Wednesday, May 2, 2007

My darkest secret*

by Suw on May 2, 2007

I was sitting on my couch this afternoon, slaving away over a hot laptop, when I heard this amazingly loud chirping. It sounded for a moment as if some bird had managed to get into the flat and was, quite possibly, sitting on my shoulder, cheeping. I was pretty sure that there wasn't a small brown Richard III (that joke's for all you Two Ronnies fans out there) sitting on my shoulder because, well, I think I would have noticed.
The sound was coming from a fledgling blackbird (or possibly starling) that had landed on the window ledge. It was staring in through the window at me, screaming for food. I tried to grab my camera, but it flew off before I could get a picture.
If there's one thing I miss about living in the countryside, it's the small birds. (Cats would be the other thing, but although many bird lovers are cat haters we used to manage to have both in the garden in quantity at the same time without too many problems. Small birds are, usually, faster than well-fed, ageing domestic cats.) I particularly miss the fledglings – cuter bundles of fluff it's hard to imagine.
Back when I was in one of my interim penniless periods down in Horton Heath, the house where I grew up and where my parents still lived until a few years ago, we had bird feeders hanging up in the garden, right in front of large patio doors. The view was fabulous. What made it even better was that there was a washing line nearby and Dad had suspended the feeders themselves from a cane that protruded from the brick shed roof. All that equalled plenty of perching space.
The fledgelings would line up on the cane or the washing line and call for food. The adults would visit the feeders, then attend the chicks. We'd get a lot of bluetit chicks, all lined up in a row, all identical, all being fed by a variety of parents who didn't necessarily seem to remember whose chick was whose.

(Thank you ljpixie75)
But my favourite was always the long tailed tits, who'd swoop into the garden twice a day in a flock of about eight, see what they could find at the feeders, and then be gone. They were fabulously pretty, and the cutest thing this side of Cute Overload. But the chicks… oh my. The long tailed tit fledglings were just small round balls of pink and black fluff with a ludicrously long tail stuck on one end. Like ping pong balls that have been rolled in pink lint.

(Thank you Simon D Barnes)
I couldn't find a pic of a long tailed tit chick, but they were just gorgeous.
When I was a kid, Dad and I would go to a place called Whitesheet – forestry commission heathland that had been severely denuded in the fire of 76, but which now supported a population of nightjars and hobbies. (The BBC article on the fires actually mentions Horton 'common', which must have been Horton Heath itself, which was at the top of the lane where our house was. I was five, and if I remember rightly, we moved in towards the end of that year – I remember driving over there and there being smoke in the air and fires breaking out all over the place. Hurn Forest, which would have included Whitesheet, lost 50,000 trees, and the military fuel dump at West Moors was nearly encircled by flame.) There was one bird that used to slap its wings together in a really distinctive sound, but I can't for the life of me remember which one it was. We didn't often see much, being fairweather birders without that much of a clue, but I used to get very excited when we saw a hobby.
It's funny, recently I've started reading the Birdchick's blog, mainly really to see how Mr Neil's bees are doing, but it's reminding me a lot of how much I miss birds. I'm no birder – I have little to no knowledge of birds, but it doesn't take knowledge to appreciate how cute lil fledgelings are.
* Not really.

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