So I guess I’ve telegraphed the punchline there, calling my blog post “orchids underfoot”. Well who cares, I’m in a big hurry to show you what I found today so I’m cutting to the chase. Walking toward a huge bramble thicket on Tottenham marshes, and marvelling at the unidentified warblers who nest there I noticed something small and colourful beside my boot. Crouching down I found a bee orchid, just inches away from where I had ploughed a little path through the grass. And there were two more. And they were beautiful.
We’ve always had urban foxes passing through and spending time in our garden, but there seems to be an excess of vulpine activity in these parts of late. Their fine sense of just how long it’s safe to stare at the stupid human before flowing silkily under or over the fence to safety displays a magnificent comic insolence. And now that their activities have taken on a destructive and faintly macabre air I feel like the slow witted butt of many a foxy joke. It’s almost like Wiley E Coyote is getting his own back in a small suburban English garden, and I am the one who’s playing the straight guy.
They’ve always dug the occasional hole in the grass, and they’ve always dumped bones in the flower beds. We have become blasé to their eerie nocturnal shrieking and if they eat an occasional bird… well, they are only making a living after all, and I bet they eat a good many rats, too. We rub along together pretty well. But last week I was astonished to find a whole sheep skull under the rosemary bush looking at me through empty eye sockets like a prop from a remake of Lord Of The Flies. And yesterday our neighbour in the flat downstairs (who is a strict vegan) found two large meaty bones abandoned on her back doorstep. Presumably someone is feeding them, or they are raiding illegally dumped food waste. I’d love to know where this stuff is coming from, but the foxes aren’t telling.
They’ve dug up our carrots and they’ve strewn Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes around like a bunch of truanting kids. They pulled up a tomato plant, just for fun. There is nothing they like better than gnawing at and playing football with our flowerpots, and they especially love my old workboots which I planted with geraniums; I never know where I’m going to find them from one morning to the next. They treat our garden the way rock stars treat hotel bedrooms. And I would love to see them doing it.
But oddly, the best sighting I’ve had all this year was of a wild country fox, hunting voles in a lush spring meadow. Country foxes are warier beasts all together, so I guessed all we’d get was a brief glimpse before it saw us and vanished into the long grass. But we were screened by a thick hedgerow and the wind was in our favour – the fox had no idea we were there at all.
It combed the meadow, listening intently for a sound that might betray a rodent or bird. It was a lesson to see how it went about it’s business, calm and patient yet utterly focussed, and it wasn’t long before we saw it pounce and eat some small unlucky thing.
It came closer and closer as it quartered the field, I still can’t quite believe it came so close that I could get these pictures with my humble point-and-shoot camera. I’ve hesitated to photograph wild animals before, out of respect and and a desire to not spoil a moment with the clattering of the shutter, but watching this creature go about it’s daily business did not feel intrusive. A lesson in methodical patience, it went about the chore of feeding itself with a relaxed unhurried alertness and I tried to do the same as I recorded it.
We must have watched it hunting in the sunshine and long grass for ten minutes or more and I would have gladly stayed longer, but we were only half way through our walk and needed to keep going if we were to make it home before dark.
As we continued to walk along the field edge the fox continued hunting, its beauty glowing bright in the sun. If I ever felt the slightest irritation with it’s city living cousins those feelings got melted utterly as I looked over my shoulder and watched it, still stalking the long grass, till it was out of sight.
To read more Nature Notes, why not visit Rambling Woods – in fact, why not write a Nature Notes post of your own?
What’s wrong with these pictures? Unless you live on Pandora you don’t often get to see land floating through the sky! It’s been raining here in London almost non stop for the last couple of weeks, so on one of the few fine days last week I took my chance to go for a stroll in Finsbury Park. The huge expanses of grass that act as spontaneous football pitches in better weather were saturated in standing water and acted as natural reflecting pools. I took these photos of trees and sky reflected in the water and turned them upside down – as you can see from the image below.
For more beautiful and fascinating images of the sky around the world, visit Skywatch Friday!
Something was different today as I opened the back door to check the bird feeders and fill up our makeshift bird table – all along the back fence sat a row of little birds. They were waiting! Almost overnight it seems they have taken to using the bird feeders, almost emptying the seed feeder in the space of 24 hours. Robins, wrens and blackbirds fidgeted impatiently, and whizzing through the air blue and coal tits cheeped and twittered. I’m sure I saw a song thrush too, but it was extremely shy and flew behind the fence when I appeared. Not so the robins, who could barely wait and had already stormed the table before I’d reached the fire escape.
Robins are highly territorial birds and they are extremely bad at sharing – the fact that these two were able to tolerate each others presence shows just how desperately hungry they were. Eventually the bird on the right muttered “get lost” (which to human ears sounds like an incredibly sweet and lovely song) and the bird on the left, losing it’s nerve, flew into a rose bush to wait it’s turn.
I’ve only recently begun to feed the birds and it’s suddenly feeling like quite a responsibility, having all these small lives dependant (to some extent at least) on me. But it’s also an honour, the thought that I can actually help. Seeing that little fidgeting group of birds waiting in the thickly falling snow brought home to me their plight, and how easy and simple it is to do something about it.
…And don’t forget your fellow humans
As I have just written about the responsibility of saving lives I feel it would be a crime if I signed off from this post without mentioning the terrible earthquake in Haiti. If you don’t feel moved to feed the birds, please do not forget your fellow humans in their hour of need. If just one person who reads this feels moved to donate, that could mean a human life saved.
To read more Nature Notes, why not visit Rambling Woods – in fact, why not write a Nature Notes post of your own?
When running in my local park just before the big snowfall I marvelled at how so many birds seemed to be in full and frantic song, as if it were summer almost. The unseasonal display was quite disconcerting. Are they singing so early to establish territory in harsh weather? Birdsong is more than a pretty sound, it’s a territorial display, and birds would not waste their breath unless something pretty important was at stake. In winter, food and water and a safe place to roost are all that matters.
According to the RSPB this exceptionally harsh winter may be “the single greatest wildlife killer of the new millennium”. Food is hard to find under a blanket of ice and snow, and the extremely low night time temperatures mean that birds and other animals face death if they have not eaten enough to give them the energy to stay warm. Good quality food with a high energy content is vital, as is clean fresh water; many birds and animals suffer when ponds, puddles and lakes freeze. Urban and suburban gardens will be seeing unusual avian visitors as birds are forced to search further afield for food. On my frosty run last week I saw a beautiful flock of goldfinches gleaning frost twisted thistle heads beside the pond. And during the worst of the snow I could hear greenfinches twittering and whirring throught the back gardens; I’d be surprised if they’d found much to make it worth their while that day. I’ve mentioned my reluctance to feed the birds in our cat infested garden before, but seeing these hungry refugees inspired me to buy nut and seed feeders in the hope of helping them out.
Of course you don’t need to spend huge amounts of money on feeding the birds – as you can see, an upturned bucket or bin works well as a low level feeder, and I sprinkled this one with porridge oats and a bit of muesli. It was gone in a flash, and while the neighbours cats remain safely tucked up indoors I’m going to continue using this as a temporary bird table. Next time I will be brushing the snow and any debris off first!
The peanut feeder has been a more modest success – from what I can see, only one solitary nut has been pecked. However I believe it can take some time before birds can bring themselves to try a new feeder, just in case it’s a trap. Once the local birds know that it’s not, they will be eating happily, so I have to be patient. It doesn’t help that due to the design of our flat there is no window looking out onto the garden so watching the birds eat involves opening the back door – which disturbs the birds and freezes me. I did get to see one unusual little visitor quite close up though – a female grey wagtail, soaking wet (from having a bath? I guess so…) appeared like a conjuring trick in our kitchen window box while we were eating breakfast.
A lousy picture which makes her look more like a pipit or thrush, but I wasn’t willing to move the curtain and risk disturbing our guest. At first she barely moved, then set about fluffing up and preening the water from her feathers, flashing a beautiful long tail as she did so. Apart from this being an unexpected intimacy with a lovely little bird I’ve never seen in these parts before, her appearance inspired me to try my luck with a window mounted feeder. I haven’t bought one yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes when I do.
There are a few things to bear in mind when feeding the birds, such as keeping them safe from predators, what they can and can’t eat, but really it’s not rocket science. For lots of really helpful information on feeding the birds in the UK, check out the RSPB bird feeding advice. Another great resource for USA specific species is from Cornell’s project feeder watch. But to be honest, wherever you are in the world there are just a few basic rules you will need to know. Here’s my short rundown of helpful do’s and don’ts:-
Bird Feeding Do’s and Dont’s
Do…Leave out clean fresh water for the birds as well as food. Even in winter birds must bathe to keep their plumage in the best possible condition, and drinking water provided in gardens is vital when all other water has frozen.
Don’t… Give birds milk or foods soaked in milk – they cannot digest it and it will make them ill. They can’t eat dried, dessicated coconut either, as it will swell up inside them. Fresh coconut is fine.
Do… Be aware of predators – feed birds in a clear area away from overhanging bushes or anything that could hide a cat.
Don’t… worry if you buy a bird feeder but the birds haven’t started using it yet. It can take them a little while to get used to new feeders, a couple of weeks sometimes. If the feeder is in a safe space and stocked with food which that particular feeder is made to hold, they will come.
Do… remember to carefully clean bird feeders and tables every so often with a mild disinfectant, and rinse carefully. This will help prevent the spread of infectious diseases between birds and ensure that harmful mould does not grow.
Don’t… feed the birds mouldy food – certain kinds of mould can make birds seriously ill and even kill them.
Do… remember to save your apple cores or bruised bits of banana for the bird table. If you know where the blackbirds forage in your garden, an apple core is a tasty treat for them to find! Want more ideas of things to feed the birds? Check the RSPB’s advice on what birds like to eat here!
Whether you feed the birds on an upturned dustbin, a well established bird table or feeding station, a window feeder, or even from the palm of your hand I’d love to know your tips, too, so why not leave them in a comment here?
PS:- The wonderful Michelle of Rambling Woods has a website stuffed with bird feeding tips and has offered to help answer any questions you may have on the subject over at her blog. Although she claims to “not be an expert,” I can highly recommend a visit to this helpful, resource rich and informative site.