“Aaaaand… hold that pose. Beautiful!”
While I was busily looking at blossom and daffodils on yesterday’s riverside walk, I was quite astonished to turn a corner on the towpath and encounter this heron. I’ve posted about herons before – but I’ve never managed to get so close to one in all my years of exploring the area. It really didn’t seem at all bothered by the many Sunday strollers milling around, and it let me get within a few feet of it to snatch these shots as it happily posed. Having consulted the bird guide on the RSPB website, I suspect this may be a juvenile bird, which might account for it showing off for us humans! A supermodel in the making, perhaps?
Watch out Kate Moss – there’s a new kid in town…
We love the robin. This cheeky, cute little garden bird with its distinctive red breast and vivid song is a popular visitor to feeders and bird tables all round the UK – and it is one of the animals we most closely associate with Christmas too. But how well do we really know this much-loved creature? And why is it connected to the festive season anyway? Today, I’m going to attempt to find out more…
The European robin (Erithacus rubecula) is a common sight all year round and across the country, favouring hedgerows, gardens and parks in particular. They eat worms, seeds, insects, and fruit; frequently provided by us humans. They often nest quite close to us too – sometimes in unusual and unexpected places such as sheds, hanging baskets, discarded kettles or pots, and farm machinery – and have two broods of young a year, often more. The birds and their nests are protected by law.
Both the male and female adult robins have red breasts (young birds are a sort of spotty golden brown), and it is these red feathers that seem to trigger the highly territorial nature of this otherwise innocuous-looking small bird. Indeed, they will often aggressively defend their territory, and have been known to viciously attack other robins they perceive as a threat – and scientists have found that they will also go for small stuffed ‘toy’ robins or even clumps of red feathers!
Their attractive song is used to find a mate, although it is also part of their territorial display. Both the male and female sing, and have different songs for different times of the year, depending on the song’s purpose. During the summer time, territories will be held by mated pairs who defend it together, but by the time winter rolls round, each robin will be singing noisily to protect its own individual patch.
I realised recently that we haven’t had any ducks round here for absolutely ages. So, when I spotted a few relatively friendly mallards on a family trip to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex not so long ago, I decided that a new duck post was definitely in the offing. And when I say I spotted a few mallards, I actually mean there were loads of them. They were absolutely everywhere. They didn’t seem that bothered by humans either (their collective look of disdain when a small boy came hurtling up the path towards them, enthusiastically yelling “OOOOH, HELLO DUCKS!” kinda said it all).
The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
Yes, this silly little ditty (one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child) is apparently* by the very same Christopher Isherwood who wrote Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye To Berlin (1938) – the novels that were later adapted into the play I Am A Camera (1951) and the 1966 stage musical and cult 1972 film Cabaret. I was irresistably reminded of Isherwood’s nonsense poem when I encountered this beautiful cormorant stretching out his wings in the July sunshine as I walked by the Thames in Richmond last week. Incidentally, you might like to know that cormorants and shags (no sniggering at the back there!) are, although of the same avian family, two totally different types of bird – and there were no bears (with or without buns) to be seen anywhere, rather disappointingly…
*There is some debate over whether the poem is actually by Isherwood at all, but it is certainly widely attributed to him on most poetry websites and in pre-internet poetry collections (of the physical book kind) dating back over a number of decades that I have either personally seen or own.
Cute, aren’t they? This magnificent seven live along the Grand Union Canal at Ladbroke Grove in west London, and are being beautifully looked after by mum and dad. In fact, when I passed them this evening, they were sat on the grass, all trying to wriggle under mum’s wing at once to keep warm! I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of these seven little signs that spring has finally arrived…
Digging though the Another Kind Of Mind media library, I came across some photographs I had uploaded over the summer and then promptly forgotten about, so I thought I would share them with you now (plus, we haven’t had any ducks round these parts for a while!). Most of these were taken along my favourite stretch of the Thames between Twickenham and Richmond in south-west London during the early summer of 2012.
Meet Sonny (above) and Tallulah (below), possibly the most chilled out Barn Owls in the world. I met them this afternoon at the Grow Heathrow open day in Sipson – they’d been brought along by a local owl rescue centre (which, I have to admit, I didn’t even know existed until today!) to meet everyone.
While the rest of the local area has spent the last few days at an absolutely chaotic stand-still due to the Olympic cycling, these sleepy pigeons – spotted on Richmond Bridge – have definitely got the right idea…
Well, more like a coot actually. And this one, believe it or not, is actually building a nest on this floating platform. Most birds are pretty secretive about where they nest, tucking themselves away in trees (like the parakeet nest I recently spotted, cunningly hidden in a hole half way up a tree trunk), hedges or undergrowth to prevent predators from getting at them and their precious offspring – but coots are a bit more blatant about their nest building.
Highly aggressive and very territorial, particularly during the breeding season, coots are, as you can see, pretty in your face about nesting, despite the fact that they often lose a high percentage of their young to gulls and herons because they make so little effort to disguise their nest sites. Being omnivores, they will even eat the eggs of other water birds, and are also known to viciously bully their own young, all of which – despite their small size and attractive appearance – makes them a bird not to be crossed under any circumstances, quite frankly!
Fortunately, this one didn’t spot me as I photographed it – I dread to think what would have happened if it had…
Duck and cover, methinks!
After a strangely warm autumn, winter is seriously kicking in now, with snow and winds of 100mph and more in some parts of the UK during the last week – and this stormy weather looks set to continue. It’s getting bitingly cold for us humans, but can you imagine what this weather is like for wildlife; especially for the birds in your garden?
Birds can really suffer in such severely cold conditions, particularly young adults and the old or sick. They all need food with a high fat content to help them stay warm in their roosts during the cold winter nights, and if they can’t find enough suitable wild food, they simply won’t survive.
Which is where you come in. As the colder weather begins to bite, putting some food out for the birds in your garden could help them get through the icy winter by supplementing their meagre wild diet at this time of the year – and hopefully give them a better chance of breeding come next spring.
Feeding the birds in your garden (or even on your balcony) is also an immensely rewarding process. It’s fascinating to watch as various types of birds visit your feeder or bird table – in my mum’s small suburban back garden, for example, just one bird feeder brings in more than half a dozen different species, including a very cheeky, very territorial robin who acts like he owns the place!