Tales of the Unexpected
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2017
Outside a summer gale is rocking every bush in my tiny garden… this seems to be an inevitable consequence of sweeping the patio and clearing all the dropped leaves from my pots. But, despite the weather it’s a red-letter day as we have had a new garden tick after 18 years!
Our garden could fit into a couple of decent-sized rooms, but we’ve packed it with pots, and crammed it with every bird and bee attracting plant we can. This includes a cherry tree planted purely for their benefit. Our crop rarely gets fully ripe before its swiped by avian interlopers. Oddly our ring-necked parakeets stick to the seed feeders and the apples we supply leaving the cherries alone. Usually, half a dozen different blackbirds pop in and polish off the cherries. But our red-letter visitors for the last couple of days are a pair of Mistlethrushes. I’ve seen an odd one over the years on a neighbour’s roof but nothing has tempted them into our patch before. It’s been a joy to watch them fly off clutching a half-ripe cherry in their beaks, presumably to the local park where we see half a dozen in the winter.
I assume that they can manage to take the flesh and leave the stone; I certainly hope so as they are surely destined for their brood.
Most of the fruit we produce is eaten during late Autumn or Winter. Pyracantha is so laden one day that the bush threatens to tip over or the branches break, the next its under siege and a few days later completely stripped bare by the blackbirds and, if we are in luck, winter thrushes. Cottoneaster, Elder, Ivy and Honeysuckle all become fast food diners and the grape vine and blackcurrants disappear as if by magic.
We put out currants and sultanas which get eaten by a variety of birds even over-wintering blackcaps, so this year we have upped our game with a gooseberry, raspberry and blackberry bush squeezed into the few gaps in pots or soil… in the hope we can feed more birds and even attract a few new summer species, maybe the ones that, unobserved, devour the wild strawberries that self-sow in half the planters.
It’s one thing keeping the feeders topped up, it’s another to make sure we are growing natural food for them, but even more important is attracting the insects that pollenate and those that are also part of the food chain.
It’s amazing how much pleasure one can derive from just watching mason bees and leaf-cutters sealing the cells of our bee-houses. Butterflies and beetles, moths and damselflies may be harder to ID on the wing than birds, but they too lift the spirits in summer when their flight sights and sounds fill the gap left by busy bird parenting.
But planting borage or lavender is not enough, we need to ban all chemicals from the garden, pond and patio and bring heart back with blood and bone and good old-fashioned manure. Think how big the nature reserve could be if all gardens were free of the chemical cosh that too much agriculture uses. Moreover, we need to lean on the municipality too to stop our parks being polluters.
The more that mad municipalities and over-zealous park-keepers strip undergrowth and mangle hedgerows and grass verges the more we have to do to bring the hedgerows and verges into our gardens. I let the plants spread in bird droppings take hold where they spring up so several pots in hidden corners sport elderberry bushes and I’m hoping hawthorn or blackthorn gets brought in in a similar fashion.
I bought a blackberry bush the other day at the supermarket. It’s thornless which is a bonus, but I’m sure the blackbirds and blackcaps won’t mind, and you never know, they might even leave us a few berries.
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