Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Goldfinch trio

It's been months since I last saw a goldfinch in the garden. I was kicking myself for foolishly investing a big bag of niger seed, their favourite food. The seed in the feeder is very stale. It must have been there for at least three months.

About twenty minutes ago, I heard a goldfinch singing its beautiful, liquid, babbling-brook of a song. Moments later, I happened to glance at the old feeder and this is what I saw.

I reckon its mum, dad and a youngster who is waiting his turn. I shall now rush out and put some fresh seed in the feeder.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Jackdaws and ghostly hawks

Something was cawing loudly from next door's apple tree, its outraged din no doubt aimed at Charlie the ginger cat, who was sitting right next to the bread I had just thrown onto the lawn. I thought it was a crow but when it flew off, it was making a kind of chuckling, grunting noise to itself that I have certainly never heard a crow make.

Now, I realise it was a jackdaw. I have been hearing their chack-chacks in the distance for some months now and the sound whisks me back into the past, first to Bangor, North Wales, where I studied for my English degree. Jackdaws nested in the clock-tower - the very same one to which I, and another daring, drunken soul climbed one day to string up some men's underpants that we had snatched in a raid on the men's hall of residence, in revenge for their bra-nicking raid on one of the women's halls. I used to sit on the steep slope of College Park, listening to the jackdaws chattering away, their sounds more soft-edged and musical than the harsh cries of the crows and rooks.

The second place I am transported to is St Agnes in Cornwall, where the tall trees near a dear-departed friend's garden housed a family group of jackdaws. I would sit by their pond on a drowsy day, being lulled by the soft, chuckling 'chacks'.

So I am very pleased that jackdaws have moved into the neighbourhood. They appear to have displaced the crows that once nested in the oak trees in the field beyond our garden.

I'm also delighted to spot a song thrush in the garden. It's been at least six years since I last saw one. I heard it first, singing away at dusk, its song mingling with those of the blackbird and nightingale, but when I saw it running across the lawn, its feet drumming on the grass to bring up the worms, I was thrilled. The thrush was my mother's favourite bird. She got one so tame that she would hand-feed it and it would hop through our kitchen door and stand on the red York stone tiles, its head on one side, making a soft preeping sound and waiting for a hand-out.

I don't think we dare risk taming this one. Not with Charlie about. He is a mighty mouser, but I'd hate him to develop a taste for bird, too. Mind you, my mother trained our huge silver tabby, Cloudy, to hunt mice but ignore birds. She was the best cat-whisperer I've ever known. By praising him whenever he caught a mouse and delivering a telling-off and a light tap on the nose when he went after a bird, he soon got the idea and would sit meekly on the lawn, like a furry statue, whilst the sparrows fluttered and cheeped all around him.

A odd post-script: soon after my mother died, while my sister was on the phone to the vicar, making funeral arrangements, I happened to look out of Mum's bedroom window and there on the fence was the biggest thrust I had ever seen, with a wonderful speckly breast. It turned its head and gave me an unwavering look from a golden eye. I shivered. I just knew it was Mum, come back to say hello to her grieving daughters. I yelled downstairs to my sister to look out of the window. She shouted back crossly: "I can't, I'm on the phone."

It was a good ten minutes before she ended the conversation. Then she stomped upstairs to ask what I was going on about. "There!" I said, pointing to the bird that was still sitting on the fence.

"Wow!" she said. "It's some kind of hawk."

Indeed it was. It gave us both a long, long look, then slowly and majestically flew off across the garden. We both knew that something weird and strange and wonderful had happened. The hawk was the Ancient Egyptians' messenger from the other side. What normal bird, especially a large bird of prey, would have sat on a garden fence in suburban Liverpool all that time, just waiting until it gathered both of us together? We both felt a sense of truth in the knowledge that it was, indeed, if not Mum herself in spirit form, a messenger from her to tell us she was okay. It wasn't a sparrowhawk; the colouring was wrong. It might have been a kestrel. I don't think we'll ever know.