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Romance is in the Air…

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Romance is in the air in the bird world too, but sadly it’s leading to housing disputes!

Some of you may remember, about two or three years ago, we bought a nesting box with a camera from the RSPB shop at Carsington. No bird has shown any interest in it at all, apart from possibly just the occasional fleeting pause by the odd blue tit, as it flew past in spring.

This box has ‘sparrow’ written all over it

However, it pays not to despair if you’re a human waiting for the nesting box to be claimed. Recently we have had some sparrows in the garden, and during the last two days a pair of these visitors has started to hunt fairly urgently for a home together, even briefly considering the wheel arch of one of our guest’s cars. They have shown great interest in the vacant and previously spurned nesting box. This seems to have sparked an instant reaction from our blue tits, who suddenly seem to see in the box the home of their dreams.

The Blue Tt is laying claim to the Orchard Farm camera/nesting box

This is plainly our nesting box!

Who will succeed? And one wonders at what stage one pair will concede defeat.

John has managed to snap some of the attempts to claim possession, which this morning ended in a serious altercation which unfortunately he did not manage to capture. Both pairs have taken to posting themselves within sight, whether on the Rambling Rector beside the box, or the gutter on Tom’s Barn roof above.

Now we just have to hope, whichever pair succeeds, that we can get the camera to work!

Madam, you have a knife in your handbag

… The Swallows and I, we flew to South Africa leaving one husband/ swallow photographer behind…

The swallows will fly over western France to South Africa, at an average speed according to the RSPB of 35 mph, in search of warmer weather and juicier insects. No security checks, iris recognition checks, ‘six clear pages in the passport’ worries for them.

I too have flown to South Africa, but rather faster at about 500 mph, to see my sister again who is recovering slowly in hospital; juicy insects were something I did my best to avoid (nearly successfully).

The weather was not particularly good apart from a couple off beautiful sunny mornings but with most of the time spent in an air conditioned hospital the weather was not a priority. However I must admit that on Saturday I did enjoy a super breakfast in the sunshine on the Durban beach front with a friend of my sister which felt refreshingly if briefly holiday-like.

Not so the question mark, the permanent blot perhaps, on my security status. “Did you pack your bags yourself?” “Could anyone have tampered with your luggage?” I answered confidently. “Could you please step this way, madam?” Off I stepped, puzzled.

The security man lowered his voice, “We have identified a knife in your bag.” I expressed horrified disbelief and then remembered my darling husband had packed one of his special picnics for me to eat in the train to London. He is well known for his delicious picnics, always with a surprise or two, never dull.

I had eaten most of it in the train but not the last few foil-wrapped things which I had imagined enjoying at Heathrow. The explanation was obvious. My hand flew to my mouth as I realised the significance of my confiding to the official about the picnic with unknown surprises packed into my bag for me by my husband…

Sure enough: there was a table knife, and a small foiled wrapped avocado (grenade?). He tested the blade for sharpness. It was fortunately blunt. He tested it for length. It was longer than is acceptable. So the knife was confiscated, and the avo/grenade, and my bag and its contents taken away for specialist checks. Fortunately no explosives were identified; it was soon returned and I was allowed to move on.

I did feel very foolish. Locking back on it, it was very reassuring that the knife was spotted, and how the situation was dealt with. The young security man was charming – courteous and polite throughout – he probably thought I was some poor old soul who shouldn’t be allowed out on my own but he couldn’t have dealt with the situation more pleasantly.

And now I am back again, hopefully with my security status unblemished. It is good to be back; it always is however much one has enjoyed being away and I have loved being with my sister and seeing my brother-in-law and some old friends.

It is good to be back. Everything seems to have run seamlessly in my absence, John, Janet and co proving me reassuringly dispensable. The air is sweet and everything always seems so peaceful, particularly after the hustle and bustle of air travel and airports these days. (Dubai airport at 3am was crowded with thousands of travellers rushing to their flight, eating exotic meals in the numerous restaurants or shopping in the amazingly glitzy shops… What meal is it, at 3 in the morning?)

Whatever it is, I shall do a personal security check on my next JFS picnic.

The RSPB Garden Birdwatch

On January 29th this year we had some very good friends, the Cartwrights, staying with us from Yorkshire. Like so many of us they are very interested in birds and encourage them in their garden; John is very envious of them because one of their ‘garden birds’ happens to be a kingfisher which they frequently spot by the small stream which borders their garden.

Kingfishers aside, we all decided after lunch to set aside an hour, from the comfort of the Orchard Farm kitchen window (it was January after all) counting the birds that came to our garden for the RSPB Annual Garden Birdwatch. Inevitably at first there were no birds at all. Was Boots around, stalking them stealthily? Or perhaps it was an unseen sparrowhawk circling above? For a while we had visions of making a ‘nul points’ return but fortunately our feeders were soon as busy as usual when the usual ones started flocking in; unfortunately we did not keep the list we made. One enters the totals online for the RSPB and therefore we have no record of the final totals but I can confidently say that we had no wonderful surprises to record.

The faithful Orchard Farm feeders are – not necessarily in this order – Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Dunnock, Goldfinches, Nuthatch, Tree Creepers, Blackbirds, Bullfinches, Pigeons, Pheasants. The squirrel tries his hardest to pretend he is a bird and gets up to the most amazing antics to get at the feeders, usually unsuccessfully I am glad to report. He does look horribly glossy and well-fed, though, so maybe he is clever enough now to time his maraudings when we are not watching like hawks at the window.

The first ten for Derbyshire this year were: House Sparrow, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Starling, Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Great Tit, Robin. Bullfinches come in at no. 20 and overall were only recorded in 8% of the gardens in Derbyshire on January 29th so we certainly buck the trend there as we see them a lot now, to our pleasure, and I know we saw several on the birdwatch day.

The first ten for England were: House Sparrow, Starling, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Collared Dove, Robin. Interestingly, the Bullfinch doesn’t feature in the first 20 in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Next year the survey happens over the weekend of 26 and 27 January 2013 I shall make a point of keeping our personal tally, just for the amusement of seeing how we vary from the average.

Another Update as we Launch into April

April 1st has seen the usual spate of clever and amusing April Fool spoofs but this is not one of those!

We have all enjoyed such a wonderful spell of settled warm sunny weather, that would have been remarkable even in mid-summer but was truly amazing for March. Day after day we and our guests had meals outside and we watched our guests get browner and browner; the birds are all in a state of glossy excitement and every day eat their way through expensive packs of nuts and seeds. Nobody would think the dove below to be underfed; in fact they have taken to pretending they are a blue tit or chaffinch and trying unsucessfully to perch on the bird feeders so they can get directly to the nuts rather than having to scrabble for them on the ground. Leaves are unfurling everywhere, the blossom is out on the still leafless damson trees (they are under threat, but that is another story), the Spiraea is out, the Azaleas outside the barns and the Magnolia (Stellata), we have had to water the pots… What bliss – we’re not complaining!

Today has been sunny but distinctly cooler but still no rain. Tomorrow is one of our last Monday change-overs for a while and we are taking advantage of the opportunity to get some quick essential repairs/work done; the sweep is coming, our plumber – with a daunting list of leaking taps and other plumbing chores to deal with and the TV engineer to try to discover why Douglas’s Barn upstairs telly will not work.

Beautiful Bullfinches at Orchard Farm

img_0229According to John’s brother’s bird book, bullfinches don’t come to bird tables, but ours do. Need, or maybe just greed must have persuaded ours to change their habit as they have become very faithful feeders, mingling apparently happily with all the others – robins, blue, coal and great tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, even the odd dove and pheasant. Boots watches them all from the warmth and safety of the kitchen window, but fortunately any killer instinct has passed with the years (she is every bit of 14 now, which is quite a stately age for a cat although she is still quite capable of rushing up a tree, or even chasing her tail when the mood takes her).

When he isn’t trotting down to the little Parwich shop-in -the-pub to buy more bird seed and nuts John is out in all weathers with his new camera and lens. The birds are beginning to very much take him for granted, which is good and he has managed to get some lovely photos of the bullfinches. I hope I won’t have mangled them too much by the time I have loaded them here!
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