I love that feeling of waking in the mornings and knowing that for a change I'm not the first one up! I admit I'm an early riser and enjoy it, but it can be a bit lonely in the winter months waiting and hoping - usually in vain - for one of my brood to bring me a cup of tea while I'm still tucked up in bed.
But now we're firmly into spring it seems that the whole world is getting up hours before I do. And not just earlier but noisier, too. The sound of the singing spring birds with their mating calls at dawn are as rudely enthusiastic as any royal welcome and more reliable than a teasmade and alarm clock combined. Trevor, one of our neighbours in the village and an expert on birds, tells me he's seen around a dozen chiffchaff in the woods and three pairs of mating Water Rails. So that explains it!
The birds that live at the Lough over the colder months - winter ducks, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Shoveller, Teal and Little Grebe - left at the beginning of March, and now it's the turn of the spring arrivals to take up their sentry posts around The Tranquil Otter. All but a pair of Dave's (the resident mute swan) offspring had flown the nest during March and I've since noticed the arrival of a pair of Greylag geese as well as the mad chaffinch who attacks his reflection in any panes of glass or mirrors he can find. (Could it be the same one that guests at Chiffchaff Lodge had seen divebombing their kitchen window? I saw that one thoughtful guest in Dunnock Lodge had put a handkerchief over the wing mirror of their car, perhaps to save the chaffinch from himself. It's all in the genes...)
The Greylag geese have taken up residence in the little bay near our house, a favourite spot for both nesting birds and the heron when he is getting ready for an attack launch into the lake. And talking of nature red in tooth and claw, I really hope that the geese, once they've had their goslings, are better able to protect their little ones against the buzzards than they were a few years ago when a brood of eight was down to one by the end of the summer.
Nick and I saw a beautiful bird on the lawn this morning with a long beak and a white breast - we think it was a Little Ringed Plover - and later on in the day had to carefully step over a small toad that was making its way in no great hurry across the track that leads to the lodges. We stopped to watch its leisurely hopping gait for a few minutes before it decided it was being observed and declined to go any further. As we started to walk away, it carried on its journey - but this time, utterly beguilingly, crawling like a child on all fours.
As I reflect on the start of a new year of life for all the creatures who come and go at The Tranquil Otter, I think how amazing it is that, a bit like Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the ceremonies of nature happily go on without us yet under our noses - and how memorable to be one of the spectators.
Here is a full list of birds spotted at the Otter at Easter.
Blackbird, Blackcap, Black-headed gull, Blue tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal tit, Coot, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Greylag goose, Herring gull, House sparrow, Jay, Lapwing, Lesser black-backed gull, Lesser redpoll, Little grebe, Mallard, Mistle thrush, Moorhen, Mute swan, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Robin, Siskin, Song thrush, Sparrowhawk, Teal, Tufted duck, Water rail, Wigeon, Woodpigeon, Wren.