18 January 2015

Big Garden Birdwatch

My feathered friends

Can you hear me love?

It may be a far cry from the exotic worlds so readily available today via High Definition TV, with the soft sound track of David Attenborough, but our garden is full of life, and some of it is very colourful.

It's not a big garden, and it is a little dark, with a huge laurel hedge on one side, opposite the house, and two ivy covered fences on the sides.  Some birds don't trust it, and so where we used to have jackdaws and magpies, there's now more food for the others.  

Robins are very territorial, and this one has claimed our garden for his own. He is quite fussy, and sometimes gives other species a bit of hassle, but most of the time he is pretty accommodating.

I was surprised therefore when I saw this the other day:

Which led to this:

Which could have been nasty, except that I had forgotten that sunshine means spring, and spring means making eggs, while the sun shines.  It must have been a bit of a shock when the next day it snowed!

I would love to say we get all sorts in our garden, and we do occasionally get visitors - I recently saw a female Blackcap here, who must be overwintering, but I didn't manage to get her photo, and I saw four Long-tailed tits fly over before Christmas, and we often get Coal tits in the summer - but in general the population is as you see in these pictures, all taken in the last week:

Blue tits are quite common, and they have nested here in some years, though as they are so little, I don't think their survival rate is that high....

Handsome Great tits also pop in to grab some seeds, but they are quicker to flit in and out than the little Blues.

I won't admit to having favourites, but I am very fond of the House Sparrows that are regulars at our feeders.  They may not be very tuneful, but they are sociable birds, and though perhaps a little scruffy, they can be very smart when they make the effort:

The males have fetching grey caps, and fashionable stubble:

The Hedge Sparrow, or Dunnock, is no relation, and prefers scratching about on the ground in the flower beds to dining at the feeders.  I used to think they were drab little birds, but they're not, being kitted out with a tweedy sort of suit and whispy trousers, and their agile movements and bright eyes go quite well with their extraordinary breeding habits, which effectively mean that if you have three Dunnocks in your garden you may well have at least two pairs.....

Blackbirds do well here, and their varied diet means that they are happy at the table and just as happy on the ground, where they will take worms and slugs and grubs, turning their heads so they can see what's going on (strangely they do not have parallax vision, so each eye is only covering one side).

The male stands out, with his coal black feathers and gold beak and eye rings, but the female is no less a bird, with her rich brown dapple, and she too has gold eye-liner.... 

Though if it is gold you want, then it's this little bird you want to watch.  Unlike the others the Goldfinch really only seems to like nyger seed, though in fact I see flocks of them in the fields at this time of year stripping thistles and umbelliferae of their seeds....  We have had families of these, and they always used to come to feed in pairs, but sadly, at the moment, there is only one.....

One of the most colourful birds, however, is the Starling.  When seen in their thousands at dusk, or when in flocks on farmland or strutting about on your lawn at a distance, they seem to be grey unattractive, but in fact they are shimmeringly bright with blues and speckles, the younger ones being lighter, sometimes almost fawn, the mature adults glistening with a sharp sheen.  They are acrobatic, too, and have a gift for mimicry which has even stretched to them imitating telephone rings to send humans back inside their houses!

Starlings are in decline, they say, and this is partly why the Big Garden Birdwatch is so important.  By inputting the received data, the experts in the world of ornithology can build up their knowledge of species - which are doing well, and which may need protection.  It may be great if you spot some rarity in your garden, but it is no problem if all you see is a tiny wren.  It may be spectacular to see a Red Kite circling overhead, or a Sparrow Hawk blasting past on a killing spree.  Woodpeckers and Jays are marvellous to see close up, and the glinting eyes of Magpies or the raucous voice of the Carrion Crow are things to marvel at, but this Big Garden Birdwatch is not about particulars like that; it is about mapping the commonplace, so that we can understand our everyday world a little better.  Woodpigeons may not be special, 

And I wouldn't mind putting this one in a pie, especially if he was the one who plundered my purple sprouting on my allotment, but he's welcome in our garden, pigeon toes and all!

My assistant bird watcher is particularly fond of him!

Though in fact, the birds just keep a respectful distance.....  We all get along just fine, and that, I think, is what is so wonderful about it all.....

If you go to the RSPB website https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ you will be able to register your interest, and eventually also upload your findings.

Last year over half a million people took part, noting some seven million birds.  The following is from the webpage:

Why take part?

Bird populations are a great indicator of the health of the countryside. That's why it's so important to take part in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch to keep an eye on the ups and downs of the wildlife where we live.

All you need to do is spend an hour over the weekend of 24-25 January counting the birds in your garden. It's that simple!

The more people involved, the more we can learn. So, grab a cuppa and together we can all help to give nature a home.

Post Script:  January 24th
Big Garden Birdwatch 

No pigeons or doves in sight, and only a couple, respectively, of the sparrows and starlings, and no great tit.......  But a wren (unfortunately I missed getting a picture) and two goldfinches!  Yay!

12 January 2015

The Turning World

Poetry walks

Sheep may safely graze on pasture
When the shepherd guards them well.
Where rulers govern well
we may feel peace and rest
and what makes countries happy

The Turning World is the title of an anthology of poems complied by D J Brinley in 1968 when he found, as a young teacher, that there was a total lack of suitable textbooks to interest teenagers in poetry.

At my school, poetry was delivered and consumed in a variety of ways.  At an early stage we were made to memorise The Brook,  in Nigel Molesworth fashion (Peotry is sissy stuff that rhymes.) 

i come from haunts of coot and hern
i make a sudden sally
and-er-hem-er-hem-the fern
to bicker down a valley….

Down with Skool!  
Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

Though in How to be Topp, Molesworth offers some conciliation to English teachers….

However there are other poems which creep in from time to time there is one which go

Har fleag har fleag har fleag onward
Into the er rode the 600

            There are as well lars porsena of clusium elegy in country churchyard loss of the royal george and chevy chase.  Anything to do with daffodils is also grate favourite of English masters…..

As pupils we were issued with Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, and I still have my copy – it is in remarkably good condition; rarely used, I think a bookseller might say.

So it was that when I became an English teacher myself, the compilation by Mr Brinley was most welcome (pace Palgrave – I do actually treasure it).  I doubt whether I influenced many young minds, but perhaps some of my pupils found words and rhythms in these pages to amuse or console.  I learned that at times the clarity of D H Lawrence worked well:

Climbing through the January snow, into the Lobo canyon
Dark grow the spruce-trees, blue is the balsam, water
sounds still unfrozen, and the trail is still evident.

Mountain Lion

Thomas Hardy’s Christmas: 1924 gave us something to contemplate:

‘Peace upon earth!’ was said.  We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

At the going down of the sun...

And T.S.Eliot’s Preludes always led to sparks of creativity:

The winter evening settles down
With smells of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days….

Red Kite hunting

I did not know it then, but it was Eliot, rehearsing the word burnt, that gave my text-book its name.  In Burnt Norton, the first of  his Four Quartets, written in 1935, he wrote:

At the still point of the turning world.  Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement…..

Kestrel hunting

One time the world hangs still is the depth of winter, the short days of Christmas in the north, when time seems to stall, and days hardly get off the ground.  There is a sense, just after Christmas, that things have come to a halt; the excesses of the celebrations merge with the darkness and the world seems stuck.  Then, almost suddenly, into the New Year, and days seem to lengthen, the birds seem to sing; the air is more alive…..  Eliot’s theme of air blends with the wood smoke of Burnt Norton’s winter fires, and the dance begins again…..

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always –
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

Peotry (sic) perhaps has had its day – the young, no longer in one another’s arms (though very much online), may not have the time to decipher the codes of learned bards, but the art of composing words into shapes and lines is not yet dead.

There is a green hill....

Wordsworth gave good advice, in Up! Up! My Friend!

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

O still, small voice of calm

So we walk in the turning world, watching birds making the most of air. Winter has not yet done its worst, perhaps, and fortune smiles for a day or two.  While earnest poets compete this weekend for the Poetry Book Society T S Eliot Prize, this year, the fiftieth anniversary of Eliot’s death, amounting to £20,000 for the winner and £1,500 for each of the ten short-listed competitors, we look for poetry in the landscape and wildlife around us.  

Though it is 98 years since the death of Edward Thomas, his words are still alive:

But these things also are Spring’s –
On banks by the roadside the grass
Long-dead that is greyer now
Than all the Winter it was….

While the North blows, and starling flocks
By chattering on and on
Keep their spirits up in the mist,
And Spring’s here, Winter’s not gone.

But These Things Also

The countryside is full of life, and death.  I watch the birds of prey as they scan the fields for voles, unsuspecting lives to take.  

Kestrel hovering

I watch the blackbird as he cleans his beak from wormy residues.  

We scatter flocks of starlings, 



Larks rise up in alarm, twitter and flit, then fall again to earth.  


Pigeons strip the new shoots from the crops; 

Woodpigeon en masse

crows grasp and stab all things they can.  

In the air, flights criss and cross, from late late dawn to early dusk.  The greatest gift, perhaps, is that life goes on.

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die.

Burnt Norton

Just as we turned for home, I caught a sequence of aerial combat that could have shown real feathers flying, but which, as if to show us how, ended in peace.

Buzzard to Base, tumbleweed, OK?
Bandit on tail
Check six
Locking on, BFM
Dive dive dive
Holding hands?
OK Kestrel, RTB
B-LOC, Bingo

A final image from these walks is these two lovebirds.  Spring is in the air! And poetry is love.....

Jack and Jill Daw

And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time

Burnt Norton

T S Eliot

However, the final final last word must be Nigel Molesworth's, as he reads to the class from The Burial Sir of Sir John Moore Sir at Corunna Sir (A titter from 2B they are wet and i will tuough them up after.)
shut up peason larffing
As his corse
As his corse
what is a corse sir? gosh is it
to the rampart we carried
(whisper you did not kno your voice was so lovely)
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot.
Shut up peason i know sir he's blowing peas at me
Oer the grave where our hero was buried.

(A pause a grave bow i retire and Egad! peason hav placed a dainty pin upon mine seat. Fie!)