Two red squirrels upside down on a bird feeder

Two red squirrels, the third was camera shy

Early morning and it looks idyllic out there. Buttering my toast I watch a scene Walt Disney would be proud of. Two –  no three! – red squirrels, frisky as kittens, chasing each other round the bird feeder.

Before breakfast Ray saw a brown hare in the field, long ears alert for dog walkers and other dangers. And now around the pond, randy mallard drakes are pursuing loudly protesting females while  two swans finish their mating ritual with elegant finesse, making a heart shape with  long necks. Spring has sprung at Pond Cottage.  But don’t be deceived, it’s a jungle out there.

We watch that beautifully choreographed mating dance with mixed feelings. Every year there’s a magic moment when the young ones appear  but we have learned that those fluffy bundles paddling after their mother can suddenly disappear. Nature has no time for frail or foolish young things.

“Survival of the fittest” on the pond depends on building nests well out of reach of marauding mink or other predators lurking in the undergrowth. This week a crow found the clutch of ducks eggs in a ferny hollow near the back door.  Empty shells now lie scattered on the ground.

Then there’s the weather. A sudden cold spell wipes out weaklings in the brood,  flash floods wash away nests.  One year, after heavy rain destroyed the swans’ woody platform, we watched the female transporting her young  to safety, the smallest cygnet snuggled between her wings.

Every year we marvel at the instincts that drive such determined hard work. It’s a tough life, feeding, keeping warm and perpetuating the species.  And it’s no softer in the city. Back at home this week Ray watched a sparrowhawk sweeping through the back garden, perching on the bird bath with a small dead bird in its talons before retiring to a tree to finish the meal with gusto. All within full view of the kitchen window. As a friend commented, it’s the sign of a healthy songbird population. Our overgrown garden is obviously now on the raptor list of recommended eating places.

But back to red squirrels. In the last three years they have become one of the great treats of staying at Pond Cottage. At first we wondered if they would be harmed by contact with pox-carrying greys but oddly the greys seem to have given way to the smaller, more photogenic reds.

Last week I spotted a notice at the farm shop, asking people to inform the local Squirrel Watch group of any sightings, red or grey, ending ominously “We Will Do The Rest”.  Our greys seem to have scarpered but even if they hadn’t I would be keeping quiet.  There’s quite enough killing in our back yard.