Garden birds are flourishing

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Well, the weather is suitably unseasonable at the moment and although it is affecting some species, others are continuing on with their normal activities regardless and others are positively thriving in it.

Surprisingly, the small birds in my garden are flourishing and I spent a contented hour last week watching them among the trees, shrubs and borders and at the feeders. The lower branches of the trees and the shrubs are full of pleading tweeting youngsters and one of my favourites at the moment are the little family of goldfinches. The youngsters are so adorable. At one stage, all four of them were all lined up on the edge of the cage that I put over some of the ground food to stop the pigeons and rooks hoovering up all of it. The four little fledglings sat crushed up together, so that it was difficult to decide where one ended and the other began. The adults were kept busy popping food into the ever open gapes.

I also have two young robins, still speckly, still willing to take food if the adults offer it, but becoming more independent by the day. I often see them out on their own now. There are several blackbird pairs about my garden and wood and one particular pair have now fledged their second brood. The tree and house sparrows are also there in squads and young blue and coal tits too, although I haven’t seen young great tits yet.

Although I have saw plenty of dragonflies and damselflies when I was in Mull, I have not seen so many on my home turf. Likewise with butterflies. On Mull, I saw lots of common blue butterflies, little sky blue scraps flying among the grasses and wildflowers, small heaths, looking exactly as you would imagine from its name somehow, brown and ginger with a small black spot on the underside of its forewing, and also a few small pearl bordered fritillaries, wonderful mosaics of oranges and blacks with the tell-tale edging to their wings of beautiful silvery scallop shapes, as delicate and pretty as a baby’s fingernail. Butterflies are definitely not around in great numbers this year so far though and I am missing seeing these about the garden and countryside. Summer does not seem like summer without them.

Bumblebees, the essential soundtrack of a summer day are conspicuous by their absence too. I am not seeing such a variety, but early on in the spring when we had such lovely weather, they were out in force and last week when we had one warm, sunny day, there certainly seemed to be plenty around, particularly in the gorse and bracken flowers. Maybe it is the weather, maybe not, but we could do with a warm, dry spell to allow the flowers to open and the bees to get buzzing.

Roe deer, in my opinion, the prettiest of deer are abundant here in the north east and I often come across them on my walks or even when driving around. They are at their most attractive at this time of year in their rich, russet coats and when I see one standing against bright lime green foliage such as emerging bracken or fresh beech leaves, I think that the colour combination is spectacular. I have seen a few young roe deer fawns around, but the most interesting encounter I had recently was with a red deer hind and her tiny spotted calf. I had been walking along a track and emerged out from some woods into the open. The ground sloped away down from my left then rose up the side of a small hill. On the bank of the hill, in a grassy patch between the emerging bracken I spotted the hind suckling the calf. Unfortunately, although I did not move, she also spotted me as I had no where to take cover. She stamped her front foot stiffly and gave a small grunt. The effect on the calf was immediate and effective. It took to its heels and sped off at a terrific pace for such a small creature, through the bracken across the side of the hill, then, with a final impressive leap disappeared into the birch wood. Mum followed on trotting at a more leisurely pace and looking back over at me every so often and, it seemed, drawing me dirty looks. I was really amazed at how fast the calf could run and its acceleration when Mum gave the warning.

Young birds of prey are developing fast at this time of year and in the last few weeks, I have watched osprey chicks, ungainly lumps but already somehow managing to look like ospreys, huge black sea eagle chicks stomping about their nest platform with a proprietorial air, the nest now flattened by their activities and the size of a double bed. One windy day, I worried for them as them seemed intent on tramping about the very edge of the nest. However, no harm came to them. By contrast, I know of several kestrel nests with chicks, the young such a contrast to the huge brutes in the sea eagle nest. These youngsters are small and seem incredibly vulnerable, but it seems that this is turning out to be a good vole year, so there is plenty of prey coming in to feed them, so I can relax knowing that they will develop incredibly fast on this diet.

A result of the high vole numbers, combined with a milder winter last year is benefitting the owls too and barn owl numbers are better than they have been in the last two years. Let’s hope that the wet nights do not stop them hunting too much and that the youngsters will fledge successfully, so that the numbers can recover a bit. I am hoping to install a few barn owl boxes in sites where I know the owls have lost their natural nest sites due to deterioration or redevelopment, in the hope of encouraging them back, or perhaps some of the young birds from this year will use them as a winter roost site.

I can’t do much about the weather unfortunately, but no doubt that the animals, birds, insects and plants, with a little help from us can weather the storm so to speak!