Monday, 12 May 2008

Life and death

Today is a sad day: early this morning, the bullfinches' nest was raided and emptied. We'd calculated that the chicks were due to hatch on Saturday or Sunday but due to a bout of not-very-springlike weather hadn't been outside very much to see what was going on. Then just after first light this morning, we heard the female calling in a way which can only be described as distressed; when we came down to investigate, she'd gone but the nest had been completely overturned in the rose bush. Nothing was left except one half-hatched egg on the ground. My guess is that the culprit was a jay, alerted by the smell of new hatchlings (we have loads of them), though it could have been a fouine (stone marten). The ironic thing is that while the female had been perfectly discreet about her comings and goings, the male was a different kettle of fish: every time he escorted her back to the nest, he would sit on the outermost branch of the bush, mewing loudly and dancing about like a thing possessed (as in "Look everybody! Here's my nest!"), until she came back out and hissed at him to shut up. I wanted to explain to him that perhaps it wasn't a good idea to be so obvious, but ...

When you live so closely alongside the wildlife in your garden, it's hard not to get involved in their lives and even to feel responsible when things go wrong for them. When we lived in Cley we accumulated over the years a huge tribe of blackbirds, all of whom we knew individually; many had grown up around our house, fed on the endless kilos of sultanas that we would buy for them each year (they also grew to love couscous, risotto and all sorts of resto leavings!). Most had become very tame, to the point where they would wander into and round the house looking for one of us if their sultanas had run out (it wasn't unusual for me to be on the phone taking a dinner booking when a blackbird would land on my desk looking accusing). Each year they would bring their young, often from a very early age; occasionally they would abandon to us young that were disabled in some way. We'd end up not exactly hand-rearing them, but persuading them in all sorts of ways to eat and drink and take shelter. Mostly they survived, but sometimes they didn't. This one, who we named Hoppy, (she only had one functioning leg) did:

Back at Grillou, we still have three pairs of blue tits nesting in crevices in the stonework of the house, including one pair a couple of centimetres above our bedroom window and another between the two windows in the kitchen. One pair of black redstarts has built in the side wall, another pair in the workshop and yet another in the barn. The wrens are still in the jardin d'hiver. The bushes and trees immediately around us are home to countless other species including blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes, robins, blackcaps, nightingales, several different warblers, treecreepers, nuthatches, every tit in the book, chaffinches, bramblings, dunnocks, four different woodpeckers, cuckoos, turtle doves, linnets, serins ....

Life goes on.

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