'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

If comments are proving difficult to do, please email me; sleepysparrow@yahoo.co.uk

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Crowds

‘Twas the Saturday before Christmas
 when all through the shops
the crowds they were pushing
and people were cross……………

So, instead we went for a walk during a break in the rain, about half an hour before it went dark. 
Still we encountered crowds………..
         Hundreds of ragged, black crows, cawing and cackling in the darkening sky, coming in from all points of the compass to settle in a stand of oaks.
                 Then, a familiar sound, like a hundred tiny football rattles - a troupe of long-tailed tits flitting through a gnarled tree, their long tails showing in silhouette against the last of the sky-light.
                Further on, a crowd of muddy sheep jostled in a field of bone-white turnip chunks.  Away from crows and long-tailed tits, the only sound was their ‘crunch – munch.’

These are the kind of crowds I love and when, to quote a line from Wendell Berry’s poem, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’………………
                     ‘I rest in the grace of the world and I am free.’
I hope you manage some time this holiday to slow down and enjoy 'the peace of wild things'.

Friday, 7 December 2012

How Long Does A Sparrow Sleep?

At 3.30pm I tuned my telly to BBTV (that's Bird Box TV), sat with a cup of  tea and waited.  My bird tumbled in to her box at precisely 3.50pm.  She fidgeted for a bit, preened, threw out some poo then settled in the corner, face to the wall, head tucked in over her shoulder, so that her feathers made a pretty swirl.  She looked like a wall nut whip with a tail.
I changed channels periodically throughout the evening and watched her sleeping.  You'd think it would be hard to see bird's breaths, but she breathes deeply and her tiny body pulses in and out with some force. 
The following morning, I took more tea into the living room and settled down to watch her wake.  It was getting light by 7.30 but she didn't move.  At 7.45 am, she woke suddenly, shook herself and immediately returned her head to its snoozing position with such force I felt sure she must've stabbed herself with her beak.  She obviously wasn't ready to face the world.  Perhaps she was dreaming of being chased by a sparrowhawk?  Do sparrow's dream?  Then at 7.50 am, she woke, and without any preening or shaking of feathers, just jumped up to the entrance hole and left.  

So, how long does a sparrow sleep?  16 hours!  Even longer than me in the winter!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

More Reasons to Love Libraries

When did you last visit your library?  They're not like they used to be, no 'Silence' signs or bosomy ladies glowering over their half-rimmed specs.  

I love mine, as soon as the doors close behind me, a new adventure awaits.  I can visit the moon, the top of Everest, swim with Humpbacked Whales, dive to the ocean's depths, learn a bit of Greek, I feel like Mr. Ben when he walks into the tailor's shop...........

My library's just had a make-over, a Gok, the full works.  Mossy green carpet, soft mint walls, comfy chairs, modern flat-pack book shelves snaking around the room.

I've discovered I can download e-magazines for free with my library number, so far I've got Countryfile, National Geographic, Cycling Plus.  I can also download audio books and e-books - for free! What a service.

It's quiet in my library at 5.45 pm, only the humming of the wall heaters, the swish of pages being turned and the satisfying clunk of the date stamp as someone takes out an armful of books.

For fun, I like to visit the Westerns section.  It's the only part of non-fiction that's not arranged alphabetically. The titles are fab - Desperado Doublecross, Last Stage to Gomorrah, Battle at Rattlesnake Pass, Last Chance at Devil's Canyon.
My Dad used to love Westerns as a lad, he'd come out of the Saturday morning cinema shooting imaginary arrows at his mates, who blew the smoke off the end of their imaginary pistols. Liverpudlian Desperados.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Todays Slow Moments

The satisfying 'shloop' of carrots being pulled from soft, wet soil.  I felt quite proud as I held them aloft, a startling orange against the ice blue sky, ideal noses for snowmen, I thought.
And there's enough left for Christmas Day.

Four starlings came clicking and whistling as soon as I hung out suet balls.  They seem to appear as soon as suet or cheese is on the menu, they must be watching the feeders from somewhere near.

A wren sang its ear piercing song as I collected leaves for compost. Sorry but I winced, involuntarily.  It's just that a second before the only sound had been the quiet rustle of leaves.

I think it's the turned up tail that gives the tiny bird that feisty, don't-mess-with-me-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you air. 

If you have nest boxes up around your garden, don't assume that they are empty at this time of the year.  Birds may use them to roost in on frosty nights.  Tiny wrens especially need somewhere to keep warm.  Although they are mostly seen alone in the garden,  they roost together, squatting in layers 2 or 3 deep with their heads facing inwards and their tails towards the entrance or sides.  I read that 60 birds have been seen huddling together in one box.  And they squabble a lot too, before they finally settle, some are chased away, definately not allowed in.  You can just see that can't you, that bird at the entrance, tail cocked, lungs bursting, ejecting other birds who aren't part of its gang.

I always thought that the collective noun for wrens didn't fit but after learning more about them, a 'herd' of wrens seems appropriate for the little bullies.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Different Views

Yesterday, under an icy sky, I did a twirl on top of Moel y Gaer, an Iron Age hillfort about 10 minutes from my house - and as I twirled I took in -  Blackpool Tower, snow-capped mountains in the Lake District, two Liverpool Cathedrals, the Rivers Dee and Mersey, Beeston Castle, half the Clwydian Range (and a few more hill forts), a tantalizing view of snowy Snowdonia and a ferry making its way to Ireland.  Phew!
       A Kestrel shared the hill with me, but he spent the whole time looking down, for the ultra violet glow of vole’s urine.  I’ll stick to Blackpool Tower thanks very much.

Special Offa!

The 177 mile Offa’s Dyke path has been named by Lonely Planet as being among one of the worlds must-see sites for 2013.  The northern part is practically on my doorstep! The other dayI walked a bit of it with my friend Julie.

‘Did you know there used to be 16 pubs around Llandegla because of all the drovers and cattle dealers passing this way?  I read from the village information board as I unscrewed my walking poles.  Now the Church of St. Tecla offers refreshments to passing ramblers, just go in, boil the kettle, leave a donation.  We followed the yellow school bus up the lane, crossed a stile and squelched over muddy fields to Llandegla Forest.

        ‘Watch out for mountain bikers!’  I warned Julie.  The Forest is criss-crossed with graded mountain bike and walking trails but today there was only the soft twittering of a robin waiting to inspect our footprints for grubs.  We pottered up through the dark Sitka trails, past mossy rocks and fallen toad tools to the forest edge.  Stepping out of the forest was like coming through a heavy curtain on to a brightly lit stage.  We almost took a bow as the sun-spotlight picked us out.  A roof-less, rust-coloured moor stretched into the distance. 

       ‘What’s with the stripes in the heather?’ asked Julie. 
       ‘They’re for the black grouse, the males need room to show off in the spring so strips are cleared.  I’ve been up here at 5 am and seen the males at their Lek, flashing their frilly bloomers, sticking their chests out, acting the big ‘I Am.’ If they could just see themselves, they’d die of embarrassment.’
      ‘Do you think we’ll see any today?’
      ‘Doubt it, they’re probably hiding in the heather, watching us.’

A thoughtfully placed boardwalk took us across the boggy bits, past frost-coated pillows of moss sparkling in the watery sunshine.  Then, just as we stepped off the moor at World’s End, a black grouse leapt out of the heather and flapped its short wings like crazy across the ice blue sky.  I don’t know who was more startled, us or the grouse.

We crossed a ford under limestone features more reminiscent of Northern Italy or Yosemite than Wales and squelched our way towards the spectacular Eglwyseg Cliffs.  We searched the crags for peregrines but were just as happy to watch the ravens tumbling above us.  In places the narrow path traversed scree-covered slopes.  ‘This reminds me of walking in Nepal, without the yaks or the scary bridges,’ I said as I tried to watch my feet and the ravens at the same time.


We ate our sandwiches looking up at the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, silhouetted against the darkening sky.  Julie continued on to Chirk, I dropped down into Llangollen to rendezvous with a hot chocolate and a lift home.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

And all because the lady loves...........

Some women get chocolates and flowers, my man has just presented me with a box of 50 suet balls and a 20kg sack of birdseed.  I am overjoyed - so are the birds for that matter.

Watching Sparrows Sleep

Have you ever watched a sparrow sleeping?  We have a nest box with a camera and the pictures are beamed into our living room.  The female sparrow has the box, he doesn’t get a look in.  I think he sleeps on our security light outside the backdoor.  We go the long way around to gain access to the back garden after 4pm, when he’s settled on the light.  Of course, we have removed the bulb.  Shame she doesn’t let him in to snuggle up. 

Before I go to bed I watch her on my telly.  Her tiny body pulses in and out.  It’s very soporific and I feel my heart beat slow to the same rhythm.  Sometimes she wakes up suddenly, as if from a chasing-blue-tits dream.  She looks around like she doesn’t know where she is , then she preens, yawns, stretches out one twiggy leg and tucks her tiny head back under her wing. 

World Sparrow Day is in March (there’s a web site).  Sparrows have lived alongside humans longer than any other wild birds.  But, they’re in serious decline.  Once they were so numerous they were regarded as pests, raiders of cereal crops.  During the reign of Elizabeth the First, farmers could take the heads of sparrows to the parish church where they would be paid a bounty.  During the First World War, Rat and Sparrow Clubs were formed ‘in order to save food for human consumption’.   Hundreds of thousands were killed.  3d was paid for a fully fledged sparrow, 2d for an unfledged bird and 1d for an egg.  But in the towns and cities, the disappearance of the horse in favour of the car had even more of an impact as sparrows could no longer rely on pinching the horses feed or sorting through the droppings for undigested grain. 

Sparrows  have continued to decline and are now on the Conservation Red List meaning they are a species in need of urgent action.  The authorities in Delhi have adopted the house sparrow as the state bird in a bid to halt any further decline in their numbers.  ‘We will take steps to ensure that the sparrow returns, feels safe and is able to live peacefully in the city,’ said a Chief Minister.  

I like that they want the sparrow to ‘feel safe’.  My bird looks safe in her box.  And in the morning, she won’t have far to go for food, though she’ll need to keep one eye out for the sparrowhawk.

Passer domesticus  
Scruffy urchins of the bird world,
street-wise, cock-sure
surviving by your wits
and your hard-faced cheek.
Angels with Dirty Faces,

In your crop-eating-outlaw days
you had a price on your head,
were picked off for pennies
by persecuting posses.
Then you learned which side your
bread was buttered and muscled in
on small town gardens.

You were chased away from
feeders by people who preferred
the glamour of goldfinches,
the ballyhoo of blue tits.
But now you’re rather rare
and they want you back,
will gladly sacrifice
their finely tilled seed beds
to your early evening dust bath.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Smelly Birds

According to the Rare Bird Alert web site, there are 1000 waxwings in Kyle of Lochalsh, an American Buff-Bellied Pipit in County Down, a Lesser Yellowlegs in Lancashire and Long-Billed Dowitchers in Gloucestershire.

I think I should report that there are 15 cocky sparrows on my bird feeder, 6 gaudy goldfinches squabbling over nyjer seed, 3 blackbirds dribbling a piece of apple across the lawn.

Today the frost is harsh and I scatter seed and best-cake crumbs with frivolous abandon.

To wake up my writing brain, I sometimes play the senses game - name at least 5 sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes as quick as I can.  But today I struggled with smell.  No matter how hard I sniff, it's difficult to catch the scent of things when they're wrapped in ice.

If birds had smells..........a blackbird would smell of damp earth, sparrows would smell of toast, goldfinches would smell of Tutti-fruiti, like Opal Fruits - strawberry, lemon, lime.  Chaffinches would smell like just-dug-up potatoes and robins like Christmas tangerines.