A misconception of the robin

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After talking in the last diary about urban wildlife, I happened to be at a total standstill in traffic at the airport roundabout last week (the joys of travelling to the city for Christmas shopping!), when I spotted two roe deer, in their dark chocolate winter coats, standing at the edge of the field right at the roundabout.

They seemed totally oblivious to the streams of traffic passing close by, which is most un-deerlike (I know that isn’t really a word, but you know what I mean!)

They were well out in the open and it would be a long run to the cover of trees should they be threatened. At least it provided something charming to look at whilst I sat in the traffic. With Christmas nearly here, the robin attracts a lot more attention than it does at other times of the year, due to it featuring on many a pretty Christmas card.

Last week, a four-year-old boy asked me ‘Where do the robins go in summer?’ The answer is that they are in our gardens all year around, but are more obvious in winter, partly due to their foraging activities being more out in the open in winter and them being more visible due to the bare branches.

During the spring and summer they are more secretive, as they are breeding, have nests and young and are less easily spotted among trees and shrubbery dense with leaves, although in early spring you can sometimes see furious and harshly aggressive fights between male robins.

I always think too that the approach of the festive season makes us more aware of the robin in general, so we spot it more often.

There is a popular misconception that the robin is a winter only visitor to our gardens, but, as anyone who is a keen gardener will know they are always there, often close to where you are disturbing the soil, nipping in to pick up anything small you may uncover.

However, if you know the robin’s song, you will hear it sing throughout the year and even during the night, so even though you may not see it, you will know that it is about.

It is a beautiful and quite soulful song and well worth listening out for. I explained to the little boy about the robin and I hope that he will now look out for it in his garden at all times of the year. Talking of aggression, I recently watched four carrion crows in a stubble field close to my house.

What a commotion they were causing, it seemed to be generally a free for all, with the birds leaping at one another, wings flapping, sharp beaks lunging.

On several occasions, one bird would jump onto the back of another, flattening it to the ground and then violently, and with some force, pecking it on the back.

I have not seen four crows in such a fight before and could only wonder at the cause. Perhaps there was some kind of foodstuff on the ground that they were squabbling over I could not see clearly for the stubble.

It was a very frosty morning, the ground would be hard and so food would be difficult to find and therefore more precious and worth defending perhaps.

A dead rabbit or such might have been the cause. Unfortunately, I was distracted by something else going on and when I turned to look again, they had all disappeared, no doubt a bit the worse for their scrap. Now for a bit of the old green-eyed monster. A friend of mine saw a female goshawk! How lucky was she and how jealous was I.

She said that she nearly drove straight into the hedge instead of turning the corner, so taken aback was she by the size and stunning good looks of this gorgeous bird.

They are uncommon birds, frequenting open woodland, and are masters of manoeuvring through the trunks and branches in pursuit of prey.

The females are much larger than the males, being slightly bigger than a buzzard, but their light undersides (finely pencilled in black) gives the appearance of them being even bigger.

They have the most wonderful glaring, yellow raptor eye with a pale stripe running above it and lemon yellow legs and feet, ending in formidable black talons.

I have not seen a goshawk in years I was so envious, that I am sure I was emerald green all over. What a thrill for her though. As Christmas and New Year approaches, I tend to think back to the wildlife highlights of the year past and to start planning and wondering about the year coming and all the fabulous full blown wildlife encounters or sometimes just small, magical moments it will bring. The festive period brings lots of mincemeat pies, shortbread, fruit puddings, cookies and Christmas cake.

Any leftovers and crumbs will be gratefully received by the garden birds so don¹t bin them.

Instead, why not give the birds a bit of festive cheer too, they will entertain you and reward you by seeking out and gobbling up any pests hiding away in your winter garden, just waiting, ready to emerge in spring and start munching your plants.

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas and to thank you all for reading and taking such an interest in my ramblings and for all the information, queries and stories you have sent to me.

Do get out and about if you can you may see some great wildlife, but if not, then at least you can work off the mincemeat pies.