Birds of a feather

100_0479My heart was in my mouth. I was sitting at the traffic junction in our small town where six roads meet and compete for the lights.  Would the traffic stop? A duck was slowly waddling across the road with a clutch of tiny ducklings in tow. They made it to the pavement which would lead them along to the river in the middle of town, with just one hiccup over two slow ducklings who stopped to drink from a puddle, and which an impatient woman nearly cleaned up as she got tired of waiting.

This is the duck season. We become very conscious of them as they shepherd their progeny across busy roads, oblivious of the killing machines skidding to a halt yards from them.

A friend told me how in the middle of the busy village street, he stopped to let a mother pass while her babies all scuttled to safety on the pavement, but she wouldn’t move from the middle of the road. As he wondered how long she was going to obstinately stand there, suddenly two recalcitrant toddlers made a dash from the other side to catch up with their mother and siblings. Ducks can count!

The same thrush (I think) who made life difficult for us last year, by nesting in the honeysuckle by the side door of the garage has returned, and I in-advertently uncovered this year’s nest as I began to trim the overhanging ivy on the arch into the garden from the garage. I saw with horror a beautiful blue egg in the exquisitely woven little nest, and hastily covered it with strands of the trimmed ivy.

I blocked the arch with a rake and a hoe and a plank of wood across the top of the steps to stop anyone using it, so now everyone has to go the long way round from the garage. (see pic above!) I tiptoed up the next day, to check if the bird had returned, and as I stood peering intently into the tangle of ivy leaves, I suddenly realised that a beady yellow- rimmed eye was staring at me. I backed away very slowly, apologising softly for my intrusion.

A grey heron unexpectedly circled in front of my car as I drove between spring- green trees and hawthorn hedges encrusted with white blossom this morning; and I noticed that the striking paradise ducks with black, white and sherry coloured plumage who mate for life, seem to have disappeared from their usual haunts – to tend their nests too, I presume.

Driving home in the dusk a few nights ago, I saw what I thought were burrs on the road in front of me, but they were moving. As I swerved, I realised that the tiny balls of black fluff rolling to the side of the road were probably paradise duck babies. They all start off as balls of fluff, and then the brown mallards develop tiny yellow legs and webbed feet that scurry frantically across the road, beautiful little creatures with not an ugly duckling among them.

Years ago as we walked down the lane by our house, being towed by two shaggy afghan hounds and a cavalier King Charles spaniel, I was consoling the children about the village fete, and their spurned handicraft entries.  “The thing is,” said my ten year old daughter, “other mothers think their ugly ducklings will grow into swans, but you think we’re swans already!”

Not surprising when I thought about it… swans had been part of my life as a child. We lived close to a lake called the Backwater. It had once been a tidal inlet, until the local authorities had built a bridge which blocked the flow from Weymouth Harbour. Until then the tide had washed up and down this long channel, where there’s evidence that the Romans once had a small port at the end of the inlet where we lived. There’s a legend that later, when the Vikings made their first raid on England at Portland just round the corner, they also pushed their way up the Backwater in AD 787.  Later the Saxons settled around here among local British tribes who‘d been inhabiting the area since Mesolithic times – 12,500 BC. (Genetic experiments have shown that a significant segment of the modern population here are descended from those original Mesolithic inhabitants.)

 When I knew the Backwater, neither  Stone Age coracle nor Viking long-boat could have rowed up the now tide-less water, for thick beds of reeds had spread to give safe cover for the big, white mute swans to build their nests and hide their cygnets. I used to walk my dolls pram down to the edge of the lake and throw them bits of bread. On the grass the other side of the road edging the water, the Americans had had all their tanks and armoured vehicles lined up row on row before they left for D-day, thus reversing the ancient pattern of invasion, and taking fire and sword back to the mainland.

There are so many legends and folk tales about swans, the commonest being that their nearly ten foot wide wing span can break a man’s arm. This is one of the long-running jokes in Sue Townsend’s gloriously funny book, ‘Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ Adrian buys a trendy flat in a disused warehouse alongside the river, and discovers too late that a posse of swans consider this place to be their territory. Everyone who visits the hapless Adrian ends up warning him, “A swan can break a man’s arm, you know”.

They mate for life too, and I love the names of the different species: as well as the mute swans, there are trumpeter swans, whooper swans, tundra swans, and the Bewick, a sub-tribe of the tundra clan. The biggest populations of wild swans live in Russia, and it’s believed that the only reason swans didn’t become extinct in England un medieval times – since they were good eating – was that though everyone cut a notch in the feet of their own swans, birds without the notch were considered to be the sovereign’s property and protected by a royal swan herdsman. This preserved the native species. And as for cygnets, who can forget the all male corps de ballet who performed at Covent Garden, and then made their breath-taking and tantalisingly  brief appearance in the film ‘Billy Eliot?’

We only have the non-native black swan here, immigrants from Australia who now populate various lakes around the North Island in great numbers. I remember my disbelief when I saw the one black swan on the lake at Kew Gardens as a little girl. I love them now. The evil black swan queen in Swan Lake gives black swans an undeserved bad name – they are elegant, peace-loving family-oriented birds, loyal to each other, male and female raising their families of cygnets together year after year. 

It seems appropriate that all our swans here are black, when I consider that New Zealand’s  national colour is black… the All-Blacks play rugby, the NZ cricket team wears black, as does our Olympic team, the America’s Cup yachtsmen  and all other sports teams. And statuesque Maori women look magnificent in their black mourning with wreaths of green leaves around their heads, as they perform the ancient karakia or grieving  chants with their graceful waving arm movements. Black is indeed Beautiful in this country !

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

A green-thumbed – or is it green fingered –  neighbour generously left a bag of goodies outside the door the other day. Among them were delicious, tender young leeks and green cauliflower. They deserved a dish of their own so I used a recipe I’d just found. Steam enough cauliflower to fill a cup when mashed. Cut the leeks into rounds, and sauté in butter until tender. (I always put a little oil in too, so the butter doesn’t burn) Mix the cauliflower and tender leeks with an egg, a good quarter of a cup of flour, two tablesp of parsley and one of chopped dill, a good grinding of black pepper and half a teasp of salt. Form the mixture into patties and fry on both sides. I sprinkled them with plenty of Parmesan, but I would think crumbled goats cheese would be good too. Next time I try them I shall use coriander, and mix in some crumbled goats cheese.

 

Food for thought

From Midrashim: Proverbs 6.6

Go to the ant, you sluggard,

and watch it lug an object

forward single file

with no short breaks for

coffee, gossip, a croissant,

And no stopping to apostrophize

blossom, by-passed because

pollen is not its job,

no pause for trampled companions:

consider her ways – and be content.

David Curzon, born 1951 – poet, essayist, translator and United Nations official retiring in 2001.

 

 

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83 Comments

Filed under ballet, birds, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, history, poetry, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

83 responses to “Birds of a feather

  1. We have Canadian geese and Mallard ducks here in great numbers. People consider them a nuisance but I think they are just lovely and so graceful!

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  2. talesfromthelou

    Suffering succotash Valerie! Lovely.

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  3. Nice one!
    We had those mother duck crossings in Seattle.
    Also loved the photograph.

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  4. How did these little fellows survive Violetta ? Ralph xox 😀
    .

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  5. Dearest Valerie,

    The room is dark, light shades pulled low and tight, and quiet save for the sound of water moving in pipes between the walls. I rise to prepare for the coming night on the summit and in the e-mail queue is news of your post. I sit, open Birds of a Feather, and read.

    It is as though I am a guest at a feast set in a forrest by the sea. Seated next to me are strangers for the most part, though here and there I recognize names of a few friends. We sit in silence and anticipation as each course is set and we consume every delicious morsel, then wipe our plates with the crusts of a paragraph revisited or a scene re-imagined.

    Dessert comes in the form of Food for Threadbare Gourmets, an addition that I read and confess I may never put to good use for lack of skill and an abundance of ineptitude in the kitchen. But it is written by you and as such, every bit is savored.

    From the glen where your rich table is set emanates the soft sound of contented sighs.

    Kia Ora,

    Doug

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    • Dearest Doug,
      You spoil me with your beautiful comments – what a delicious way to think about the blog… I would certainly love to feast you, rather than give you what I suppose would be called a virtual feast!
      What a gorgeous metaphor -‘ wipe our plates with the crusts of a paragraph revisited or a scene re-imagined” … I love it…
      I never visualised you reading the recipes…I hope some of them make your mouth water!
      With love, dear friend

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  6. Behind the Story

    I love that you speak well of black swans. I immediately googled them and found that they’re quite beautiful with their bright red bills. Their feathers make a lovely evening gown.

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    • Yes, … I think I would speak well of any creature… I always feel so sad when one or other is demonised and dislike or disapproval is heaped on them… they are beautiful aren’t they? So good to hear from you, thank you..

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  7. The creatures small have no less rights than us

    Peace and blessings,
    Eric

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  8. I love watching the swans and paradise ducks with their little ones. We have some beautiful places for birdwatching around Christchurch, but, as you show in your post, there is also plenty of bird life to watch on the home front. Your recipe this week is intriguing. I have leeks in the garden but am lacking a cauliflower so that is a recipe to put on hold. Speaking of family affection, have you seen the lovely official christening photos of Prince George? Gorgeous, gorgeous.

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  9. You tell a beautiful tale of such diversity there that I could almost see it. I’m very lucky to have a Heritage Park as a close neigbour and often see a black swan on one of the Monks Fish Pools with a few white ones and we do get the ducks crossing the road and walking their charges past the shops.
    Thanks for a lovely start to my day.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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    • Thank you David, that’s a lovely thought that the post gave your day a good start…
      Ducks are delicious aren’t they, the way they waddle along followed by their little crocodile of furry bodies…XXX

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  10. I love black swans, too!

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  11. I just received a message from a friend in ChCh who slowed down for ducks crossing the road and was hit by another car from behind. It’s not just dangerous for the ducks it seems. Best to drive cautiously during the season. Happy that egg hatched ok too 🙂

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  12. Your reflections on black swans make an enjoyable read.
    When black swans were introduced in our local park, they got the most bread crumbs because, just like you said, they are true beauties.

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  13. What’s more, Black Swans are dominated and bossed by Mute Swans,
    which is why in England they’re generally found on reservoirs or estuaries, which can’t be totally dominated by a pair of Mutes.

    On reversing the traditional pattern of invasion, of course plenty of English armies massed in Southern England for France in the Middle Ages, but the kings would have said they were asserting their rights, not invading. Increasingly the French saw it differently!

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    • Thank you so much for joining the conversation, Simon – oh yes, how could I have forgotten Poitiers and Agincourt, thank you for reminding me… Blenheim, Waterloo and the Peninsula wars I class as rescuing the balance of power !!! I didn’t know the poor black swans had such a raw deal from the others… in fact I hadn’t realised that there were any in England outside Kew Gardens…you live and learn in this business !!!

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  14. As always, you stun me with the beauty of your thoughts and words. I love the swans. I had to giggle a bit about the ducks, mothers are wonderful aren’t they; whether furred, feathered or finned it seems.

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  15. Luanne

    I loved following that thread from mama and baby ducks to the color black! We have quail in my yard and in my neighborhood, and I am always worrying about the chicks following the mother and the brave father who brings up the rear, bobbing his head around watching for danger.
    Valerie, thanks for inviting me into your beautiful world.

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    • Thank you Luanne – so glad you enjoyed it, and lovely to hear from you. You lucky thing having quail in your garden… we don’t have them here – I think the cats have done for them, but they are the most precious little creatures aren’t they – and such devoted responsible parents !

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  16. I loved each and every sentence of this post…I kept thinking of my favorite tales as you wrote…the Swan Maiden and the Six Swan Princess by, humm I think Hans Christian Andersen, Then there is the Ballet of Swan Lake…I so love how swans are really a part of our lives even in a ‘fantasy’ way. We have no swans here…although, there are swans around Yellow Stone in Wyoming. I don’t know why we don’t have them…I wish we did.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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    • Dear LInda,
      Thank you – so glad you enjoyed the ducks and the swans…I’ve found some exquisite versions of the ballet Swan Lake on Youtube if you’re interested…
      And the video Gita4elamats sent in, above, on the black swans is absolutely glorious….if you have time to watch it, you’ll love it…

      Like

  17. Valerie – It is posts such as this that kept you in my mind as I was updating my website. I neglected to ask permission as you were on hiatus so just took the liberty of including you. I too have been away from posting for a bit due to all sorts of unpleasant things but hope to start back soon. Here is the link – Email me if there is an objection! http://www.lesleyfletcher.com/Friends_and_Resources.php

    thanks 🙂

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    • Lesley, what a lovely lovely recommendation, and how beautiful your web-site is… I loved your pictures… really, really special, gentle, refined and delicious !!! If it’s no trouble would it be possible to spell my name with an ‘e’ – Davies? It’s a nuisance, but you know how fussy computers are, even about dots! Thank you for the lovely things you say Lesley… it’s this sort of encouragement which is not just good for morale, but good for one’s writing. I’ve noticed how I have the courage to write things I would have thought no-one would be interested in before I started blogging – so thank you again…!

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  18. The only bird crossing our roads are ibis’s. Few ducks here, but I do love to get behind a car that has stopped in the middle of the road to move a tortoise to the other side of the road. I can only imagine the beauty of a swan, especially the black swan.

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    • A tortoise – that would be something, and an irresistible temptation to take home ! And Ibis’s too… we all have our little share of nature – yours somewhat more exotic! And yes, the swans are so elegant , as long as they stay in the water !

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  19. We were lost – no question – in the middle of a vast wilderness in northern Manitoba. We had gone for a picnic and hike. There were five of us around 11 years old, guided by a young woman just barely out of her teens. We should have circled the lake which would have taken us back to the road, but the idea of taking a short-cut was too tempting. We walked for miles it seemed, but we never reached any road. It was getting dark and cold; we did not have the proper clothing for an overnight stay. We all heard the ominous sound of a bear nearby.

    Then the miracle happened. Above us was a solitary loon. It would fly away and then come back – over and over, until we decided to follow him. He never left us until we came to the road, which, if I remember correctly was about a 30 minute walk. Once we had reached the road, he seemed to know we were safe. I will always remember, with gratitude, the help of a fellow creature. I still see him flying away for the last time.

    “The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird

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    • Rebecca, what a glorious story and a true one. How simply beautiful and what a story to tell your grand-children. I loved Barrie’s words too. Your lovely story reminded me of a story here a few years ago, when some youngsters were frolicking out in the sea, and suddenly a group of dolphins appeared and surrounded them and determinedly nudged them back to shore. The onlookers could that they were shielding the teenagers from a circling shark ! Thank you for a real gift….

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  20. You remind me, dear Valerie, that I’ve not made the short walk to the Hudson River in a long time. I should go down to see what the Canada geese and the ducks are up to! I didn’t know black was New Zealand’s color. Why was it chosen? In NYC we, of course, think we discovered the beauty and versatility of black all on our own. Lately, however, I’ve been embracing color with abandon! It’s lovely to visit you! xoxoM

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    • So good to hear from you Margarita … I remember your duck and geese pics from last year, especially after the great storm !
      I have no idea why NZ chose black… I often wish we had a brighter colour!

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  21. When you write description, Valerie, I’m entranced. As I read, I question…would I have noticed that texture…that colour…that contrast?

    Last night I watched a great movie about a young artist determined to study under a cantankerous, cynical, retired artist: “True Colours”. Loved it!

    The old artist gave the young man a lesson in clouds. I thought how you, Valerie, would likely have noticed all those colours in clouds that others would simply describe as “white”.

    Thanks so much for taking such care with our beloved creatures!

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    • Amy, thank you for the lovely compliment… I wonder if the old artist was talking about mindfulness in artists terms instead of metaphysical terms?
      As you can see from reading these comments the world is full of people who feel the same about all creatures… isn’t it cheering !

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  22. I do long for a civilized country. Here, ducks, monkeys, buck, mongooses or straying pets are either quick or dead. Anyone stopping for them is subjected to outraged blasts from all the other motorists.

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    • Oh good friend, I can understand the sadness you must feel…that is so depressing and upsetting…I can only send you some warm fuzzies, and pray for the world to change and only love prevail, as one of my grandsons quoted to me when he was little….

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  23. Thank-you for telling me more about those lovely kinds of swans.

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  24. They are lovely aren’t they… thank you for coming and reading

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  25. Love, love, love this post, Valerie. Welcome back to blogging! There’s so much here that I lost count of the mental notes I made to myself as I read: motherhood and mothering–perennially shepherding little ones, of whatever species, to safety (awakening so many memories of my own); your beautifully evocative description of the Backwater (putting me in mind of Arthur Ransome’s Coot Club and other books set on the Norfolk Broads); the longue durée of history in all your posts–this one going all the way back to Mesolithic times; that Sue Townsend book that I must get hold of; the green cauliflower (young or really green in color?) patties that made my mouth water and that, then and there, I determined to make at the next possible opportunity; and the enigmatic “consider her ways—and be content.”
    Thank you.

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  26. Josna
    Thank you so much for the beautiful bouquet you’ve given me – as a writer you would know how satisfying it is when readers Notice things in your writing, and it was such a treat to read all the things you’d picked up… The Sue Townsend book is not to be missed, hilarious, witty and utterly poignant, and yes, the caulifower is actually green – don’t think it made any difference to the flavour!
    You were the only person who seemed to notice that little poem, which you described so aptly as enigmatic.
    Your comment was such a gift – thank you good friend.

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  27. Hello Valerie, I hope your thrushes manage to raise a healthy brood this summer.

    I’ve heard no stories of a swan actually breaking an arm, but there was a story of in the local newspaper in Northampton some years ago of a male mute swan protecting his cygnets who attacked and drowned an alsatian dog who swam too close! They’re magnificent birds with a strong sense of familial duty – many humans could learn from them.

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    • So good to hear from you Finn… I think the thrushes are going well, though I resist the temptation to creep up and check ! Yes, I think most animals are ferocious when their young are threatened, and I support them! And yes, swans Are magnificent, I agree …

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  28. Dear Valerie,

    Your posts are delightfully picturesque. This one put me in mind of the time I was driving home and was stopped by a goose and her line of goslings behind her. Since no one was ahead of me I took out my phone and snapped some pictures while I waited for them to cross. My old cell was too small to get decent photos but the one that remains in my mind is sharp and clear.
    Thank you for the wealth of knowledge you so generously share.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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    • Thank you so much Rochelle – lovely to hear from you.. I love the picture you painted of the goose and her goslings. I love geese…. Rochelle you too have a fund of facts that you manage to share with us in your thumbnail portraits of a moment in time! Best, Valerie

      Like

  29. Richard Ebbett

    Valerie

    I forgot to mention that yesterday morning I was puzzled by a very audible honking. Yes, a pair of paradise ducks were in our pohutukawa tree, where they stayed most of the morning. One mostly black, the other with a gorgeous brown and white combination.

    Glad you are back blogging.

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  30. Delightful as always, Valerie!

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  31. I just love what your daughter said about the ugly ducklings. How gorgeous that she felt so affirmed by you! We have many black swans here in the bay. They are beautiful beings – you here their cosseting calls to each other at night. And there are some great Indigenous stories about them, too.

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    • Lovely to get your message Alarna.. and the lovely things you said…
      I love the idea of ‘their cosseting calls to each other at night’,
      Did you see the gorgeous video on black swans nesting that someone sent… it was so moving, and exquisite…
      I’ve just dug out an old book of the children’s about Indigenous legends, and will enjoy re-reading them…

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      • I’ve just watched it now. It’s absolutely beautiful 🙂

        Incidentally, here’s a little animation I was involved in organising – it’s a local indigenous story, made by a school group with one of the indigenous elders. It wasn’t uploaded very well, but the story is gorgeous…

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      • what an adorable little creation… the children were so sweet, and the story… well… those stories are always enchanting !!! Thank you for sending it XXX

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  32. What a beautiful read and I just love Ralph’s video of the baby duck
    Ins.
    For me, your lovely lyrical descriptions brought back the memory of watching swans land on the creek when I was six and we had just moved from the city to Cornwall and I was so excited and impressed by how they flew in, put their webbed feet out to land and brake and then were so beautifully serene again. Taking off again was also a spectacle.thank you for the memory – and for the delicious recipe. 🙂

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  33. Sally, thank you for your lovely comment – such a vivid description of swans landing., you brought back more memories.
    Yes wasn’t Ralph’s video just the sweetest thing. So was the one about black swans, very gentle and moving…..

    Like

  34. Pingback: Whooper swan and ibis on Vlieland island | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  35. First of all I would like to say wonderful blog!
    I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

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    Like

    • Hello, this comment came into my spam box, so I’m not sure how genuine it is…
      if it’s a bona fide enquiry, my answer to your question would be:
      I always know what I’m going to write about before I start.
      I always do any research that’s needed before I start…
      I often plan in my head how I’m going to write it
      OR
      I meditate, say a prayer for guidance and start writing, iT usually flows, but I NEVER sit wondering… I just start writing.
      IF you have to go back and sharpen up the beginning that’s fine… but when you start writing, the ideas usually flow..
      Hope this is some help….

      Like

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