The Back Garden Naturalist

Written by Graham Wellstead.

As a lifelong enthusiasm for almost all things natural virtually controls my life – not quite every living thing, I admit to failure when it comes to enthusing my wife of 60 years. She does, however, enjoy watching the birds on our feeders, placed where she can see them, confined to the house and not just by lockdown. She places birds in two categories. Big ones and small ones. The big ones include crows, jackdaws, wood pigeons, magpies, starlings and the blur that is her brief sighting of the sparrow hawk, while anything sparrow sized is classed as small. Oddly, the blackbirds, are in the small category. I have tried to point out the difference between a great tit and a blue tit, or the male and female house sparrow to no avail. I am also careful not to mention the wild birds cost me more per annum than all my hawks and canaries. The fact that they give her joy is enough. It is not absolutely vital that we can all identify anything which comes into our view, as long as we receive pleasure and general benefit from doing so.

This morning, apart from the starlings which now number eleven – a family of five and a family of six, there are three pairs of wood pigeons but so far, only one fledgling (for those not sure, fledglings do not have the white patches either side of the neck. Big and boisterous as they don’t bother with panic behaviour and fly off, but to simply walk ahead of me. They do, all too swiftly clear the bird table, giving the small fry little opportunity, but they are still welcome. However, our collared dove male, son of a hand-reared bird some years ago is not quite so ambivalent. He packs a punch well above his weight. So far he has never backed down to wood pigeons, be they a single or two, perhaps three and drives them off the table every time.

His mate rarely involved herself in the rough housing but imperiously taps on the kitchen window if breakfast is late. Sarcastic comments, such as “What did your last servant die of,” are wasted.

What we have yet to see, is fledgling sparrows. Last year there were three broods and our flock number rose to in excess of sixty – hard to be sure as they come and go so quickly. We live in hope for we love our sparrows. Nest boxes under the eaves are occupied but too high to inspect.

The swifts are back, but oh so few. Will they ever make a home in our box. Always hopeful.

My garden does not host house martins or swallows, to see them I need to visit the college where I was teaching in my final working years. The stables had swallows and the main house, martins. I first saw martins at the age of ten, taken to a Somerset village, acting as map reader to a priest, visiting his old parish, and it was only when I had a Harris Hawk land on the roof of the college main house, that I heard their alarm call. They did not know he was no threat, he was not even curious, but I called him on anyway.

On the subject of alarms – my bird alarm went off a 3am this morning and I saw a fox, lit up by the security lights – to which he was oblivious. He was busy attacking the wire front of my Great Horned Owl’s home. In doing so he wrecked the display of borage across the front. Foxes are not my favourite people. I cannot put any bird of prey out on the weathering lawn during the day unattended. Three times I have lost birds to a fox in the middle of the day. I have yet to find a deterrent that works for any length of time and I have tried them all. I will not use snares, nor a gun. Shooting would be difficult as I don’t own a gun.

As I was writing this a cock pheasant flew in and landed too close to my hawk sitting on his perch. He jumped forward, and the pheasant promptly flew off. It happened in the blink of an eye and the bird was gone before I could turn for my camera. This is not a first, but it is unusual, happening only two or three times in forty five years, and we are at least two miles from any pheasant habitat.

Written by Graham Wellstead.

2 Thoughts

  1. Delightful commentary and lovely photographs! I don’t keep birds, but I am passionate about attracting them to our garden and, now that I am retired, make time to observe them daily. It is a tonic to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

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