January 14th 2016
Wind and rain have given way to snow and our first frosts of winter. Hence on all fronts the bird life around Innisfree has required special attention. Our four hens (Bluebell, Snowy, Sunshine and Clucky ( courtesy of our daughter and granddaughters’ naming ceremony) welcomed release from their closed paddy field of a run in exchange for some free range foraging on the rest of the allotment. In the garden special bird attention amounted to a bird table replenished in traditional, childhood manner. Julian’s Veg in Kelso helped by stocking coconuts and ‘monkey nuts’ in their shells. Sawn in half the coconuts were suspended from table and a tree, strings of threaded nuts alongside. All week, blue, coal and great tits have acrobatically feasted on both. Niger seed, in its custom made feeder, proved equally magnetic to goldfinches, greenfinches, siskins and chaffinches. Amidst all the activity, the sight of a solitary brambling was an added bonus. At ground level wood pigeons, a robin and dunnocks hoovered up their own food mix. Blackbirds hopped everywhere searching out the remnants of our apple store which I had scattered. The gathering was completed by starlings. After visiting every food source they chilled out by bathing at the edge of the pond. At dusk they took to the air in a collective “farrachin” , joining a larger ‘murmuration’, then “lyk sheelock fae a thrashin mill, they mirlieit thi nicht”. (1) I watch for a while until this bustling,speckling of the night like chaff from and old threshing machine ends as the flock descends to its tree top roost.
1. For the full flavour of this Scottish hymn to the starling see W S Herbert’s poem “The Flock in the Forth” in an anthology entitled “The Poetry of Birds’ ed. S Armitage and T Dee. (Penguin Books)
P.S. Just as I finished writing the reference details , the peace was shattered. “Come and see this”, my wife, Barbara, called excitedly from the kitchen. “It came in a flash and caught a blackbird on the ground by the bird table”.She pointed to a bird crouched at the foot of the hedge pecking ferociously a heap of dusky feathers. A male sparrow hawk feeding on its kill; beautifully marked, yellow piercing eyes, pink-orange chest. A perfect specimen. it was nature in the raw and a welcome sight given that when I was compiling my boyhood diaries this bird was near extinction due to pesticide poisoning.