As we crossed the cloister at Luther King House in Manchester we heard a chuckle from the top of a leafless tree. A pair of magpies were building their nest in a fork of the upper branches. The structure was at an early stage, just a few twigs, but if they decide to finish the next it will have a dome and provide good shelter for the young ‘pies as they grow quickly into adulthood.
It was Mrs T who made the connection that it was Valentine’s Day, the day the birds are said to marry.
In nearby Whitworth Park we saw parakeets who clearly considered themselves wild members of the local fauna. We’re used to them in Kent but did not expect to spot them so far North!
Imagine working out for the first time that these are individual birds!
Mrs Blackbird with nesting material
Seeing the world through new eyes: what a blessing!
Our grandson is a year old. Twelve months ago he could not focus at a distance, so a great deal of what goes on around us he is seeing for the first time. That index finger is forever pointing at something interesting; today the birds. Sparrows in next-door’s roof, arguing the toss in great excitement; starlings in family parties, descending on our tree, never silent; the cock blackbird, hidden by the leaves, but even louder in his song – or his warning notes – than the others. Louder still, the herring gulls circle, often calling though sometimes silent; magpies and pigeons stalking the playing field, but best of all a jackdaw, who leaves his group and walks beside the buggy for a good few yards, no more than five metres away, bright eye locked onto bright eye. Bird! Bird!
Plato talked of prisoners watching shadows on a wall and picturing the outside world from what they saw projected there. Not picturing it very clearly.
This afternoon, a low sun was shining through the birch tree, casting intricate shadows upon the gable end of next door. Two shadows were more mobile than the rest. Up and across the wall they went, tails flicking. Magpies, instantly recognisable even in monochrome. I could picture them very clearly indeed!
Hanging out the washing is supposed to be done in the company of blackbirds, but when I looked up it was a buzzard that caught my eye, ‘making lazy circles in the sky’. No chance of a catch for him in town, he was enjoying the thermals and making up-river, minding his own business.
There was a tremendous chattering from next-door’s magpies: all bravado, as neither one nor all three of them had any intention of engaging with the predator. He soared away in his own good time.
On Friday morning I sat outside to eat breakfast under the apricot tree 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.
Mrs Turnstone nearly burst into applause this morning. Our cock blackbird was making a tremendous fuss, chasing off the magpie who no doubt got too close to the nest. I don’t go looking for nests along our boundaries, as you never know who’s watching!
It was a beautiful afternoon, unexpectedly given to me when two appointments were cancelled. Off to Mrs O’s garden!
The first of the grass seed was an inch high, so time to remove the plastic and let it breathe. Meanwhile the ground was ready for planting out a few perennials. Some had been standing out in pots all winter, so they too were ready.
As I tipped one pot over I was surprised to see a swollen root – but no, it was a peanut in its shell! This pot had been raised off the ground to get a little more winter sun; clearly a favoured cache. Sorry, squirrel, you’ve lost that nut!
Last summer the squirrel living in next door’s roof was often seen with peanuts in her mouth, shimmying up the drainpipe to feed the family. Mrs Turnstone had hung them on the washing line for the blue tits, but all disappeared overnight, string and all. But where had Mrs Squirrel hidden them? When I cut the ivy down on the wall and trellis after nesting time I found the remains of her store, dry and safe from magpies.
The new owner has sealed next door’s loft, so let’s hope we are squirrel-free for the coming summer. I also found a blackbird’s next with the eggs eaten …