All Change!

Male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Dear Readers, normally I would be starting to decorate the house and make food for the festive season this week, but Mum and Dad are still unwell. They are both breathless and weak, and the doctor has told them that it will be several weeks before they’re back to ‘normal’. And so we’ve come to the decision that it will be better if they stay in Milborne St Andrew  rather than undergo the stress of the travelling to London and being away from home. So,  John and I will take Christmas to Dorset instead of looking after them here, and much re-organisation has ensued. There have been rooms, trains and taxis to book and, most importantly of all, a supermarket delivery slot to get so that I don’t have to carry three days worth of Christmas food down to Dorset on South Western Railways. And now, with everything in place, I’ve been able to spare a few minutes to look out of the window and see what the rest of the world is doing.

It has been a boisterous, unpredictable couple of days, with the weather varying from warm and rainy to freezing cold with bright sunshine and blustery winds. We even have an outside chance of snow over the weekend. The bird feeders have been close to horizontal on several occasions, depositing seed all over the path. The starlings seem to play in the wind, throwing themselves into the air and careering sideways with every appearance of glee. They sway on the branches, bicker on the feeders and are able to rid the bird table of much larger birds by simply showing up in large numbers and descending on the food. They argue among themselves, but, en masse, they are a formidable opponent.

Starling surveying the bird table and gauging her moment for descent….

I was reminded of the importance of supporting one another today. I was having my usual morning flat white in Costa Coffee on East Finchley High Street when a woman started to abuse the young women behind the counter. From what she was saying it was clear that she had mental health problems, but as the tirade got more and more unpleasant, and as one of the younger targets of the abuse was in tears,  I found myself going over to stand with the baristas. I say ‘found myself’ because I didn’t appear to have much choice – my legs just seemed to carry me there. I had no idea what to say or do, but I didn’t want to simply be a bystander – I’ve been too scared to intervene in situations like this in the past, and have always felt ashamed of myself afterwards. As soon as I got to the counter two other customers got up and stood with the young women too. It was important to me that we didn’t demonise the woman who was ranting away, because she was clearly a troubled soul who was in need of care, so we gently tried to calm her down, and to suggest that if she had problems she should take them up with the manager, and eventually she gave up and left. Did we help? I have no idea. But there is a strength in simply standing together that the starlings seem to know instinctively, and that humans often don’t appreciate.

Collared doves waiting for breakfast

Back in the garden, the collared doves stand guard in the whitebeam above the seed feeder. Every so often they descend to feed and promptly start fighting with one another, but in the tree they seem serene and unconcerned.

The chaffinches are back in force, with their mothy flutterings. I doubt that there is a more elegant British finch, and I never tire of their blush-pink breast feathers and slate-blue heads. The females are less brightly coloured, but are graceful little birds. I  love the way that they swoop and bound over the pond.

Female chaffinch

We have been adopted by a small flock of goldfinches, too. They roost in one of the big plane trees on East Finchley High Street, but during the day they pop into the garden every twenty minutes or so. They are such dapper birds, their pale-grey beaks tipped with charcoal and their faces masked in crimson.


The black and white feathers on the wings remind me of Mondrian, the artist, and so does this most unusual of visitors. It has been almost a year since I’ve since a woodpecker on the suet feeder, and here he is again, hammering away, propped up with his stiff tail feathers. Last time he was here it was Christmas Day 2016 and I gave Mum the binoculars so that she could see him. She is so small and frail, and she swayed slightly as she raised them to her eyes. She said she saw the bird, but I’m not sure if she did or if she just said it to please me.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

And in good news, Mum and Dad have finally accepted that they need a bit of extra care for a while, and I have found an agency that seems caring and responsive. The new carer starts next week, and I hope that they are nice, and that Mum and Dad like them. Life at the moment seems to be something of a steeplechase, with unexpected obstacles around every corner, but I am hoping that we have at least cleared this one. And in the meantime, I look at the birds, and thank them for the moments of peace that they bring me, and the way that they lift me out of myself with fierce wings.



12 thoughts on “All Change!

  1. Gail

    Dear Bugwoman, I do enjoy your blogs very much indeed and have learned so much from them. Mostly though, I enjoy your reflections on life and family, they help me when I too struggle with and fret about family members. I hope that your parents soon pull through this latest bout of ill health and that they and the carers work happily together.

    1. Bug Woman

      Oh, thank you Gail…..when I started the blog it was going to be all about the world outside my window, but then I realised that actually it’s all part of the same thing – just as the birds reproduce, get older, sometimes get sick or meet with accidents and eventually die, so do we all. Plus, so many people are struggling with what’s going on in their lives. It feels a bit scary sometimes to reveal my personal life, but then I get a comment like yours and it makes it all worthwhile.

  2. tonytomeo

    How sad about that lady in the coffee shoppe. I do much of my writing at a coffee shoppe near downtown Santa Cruz, which is famous for such interesting people. I like to think that I am a pretty tolerant sort, but I do happen to find it difficult to make accommodations for some types of behavior. I feel badly for getting frustrated about it. Sometimes I merely get very little done because I end up talking with strangers for hours!

    1. Bug Woman

      I’m pretty tolerant too, but I hate bullying and entitled behaviour, especially when it’s aimed at people who can’t really fight back. And yes, I spend a lot of time chatting when I should be writing too :-).

  3. jemimatoo

    Thank you for such an interesting blog. You seem to have a larger variety of birds in London than I have in Dorset. I can identify with your elderly parents and wish you all an enjoyable Christmas in Dorset

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you, Jemimatoo, glad you’re enjoying the blog. There is some evidence that city areas attract more birds these days because so much of their habitat in the country has been destroyed (hedgerows being grubbed out and replaced with fences, use of pesticides etc). Plus, cities are usually a few degrees warmer than the surrounding areas, and lots of folk are putting out bird feeders now. I hope you have a lovely Christmas too!

  4. Toffeeapple

    I am pleased to know that things are in motion to help your parents, it must be a strain on all of you right now. Here’s hoping that the carer and your folks get on well.
    We have quite a lot of snow at the moment and it is still falling from the sky. I have checked the feeders and put up two new ones bought yesterday. I have at least three Robins visiting and they each use a different feeder, I have no idea why. I must put out some sultanas for the Blackbirds, they are searching for food which is covered in snow.


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