I'm relieved to say that with Christmas nearly upon us, I've managed to resist purchasing one of those ladyboys advertised on t'telly. Quite why a famous furniture store would be selling them is not clear, but for a moment I was nearly tempted.
It's said that if you look hard enough you will find everything on your doorstep - Readers Digest magazine said it or perhaps I have made it up, somebody must have uttered these words at some stage in the history of the universe, surely.
Anyway, what I wanted to say was, Paulsgrove Chalkpit is pretty damn near to our doorstep and we've never been there before. Actually if I'm honest we didn't find everything there, not even the ring ouzels that the world and their dog had seen. But we did see lots of chiffchaffs and we met some very interesting people and learned a lot about the history of the area. One chap pointed out the caves that had been dug out of the chalk face by the landowner as air raid shelters during WW2 and described Dead Man's Copse, tucked away on the hillside, where several war memorial plaques had been placed. Another man told us that he had them there ring ouzlem birds in his back garden - there's always one. Ok, so not everything on our doorstep, but a fair amount. We'll be back there in the summer to mop-up the rest of everything though, because it's a fine piece of chalk downland, brilliant for flowers and butterflies.
Also in October. Going against our rule of not chasing birds, we did. A semi-palmated plover had been discovered on Hayling Island, a really good American wader and very rare to these shores. Couldn't resist it. However, after a couple hours, all the gnawing factors that lead to the making of the rule had manifested themselves. I won't say what they are, because that would make me appear grumpy and I'm not, no really I'm not.....well a bit. But as luck would have it, after scoffing a lovely sausage roll sat in our car. The deluge that had forced us to take shelter had also dissolved most of the crowds away, leaving a handful of us to watch the bird at leisure. The plover was roosting on the beach with other waders including a beautiful group of sanderling, most of them sporting an assortment of coloured legwear. Gradually the plover revealed all the features that made it what it was, leaving me confident that at least I would know what to look for if I was ever faced with identifying one of these cute critters on my own. Then on an unseen signal the flock of birds was gone. On a hunch we went back to a place where it had been seen before. All the supporting crew were there, but not the semi-p. Gnawing grumpiness began to creep up again, time to go.
Ho! Ho! Ho!
As the dusk cast it's last shadows of the day, once again you shared your secrets.
It began with the arrival of small parties of birds, some from the east, but mainly from the west. Gradually a few groups started to gravitate together, forming a drifting cloud. Others took the opportunity for last a feed of leatherjackets on the grassy banks of the lake. Occasionally the main group swirled. This was turning out to be a lovely end to the day. Then as if re-enacting the final scenes from Close Encounters the mothership appeared from nowhere, thousands upon thousands of birds filled the sky. If I was trendy I would write something like 'totally awesome man', but I'm not so I'll have to put up with wow!
I have no idea how birds were involved, it didn't really matter. The mass drifted over the roosting site, waiting for the right moment to drop in. Something stirred and they moved like a Mexican wave, a peregrine smashed through them causing chaos. Suddenly the sky was full of shapes, each twitch of a wing by the leading bird causing a dramatic ripple. We ticked them off: mushroom, lapwing, lady in a hat, sumo wrestler, sphinx, helter-skelter and two things that I couldn't possibly describe on this page. The spectacle continued, until when on a given signal they funnelled at speed into the trees and reeds, leaving the sky a blank canvas once again. Wow indeed!
We had only popped in on Blashford to see a bittern - how 'so yesterday' can a bird become.
Bye bye shed. Faithful friend to the garden for over twenty years.
Sometimes cranky, but always welcoming to visitors to the garden: large tortoiseshell, barred warbler, wood warbler, firecrest and redstart to name a few of the more exotic wanderers that bided a while. And home to: wood mice, giant spiders, slugs, snails, wrens and third favourite niecelet.
But every now and then things must change and where once a bitsa shed stood, there now stands proudly a brand new outside lavvy.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.