Sandra Dick: Open your eyes to nature on your doorstep

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Did you see it, that blue sky and golden ball of flame that together turned dull grey boredom into a blast of summer?

It appeared out of nowhere last week. And it seemed rude not to decamp into the garden to sit and stare at this rare, flighty beast called spring.

Grass cut, edges trimmed, weeds pulled, I stopped to contemplate the battered trampoline and the typical clutter of an average suburban garden and, suddenly aware I was being watched, glanced up.

A pair of house martins looked back, although perhaps not right at me, for I suspect they were looking at this freshly trimmed patch of grass wondering with little bird brains when the lardy lady below was going to move so they could swoop and make off with precious building material for a nest high in the eaves.

Fragile bodies so little they could comfortably sit in the palm of my hand. Dark blue-black jackets over pristine white bibs, and deceptively powerful wings that flapped tirelessly on a ridiculous commute from somewhere in central or even southern Africa. All the way to this fairly unimpressive garden in the heart of Scotland.

My little pair would have bashed on together – house martins usually mate for life – feeding on speck- sized insects on the wing, across the Sahara and miles of water, sat nav locked on their destination, somewhere near my back garden.

How utterly incredible is that?

Soon they’ll have hatched little white eggs, fed pleading mouths and spread tiny wings again for the return journey, some believe they fly non-stop, cruising high over north Africa and then, well, no-one really knows what then, because precisely where house martins spend their winters is an ornithological mystery.

They do that for five or six years, then these spectacular little birds reach their final destination with thousands of miles on the clock, bodies exhausted, job done.

Sadly, according to the British Ornithological Trust, numbers of these fascinating guests of summer are declining. It has now launched a nationwide survey aimed at gauging the extent of the loss and in the hope of unravelling some of its mysteries.

Funny how we sit in our chairs and watch nature programmes from around the world beamed into our living rooms when nature’s brilliance is playing in technicolour, on a 3D reel right outside our back door.

All we need is a little sun, some precious spare time and a reminder to occasionally look up.

To take part in the BOT survey, visit www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/house-martin-survey