The beauty of birdsong

The magical song of a blackbird at dusk…

Is there anything more beautiful than birdsong? From the first trills of the dawn chorus to the solo blackbird singing as dusk falls, it is the most magical thing.

I read recently about some musicians holding concerts in woodland in the hope that a nightingale would join in the music – how magical that would be. Sadly, not many people have ever heard a nightingale as they have declined greatly over the past few years. The RSPB says there are fewer than 5,500 now, down from 60,000 a few decades ago. Isn’t that sad? It is only the male bird that sings and what makes the nightingale unique is that they sing many different notes and appear to respond to music made by humans.

A song thrush singing early on a summer’s morning.

The nightingale is the bird widely regarded as the star performer, but I can think of several others that frequently wow me with their musical skills. Many times up on Dartmoor I have listened to the beautiful trills and twitters of a skylark – only visible as a tiny dot, high up in the sky. A song thrush, again a bird in major decline, is also lovely to sit and listen to, it’s song so varied and clear. The gardener’s friend and surely one of our cheekiest birds, the robin, also has a delightful song and a blackbird’s solo at dusk is the perfect end to a day.

Birds use their voices to communicate with other birds. A bird ‘call’ says something definite about the caller – for example, “I’m a robin and I’m worried about that cat down there”. Bird ‘song’ is a specialised form of bird call that is designed to ensure the breeding success of the singer, to indicate clearly that he is healthy and fit and ready to breed.

And yes, as is so often the way, it’s largely a boy thing, designed so that other females of the same species are attracted and males of the same species are repelled.

A cheeky robin serenading us as we work in the garden!

Birdsong is most highly developed in a group of birds called ‘passeriformes’ which include wrens, robins, blackbirds and song thrushes. Basically, it means ‘perching bird’ and it’s an enormous group – around 5,400 of the world’s 8,000 to 9,000 species are ‘perching birds’ and all of them sing differently.

Each species has its own signature song. Some are basic, chiff-chaffs just go ‘chiff chaff’, but many are complex and never fail to lift the spirit – the blackbird being possibly the best example. Each song is different. It has to identify the singer’s species and also say something about the health of the singer. Many species even mimic other birds’ songs just to increase their repertoire, and it’s not unknown for other sounds, such as cats’ calls, to be included as well!

Birdsong is an integral part of the soundtrack in our everyday lives (well, for we lucky country dwellers at least) and when the singing stops – it is quite unsettling. I recall when we had an eclipse about 10 years ago and, as we stood outside, marvelling as the light quickly faded as the sun disappeared… the birdsong ceased. I found that silence along with the sudden gloom, very unsettling. A world without birdsong would be a barren place indeed.

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Time for a Spring clean!

There’s nothing like a nice bit of nesting!

I don’t think I’ve ever yearned for Spring to arrive quite so much as I have done this year. After such a horrible wet winter, followed by the two bouts of snow it really must be just around the corner now… please?

With the final arrival of Spring, many of us seem to automatically go into ‘Spring clean’ mode. Perhaps it’s part of human nature, or animal instincts, cleaning out our nests ready for the year (or new brood) if you see what I mean. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but there appear to be more and more cleaning products coming onto the market. Multi-surface cleaners seem to be a thing of the past and we now need specific products for everything from worktops to shower cubicles, hobs to glass and stainless steel. Add to that all the polishes and liquids for the different types of flooring available these days and our kitchen cupboards are full to bursting point! I can’t help but believe this is largely due to clever marketing, but perhaps I am being an old cynic…

Years ago, we used different products for different jobs but they were things we already had in the house – such as vinegar for windows. Mrs Beeton, the queen of household management, suggested tackling a dirty roasting tin with warm water, baking soda and a hardened crust of bread… Interesting!

As late as the 1950s, research showed that housewives were still spending up to 15 hours a day on household chores… can you imagine!? But then, being a housewife was a full-time job. The arrival of the twin tub probably made the biggest difference and doing the laundry suddenly became a much more manageable chore.

There was a shocking news item a month or so ago that found dishcloths and tea towels often have more bacteria on them than loo seats – ugh! One piece of advice was to put cloths in the dishwasher every couple of days as it steam sterilises them. If you don’t have a

Playing like we used to! Get outside and get mucky, it never did me any harm.

dishwasher I guess boiling them, or using liberal amounts of bleach to soak them will do the job. But then, are we too clean these days and is that why more children have allergies as they are not exposed to enough dirt and bugs at home? Goodness knows, I certainly don’t!

All I can say is I feel lucky to live in an age when I don’t have to spend 15 hours a day cleaning my house!

 

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Joanna Sheen Cardmaking Collection

I know many of you will have spotted this Cardmaking Collection back in January when it was released, but we have had so much positive feedback from it – I’m so glad everyone has enjoyed playing with the freebies and the papers – that I thought it would be good to just mention it again.

There are many nice bits and pieces that come with the set – a FANTASTIC embossing folder, that I have loved and used and used, a jug on a lace tablecloth that just goes so brilliantly with the flowers in the kit or any other flowers you choose. The daffodil die is of course very appropriate as the daffs are all struggling to come out now the snow has cleared (at least down here in Devon it has!) and there are so many different designs you could create with this die.

I have to say thank you to some of Practical Publishing’s team that made some of the cards in this picture, Nicky Gilburt, Jo Boland and Sue Hughes. There are many more card designers that worked on this issue and I wish I could mention them all – they are a very talented team.

Also included in this kit is the pretty stencil and of course fabulous rubber stamps and not forgetting the sheets and sheets of backing papers and toppers.

Currently, we have a few copies left so if you fancy one, grab it now before they disappear forever – they never republish an issue!

 

 

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This year’s food fashion…

OK, I confess I am no great fashionista, but when it comes to having ‘fashionable’ colours for our food, I do start to wonder if we haven’t all gone a little too far… The colour for 2018 is, apparently purple (there’s even a precise Pantone colour specified). This has also transferred to our food, and purple veg is all the rage. Hmmm.

Waitrose’s head of fresh produce is quoted as saying: “Social media has changed our relationship with food – we’re sharing pictures of our dishes more than ever before and as a result, our shoppers are looking to add vibrancy to their plate. Purple food does just that.”

Well, I suppose it makes a fun news story, but I’d prefer to look at the nutritional benefits of purple veg rather than how it looks in a tweet! In fact, there is more to purple than the vibrant colour and purple foods are said to be full of natural health benefits with densely packed nutrients and antioxidants. The benefits of antioxidants have long been discussed and are known to fight disease, help keep you looking younger, reduce inflammation and are generally good for you.

Essentially, the darker the colour of a food, the higher the content of antioxidants and nutrients will be. Then, all we have to do is convince our brains that this is the case! I recently bought some purple potatoes (they were on special offer!) and they really were a deep purple colour. While I ate them, my brain kept saying ‘this doesn’t taste right’ because I was somehow expecting the distinct taste of beetroot! As potatoes go, they were fine, but I won’t be rushing back for more.

So if we want to try purple veg, what is there to try? Aubergines and purple sprouting broccoli are ones we are probably all familiar with, but what else?

Purple Sweet Potatoes
While the standard sweet potato is packed with health benefits of its own, the purple sweet potato is even better for us. Also known as Okinawan potatoes, these brightly coloured spuds taste just like their orange cousins but are also filled with anthocyanins, which aid digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Acai Berries
Acai Berries have become all the rage in recent years, and now they look set to get even bigger. It is claimed that they are good for heart health and provide cardio-protective benefits to our cells, and lower the cholesterol levels in the blood stream.

Purple Asparagus
Originally from Albenga, Italy, the purple asparagus is rich in vitamin B, which improves, skin, hair and nails. It’s also meant to be good for the immune system, as it’s rich in vitamins A, C and K.

Black Rice
Once described as the ‘forbidden rice’ due to the fact it was produced on a much smaller scale than brown or white grains, black rice has a whole host of health benefits. It’s high in iron and vitamin E, which has been known to fight ageing and combat heart issues, and it has a mild, nutty flavour.

And there you have it. Sadly, none of these options is cheap, so I may well let fashion pass me by (again!) and stick to my greens. In my eyes, green is good.

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The weather is looking a bit blenky out there…

I suspect we’ve all been a little obsessed with the weather over the past couple of weeks as we have swung from a mild February into a ferocious and freezing March… and then back to balmy spring days again – I know I have! I’ve been glued to the Met Office App and avidly following weather stories on the BBC website.

After witnessing a stunning weather phenomenon – a sort of universal ‘glazing’ – down here on Dartmoor last week, a post on Facebook drew my attention to ‘Ammill’, the official term for this rare event. As ever, this set me thinking and I started looking for other unusual or forgotten weather terms – and was delighted with what I discovered! I suspect that, years ago, the weather had so much more direct impact on our lives that we had many more terms to describe it. I am going to start a crusade to reintroduce some of these gems into regular use. So, the next time we are stuck with drizzle and strong wind, be sure to tell everyone it is hunch-weather!! Enjoy…

BLENKY

To blenky means ‘to snow very lightly.’ It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18th-century word for ashes or cinders.

A perfect Drouth day.

DROUTH

This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes.

FLENCHES

If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does… we have a lot of that in Devon!

FOXY

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it is misleadingly bright’ — or, in other words, sunny, but freezing cold.

Hunch weather.

HUNCH WEATHER

An old 18th-century name for weather — like drizzle or strong wind —that’s bad enough to make people hunch over when they walk.

HENTING

A Cornish word for raining hard, as in “ee’s henting out there!”

BENGY

Pronounced ‘Benji,’ this is an old southeast English dialect word meaning ‘overcast’ or ‘threatening rain.’

MESSENGER

A messenger?

A single sunbeam that breaks through a thick cloud can also be called a messenger, rather lovely, I thought.

SWULLOCKING

An old southeast English word meaning ‘sultry’ or ‘humid.’ If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on the way.

HEN-SCARTINS

This is an old English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast a rain. It literally means

Now that’s what I call a Twirlblast!

‘chicken scratches.’

TWIRLBLAST AND TWIRLWIND

Two lovely old 18th-century names for tornados – much more fun!

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