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March 2013

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Weekender



Mary Davies fancies
white doves



Last year my friends up in the mountains added to their varied collection of farmyard birds -
chickens and guinea fowl, ducks and geese - by acquiring, for the second time,
a small flock of doves. These most engaging creatures, semi-tame, spend part of
their time perched amongst the farm buildings looking down inquisitively onto
anyone below, before soaring off among the trees in a flash of white. Their
presence enhances the pleasures of a stroll around the farm and gardens.



The previous flock of some years ago ranged further afield. An elderly
farm neighbour took pleasure in offering feed, and they were often to be
glimpsed perched in anticipation on his outbuildings. But one pair chose to
build a nest in a corner of my friends' house close to the kitchen window,
using a drainpipe as support, and rivalling the martins as house guests under
the overhanging roof. Alas, they fell prey eventually to a neighbourhood
sparrowhawk.



These new doves roost on a platform in one of the barns, a modest affair
compared with the elaborate ornamental dovecotes embellishing the gardens of
great estates. There are two that I particularly remember, seen on garden visits
across the water. One is in a famous garden with strong Irish connections,
where a tall, circular dovecote is set into a wall. Approached by flagged
paving and beds of lavender, doves perch in the arches of its turreted top, and
the windows and door below are smothered in wisteria and roses. The other was
an unexpected find in a hillside arboretum, visited one May when a great
collection of magnolias was at its finest. The dovecote was tucked away in a
corner by the walled garden, home to a dozen white doves that sat preening on
the ridge tiles. They had an even better view than the visitors below of a
foaming mass of spring blossom stretching down the slope towards an expanse of
unspoilt countryside: neatly-hedged green fields with grazing cattle, small
farmsteads built of biscuit-coloured stone, trees just coming into leaf. It was
a place to pause and enjoy the view to the sound of blackbirds' song and cooing
doves.



My friends' doves have their own garden territory to be admired. The
snowdrops along the drive and the witch hazels are over, but the daffodils are
thrusting up and the buds are swelling on the great purple-leafed acer that
dominates one side of the vegetable garden. The rooks are nesting in the high
trees by the near field, and the sheep, still penned into their airy winter
quarters, are about to bring the farm's lambing season into full swing.


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