The afternoon sun had dried up the morning rain and it was steamy hot. Down at the pond Big Magda was holding court as usual. All around the banks of the pond the soil seemed to be quivering restlessly. A thousand tiny froglets were scuttling and hopping to and fro, under the watchful eyes of Hyacinth, Marigold and Iris. Trevor was lounging against the spikes of a clump of rushes, making goggle eyes at Magda.
Out of nowhere a black and white arrowhead plummeted from the sky, pulling back just short of the surface of the pond, skimming the waterlilies, before climbing again and disappearing, a tiny speck in the blue sky. The froglets scattered in every direction. The girls leapt under the largest lily pad and Trevor tripped over the rushes in panic and fell head first into a bubbling pool of blanket weed.
Magda leaned back against the stepping stones and rolled her eyes wearily.
“Wh..what was that” stammered Trevor as he struggled to free himself from the weed, under the watchful eye of a startled froglet.
“It’s June – come on ladies, what does that mean?” Magda looked at the three frogs sheltering under the big green lily pad.
“Damselflies” offered Hyacinth tentatively.
“Did that look like a Damselfly?”
“Damselflies are blue everyone knows that” interjected Marigold officiously, earning herself a speaking look from Hyacinth.
“It’s the house martins at last” chirruped Iris, realisation dawning on her shiny green face “they are back!”
Lily trotted over to see what all the jumping and chirruping in the pond was about. She dipped a paw in the water speculatively. Green weed tangled over her paw. Nope, she wasn’t going in any further….
“What’s the news Magda, anything exciting?” she panted.
“Just the house martins back wee Lily, I ‘spect you’ve seen the nests at the big house”, Magda waved a regal hand in the direction of the house.
Lily tipped her head to one side so as to think better, this always helped. “Do you mean the new black and white birdies that have stuck their nests to the windows?”
“Gracious me” said Magda “they aren’t new. They’ve lived here much longer than you bonny lass”.
Lily wrinkled her nose with effort. “I’m sure they weren’t here before, when I came to live here and there was that nice cold white stuff on the grass.”
“This is their summer place” explained Magda patiently, Lily was just a pup after all, “they come here every summer, when it’s toasty and warm like now, to lay their eggs and raise some chicks. In the winter they go to their winter place – Afrikky if I’m no mistaken – where they nellefants hail frae – Hamish can put ye right on that – he’s the very boy for nellefants”.
Hearing his name Hamish ambled over. “What about nellefants?”
“I was telling Lily here aboot the house martins coming frae Afrikky, where the nellefants live”
“Zactly” Hamish nodded sagely. “Loads o’ nellefants, all over the place. They eat buns you know – I seed one at the Zoo. There is bun trees in Affriky”
Lily was partial to buns and thought that this Affriky sounded promising.
“Burny burny hot tho, much hotter than here” Hamish added, shaking his head sorrowfully.
“Oh well, that’s out” thought Lily. She did not like the hot weather and had been spending the last few days carting her favourite bone between shady spots as the sun moved over the garden. Mum had taken pity on her yesterday and provided a chicken ice lolly.
“Do the house martins eat buns then?” she asked, wondering if she might have to share.
Magda laughed so hard she nearly fell off the stepping stone. Clutching weakly at the edge of the stone she pointed up to the sky where another black and while arrow was hurtling down.
“Ye kin ask her yersel. Here, Roaa, the wee dog is wondering what you eat”
“Can’t stop, chicks to feed, looking for flies, flies and bugs, bugs and flies….”
The bird streaked low over the water then climbed again heading for the windows of the house, where little oval houses had sprouted, almost overnight, in every window. Lily felt quite exhausted just watching the aeronautics. She turned to the fence to see what the coos were up to. Now they were steady, relaxing animals. Lily often went for a mooch with the Catrionas, her special friends. They would snuffle in the hay together and watch the world go by quite contentedly.
But something was not right in the field. Little Wonky, the smaller Shuna, was positively jigging, kicking her legs and thrashing her tail about and Shuna Spurtle, her big sister, was looking most annoyed (though that was less unusual – Shuna Spurtle was a coo with a grievance).
Lily poked her nose through the fence and shouted for Catriona the 23rd.
“what’s up with the Shunas?”
“It’s the horse flies. The rain yesterday seems to have brought them out and they are biting like billyo. Look..”
She thrust her pink nose out and sure enough there was a big red, angry bite. Lily licked it sympathetically.
“Thanks. It doesn’t seem fair – its not like we’re even horses. They must have noticed – we’ve got horns. She tossed her ginger head proudly, flourishing her horns.”
“Watch out – you nearly pierced my ear!” complained Lily.
Catriona and Lily tried to snuggle down for a gossip, but it was no good, Catriona was all of a twitch with the flies. Lily found herself scratching in sympathy, even though there was no way a fly could get through her thick fluffy undercoat. She rolled on her back and sighed. Far above her the house martins were wheeling and diving in an impressive display.
That was it! Lily leaped up jumping and yelping “Mrs Roaa, Mrs Roaa over here”. Her heart leaped into her mouth as she saw the bird drop like a stone, but, just a daisy length before crashing onto the ground, Roaa pulled up and gently alighted.
“Mrs Roaa do you eat horse flies?”
“The big black ones?”
Catriona made a face “yes the big horrible black ones with pointy stings”
“mmmmmm nom nom nom my favourite” said the little bird.
“Well be our guest” mooed Catriona “they are all over this field and driving us demented. Bring your friends!”
“Why thank you kindly” the little bird bowed solemnly and then, in a flash of black and white, shot upward.
Not ten seconds later the house martins, and their neighbours the swallows from The Dovecote, seemed to be weaving a complex lace in the sky above the field, swooping and crossing, twisting and diving.
“You know” said Catriona, chewing thoughtfully, “I think that’s better already. Now, settle down and do tell me all about your trip to the puppy groomer………”