Imagine a bright afternoon in early Spring. Outside my garden gate, parents are gathering to collect their children from school. Cars are pulling up. Younger brothers and sisters are racing around and yelling loudly. I’m in my kitchen, pottering around whilst waiting for my own children to come in from school, when I suddenly hear a loud ‘thump’ at my kitchen window. Rushing to look out, I see the most amazing and surprising sight: a female sparrowhawk, plump blackbird in her talons, looking up at me from the patio just outside the window. For a few breathtaking seconds she stares at me, fierce yellow eye glaring, and then she’s off across the lawn, fast and low, carrying her prey. She settles under the bushes by the barbeque and starts tearing into her meal, seemingly oblivious to the shrieking children just the other side of the garden wall. When my children come chattering up the drive she picks up the blackbird and slips away over the garden wall to continue her dinner somewhere more peaceful.
Imagine another scene, a few years ago, in Saffron Road. It’s about 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning and broad daylight, with a thin layer of snow on the ground, and two men working under the bonnet of a car in the British Legion car park. Glancing out of the window I spot a big dog fox emerging from under a garden fence. He trots nonchalantly round the front of the Legion, ignoring the two mechanics completely, slips through a gap in the hedge, and saunters up the garden. He’s clearly on his way somewhere but is in no particular hurry. When I follow his tracks later I see that he stopped for a sniff around the pond edge before continuing on his leisurely way through into our neighbour’s garden.
These were two truly wild encounters in the very heart of the village, and two reminders that this isn’t just our place. We share our village with some amazing wild creatures who make their way alongside us, fitting themselves into the spaces we leave around us, and carrying on their daily business at the edges of our lives. Often they go unnoticed - these were two occasions when I had the good fortune to be in the right place, looking the right way, at the right moment, but how often had these things happened when I wasn’t looking? The fox was clearly on familiar and comfortable ground, and mine isn’t the only garden with a good supply of plump and tasty blackbirds attractive to a sparrowhawk, so it’s unlikely that the two events I witnessed were in any way unique or even particularly unusual.
It’s all too easy to sit and watch wildlife programmes on the television that have been made in exotic locations, and to forget that this stuff is happening right here, too, in our own neighbourhood, on our own streets and in our own gardens. If you stay alert, be aware, and keep looking, then who knows what you might spot on your own front doorstep?
My mother-in-law and I do this thing where we count how many species of wildflower we see when we go on walks throughout the year. Yesterday's total was two - speedwell and dandelion - and I had to search pretty hard for those. However there are catkins now - both alder and hazel - and the pussy willow is starting to break out, so things are starting to move.
Interesting to note that the blackthorn blossom-to-be is still tiny hard buds. Looking back at my photos from previous years, I see that on the 8th March two years ago the blackthorn by the 'new' wood was a riot of blossom, whereas this year the same bushes still look almost like bare twigs at the moment.