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Rainbows and garden birds

The rain descended like a waterfall, hammering on the roof of the car and bouncing up off the road to create a dense mist which flowed away to either side, the water taking with it anything it could pick up from the road surface. We were deep in the forest, driving along the winding single track road that follows the long edge of Loch Awe and just minutes before the sun had been shining, blasting down through the trees creating sharp bars of light against the under-dark. There is nothing like a good drop of rain to freshen everything up and clear the air – and this was nothing like a good drop of rain. This was solid water coming from a cloud as black as night which we had seen approaching from the west, a real tropical cloudburst. It hardly felt safe to continue so we slowed down and crawled along till it moved on, as we knew it would. Rainbow over the gateMinutes later again and as if a tap had been turned off, the rain ceased, the noise stopped and we had escaped from the shadow of the black beast; it was distracted and had turned its attention elsewhere while we sneaked away.

Such dramatic weather generates impressive rainbows, always elusive and hard to photograph, like this one sizzling as it touches the surface of the water from which it appears to emerge.

A little further on and our road was dry, as if it had not rained at all, when across the road in front of us ran a small red bundle of fur. Kate screeched in delight as we stopped the car and watched the squirrel as it loped back into the woods, aware of our presence but hardly bothered when there was work to be done, seeds and nuts to be gathered. Red squirrels do live on in Britain and the spruce and pine forests of Scotland provide a habitat where they can compete with the non-native greys. The reason for this is largely due to the presence of spruce cones which they strip for the small seeds that lie within. It is a meagre diet for the work involved but it is enough for them to live on whereas the grey squirrels need more substantial fodder and cannot compete. Red squirrels are a native species surviving competition from the invading hordes against all the odds, a condition shared by humans too, in many parts of the world.

It is easy to become blasé about the way the sky shows off around here. Clouds over KilbrannnanOn a windy day the clouds can be blown apart into long streaks that surely can only be the result of a paintbrush being liberally applied to the canvas above. Then there’s the way the sun catches the clouds as they slide over the hill behind our house and provide a full palette of tints and shades as the evening draws in. They are back-lit, so the colour the cloud picks up depends upon its translucence and on the angle of the sun as it strikes – the low sun of the gloaming being the best. The heavens fill with colour and this matches the reddened tints of the fresh leaf growth which spreads up from below. We have a dense barrier of green now just beyond the garden fence and this is where the birds that visit our garden will perch as they size up the competition on the feeders. Goldfinch and Siskin on the feederA typical thought process might be, ”Oh, I see a goldfinch is on the seed feeder. I’ll do an ascending fly-past to see if I can shake him off then just whizz onwards to the nuts for a small snack. Oops, I nearly didn’t spot that siskin there.”
A siskin will often act aggressively towards a chaffinch, a considerably larger bird, and vertical-flying fights ensue, a no holds barred punch-up between the two as they rise from a feeder, wings, legs and beaks all in action. I have yet to see a chaffinch win such an encounter.

It is tempting to think of the birds as ‘ours’ or even ‘tame’ when they are slow to react to our presence at the back door, even right in the garden with them. They are neither of these things. They encounter few humans so do not assess us as a primary threat, or so I imagine, and they are in the garden only to visit our feeding station, not for our pleasure. Little do they know how much we enjoy them there!

Kate shovelling the rubble of the coalbunker

Meanwhile work progresses in our garden on building the base for the new shed. Thanks to Pat next door, whose unused coal bunker succumbed to the power of the sledgehammer, we now have a small mountain of hardcore which will provide a firm base and after our trip to the Oban shed factory we now know the size we need. Laying a level base using large lumps of brick and concrete might sound like a simple operation but I continue to perspire freely whilst breaking up the pieces and flattening them into the ground. In the end though, between the rain showers and with the sun bursting through, things are gradually taking shape.

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