Thursday, 10 November 2011

Nature notes

My neighbour has a bird feeder hanging from a tree not far from the house. Although we can't see the feeder from our downstairs windows, it is in full view from our bedroom and I always look towards it when I open the curtains in the morning. I generally go to the window and watch for a few minutes whenever I go into the bedroom during the day. Until recently, our resident squirrel was often to be seen hanging upside down as he helped himself to whatever had been put out for the birds but Evelyn now has a thin like a small parrot cage in which the feeder hangs. The cage has gaps between the bars which are big enough for the smaller birds but through which the squirrel just cannot squeeze himself. As one would expect, the feeder attracts quite a number of birds, both in quantity and in variety. We regularly see house sparrows, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches at the feeder while robins, hedge sparrows, wrens and blackbirds are not far away, along with the larger wood pigeons, jackdaws, magpies and herring gulls.

House sparrows are supposed to be in decline with numbers falling quite dramatically. I find it difficult to say whether our numbers have dropped, but we still have a good many around. What we are missing these days are starlings. A few years ago they were one of the most numerous birds in the garden but I can now go days on end without seeing one, either here or in the local park when walking the dog. The number of blue tits, on the other hand, seems to have swelled and we now get flocks of anything up to a dozen or so. I think them the most amusing of our garden birds as well as one of the most attractive. It's interesting to see their behaviour at the bird feeder. Whereas all the other small birds (although I'm not sure about the great tits) sit on the perch and feed until they have eaten enough, the blue tits take a piece of whatever is in the feeder and fly to the nearby tree. Here they hold the food down with a claw while the peck at whatever it is they have taken. Once they have finished, they return to the feeder for another piece.

I have often marvelled at the strength of the small birds, especially the strength of their legs and claws. Just look how a bird will cling to a branch which is waving wildly in a strong wind, or how a bird will hold onto an upright twig, leaning away from its perch for minutes at a time. I don't know if there has been any research into the strength:weight ratio but I wouldn't mind betting that birds would come out pretty high in the list.

The resident squirrel - in fact, there might be more than one: they all look the same but we rarely see more than one at a time - is an amusing little character even if he/she is a bit of a pest. He is bold enough to sit on the wall outside the kitchen window and watch the humans inside. The other day he was on the corner of the garage roof watching me. When I fetched my camera he insisted on washing his face before posing for his portrait. It's a pity that he will dig up the bulbs planted in pots, take a bite and then throw the bulb away. The other day I saw him digging in a pot - and coming up with a peanut he must have buried there earlier. He has one habit I have never before seen in a squirrel: he wags his tail like a dog.

We do see foxes in the garden - all too frequently - but have never seen a badger. Neither do we yet suffer from damage caused by deer, although there have recently been reports that their numbers have grown so much that they are starting to venture into towns. Talking of deer, I saw one on Tuesday evening. I was driving to a village which lies off the beaten track when there in the middle of the lane was a small deer, a roe deer, in my headlights. It moved to the side of the lane but the hedges were too high for it to jump so it trotted along the lane in front of the car for a quarter of a mile or so until it was able to move off the road. I know that deer are supposed to be very numerous, but it's not often that a townie like me sees one - and when I do, it's a special treat.

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