Dear Readers, the fledgling starlings are gradually reappearing in the garden: I must admit to missing their bickering and general shenanigans. They have a distinctly half and half look to them at the moment – the head on this one is still very juvenile, but its body is acquiring the iridescent plumage and the ‘stars’ that give the bird its common name. The head and upper parts are likely to remain brown right through the bird’s first winter, only changing in the spring.
As the bird comes into breeding condition it will become darker in colour with fewer breast spots, and the beak changes from black to yellow. There will be a blue flush at the base of the bill if the bird is male, a rosy flush if it is a female (it’s very handy to have a species colour-coded!)
Next to the starling, a squirrel is eating a ridiculous quantity of sunflower seeds. Looking at her belly, I suspect that she has her second babies of the year on the way, or already in the nest.
I’m looking forward to seeing the new youngsters when they emerge, they were so much fun last time.Looks like the robins have been busy too. This will be their second brood of the year.
An adult robin sat in the lilac ticking away, but the fledgling seemed oblivious as it chased mealworms and refused to pay attention. The adult seems as if he or she is currently going through the moulting process, and has a generally threadbare look. I’m sure they’ll be glad when all this feather-shedding nonsense is over and done with.
And finally, I have been noticing how the butterflies seem to visit the garden in waves. For a few days there were gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) everywhere, but now there seems to be a little storm of holly blues (Celastrina argiolis). In the spring the butterfly lays its eggs on holly, as you might expect, but in summer it turns its attention to ivy – I must check the ivy that is sprawling over the shed to see if there are any eggs or caterpillars. It is the most delicate little beauty, and it’s said to prefer honeydew to nectar, though it makes an exception for the hemp agrimony. I love those big dark eyes, and the bands on the antennae.
Now, my beetles quiz yesterday made me think about when I was a child and used to root around in our East London garden with my mother’s cutlery, looking for insects. Some of my favourites were the little metallic beetles that used to scurry about, especially on sunny days. Dad always called them ‘sun beetles’, and said that they were good for the garden because they ate all the ‘baddies’.
It turns out that, as usual, Dad was right – the adult beetles eat creatures such as the apple maggot and the soybean aphid, and they are being put to work in orchards and fields to help with pest control. It makes me sad that he’s not here for me to tell, he’d be well chuffed. But gradually, I find that I’m remembering the good times with Mum and Dad rather than all the illness and misery of their last few years, and I’m also remembering them as my parents, rather than as the subjects of my care. As usual, the natural world seems to help me to knit them together again in my memory as whole, unique human beings. In my mind’s eye I remember the sun beetles running over the clods of earth like drops of mercury, while Dad rests on his spade and wipes the sweat from his eyes with a brown, muscular forearm. I look up at him from where I’m perched on a stone, trying to mark some ants with watercolour paint so that I’ll recognise them next time I meet them, and I feel utterly safe and contented. Dad’s calmness in the face of everything in the natural world, his curiosity and his gentleness have soaked into me like so much badly-needed rainwater. What gifts he gave me.