At L’Arche Kent we cannot let a year go by without some of us joining in the BBC and RSPB’s* annual Big Bird Watch – spending an hour at the Glebe,§ watching to see how many species and how many individuals call in to our feeding stations.
Nothing exotic here! The parakeets have not arrived yet, there must be plenty of pickings in the Thanet seaside towns to encourage them to say.
But we saw seven sparrows at once and a pair of moorhens: as you see, we are at the riverside. We were quite surprised not to spot any wood pigeons, but when our photographer went to speak to someone at the other end of the garden he saw that they had been there all the time, behind the shed and out of sight. The rats were there all the time too, but then it was the first day of the Year of the Rat.
As ever, the afternoon ended with a shared meal, in thanks for a shared afternoon enjoying creation.
*BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation, the radio and tv people; RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
§ Glebe: a plot of land for the priest to grow food on: a church allotment.
This morning, as the curtains opened, here were three wood pigeons in the birch tree – and one still next-door, in the lime. Everyone in this picture is keeping a social distance, but it’s still four weeks to the birds’ wedding day on Saint Valentine’s.
Every year the wood pigeons nest in the tall birch in next door’s garden, while there are two old collared doves’ nests in our apricot tree.
Usually the pigeons stick together, perched in the same tree, even upon the same branch, but this month one of them has been resting in one of the lime (tillia) trees we planted after the hurricane, which are now big enough to take a collared doves’ nest at least. The two birds were within sight of each other.
Which tree would the wood pigeons choose? Were they utterly estranged, or perhaps strangers to each other; I had no way of telling. But this morning both were in the birch tree. An early sign of Spring?
Mrs Turnstone came in from her night shift and went to bed, but a few minutes later I heard the floorboards creak in the back bedroom. As ever of late, the wood pigeons and collared doves were filling the air, keeping her awake. I was reminded of Robert Frost’s Minor Bird:
I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
The great bell of the Cathedral was chiming the hour, but that was not the sound that caught Abel’s attention. It was a blackcap perched on a fence about eye-level to both of us – Abel was lifted up on the bike seat so could see clearly. And hear and ask, what’s that bird?
When the little bird had ceased warbling, we looked up in the trees around the theatre and Dominican and spotted a pair of wood pigeons. We had been talking about them a few minutes before, when we saw a few town pigeons foraging outside a café.
There’s no need to be 3½ years old to marvel at the blackcap or the robin, blackbird or thrush’s song. Listen out, and be grateful!
We, the half-barrel group of gardeners at L’Arche Kent – had been looking forward to the Big Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.
The moorhen just walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!
There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for L and G was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They managed the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year, and they were too shy to present themselves for the photoshoot a couple of days later.
What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird-man flapping his wings and frightening the others away.
Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!
It was a great pleasure that the first bird I heard this year was a song thrush from a bush in a neighbour’s garden, closely followed by blackbird, starlings, pigeons, jackdaws … suburban Canterbury on wings.
I gave greater pleasure to Mrs Turnstone when she heard that in the course of tidying the woodstore, separating the kindling from the logs that had been hastily laid on top of them, I had seen a woodmouse scurrying to safety. She had not liked laying down poison for the rats that had infested the other end of the garden, fearing for the colony of mice that has been here longer than the family Turnstone. This year’s Mrs Tittlemouse is made of stern stuff.
A grace note to the story: the kindling was 18 month old apricot. Clattering the sticks together released the scent of the fruit, just as the leaves did. See ‘Two unexpected autumn gifts’, November 24th 2018.