Kitchen tables and bird tables

Sitting at the kitchen table doing some artwork. The rain on the French windows is blurring the view of the garden. From the corner of my eye I see a squadron of rooks targeting the lawn, maybe thirty or so, white-coned beaks cleaving the air as they come in to land.

Next time I look up the rain has stopped and there is a pale green blot on the grass – then a flash of red and I recognise the outline of the green woodpecker sitting completely still – until it hears us reaching for the camera …Blackbirds, robins, chaffinches and collared doves are all taking advantage of the bird tables, along with a couple of very smart tweedy pheasants who are scouting around beneath the feeders.

Like a shuffle of playing cards, a greater spotted woodpecker clamps on to the peanut holder, a red mark on the back of his head showing him to be the male. He attacks the nuts with gusto, hammering with his powerful beak.

A couple of weeks ago a sparrow hawk dropped in – a beautiful bird with death in his eyes – and sat, rather incongruously, on the washing line. He looked imperiously around with his clockwork orange stare, but by then, the garden birds had made themselves scarce.

I got back to my artwork, thinking of my Great Uncle Richard who was a bird watcher and artist at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. He created detailed pencil portraits of the birds he saw from his home near the Exe Estuary in Devon. I never met him, but have some of his drawings – each pencil stroke as light and sensitive as a bird’s feather.

Time and Distance

The sky was a pale faraway blue edged with surfy white clouds – the look it gets as autumn approaches and the sun steps back. House martins were gathering on the wires – separate black notes on a page of music.

I saw things from the corner of my eye – a clump of seeding thistles huddled in a field, tufty white heads nodding sagely, the ghost of an egret taking off from the stream, a scattering of young pheasants in the dry grass, a tortoiseshell butterfly incongruously perched on an alloy wheel, the sharp silvery leaves of the Carline thistle. It’s strange how things sometimes seem clearer sideways-on. Stars are seen best on the edge of vision.

On the coastal path at Abbotsbury plants, were anticipating autumn. The multi-coloured berries of nightshade hung in strigs over the pebbles, bristly ox-tongue was seeding vigorously and teasels revealing their exquisite architecture. Tamarisk bushes were flowering desperately, pink feathery flowers in disarray, looking as though they’d got up late, and almost missed the summer.

Along the verges, tall stems were silhouetted against the sky, each one topped with what looked like a carelessly packed parcel of black yoyos dangling spindly strings. These wild leeks (known as Babbington’s leeks) dominated the hedgerow.

Thought to have originated from prehistoric times, this is a perennial plant which grows well here – behind the beach, sheltered from the salty winds by the Chesil bank. Earlier in the summer lush strappy leaves surrounded pastel green stems, each with a globular flower head encased in a tissue-like membrane. In midsummer the membranes tear into little pixie hoods revealing a bunch of round bright green seeds from which grow small pinky-mauve flowers on thin stalks. Now the seeds were black as billiard balls, ready to roll.

On the shingle, sea pea extended thin green fingers, pointing towards the sea. Clumps of sea campion lay low, seed heads bobbing in the wind like tiny paper bags. A line of anglers marked the shoreline. Unfortunately their rubbish littered the strandline – a silvery shoal of polythene bags, bottles, cellophane and tinfoil barbeque trays.

From the corner of my eye I saw a strangely shaped pebble. It was a fossilised sea urchin, ground down and misshapen by sea and shingle. It seemed to squint at me from the distant past.