September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.
There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?
A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.
It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed themselves and their children.
Mrs T often comments that we are allowed to use the birds’ territory for our garden. Two examples of this today.
It was time to prune the apricot tree, but some of that must be postponed. As I cut through a shoot some 3 metres above the ground I saw that the fork leading to it was occupied by a brooding collared dove. I’d seen the nest before, but it was built while we were away for a few days, and I thought it had been abandoned as a silly place to build. It was a silly place to build, but it was not abandoned, so it will have to be respected. Unless she abandons it again.
The second example was the cock blackbird, leading one of his daughters around the garden, demonstrating the art of pecking food from the floor, or even aphids from the prunings of the apricot tree, while we sat at our evening meal. At least it is peaceful co-existence; neither doves nor blackbirds are aggressive thieves, unlike the Canada geese in the Royal Parks!
I often stop at the spot where George saw the Kingfisher; it’s where the river turns left, away from the Causeway in Canterbury towards Kingsmead. I have seen egrets and herons along there, but today there was a pair of strange looking — ducks? coots? No, neither of those, but these birds were in the water, or rather the shallows, well away from the road. It took a moment to realise they were wood pigeons, cooling off in the heat.
Maybe they got a taste for cold water when flying for Noah in the ark? Alfie the collie used to stand or lie in the river or a puddle to cool down, but he didn’t have to worry about feathers getting waterlogged. These pigeons had found just the spot where the clean water was flowing over a stony bed, and just the right depth. Alfie, however, was more than happy to lie in mud and bring it indoors afterwards.
The day was warm enough for Mrs T to seek the shade when we stopped at the Oxford motorway services. Perhaps that was why the starling took no notice of us as it sat, wings spread out, feathers fluffed, soaking up the sun, maybe half blinded by it.
The bird was so relaxed that only the arrival of the caretaker, emptying the bins, persuaded it to move into a nearby bush. Had it even noticed the two red kites, skimming the trees, barely six metres above us?
They noticed us humans and departed. He survived their survey,
Unexpected? Always unexpected: a flash of blue along the river by the Glebe and you only realise when he’s gone – that was the kingfisher!
That was yesterday; twenty years ago I was walking George home from school when we stopped to watch the fish in the shallows of the river. The kingfisher dived right at his feet, a metre and a half down to the water and emerged, fish in beak, before realising he had an audience, and made himself scarce.
The garden spectacle this week has been the two fledgling sparrows that have left the nest in next-door-but-one’s roof to flit and flutter to our back gate where they can perch, and cheep and flutter their stubby wings in the hope that their parents – or any passing sparrow for that matter – will feed them. There must be hope they will live, now they have spent two days out of the nest!
Here is one of them watching intently as his mother (or is it his aunt?) pecks at the fat balls over the gate. The fact that he was fed did not prevent him starting to call again as soon as he’d finished swallowing.
Although the adults are very tolerant of humans moving about the garden we share with them, Chico took off as soon as the back door opened. Three metres’ flight to the washing line, where he could not get a grip, turned base over apex before achieving enough co-ordination to crash into the holly bush.
The two chicks were soon back on the gate, ‘Please Sir (or Madam) I want some more!