I was recently confined to the house, a challenge to any wildlife watcher but fortunately I had stocked up the bird table and in the days before I had ventured out as often as possible to accrue some outdoor credits. I held on to the awed period we had spent marvelling at a starling flock, random yet synchronised swoops of hundreds of birds darkening a patch of late evening sky. A lone starling fed at the table a few days later, this close up view of shimmering plumage reinforced my promise to not undervalue this pretty and skilful bird.
A short cycle of the lanes led to two close up Brock encounters, the first a pair spilling out across our path, the second a juvenile running alongside us until we could slow avoiding a collision. The canal side plants are shifting up a gear, pussy willows are bursting and shortly the blowsy blossoms of the blackthorn will burst; the blackthorns’ impatient flowers are always ahead of their leaves and the other hedge row show-offs.
From the front and back windows our local farmers had prepared a number of fields ready for this years' crop. Rooks strutted their stuff up front and to the rear black headed gulls made the most of the freshly turned soil. I was unable to hear the calls of both busy flocks but enjoyed their garrulous pleasure in each others company. The bird table attracted the usual ground hopping sparrows, dunnock, chaffinches, collared dove, great tit and a pair of sleek jackdaws. The Jackdaws distinctive call followed me into the dining room as yet again they occupied our disused chimney, maybe they will have a word with the house mice who have joined us in great numbers this winter!
A quick dash outside to fetch kindling left me with a puzzle. A subtly patterned moth had landed on my slippers, its identity only being solved by much more knowledgeable friends, a Dotted border. I sent them a photo and was rewarded by an ID by the end of the day. Intriguingly I was informed the female is flightless staying in the hedges and bushes of their preferred habitat. A disturbed Engrailed moth settled on the kitchen wall, this one I photographed again and then with the incredible on-line resources got a name for this friendly flying invertebrate.
The sparrows still form mobbing gangs of eaters; one such group included a pair of yellow hammers. I remember the male calling repeatedly from the hedge alongside the garden last year. Yellowhammers are very vulnerable to predation by the corvid family that is rooks, crows, jackdaws and magpies. Fledging success for yellowhammers is directly related to invertebrate abundance near the nest site. When corvids are present the Yellowhammer will make fewer provisioning visits, this slows the growth and condition of the chicks, reducing body size and life span. A recent study showed that food availability enhanced by wide headlands and other measures may actually prove more effective than corvid control. For our yellowhammers I need to plan a little insect enrichment for healthier and longer lived broods if I wish to go on enjoying their glorious song.
The days are warming and I will shortly be back outside again, camera ready, and hopefully recharged to cope with the on coming freight train that is Spring proper!
Pete Lambert, 2011