on the feeders.  On Sunday we had just two, but clearly some at least are still in winter groups. The robins have clearly paired up, however - though there is a third interloper, and therefore some fighting!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Robins, Wigeon and Snipe

Another grey day, quite cool, more so than I expected. Birds very active in our garden, including a pair of robins, which is nice. They are supposed to pair on Valentine's Day, according to tradition, so these two have gone along with that very nicely.

It's been ages since I looked in at Llyn Coed y Dinas (Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust reserve), but I had the chance to go there briefly this morning, to find that a bittern had been seen there yesterday. I didn't see one today - but there were some twenty or more teal, maybe the same number of wigeon, always a favourite of mine, a pair of goosanders, three shelducks, two oystercatchers, and as many as thirteen snipe. The snipe were at the bottom of a grass bank, close to the water's edge, and every so often a bird would run up the bank, presumably to feed. You get a distinct impression of a large bill travelling up the bank, with the rest of the bird then following. The cryptic plumage of the snipe works well in a variety of settings, and I had swept up and down that shoreline with my glasses several times before I spotted them.

Back home, the blackcap continues to put an astonishing amount of effort into chasing off other birds, and one wonders whether it's really worth it. A collared dove is managing to use our sunflower seed feeder, keeping its somewhat precarious balance by fanning its tail and extending a wing as it does so.

Saturday, 14 February 2015


Out for much of today, so little chance to observe our local birds. A coal tit has been very busy in our garden first thing this morning, and I was surprised by its call, high pitched and much more strident than I had expected. The blackcap is still busily keeping away every bird it can from the main feeding station.

On my way up country to Llangyniew, I saw a grey heron standing so close to the road that I might have taken it for a plastic replica somehow set down there. It was prospecting a hedgerow ditch, and seemed quite unconcerned that traffic was speeding past. I have to say it did look rather bedraggled and may not have been a very healthy bird.

The view across country from the main door of Llangyniew church has to be one of the finest anywhere around, even today when the light was poor and the cloud low. This is also a pretty cold spot to stand around in, but the churchyard contained a fair stand of snowdrops, plus the first celandines I have seen out this year. They were not very well out, not surprising since celandine flowers open with the sun, and there was none of that today; but I was able to count a dozen or more flowers, so a genuine sign of spring, with some sunny days due next week and improving temperatures, so I shall keep my eyes open.

I should of course call this flower the lesser celandine, since there is an unrelated greater celandine, a member of the poppy family. I quite like both flowers, but it was the lesser celandine that was a favourite flower of the poet William Wordsworth. The fact that the greater celandine is carved on one of his memorials testifies, I suppose, to the way in which English names can confuse.

Friday, 13 February 2015


A bit of a wobble in the weather today, I think - just a splash of rain, and a bit breezier at times. Looking ahead, there seems a slightly milder prospect, but clearly there'll be a bit of rain about as well. Apart from going out this morning early to replenish the feeders, I've had no chance to check on our garden birds today, as I've been working in town, and people watching (plus a few feral pigeons and a magpie) instead. Yesterday, though, a magpie was doing me the service of clearing out my gutter (my brother usually does this for me)! We get a lot of moss growing on our roof, especially on the corner ridges, and it slips down into the gutters, which rather easily get blocked. The magpie was having a fair old time hoiking moss out of the gutter and flinging it around, presumably finding plenty of overwintering beasties in there as well. Magpies are experts at exploiting all kinds of possible food sources (eggs and nestlings included, of course, in the season); I remember some years ago visiting an old lady who told me a band of magpies had been uprooting and carrying away all the spring bulbs her gardener had planted in her rose bed, while she, not able to get up from her chair, could only look on in dismay.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Doves and Woodpeckers

The brief reappearance of a collared dove in our garden yesterday wasn't a one-off; today we've had three for much of the day. I'm very fond of them, although, despite not arriving in the UK until the 1950's, they're now numerous enough to count as an agricultural pest species. The scientific name for this bird is Streptopelia dekaokto, and they are supposed to chant "dekaokto" (Greek for eighteen - there's a legend I'll not re-tell just now), but I'm blowed if I can make that out of their not very sweet call!

Speaking of calls, I haven't heard any woodpecker drumming today, but we did have a female greater spotted visiting our feeders. Does that mean he's pulled, I wonder? Other birds seen today include immense numbers of blackbirds, and numbers of goldfinches and greenfinches. A wood pigeon has worked out that there is a twig that will just bear its weight close enough to the feeder in our front garden for it to reach it and gorge itself on sunflower seeds. It seemed insatiable, and eventually I tired of his greed and chased him off, opening the way once again for the usual sparrows, great tits and goldfinches.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015


A murky old day today, though staying dry except for some wisps of drizzle now and again. The woodpecker was drumming again this morning. It really is very loud; he's not far away, but I can't see him, though I think I see a branch in the large oak to the back of next door that seems to have had a fair bit of woodpecker attention.

I've moved some of the feeders around today, in the hope that this will limit the impact of the blackcap, which has been successfully keeping most birds away from the main feeding station for almost two weeks now. The immediate impact has been to reduce the number of birds visiting by quite a way - they'll need to get used to the new arrangement, I suppose. Mind you, a local cat stationed itself on our shed for a while - I think he just watches the birds, he doesn't seem to make any attempt at stalking or pouncing, but of course it won't help!

I did see, briefly, a collared dove today, though: it fluttered down, and fairly quickly fluttered away again. They've been missing from our garden for a couple of weeks, till now.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

On the Wings of an Eagle

A talk given last Sunday, and based on readings from Isaiah 40, I Corinthians 9 and Mark 1 :-

“Those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will soar as on eagles’ wings.” Part of the last verse of today’s first reading, from chapter 40 of the Prophecy of Isaiah.

There are no longer any eagles in these parts, but there are other slightly smaller birds of prey whose soaring flight can thrill our hearts. Not long ago, on a morning of driving snow, the clouds cleared and the sun suddenly shone, and all at once there were three buzzards wheeling above the churchyard in which I stood, in Selattyn; their mewing cries echoed across the snow and their bronze wings were glowing in the sun. Two days earlier, on a grey and misty morning, my heart was lifted by the sight of a pair of red kites display flying as only kites can do, masters of the air, as I piloted my car up the bank between Trewern and Middletown. Aren’t we lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world!

And isn’t there also something deep within each of us that longs to possess that same mastery of the elements, that same ability to rise up above the everyday and the mundane, all the stuff that constantly conspires to drag us down. Our feet are like lead; and our wings don’t seem to work at all; it would be easy to get depressed.

On our own, we can’t escape the ground. On our own, we get tangled up in things, not managing to untie the knots. But those who look to the Lord, says the prophet Isaiah, will win new strength; they will win from him a strength beyond any strength they can train up within themselves, and it will be as though they are flying. But here’s a thought: those who fly on eagles’ wings need also to be able to see with eagles’ eyes.

Watching great birds of prey, and marvelling at the way they seem able to control the air: buzzards hardly moving a wing muscle as they ride the thermals, kites rolling and tumbling, seeming almost to tumble out of the sky altogether, but then recovering and soaring back up there . . . you could imagine they’re doing it just for the sheer pleasure of it all, just because they can – and maybe, to some degree, that’s true. But these are also serious hunters, and from their lofty vantage points in the sky, there isn’t much they miss.

A golden eagle flying high above some Scottish glen may be hardly more than a speck in the sky; but his eyes may well be fixed on a ptarmigan or a mountain hare far below, too far for your eyes or mine to find focus. If we’re raised up on eagles’ wings we’re raised up to see further, to serve better and to do more. Those who are raised on eagles’ wings are raised up to praise, to proclaim and to preach. And for this we need not only the wings but the vision of eagles.

The witness of Paul is that where praising, proclaiming and preaching are concerned, he cannot help himself; this is what he has to do. I Corinthians chapter 9 verse 16 – “It would be agony for me not to preach”. It’s in the intrinsic nature of an eagle that it should soar and fly and hunt; for Paul, claimed and chosen and changed by Christ in such a dramatic way on the road to Damascus, it’s second nature now to praise and proclaim and preach his Lord wherever in the world he goes. This is his destiny;  this is what he must do.

So too the church of today must be soaring and flying in order to fulfil its high call: to praise and proclaim and preach must be second nature to us as well. We have good news; we don’t have to be stuck to the ground; we can fly. That’s not just our good news, it’s good news for the world.

In many ways I like the Gospel of Mark more than any of the others. I’m not sure why, maybe just because it’s probably the earliest to be written down, and it has a simplicity and directness about it which appeals to me. I think that’s particularly true of the beginning; the band of disciples is newly formed, and, as they travel around the lakeside towns and villages of Galilee there’s a sense in which all of them, Jesus himself included, seem to be sort of finding out just what it is they’re supposed to be doing as they do it. Or that’s how I read it, anyway.

Perhaps, for example, Jesus hasn’t yet begun to think of his mission as being beyond the bounds of his own part of the world – Galilee. He has yet to take the road to Jerusalem; he has yet to take the road to the cross; he has yet to take the road that will lead him out into all the world. Events and things said seem to provoke a new sense of his Father’s call. So here, it seems that it’s when the disciples say to Jesus, “Everyone’s looking for you” that Jesus then tells them, somewhat unexpectedly in my view, that it must therefore be time to move on.

Do you share my surprise at that? Jesus needed quiet times like the rest of us, and that’s where he’d gone, very early in the morning. No-one else was up, and when they got up, he was missing. And folk were already gathering at the door; so Simon Peter went off to try and find him. Well, of course, he was praying. “Everyone’s looking for you,” said Peter . . . and what I’d have said, maybe with something of a sigh of resignation, would I think have been along the lines of, “Well, all right then, I suppose I’d better come back with you, see what we can do.” But Jesus says, “Let’s leave this lot, and go and preach somewhere else.”

Vision, you see; seeing the bigger picture, seeing with the eyes of the Father. It might be very plausible and tempting to become the personal rabbi and healer for the people of Capernaum, but this is a message and a mission for more than Capernaum. For now, the message is still just to Galilee, not yet beyond, not yet to Judea and Jerusalem, not yet out into all the world. But that will come; once you have mounted up on eagles’ wings, then there are no limits to your vision.

So there you are. There are no limits. There is no “play it safe” option for the people of Jesus. We have been claimed and saved and transformed by a limitless love; how can we keep such good news to ourselves? And if I am to be raised up like an eagle, to float and soar high above the earth, it isn’t so that I can be set free from the earth with all its evil, but so that I can see more clearly what has to be done, and have the confidence and the courage and the love to play my part in telling the story, in passing on the word, in praising and proclaiming and preaching.

Jesus wasn’t turning his back on the people of Capernaum; indeed, it wasn’t long before he was back there and people were once again beating a path to the door of the house where he was staying. But nor was he, or his message, their possession; God’s love is for all the world to know, and no-one is excluded. Just recently, I’ve found myself agonising more than a bit about why it is that religion should be such a force for division and hatred within the world. God’s love is always inclusive, never exclusive: that is the essential message of the Gospels, and for Christians all scripture should be read and understood and used in the light of the Gospels, and our image and idea of God and of what he might want from us constantly measured and tested against what we see in Christ, and what we hear him say.

A simple measuring-stick that was shared with me a few weeks ago goes like this: “If it ain’t like Jesus, then it ain’t God.” Paul wrote that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” – and that’s probably the one sentence of scripture that means most to me. When we look at Jesus, we see God in action, we see the love divine, all loves excelling, revealed in this man, in this human life, at this moment in history.

It’s human nature, sad to say, to divide into tribes, to take sides, to make gods out of your own sort and to demonise the others. There’s such a lot of that going on the world around us as we speak. And before we’re too quick to label any one of the great religions as mostly to blame, let’s be honest enough to admit that Christians have not been immune from the temptation to tribalism or, for that matter, triumphalism. But that’s not the perspective when you look with the eyes of an eagle; that’s not the perspective when you look with the eyes and understand with the mind of the one true God, and of Jesus Christ in whom all the fullness of his love is revealed.

There’s a bit of a difference between an eagle and a dove, but none the less the church has often wanted to link that prophetic promise of being able to be lifted up as though on eagles’ wings with the gift of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s a good link to make. If we have the mind of Christ, and a godly view of the world is formed within us, then that’s surely the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the presence of the Holy Spirit that nerves and prepares us for mission and service, and that gives exactly what Isaiah is talking about – a strength and a courage beyond our own. It’s for this reason that we know that however dark and desperate the world may seem, we have no cause for despair and every reason to hope.

So: we are promised the ability to fly, or at least, to be spiritually renewed, refreshed and lifted up. And that’s not just so that we can feel good, nor is it a reward for our own marvellous goodness, but God’s gracious and undeserved gift given us to use, given so that we can serve him and proclaim him, so that the world may know his truth because of the love we bear and show and share, which is his love inspired within us.

And my last thought? I wonder what it feels like for one of these masters of the air, when the time comes for the young bird to take its first flight? You see them perched on the edge of the nest, not knowing whether they dare trust their wings. Eventually they do. Maybe the parents have to cajole them, perhaps by not bringing food to the nest but instead perching a little way off where the young bird can see.

It would be a sad thing if the young bird failed to fly; a bit of a waste of potential and power, and of the effort the parents had put into it all. What stops us from flying? Are we too timid, do we feel too small and weak? As the hymn reminds us, we have a gospel to proclaim, and we’ll not do that by staying safely on the nest. That would be a waste of God’s grace, and a sin of omission.

Garden Drama

A little drama at our garden feeding station this morning. I looked out to see the male bullfinch perched on the top of the feeding station, while his mate was taking sunflower seeds below. I love to see the protective way in which he acts, though I can find myself wondering whether there is any great advantage to bullfinches in mating for life as they do. Anyway, a squirrel approached, and the bullfinch swivelled round to address the squirrel, which immediately and rather timidly retreated. Round one to the bullfinch; but the blackcap then appeared, flew at the bullfinch and drove it away, branch to branch, while the female bullfinch also quietly made her escape. This allowed the squirrel back in, so he straightaway took up residence, and the blackcap will fly at most things, but not at a squirrel. The local robin appeared, though, and he did exactly that, flying boldly at the squirrel, which, however, this time stood his ground - though when I came back to the window a minute or two later, the squirrel was gone and the robin in residence, happily feeding.

Meanwhile, we have had some incredibly loud drumming from our greater spotted woodpecker this morning. He must have found a good resounding branch or pole quite close by, though I couldn't manage to see him (or her, perhaps: both sexes drum, but it's the male who drums loudly at this time of the year to attract a mate - and that drumming is reported to be "astonishingly loud", which this morning's drumming certainly was!). The sound must carry a considerable distance, even in dense woodland.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Cold Start

A much colder start this morning than I was expecting, with a heavy frost in places, though not everywhere - Shrewsbury seemed to have had a frost-free night. On a frosty morning, wildlife is easier to see, things are bolder: at one point on my way in to work I had to slow quite markedly in order to allow a collared dove time to take off from the roadway.  Driving out and about today, I had several good views of buzzards; from a bird one saw only now and then, and usually at a distance, these are now common and everyday, maybe perched on a hedge right by the road.

The day was for the most part sunny and pleasant, though never warm. Snowdrops are well in flower, and our daffodils at home are nicely in bud. Though we don't get the great murmurations in these parts that can be seen elsewhere, it was nice to see a good number of starlings feeding together in the fields near Four Crosses, and rising to gather in two trees right by the road. For some reason, we never get starlings in our garden, having to be content with occasional birds passing by.  This winter I haven't seen as many fieldfares and redwings as usual, though this may just reflect the fact that I've done less winter walking than maybe I do most years.

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Today began with freezing fog, but it eventually cleared to leave a bright and sunny day of clear skies and loud birdsong. Robins continue to chase each other around our back garden, and the blackcap is continuing to be a bit of a pain, driving everything else away from within two or three feet of our main feeding station. Except the nuthatches, which have been particularly busy today. We've had some busy magpies around today as well, but the main thing to note has been the presence of large numbers of tits, mostly blue tits, coming to the feeders from time to time but for a lot of the time prospecting along the branches of the elms and ashes to the back of us. Long tailed tits appeared among them for a time.

The drops left on the branches by the morning mist were a delight to see sparkling in the sun. It was almost as if the trees were festooned with twinkling lights. Buzzards were mewing somewhere within earshot, but I couldn't get a sight of them. Some very bright and bossy greenfinches arrived, and saw off the comparatively ungainly chaffinches; though larger and bulkier, the greenfinches are much more adept at using the feeders.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Squirrels and Honeysuckle

Not quite so cold a day today, and lots of squirrel activity in the garden. This is the height of the mating season for grey squirrels, and mad chases around the garden and up through the trees are the order of the day. The amazing ability of squirrels just to fling themselves across gaps, from branch to branch and up and down our fences always impresses me. The way they manage to break into almost every supposedly squirrel-proof feeder we've ever tried is a little more annoying.

Again we had three robins in the garden this morning, and quite a bit of fighting between them. At one point we had ten rather argumentative blackbirds too, but the most aggressive of our garden birds remains the blackcap. The number of birds visiting our main feeding station is appreciably down, partly because they won't come while there are squirrels there, but at other times mostly I think because of the blackcap which flies at almost anything else that comes near.

Despite these past frosty nights, our honeysuckle is leafing well. Someone told me yesterday that you can find an echo of the distinctive honeysuckle scent in the new leaves, but I haven't tested that yet. It's true of meadowsweet, though, so perhaps honeysuckle is the same. We planted a number of other lonicera species last year, but they aren't developing new leaves as yet.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Bird Table LIfe

Our bird feeders are very busy just now, after a run of cold nights and frosty mornings. The blackcap that arrived a week or so ago is still very much around; he makes his presence felt, too, chasing away any other bird that comes near, even the robin, though he does back off when the nuthatches arrive. We have only the single male blackcap. Previously we've had a pair, as my brother currently does; I wonder if this is a species that pairs for life, like the bullfinches I so enjoy watching?

We have very large numbers of blackbirds just now. Most of those I see are males, and they are constantly chasing each other. Blackbird life seems to consist of an endless sequence of arguments and spats. We briefly had song thrushes about, while there were still berries on our rowan tree, but I hadn't seen one for several weeks until yesterday when one emerged just for a moment from the thick screen of laurel at the back of our ground, only to disappear just as swiftly. So they are around, but I suppose the woodland to the back of us supplies their needs.

This morning we have had three robins in our back garden. Two were engaged in serious dispute, while the third sat quietly by. I imagine therefore that we have a pair forming, and breeding territories are being established. There are large numbers of chaffinches about, some bright greenfinches and goldfinches too (and our two pairs of bullfinches, always visiting as pairs). So far, though, we have not had a repeat of last year's delightful influx of playful and acrobatic siskins, nor have I seen bramblings and redpolls, both of which were around last winter.

Another bird missing at present is the collared dove. We have more woodpigeons than ever, and they too have mating on their mind, to judge from their behaviour (but when is that not true of pigeons?). Looking back through my records, though, it's a good month since we last saw collared doves in the garden, whereas before that they were pretty much a daily presence. The feral pigeons seem also to have moved on - better pickings somewhere else, I suppose.

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Day at the Office

I've had a day at the office today; our small office on the island at Frankwell in Shrewsbury can at times be busy, but some days are very quiet and today was one of them. There were a few calls, some work to do on the computer, a couple of visitors, and not much besides, giving me time to gaze out of the window onto what was probably a nicer day to look at than to be out in. It was still, clear, even hazily sunny at times, but certainly cold. People were huddled and swathed, and hats and scarves were the order of the day.

I enjoy people watching, and, while I love the open country and have no objection to having half a mountain to myself, I'm equally happy to be at large in the town, overhearing disconnected snippets of conversation and watching human behaviour and interaction. From the office window that's a little limited in scope, as I get only a brief glimpse of most of the passers-by - still, it helps while away the time. Some people you see a little more of: there's a cycle shop next door that does good business, and from time to time people have a bit of a wait at the local bus stop. And parents and grandparents pass by to drop off or pick up children attending the nursery two doors down.

Not much to see today, though! Everyone was too wrapped up, and no-one was fooled by the sun into strolling. But at last there is a feel of the day opening out, a sense that spring isn't too far away. That statement may be hostage to fortune; there's scope still for a few weeks of snow and frost.

Meanwhile, my singing friend Paul is putting together a group to meet and read (our own) poems. I hope we get it off the ground. I need to do more writing, and I'd like what I do write to receive kind but honest comment.

Sunday, 1 February 2015


February begins, and with it another year of my life. I have never made a big issue of my birthday, though it's always nice to have a birthday greeting or two. So today has just been an ordinary day. The past month has been a hard one, and I've rarely known quite as much in the way of coughs, colds and general queasiness as this winter has brought. In addition, I have been rather depressed to have had no response from the church hierarchy since my pleasant and, I thought at the time, constructive meeting with the archdeacon last autumn. The church has every right and some reason to be cautious at best as regards any future use of me as a minister. If there is no way back into priestly ministry then I would do my best to understand and accept this, though it would be hard to square with the strong sense I continue to have of God's claim upon me and his call to me. I would find it tough were I to be treated according to some formula or set of guidelines rather than as myself - it would feel rather untrue to the gospel principles and run counter to the sense I have of Christ's grace at work within me - but I am pledged to obedience and would be bound to keep to that. But not having heard anything . . . surely, at the very least, common courtesy and the duty of one Christian toward another should require that I receive an answer. No more on this for now.

Instead, a look outwards to what has been a sunny scene today for the most part, but very cold, and staying that way for now. The immediate threat of lots of snow seems to have receded, though, and as the evenings start to gradually open out, the trees to the back of us have been quite loud with birdsong. The male blackcap that arrived the day after the Great Garden Birdwatch continues to be a regular visitor, and is a pugnacious little chap, prepared even to chase the dominant local robin away. Today we have had two pairs of bullfinches, briefly; bullfinches pair for life I believe, and the partners in a pair have a strong bond that is revealed when they come to feed together, the male often standing guard while the female visits the feeder.

Snowdrops are brightly out in many places, and we are beginning to see primroses coming into flower in our hedgerows. The mahonia in our front garden, something of a lifeline for any bees stirred into wakefulness on mild winter days, has now all but finished. Not long, though, until the daffodils begin, and then, suddenly, it all starts over again!