Saturday, June 25, 2011
Even though Magpies have a bit of a reputation for being the bullies of the bird world, I happen to be very fond of these striking black and white birds. I think they are funny, clever and great survivors. In fact, some sources say they are one of the most clever of the bird world.
The back garden not only has become a dinner table for them, but it's also their playground. And incredibly, Magpies are amazingly playful and social. It's not unusual to watch the teen-agers play tag or engage in other bird games. They also like a bit of tail pulling when a parent is relaxing and sunning on the lawn.
In the corner of the lawn is a gingerbread style Wendy house, and the Magpies have decided this is their place. One of the most touching scenes I've seen was when all five were hanging around the Wendy house, and the male adult was spreading his wings in the sun, and mom came over and cuddled right into him to sun her wings (see the photo above). They are also clever enough to get out of a heavy rain, and I have spied the family sheltering under the eaves of the Wendy house. Yesterday, a large fragment of a suet ball had fallen from the feeder, and a Magpie ran over and grabbed it off the ground. It then proceeded to stuff the ball under the floor of the Wendy house so it could come back and eat it later.
Magpies are large and visible, so it is easy to watch this family of five develop and interact. They take great care as parents to teach and socialize their offspring. I don't know how long it will be before the teen-agers pack up and 'leave home' to set up their own forested household, but this family has been a real treat to watch.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
We've had a dry and warm beginning to Spring 2011 in our English garden. The garden hose -- or as it's often called here, the hosepipe -- has already been out in force.
Above are currant bushes, a fox glove and Delphinium.
The warm spring has been a mixed blessing in the garden because the ample sunshine has brought everything into bloom earlier. However, great care must be made to keep things moist. I find it all a bit bizarre because I spent April in Colorado, where it was supposed to be mostly dry, and I experienced several snows, hail, sleet, freezing temperatures and lots of rain, and it continued to rain there through May. I come back to England, and they were enjoying summer-like temperatures of low humidity and little rain, and these pristine conditions have continued now into June. I'm not complaining by any means; just observing!
Back to my gardening adventures . . . I've planted a range of flowers in our back garden since moving here about three years ago. Although I re-infuse the garden every year with annuals, we also have perennials that have successfully come back each year, such as the Pink Poppy above and the Red Poppy below (which were planted last spring), along with Delphinium, Lupins, Fox Gloves, Peonies, and Columbine.
I also planted some strawberries in a disused gravel area, and they've come up really strong this spring, with lots of sweet fruit.
We have blueberries and white currants in one of our beds, too.
I also enjoy filling pots with petunias, trailing lobelia, fuchsia, cosmos and other flowers.
Although the pots look a little thin right now, they will be overflowing with color by mid-summer.
The birds also have been taking advantage of the warmer conditions, and many have begun fledgling their offspring much earlier than last year. Some of the interaction can be quite sweet, such as when a parent blue tit was feeding its young while sitting on top of a suet-filled coconut husk. Wish I could have captured this scene today.
*But then there are the STARLINGS!*
They have arrived at the feeders with their fledglings about a month earlier than last year. The onslaught of starlings drives dear hubby Niall nuts! He has nick-named them the Orcs of the bird world (as in the trolls from Lord of the Rings). We can have as many as 65 in our garden at once, and their noise is deafening. They are particularly interested in the suet pellets that we have in the feeders (we use them instead of peanuts). The suet pellets attract a wide range of birds, including stunning Greater and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, which fly over from nearby Norbury Woods. However, Niall is tempted to forgo the suet pellets to dissuade the starlings from overtaking our garden. We seem to forever go outside, clapping our hands and yelling to scare away those persistent starlings. But then, they are back as soon as we turn our backs. If we are sitting outside, taking in the lovely weather, sharing a cup of tea on the patio, the Starlings will perch in trees and wait for us to leave! The constant cacophony of shrills from them is enough to send us back inside.
I asked my contact at Wildbird Direct, where I order my bird food, how to discourage Starlings from the feeders since they dominate and don't allow the smaller song birds to eat. Darren said: 'If I had a pound for every time a customer asked me that question.' Oh well . . .
Then I discovered they have a natural enemy: the magpie. If the starlings are the Orcs of the bird world, the magpies are the Orcas! Not only do they have the same coloration as a killer whale, but they will hunt down fledgling starlings, as I found out one morning. Those of you readers with a predisposition to a queasy tummy should skip this part! Last week, I heard a frantic shrieking from the back yard and saw a pair of magpies murdering one of the Starlings. I tried to get there in time to break up the massacre, but alas, I was too late! Murder by a hundred pecks.
Our garden has become the scene of not only beauty and color, but of murder, mystery and mayhem!!