Watching the bird feeders this morning, a family of great tits arrived with much cheeping and rustling of leaves through the trees. The fledglings were being shown how to search through the leafy boughs for insects before visiting the fat ball feeder under the strict supervision of their parents. They were closely followed by a fleeting visitor to the garden, a female great spotted woodpecker enticed out of the local wood by the fat balls, presumably with a brood somewhere to feed. These quick snapshots of their lives are such a pleasure to watch and this year has seen not only the most extraordinary weather but also its fair share of wildlife surprises in the garden.
Like the wrens. Watching from the kitchen window one morning I could see a small commotion occurring on the lawn. I rushed out to find, not some distressed squirrel as I thought but two wrens, locked in mortal combat, rolling across the grass. One had his adversary's foot in its beak and the other had its beak full of wing, kicking and scratching as, like some mad acrobatic team, they tumbled and rolled right across my feet, oblivious to me being there. They fought their way across the garden and rolled through to the next and out of sight.
Then there was the collared dove chick whose nest was destroyed by a storm. We all spent a anxious day watching with the parents as they slowly coaxed it back up from the ground to the fence, then the pergola, then finally back into the safety of the trees.
A couple of perfect twilights watching bats catch insects under a near-full moon. Silently chasing in from the woods and flying low through the garden, little more than ragged shadows torn from the night sky.
What about this year's squirrels, or squirrel, I should say. Lil' Scrumpy, the most scratchy, twitchy, skinny little thing and hilariously adept at scrumpying the bird food. She's destroyed at least two feeders this season and yet, just yesterday, she was back again, with two youngsters in tow. One like a chipmunk, 'Chip' and the other a bigger, fatter version, 'Buttie'. Chip and Buttie will join other squirrels fondly remembered over the years, like Scampi and Chips, surely the fattest squirrels ever who used to gorge on whole fat balls stolen from the bird feeders!
A late-night encounter with a dog fox, slinking through the garden after a clandestine date. (The fox, not me!) A pair of lovely greenfinches always feeding together and a sprinkling of long-tailed tits. A robin, building her nest directly in line with the kitchen window and then the male feeding her a few feet away from the window every day.
Early morning encounters with jays as they decided to build their nest in a neighbour's garden rather than the woods, allowing me to watch them retrieve sticks each day.
And this year, two weeks early, the arrival of the swifts and not the the one or two like last year but up to a dozen delightful swooping, sweeping, soaring boomerangs high above the trees.
As the birds and larger mammals retreat back into the woodlands and abundant summer approaches, my thoughts are turning to the next garden visitors. The bees, moths and butterflies and the garden inhabitants already waiting in the flowerbeds, the little bush crickets dodging the spiders, too young to sing yet.
Soon the dragonflies will be hunting over the hedges, zooming in low under the patio umbrella on lazy evenings and the air will be ripe with whirring and chirruping from all manner of insects. I can't wait to watch it all happen in the summer garden.