Dear Readers, I have been away from home for most of the past four weeks, and was struggling to find a subject for the Saturday blog this week. Then, I topped up the bird feeders and the subject found me, as it always does if I keep my eyes open. At this time of year, some of the birds are as beautiful as they’ll be at any time until next spring. All these photos were taken through my kitchen window, which is draped with cobwebs and coated with dust (housekeeping not being a strong point), so please forgive me if the quality isn’t quite what it might be.
Just look at the starlings, who are finally coming into their full adult plumage. Their feathers are as iridescent as oil, and they are spangled with the white spots that give them their name. ‘Starling’ means ‘little star’, and each one carries a constellation on his or her chest and back.The birds that are visiting the garden now have survived the dangerous fledgling stage, and are about to experience their first winter. If they make it through ( and they stand more chance in the town than in the country) they will be breeding again in April next year. And so the world turns.
There was a blue tit on the suet feeder as well. What a bright little puffball this bird is – bright blue, sherbet lemon and olive green. They seem so full of energy and verve, on the go all the time. In order for a bird this small to survive when the temperature falls below zero, they need all the energy-rich food that they can get. It is vital to keep those bird-feeders topped up where possible, so that the birds can put on the fat that they’ll need to survive the cold. The last thing they need to worry about is too many calories – flying is such an energetic activity that they can never have too many while they’re in the wild.
And, as we know, sparrows are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Those of us who have them visit the garden should feel privileged to have a creature in such decline popping by. As with the starlings, these ‘common’ birds are no longer ‘common’, and so when I look at them I feel a special pang. Those of us who have been around for a bit remember when it seemed impossible that they should ever be in danger, and it’s poignant to think of what has already been lost.
Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom. Two collared doves are in my hawthorn tree, popping down the berries as if they were sweeties. I wonder if they can taste sweet and sour, because the haws always seem tough and astringent to me. These are birds who have increased greatly in number in my lifetime, and they have a special kind of beauty too, their feathers as soft and grey as clouds. They have a delicate elegance that makes me think that they are most fitted to the genteel suburbs, and indeed they are rarely seen in the centre of town, and are most unlikely to breed there.
In the hornbeam there’s a single hen chaffinch, waiting patiently for the woodpigeons and squirrel to clear off so she can get some sunflower seeds. The calls of finches are the soundtrack for any walk along my road at the moment – the ‘pink,pink’ calls of chaffinches, the more melodious chiming of the goldfinches. It’s a familiar music that makes me feel that I’m at home, finally, even if it’s only a short time until I’m off again. I often feel that absence heightens my senses, makes me see my ‘territory’ anew. And so, although I shall feel weary as I pack my suitcase yet again, I know that wherever I go, there will still be things to be curious about – the song of a bird, a weed by the side of the road, the buzz of an insect. There is always something new to discover, whether on the birdfeeder at home or in an office park. And each new discovery enlarges our sense of the world, and our part in it.