The Chaffinch

What a colourful bird is the Chaffinch.

In springtime when the birds are feeding their young many come to our garden to eat the titbits my husband leaves for them. The food ranges from bread crumbs, left overs and some seeds. Each bird is glad of any extra food to feed their fast growing young.   I enjoy the company of our feathered friends.

Over the summer the Robin was our regular visitor, with only a few visits from Sparrows and Tits. The young had flown the nest and the breeding season had come to an end. The adults could take a rest. We would have only an occasional visit from the Chaffinch.

The Chaffinch is larger and stronger looking than the robin and more confident. He is handsome with a blue-grey cap, reddish-brown breast and back.

It’s now winter. Brendan supplements the food he leaves out with bird seed bought from the pet shop. The Chaffinch is now a frequent visitor. Brendan noticed he comes to feed when dark seeds are left out. He is not so fond of bread or other lighter coloured seeds. He feeds on seed from the thistle, which is a thorny plant. The chaffinch is sometimes associated with Christ’s crown of thorns.

It is a delight to see this beautiful visitor on our fence in the morning especially after reading about the chaffinch’s association with Our Saviour. I lift my eyes to our God who made the heavens and the earth. I thank God for his son Jesus. The crown of thorns pierced his head, blood flowed down his forehead and matted his hair. The flesh on his back was opened up with the thongs of a whip. His body and clothes were covered in blood from his wounds. Men turned away from the sight.

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:2-3, 5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Jesus wounds healed me from fourth stage cancer.

Late April in Slovakia

I’m sitting under a willow tree in Slovakia,
My body welcoming the warmth of the sun
Along with all the creatures
That had to endure the long winter.
Life is breaking forth all around me.
Sparrows chirp above me in the branches,
Taking turns to fly up
Into crevices in the wall
Building their nests to have their young.
I survey the green panorama of the forest trees.
Two weeks ago they were bare brown trunks.
Doves call from their midst.
The apple trees burst forth buds and flowers
Attracting bees that buzz and hum
Busy collecting nectar and pollen.
White butterflies float in the air,
Outlined by the green background.
Although a thousand miles apart we share
Familiar wildlife in our gardens.
Sparrows, swallows, doves, bees and butterflies know no borders.
My son works with the soil.
My daughter in law is planting flowers,
Free from the repetition of washing dishes and clothes,
Cooking, baking and cleaning.
Their children play nearby,
Safe in the space of the new mown garden.
A hose gushes cool water.
The children dart in and out of the spray,
Running, chasing and squealing.
Barbecue smoke drifts through the air,
Inviting us to the picnic table.
Grilled chicken, courgettes, pineapple
Sweetcorn and mushrooms are ready.
Let’s dive in.

The Sandwich Tern Arrive.

I was excited to see Sandwich terns today on Swan Island. It is rock outcrop a few yards from Strangford harbour. They are on time! Cold winds are easing and the days are warmer and have longer hours of daylight. Isn’t it wonderful that these birds fly thousands of miles from southern parts of Europe and America to rear their young. We are privileged to have them visit. Thousands of travelers on the Strangford ferry will get to see these terns up close. The birds are safe on the island out of reach from any enemies, but near enough for us to enjoy them.

There are many pairs in the colony that will nest and rear their young on the small island. They are very noisy. They rise up into the air together, screech and fly off to feed. They catch small fish on the surface of the water. Perhaps the same flock of terns return year after year.

The Strangford ferry is a vantage point to see the terns. Some of the birds stand on the end of the gangway on the ferry as it crosses the Lough. They aren’t shy of humans.

When I arrived home I heard Bird Song as the evening sun was setting. I recognized the blackbird’s, robin’s and starling’s call in the chorus. Only a few come to the bird table in the morning. They must be off looking for mates and making their nests in preparation to rear their young. It is safe now to start building. A week ago there was snow on the ground and many birds were feeding at the bird table.

The daffodils are sprouting yellow trumpets at last. They were held back by cold temperatures. What a welcome sight of new green shoots and yellow flowers swaying in the breeze, another sign that spring has sprung.

God’s glory is seen in his creation. Who tells the tern to leave the warm climes to come north to the best conditions to rear their young? Who causes the grass, flowers and trees to bud and blossom? Who causes the lambs to be born just when it is warm enough for them to survive.

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭61:11‬. NIV

An Invitation to be Still

Come stop.

Do you hear the click, click, click?

A flurry of Turnstones,

Along the shoreline,
Looking for insects,
Tasty, moist morsels,
On up-turned pebbles.
Ignore your ringing phone.
Do you see their darting bodies,
Brown and white, camouflaged.
Their beaks turn over stones
Among the seaweed
That glistens in the sun.
I cannot see God
But I see his Glory
In these little creatures.
Forget about shopping.
Don’t worry,
Dinner can wait.
Come stay a while.

An Appointment With Nature

 

Over the summer months I have been focusing on writing a book. I haven’t had much exercise; not even working in the garden or walking. Despite a minimum of attention tomatoes, herbs and flowers have blossomed in the sunny summer we have had. Butterflies flutter and swallows swoop overhead . They are enjoying the end of summer sunshine.

My body was telling me it needed some exercise. I feel a bit stiff after sitting at a desk for hours on end.  I needed to get away from my computer and books.  I needed to get outdoors to see life around me.

Yesterday I awoke early to a warm, bright morning and decided to go for a cycle. I prefer cycling to walking. It is not too taxing pushing my bike along the Loughshore Rd. The seashore was just to my right. I heard the sound of stones hitting one another and stopped to investigate. I counted ten turnstones, tiny seabirds, busily upturning small stones and feeding on the juicy morsels of insects exposed. The birds were well camouflaged against the brown and grey seaweed and stones. One wouldn’t know they were there except for the noise they were making. I was delighted to discover them on my trip outdoors.

Each time Brendan and I go for a walk there is always something going on in nature. On the way home I noticed a dozen teal ducks who had come ashore to drink fresh water from a brook that trickles down to the sea. They were resting and preening their feathers. They were safe, warming themselves in the morning sunshine. How beautiful? What have I been missing?

A speaker once said that Nature is the bible of creation. Jesus said “Look at the birds.” I learn a lot from watching birds.

This morning I was full of aches and pains after cycling. I was feeling sorry for myself and wanted to stay resting under the blankets. I didn’t want more pain from exercising. Brendan encouraged me to come down for breakfast. After a chat and food I was revitalised. I persevered to go cycling again. I decided to keep up the exercise. What has nature in store for me this morning?

I got my bicycle out again. I wasn’t disappointed. I stopped to rest at Ballyhenry Island. It was low tide. A flocks of seagulls were sunbathing. I heard the chugg chugg of a boat in the distance. It was setting out towards the marine station where research is taking place. I watched as it came close.

A tall black bird caught my eye in the distance. It was flapping its wings. Perhaps it was stretching after feeding. It continued to flap and stretch its wings for fifteen minutes. I was amazed at its energy.   It’s not easy to see a cormorant up close.  They keep their distance from danger.  When on the ferry one can catch a glimpse of a cormorant as it surfaces after diving for food.  Their short legs and streamlined body help them easily glid into the water.  They have been likened to penguins. Bird Island off Kircubbin is where they can safely nest and rear their young.

I thought of the following scripture,
“Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭148:7-12‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I imagined the cormorant was praising The Lord with its outstetched wings for more that fifteen minutes. I could not keep my arms raised for fifteen minutes. I marvelled as I watched the black bird in the distance.

It was time to return home. I look forward to tomorrow morning. What will the birds be doing?

The First Flowers of Spring.

My daughter, husband and four children came to visit yesterday. They have to make a three hour journey from the south of Ireland.  This was their Christmas visit as life was too busy for us all to see each other then.  The children have past the baby and play school stage. No buggies or car seats to contend with. Now the grandchildren are approaching the teenage years. Long legs and reaching arms need room.  They are blooming like the flowers Shann reached me.  Mark’s people carrier Jeep has served the family well.

They all poured out of the vehicle, glad of the stretch. We shared hugs, so glad to see each other. Bags of presents weren’t forgotten in the back seat. I didn’t notice their visiting student from Spain at first. She is staying with them for six weeks to improve her English. A student exchange has been working between Ireland and Spain for many years. The Spanish like the tone of the English the Irish use.

I remembered back to when we would take our children on trips in our van to the beach, the playground or a forest. They poured out of the van and ran in every direction like calves released from the stall. Brendan would whistle and they would come back when it was time for home.

We gathered in the kitchen for lunch. The children were excited to be back at Granda’s house.

“I’m sorry they’re a bit battered and bruised,” Shann said. I wasn’t paying attention as I reached a bowl from the cupboard. There was clattering of delph and cutlery as the girls set the table.
“Did Mark have to stop and deal with the children?” I said thinking it was the children Shann was talking about.  I looked up.  She was referring to the bunch of flowers she had given me.
We all had a good laugh. I love this first bunch of spring flowers.

“Did you come across on the ferry?” I asked Mark. “Yes” he said. “The attendant informed me there was a special offer on this Sunday. If you buy a return ticket we can deal with any children who have misbehaved. We throw them overboard.” We burst out laughing again. This is Irish humour. I hope the Spanish girl didn’t mind.

On the sunny afternoon all the girls headed down to the shore. Hannah arranged a competition to see who could pick the most sea glass for granny.  That was good idea because it motivated them to search all over the place. They had the extra blessing of seeing different birds, a heron, gulls, oystercatchers, Brent geese and redshanks.

Back at the house the treasure was displayed and counted. Ten points for each blue glass, five for green and three for white. The winner was announced, cheered and rewarded. They had good fun. I have the added benefit of all that sea glass to work with.

image

Meanwhile Mark, with some helpers loaded up bicycles, table and chairs he had stored with us since they moved house. He secured it to the top of the jeep. No worries with Mark. Too soon it was time to go. Mark sped off with a bigger load. I hope they got across on the ferry with no one or nothing going overboard.  A great day.

Bird Watching Again.

I’m telling my children who are returning for Christmas to make sure they bring warm hats and gloves. No we are not going skiing. I’m planning to go Bird Watching instead of Christmas shopping. I have plenty of binoculars to share and I am blessed to live by the an inland sea Lough which invites many birds to stop a while. I will not have to organize a long journey. There is a variety of bird life nearby.

I am being restored in my mind and body as I take time beside still waters as Psalm 23 says.

He leads me beside still waters to restore my soul.

I discovered a group of birds I had not encountered before yesterday. They were a delight to watch. I was happy to look at these birds for a while. God too is taking pleasure in his creation.
I was reading today from Revelation 4 v 8 to 11

8 Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”
9 Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), 10 the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

11 “You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created everything,
And it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.

When I returned home I got out my bird books. Brendan has bought me quite a few over the years. I looked up my favorite one. It gives pictures and descriptions of the most common birds found on our shores. There were all kinds of birds, ducks, geese, swans, sea gulls, oystercatchers, and waders but there was no sign of my discovery. I looked through another. It must have been bought in America. No luck here either.

At last I picked up a hard backed book with a picture on the front. At last. There on the front cover was my new discovery, a bird with a few feathers sticking up from its crown, a Lapwing.

image

According to the book the lapwing has green feathers on his back and wings. I was not close enough to see the green colour of the back wings. His underbody is white. The lapwing gather is flocks. When one takes flight they all do. Their black under feathers make up a full wing span and aides it to spin, twist and dive in flight.
This bird is distinctive because of the tuft of feathers on his head.

Yesterday this group of lapwings were resting along the shore. They were within easy sight as the full tide allowed the water to come up near the bank. They were well camouflaged amid the stones and seaweed on the shore.

I didn’t have my binoculars or note book with me. I will make sure we are fully equipped for our nature study day at Christmas time. Who knows what other residents or visitors to our Irish shores I will find when I next go bird watching.
It will not cost us money. There will be no temptation to overspend or visit coffee shops. Just a flask and a few nibbles will help the bird watchers to endure. They will enjoy it so much; a welcome change from work and study. Time to breathe fresh air, slow down and hang out together like the birds. Time to heal and be restored. A time for peace.