Oddly, the thought uppermost in my mind as we return from Wales is that, like sparrows, starlings seem to be making a comeback.
Several decades ago, I remember going deep into the desolate heartland of Mid-Wales where -- it was rumoured, if you were lucky -- on the edge of a certain field on a certain hill, you might catch a glimpse of a Red Kite, one of a handful still surviving. Our luck was in that day, and we felt blessed to watch the dipping, slipping flight of that wonderful fork-tailed bird, as it quartered the hillside in the light spring rain.
How things change.
In June 2004 I was returning from a get-together in Oxford, and as the train pulled out of Reading station I was amazed to see two Red Kites circling high in the blue suburban skies. A reintroduction scheme has been spectacularly successful, and now they are regularly seen in the M3 and M4 motorway corridors as far south as Winchester. It's just a matter of time before one appears over our back garden.
In the meantime, sparrows and starlings seemed to have made themselves as scarce as Red Kites. Perhaps they felt under-appreciated. Whatever the reasons, it has come to something when, in 2013, it is a flock of starlings that causes you to grab your binoculars in a state of excitement. Suddenly, this Easter, lambing sheds and cow barns were alive with that unmistakable chatter, and flocks would burst out of them and barrel in tight formation over the hedges and fields.
The snow and the delayed spring, of course, were the main features of our week. The day we arrived, my partner went for a stroll up the lane, and found a post-van stuck in a drift. The driver, a Brummie, had driven straight into a four-foot wall of snow across the road with the over-optimistic expectation of emerging on the other side. Not quite. It took a tractor and a tow-rope to get him out.
The cold weather meant that I didn't sleep too well. Not because of the cold, but because the barn conversion we use has an under-floor heating system powered by an extremely green heat-exchange mechanism buried in the hillside. The barn was completely rebuilt from fresh-cut oak timbers in 2010 and has polished wood flooring. It looks great, but the whole thing creaks and cracks all the way through the night as the heating kicks in. It can seem as if several ghostly insomniacs are endlessly pacing about. I suppose you'd get used it eventually, but it's a bit too much like being in a wooden ship afloat in a sea of frosty air.
We had a good week, though, and I'll trickle out some of the better photographs during this week, rather than laying out the whole deck now.