This article first appeared in the August 2022 edition of Birdwatching magazine
Frustrated by spouse dictat, I was not birding. Spring clean-up in the garden had progressed nicely so winter’s frost-spawned gaps in the pots and flowerbeds needed filling. So, rather than dawn bashing bushes for migrants, I was out at the crack of nursery opening hours to squander my hard-earned on osteospermums and saxifrage, campanulas and carnations to brighten our postage stamp. Much as I admire these showy blooms I slipped barely noticed pots into the wheelie trailer which we dragged around the thoughtfully very long one-way path through greenhouses and plant yards. If I was going to overspend I was determined to divert some expenditure to bee-friendly and butterfly be-loved botany.
Don’t get me wrong, Hawkeye likes to see any invertebrate with anything other than eight legs, and helps home them. She wants our oasis packed with colour, but is happy to leave wood waste corners and half-hidden weeds. She positively advocates dandelions and lovingly tends our strategically placed stinging nettles. However, she wants the blousy bedding plants which also offer up their pollen to insects in need of sustenance. My knapweed and clover were allowed under sufferance, but the rest I’ve snuck in when Hawkeye was on a call or otherwise distracted.
Luckily, there are tons of pretty native plants that do the business for bees and old cottage garden favourites are big winners visually too. Lavender takes over as the insect larder when the rosemary is exhausted and cranesbill and even the prize petunias can be covered in all that buzzes until autumnal temperatures stop play.
So, there I was resting with a cuppa having planted and watered in our purchases. (Have you noticed what costs and arm and leg and crowds a trolley, disappears with hardly a trace in the flower bed?)
The sun was kind enough to shine with unseasonal warmth and insects were showing their appreciation. Hawkeye settled into the adjacent garden chair. A dotted bee-fly positioned itself 18 inches above her head, each time she moved to try and see it, it moved too, always staying in her blind-spot. Then another joined in, taking up station a foot in front of my nose as I went cross-eyed trying to focus on it. Just around us I counted four types of hoverfly, obviously different by size and colour, I could even give a name to two. A great Garden Bumblebee went and appreciated the tulips. Honeybees were busy with rosemary blooms. Being a bank holiday meant the bloke who spends all day long in a relationship with his angle-grinder had thankfully taken the day off. Anyone who could hear would be beset with gentle insect noise or none at all, except Mr Blackbird calling himself ‘pretty birdee’.
Still as we were, the sparrows were emboldened. Hawkeye scattered mealworms in a trail from the corner she provisions and across the patio. Mr Blackbird and his Mrs shot past my ear and fell upon the feed. An intruder was chased away, allowing several starlings to slip past his guard. The boys were back, a dozen sparrows found the scattered food and used lily-pads as bird baths. Two fat wood pigeons sat on the fence and thought about joining in. The pair of dunnocks flitted in and out of the patio pots. Then a Robin took his turn. The boldest boys slipped under the nearest bush, another feeding station, less than a yard away.
Turned out the birding came to me. No rarities or passing migrants, but everyday charmers, turning my chores into a blessing. Thanks Hawkeye.