Crow

img_1339Anything wild catches my eye.  Surrounded by day in Swiss concrete, there is little moving to distract me: except the crows.

In the bare branches of the stunted municipal trees they hunch and wait for a dropped sandwich; a popped pringle; an unloved apple.

They throw back their necks and caw jubilation to waiting mates .  Unfurl shake of black shawl wings and sky borne : quartering and dividing the dark tarmac, deciding  how to achieve the ground and to eat their quarry.

Swoop. Decent. Great wings folded and tidy they step delicately martial across their parade ground of discarded dinner and impale a morsel in anthracite black beaks .  Food inspected, assessed, consumed, they return replete to the bare winter tree  and watch us, intelligent sentinels, as the darkness falls.

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Feed the Birds

Winston, my cat, is glowering at me from the mat.

He is not allowed out this afternoon , to give my birds a chance to feed. November has little to recommend it, but it does mark the start of the  winter bird feeding season. The feeders are festooned with fat balls, the tables are loaded with seed and the birds have arrived in style.

First the blue tits swarmed in, then came the great tits and sneaking in amongst them a jauntily quiffed crested tit.  Then the robin spotted the food, then came a few chaffinces, a solitary green finch and a smart nuthatch followed. The white back of the head stripe announced a coal tit and suddenly twice the size of everything else there was a fat billed female haw finch, who bullied everything else away for half an hour of solitary gorging.

Winston was still inside, still in a rage and then to add insult to injury a sparrow hawk swooped through the trees looking to do some feeding of her own from amongst my new guests.

Why is she allowed to hunt and not me?

Oh, Winston the injustices of the world are manifold. Have a stroke instead.

Looking for Crumbs.

As the season changes I am just about to start feeding the birds in the back garden. Big bag of bird seed is on the shopping list for Monday and the bird feeders are out of the shed waiting to be cleaned.

I have a bird table on the other side of the house, which up until now  has been the sole territory of the sparrows and has been filled daily with bird crumbs, leftover couscous, crumbled crackers and what ever else didn’t get eaten that day. In the last few weeks it has been taken over by blue tits, great tits and even a jaunty crested tit. There has obviously been some sort of turf war and I am curious as where my squabbling and normally numerous sparrows have gone.

Today, there was a new twist as I noticed honey bees rolling about in crumbs of discarded flapjack. The last flowers have secumbed to the first frost , but the warm weather has encouraged the bees to keep flying and the sugary flapjacks were obviously just what they needed to refuel  on a still November afternoon.

The Watchers.

We watch the birds and the birds watch us.

They are harvesting the maize here. The plants have ripened for months and are dry sentinels guarding the hard yellow cobs that will go for bio fuel or animal feed. Enormous harvesters are shredding the stalks and a glistening stream of grain pours into the following truck. And watching from the orchards are the chaffinches.

A few have been here all summer, but now there are hundreds and they are following the harvest. What do these huge roaring machines look like to these little birds? How did they learn that the rumble and diesel smell means grain to eat as they pick their way through the chaff with the newly arrived winter migrants?

The storks and the buzzards recognise the ploughs that turn over insects and voles to eat in the summer and my sparrows recognise the bread board being shaken each morning over the bird table to scatter crumbs for them.

We think we are the observant ones, but really we are just one set of eyes amongst many watching all around us!

Three quarters of the flying insects are gone.

This article from the Guardian newspaper explains the terrifying decline in insects that is happening in Europe. I heard about it on a radio programme as I was rushing out to work and like so much bad news, I jus hoped it wasn’t true.

Unfortunately it is true and I know it . 

When I would drive home in dusk twenty years ago, the windscreen of my car would be covered in dead insects. Driving down a country lane in the summer was to push through all manner of bugs and butterflies, but now the glass is hardly dirty.

The air is empty. We have trimmed all the hedges and the field edges, we have patioed our gardens and insecticided every crop and plant that we grow. We have tidied up everywhere and now there is virtually no where left for a bug to feed, which means no bugs for the birds to feed on, no birds for the mammals to catch and so on up the food chain.

I don’t want to know this. It is too depressing, but that won’t stop it being true.

So in the spirit of the saying that it is better to light a candle in the night, that to curse the darkness, I will not be tidying my garden this weekend. I shall leave every over grown plant and tatty seedhead; every untrimmed corner of rank grass and every heap of uncollected leaves in the hope that a few hard pressed insects will find a home there and survive for just a little longer.

Here’s to not gardening in the dark!

https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/21/insects-giant-ecosystem-collapsing-human-activity-catastrophe

“…later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease.”

Keats “ Ode to  Autumn” must have been inspired by a day like today. Sunshine has spun out so many  flowers, that it seems impossible cold weather will ever destroy them and frost crisp them: but it will.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease…

 

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A Day to Fly.

Lying on my back watching the sky, I saw long white filaments appear from high up and drift on by in the clear blue air. All the swifts, swallows and even martins have long gone, but some thing was taking advantage of the autumn sunshine : spiders.

Spiders,  like this garden beauty, stick their fat abdomens up to the sky from trees and twigs and spin out long threads of gossamer, which contain hundreds of tiny spiders, and cast them adrift to the wind.  The gossamer can carry the young spiders for hundreds of miles away across land or water . They can skim on salt or fresh water and Darwin himself found them on his ship miles from any land.

Many will perish, but many will survive and colonise huge distances.

What daring – what freedom.  What a day to fly!

 

Robin’s Bread

Spindle berries are my favourite fruit of the autumn. From inconspicuous little green flowers in the spring, the oddest, brightest and most extravagant seeds grow.

The fruitcase in an astounding lipstick vibrant pink and when ripe they open to display a fluorescent orange seed. Most plants make do with dry seeds in a papery dead case,  but the spindle pouts its glory in colours that seem almost artificial and unnatural in their unexpected vibrancy.

The wood is tough and sharp and was used to making spinning spindles, knitting needles and even toothpicks. Folk law says when used to make a meat skewer, the wood will keep all meat impaled upon it sweet.

In Germany it is called Rotkehlchenbrot or Robin’s Bread and from watching the bush in my garden I understand why . The robins adore the orange fruit and hang upside down on the long branches to pull them out from the pink lips. Black birds and black caps will eat them too and the poisonous seed passes harmlessly through their digestive tracts to be flown to new hedgerow places, where they take root and eventually make more bread for the hungry robins!

 

 

Autumn Equinox.

Today the sky was full of birds. Hundreds and hundreds of swallows passed over the garden on their long journey south.

Our village is on a major migration route in the autumn and the spring.  Serious birders set up telescopes on the field below the church and scan the skies as all types of birds leaving the north are funnelled by the river valley and the first folds of the Jura Mountains into columns high over head. The garden is under this line and my husband spots honey buzzards, bee eaters, ospreys, cranes, storks and even a vulture from the comfort of the front porch.

Today no binoculars were needed to see the birds . At times they streamed by, at other times they wove and stitched the air as they caught insects above the apple trees and the willow and all the untidy greenery of an autumn garden . Then the sky was clear and they seemed to pause,  come back and feed again, criss crossing the blue sky a thousand times and counting them became an utter impossibility. The air was all slicing wings, tail ribbons and unceasing movement and strangely all of it was completely silent. No twittering, just determined hunting and then moving on: the season has changed.