Soundscape – a midsummer evening in my garden

The back garden of this house faces south-east.  This means it’s a suntrap until after lunch – perfect for drying laundry, less good for frazzling my Fitzpatrick Type I skin – while in the evening it is a cool, calm sanctuary on even the hottest of days.  It’s been 27 degrees Celsius today, and this evening we sit outside with our books and our coffee and are comfortable for the first time since dawn.

I finish a chapter, and close my eyes.  I can hear choral music from one of the houses further along the estate.  A car draws up, doors slam.  Voices are raised in greeting.  Over on the other side, a toddler cries.  Cars and the occasional larger vehicle pass along the main-ish road at the front of the house.  Ewes and lambs call to each other – contralto, treble – in the field behind the estate.

Most of what I can hear, though, is birds.  Sparrows cheeping monosyllabically in the little lime tree beyond the fence.  It seems to be a good year for the house martins, and there are dozens of them cruising around the sky over the gardens, chirruping and scooping up the evening’s crop of insects.  They flap-flap-flap-glide, chubby little bodies with stumpy tails and triangular wings, perpetually looking as if they are about to crash.  This evening they are joined by a lone swallow, elegant, long tail streaming.

A passenger plane crosses behind the martins, tinted pink by the setting sun.  With a crash and a rumble, a tractor and trailer passes, the trailer full of silage – they’ve been going past at all hours for much of the last month, gathering fodder in preparation for the winter.

And now there’s a new sound, as a squadron of shrieking sickles moves into the airspace high over the estate.  The swifts are here!  They’ve been in the valley for a few weeks now, but mostly hunting for insects over the river.  From my study in the attic, which faces that way, I hear their screams all day.  Their forays over the estate are rarer, though, and all the more special.  There are about twenty of them this evening, freestyling through the air, their squeals the very essence of being alive.

It’s turned chillier now, and it’s getting dark – almost time to go back indoors.  But a tinkle of birdsong proves, on investigation, to be a goldfinch on the roof of the house opposite.  Usually there’s a group – a ‘charm’ – who frequent the bird feeders in their garden, but this time there’s just one.  He tunes up, does a few practice runs, then fills the cool air with his rippling song.  Into the silence that follows, the swifts screech in for one last, scything fly-past.

A border of lavender and nigella in the sunshine, in front of a garden wall with a bench in the background.

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