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Sunday, July 14, 2024
Laterally SpeakingFeathered Friends

Feathered Friends

I think it happens when we all get a bit older, but I find I’ve now become much more of a wildlife fan. Being officially ‘retired’, it’s probably got more to do with me having spare time on my hands and watching too much David Attenborough on TV. Not that you can ever have ‘too much’ of Saint David, as he seems to be one of the few sane people left on our polystyrene polluted planet. When it comes to elections of various kinds, I’d much rather put an ‘X’ against Sir David’s name on my ballot paper. If he’d care to stand somewhere, I’d go and vote for him so he could then sort out Westminster by covering Big Ben with a gigantic pile of discarded plastic bags topped with albatross poo. He’d also save the country by feeding the soggy mess called Brexit to a troop of hungry polar bears, although they might end up with chronic indigestion.
I don’t know about you, but I find that—as I get older—everything around me is rushing past at ever increasing speed. This is why I now like gardening. Way back when I didn’t have the patience to wait six weeks for my runner beans or sweet-peas to grow. A month was an eternity, let alone six weeks! But now that I’m slowing down a bit, all my plants seem to be springing out of the ground like Jacks-in-the-box and it’s increasingly difficult to catch them before they bolt away. It’s a sort of race between me, the plants and the slugs, which is in itself an exciting and fun activity.
Along with gardening has come a sudden interest in birds—the feathered variety. I’m not yet a proper ‘Bird Watcher’ (I’m only a Bird Gazer Third Class), but I now almost know the difference between a siskin and a serin (not as easy as you think) and I can even recognise individual wood pigeons and blackbirds from their calls. I still get a bit bemused by buntings (so many of them) and I’m befuddled by the myriad tribes of finches, but I know enough to get through the majority of bird questions at our local village quiz night.
With the onrush of beginners’ enthusiasm, my wife and I have now joined the RSPB and we’ve erected a forest of bird feeders near to the kitchen window. Instead of my usual semi-dormant morning inertia at the breakfast table, I can now be spotted next to the coffee machine, squinting at the sky as I eagerly scan the fat balls for a chaffinch. Or is that a red start? Quick—get the bird book! One of my first purchases was a nice pair of binoculars—an essential piece of kit even for amateur bird gazers like me…
I thought this new hobby would be easy and relatively cheap, but that’s not quite true. Although the birds themselves don’t cost anything, their food does and I must have spent the equivalent of several Spanish family beach holidays on everything from sunflower seeds and hearts to pink and grey suet pellets, mealworms and suet blocks (with added insect extract for extra protein). And there’s no such thing as simple birdseed. Birdseed comes prepacked as ‘Feeder mix’, ‘Table mix extra’, ‘Blue Tit mix’ (which seems to attract every bird EXCEPT blue-tits) and my least favourite—‘No Mess mix’. This latter is misnamed as it produces much more mess than the others, but at least your garden gets cultivated with hundreds of beautiful wildflowers from the seeds that fall to the ground. And then there’s the tiny black nyjer seeds which get everywhere—on the floor, under the coffee machine, in your hair and in your breakfast cereal bowl etc. Nyjer seed is supposed to attract goldfinches and the like, but a huge magpie removed the container from its hook the other day and dropped the whole thing on the ground where it promptly broke. The bird then proceeded to gobble it all up beakful by greedy beakful. Of course, this was on purpose. Magpies are very clever but they’re also selfish and brutish and mean.
I call this the Bird Feeder Paradox… the greater the joy, the greater the problem. You start by putting out all your bird food and for about five days it’s a wonderful success. You get every sort of small bird such as robins and tits and finches all feeding near your window. And then the starlings arrive like badly behaved noisy teenagers to drive all your pretty little birdies away. Two days later, the really big bullies arrive the crows, rooks and magpies. They proceed to trash the entire place and break or steal the feeders and scare everything away. Your only solution is to remove all the food and put the feeders into the garage for safe keeping till the following winter. This rather removes the object of bird watching.
Living on the Jurassic Coast, I suppose I could always hang out a dead sheep or something similar and wait for a passing Pterodactyl to swoop down on my garden like a huge dark Jabberwocky. That would clear out the magpies. And all the seagulls. And probably the horribly noisy children from number 14. And their cats… definitely their cats.

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