Thursday, May 22, 2008

Getting Closer to Nature

One thing I love about living so near the countryside is that having a bird feeder is very worthwhile. In our previous house, we had very few visitors due to the fact that there were a disproportionate amount of cats living in our area (not to mention my own lovely boys who were still alive at that point) and new houses were being built at such great speed that anything remotely resembling wildlife was being steadily driven away. The house we live in now is set on an estate (subdivision) but we are literally ten minutes walk either way from countryside, the Thames, fields and even a forest. Kites and eagles playing in the wind currents fly over our house, and the other day the vivid blue flash of a Kingfisher caught me by surprise as I drove along the road.

Little English robins (so different from their larger North American cousins) visit my bird feeder, as do sparrows, wrens and finches. Some of my favourite bird visitors are the rather embarrassingly named "tits". My husband fondly recalls being made weak with laughter at the age of eight when his Grandmother, who also enjoyed feeding birds, suddenly called out one day "My tits are in the tree!" The fact that one of the prettiest members of this bird family is called a blue tit still makes me giggle.

Pigeons and doves mate on our fence. I have to say the speed with which they do this is quite staggering. There is a lot of posturing and nuzzling and then suddenly the male bird hops on and it's over in seconds. It seems impossible they could get anything at all out of the experience. We also get Magpies and ravens - proper Tower of London size ravens - both of which I chase away with a sharp knock on the window when I see them. Sometimes they fly away, sometimes they just stare back at me with a "make me" kind of look. This makes me sigh rather heavily as there is no way I am going out there and having a contretemps with that kind of bird!

Yesterday I saw a goldfinch for the very first time. He was a beautiful little bird with a red dot on his forehead, and so unfamiliar to me I was forced to consult my son's "Book of British Birds". He really was a gorgeous specimen. Sadly I have not seen him since yesterday, but I do hope he will come back.

We also get squirrels. In fact we have two squirrel visitors, both of whom like to believe that our garden is their personal territory. Some days they tolerate each other, but other days it is proper pistols at dawn fights where they fly off together in a ball and it is almost impossible to tell where one squirrel starts and the other begins. Unlike many other British folk, I don't mind the squirrels visiting. One lady I know (who is otherwise lovely) surprises me by the vehemence with which she states "I'd like to shoot the little buggers". Apparently they dig up her bulbs, eat them and create havoc in her garden. I have never had that happen. I think there is an unwritten squirrel rule that if you feed them, they leave your other stuff alone. I am almost certain of this because my friend Alice also feeds the squirrels and has no damage to her garden either. I'm not about to tell the first lady I mentioned this particular fact though as squirrels are something best left unmentioned in her presence.

The nice thing is that the longer we have the bird feeder, the more comfortable the birds and squirrels become. Instead of starting at our every movement, most of them are now pretty relaxed about feeding. It's lovely standing there in the morning looking out of our kitchen windows with a coffee, just watching the birds. It really slows you down and makes you appreciate the beautiful world around you, and it is a wonderful way to start the day.

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