Monthly Archives: June 2015

When Woodpeckers Don’t Peck Wood

My brother’s home is an old timber-framed hall house, rescued by him and his wife from impending ruin but now comfortable for humans, cats and bats. This year a new species moved in.

The space between the timbers is filled with painted fibrous panels, a number of which have had neat round holes drilled into the top right-hand corner – always the top right-hand corner – by woodpeckers. Just one hole is occupied.

Adaptable woodpeckers! I foresee starlings and sparrows occupying the spare holes if their requirements are less stringent than Mrs Woodpecker’s. Will my brother and sister-in-law get any morning lie-in if that happens?

More Guerilla Gardening

When T attacks his overgrown garden – neglected for years before he and K moved in this month – he’s a human bulldozer, while his father-in-law looks, identifies, wonders what to do with this or that. Hence I came home with two Kentish cob or hazel seedlings. The parent bush is many-stemmed and stands on the North side of the garden, a good six metres high. It also stands on the South side of next-door neighbour Ivy’s garden, blocking her share of sunshine.

A Winter’s job, coppicing the tree; today’s task was to rescue a couple of squirrel or woodmouse-planted seedlings and bring them back to be nurtured. And then rehomed. Nowhere around here is free of squirrels though, so the prospect of ever tasting a nut is infinitesimal. I’m sure I’ll think of somewhere. Perhaps one of them will serve as a singing post for blackbird generations yet to come, as the parent tree was doing this afternoon.

A moment observed

I can forgive myself for not recalling Edward Thomas in the small hours last night, but here he is, a century ago in Adlestrop, with blackbirds in the foreground and way away into the background. The birds’ greeting to the sun when the new dawn breaks here in Kent will be echoed, some 8 minutes later, by all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, as the sun’s rays reach out to them.

Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

the blue birds were back

From the bluetits’ perspective, an apricot tree full of aphids is a great blessing. That’s the virtuous reason why this human does not spray it with insecticide, but he also has a care for Mrs T’s tadpoles, which are now quadrupeds. And the tree could not be sprayed properly without a flying drone; it’s in a really awkward position.

That’s the lazy reason for not spraying.

The foliage means that unless you know where and when to look, you won’t see juvenile blackbirds or robins, sitting tight till parents come. You will hear and then see bluetit babies, since they travel around with the rest of the family, chattering away between beakfuls of greenfly.

Mrs T witnessed the return of our family of bluetits at coffee time yesterday, and went on her way rejoicing.

Looking for a Blue Bird

Spring into summer, there’s no stopping it!

On Friday morning I sat outside to eat breakfast under the apricot tbabyblackree which was full of the contact calls of bluetits. Our nestlings had flown, and Mrs Turnstone was too late to witness their taking off up the hill. Neither sight nor sound of them.

Later that day the robins from next door’s yew were in evidence, and we observed a change in behaviour from the blackbird cock, this time flying away and allowing two magpies to chase him. I’d guess his chicks were now fledged and not needing any sort of attention from murderous magpies. Young blackbirds are excellent at sitting still when first they leave the nest; this is one of a previous generation who did well at pretending not to exist.

With due respect to the bluetits and even the row between the blackbird and magpies, the noisiest have been the starlings, who seem to have co-ordinated leaving their nests to form chattering gangs, showing the children all the best places to feed and shelter. Wherever I went, Abbot’s Hill: starlings; the playing field: starlings; the river bank: the reeds full of starlings; even Mrs O’s garden: starlings. Hyperactive parents with hyperactive children!

But also in Mrs O’s garden – and heard by Mrs T: a family group of bluetits; I trust they are ours! the added bonus, a family of goldfinches. That pleased Mrs Turnstone.

Read about new life in a Yorkshire garden here: