This article appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Bird Art & Photography
God forbid that I am getting mellow as I mature, or should that be moulder? Today I have been seriously silly and unwarranted smiles have limped across the dial putting me in grave danger of cracking my face.
My tiny urban yard (about the size of two garages) has rarely played any part of my birding world. It is passed by, by and large, by the rare or remarkable. Once I had five firecrests drop by and a few years back a tristis race of Chiffchaff decided it could make a living, picking through the patio pots for an entire winter month. There was an occasion when ‘hawkeye’ called me urgently to where she was sunbathing to point high above her. There circled four storks presumably on a day trip – slumming it over Margate before drifting away from Dreamland and back home to the sophistication of the Brittany resorts. But these have been red-letter days coming less than annually.
I have packed every corner of the yard with flowerpots and tubs, and torn up the concrete corners to plant pyrocanthus, cottoneasters and fatsias. I’ve even squeezed in the merest of meres, a pond stuffed with goldfish, sporting reeds and rushes that have been refuge to migrant hawkers. I’ve even managed to find room for a cherry and a fig, an olive and anything else I think will provide cover, nesting places or winter food. The walls and fences are smothered with honeysuckles and clematis, which has managed to con a passing blackcap or temporarily tempt a redwing or two. In high summer there are more hoverflies and bees to the square inch than almost anywhere I’ve ever been outside of the tropics. My neighbours may have decked and paved, concreted and gravelled but I’ve put a quart of live things into this pint pot of land.
For the most part we have steady numbers of the same old same old… spadgers and starlings, blackbirds and collar doves. Of late there has been an influx of Londoners who have stayed on after the holiday season to eat me our of house and sunflower seeds… a posse of fat feral pigeons which I wish away to Trafalgar Square every time they bring another feeder to concrete doom as they ‘delicately’ balance their triple X bulk on a perch made for a size zero blue tit.
A couple of years back we introduced nyjer feeders and managed to pull in a few goldfinches who hog the nyjer, but are happy to also share the sunflower hearts hung for sparrows and greenfinches. They are not so much tame as full. Sometimes they eat slowly for seeming hours then nod off on the perches. I half expect them to drop of said perches stuffed with a surfeit of my husk-free offerings. They visibly enlarge as they steadily stuff their crops, perhaps, one day I will observe a ‘Mr Creosote’ moment as one explodes after taking just one more morsel.
Mostly our charm is between five and ten birds. A summer back they peaked at 21 charmers as regulars introduced their kids to the handy free school meals.
But today a charm became legion. Maggie counted 62 goldfinches on our feeders and bush tops and others were lined up along the telephone wires waiting to find room where each feeder perch was already in double occupancy! Unbelievably charming they were too.
I find that, as I age, the rare or novel gives me less pleasure than the mundane but unobserved. Hearing a song thrush cracking snails on the garage roof seems more exciting to me than a Mockingbird in Margate.
Of course it may be I am getting ready for dotage when a good day is measured by staying awake for a whole afternoon or a busy one is where the window cleaner calls AND you have to post a letter. Taking pleasure in the nuance or finding fascination in a glimpse of the intimate moment in a mundane life. Nevertheless, seeing this evidence of a migratory movement raised our spirits and moved me to the aforementioned smilyness.
But fear not… I haven’t softened to a mush of milksops that you can suck up with a straw. Whilst I was welling up over my local marvel, in wonderment at this backyard migration miracle others were transcendent. I started to see emails from fellow birders. Birders who are clearly of independent means or who have slack bosses affording them the freedom to bird until they drop… While I toil at the computer they sit on clifftops or in hides, watch scrapes or wandering the woods. They reported 7000 goldfinches over Sandwich Observatory, another 8000 over Pegwell Bay, thousands pouring through Joss Bay and every local nook has goldfinches coming out of its collective ears. For the first time in years this corner of the world has exactly the right weather to enable easily visible migration.
My charmed niche has been out-goldfinched by everyone else’s. A new sort of ‘nimby’ – it seems the real miracle was ‘not in my backyard’ but everywhere else! As I am about to send this article to the editor Kent has been inundated with unprecedented numbers of waxwings… but not in my backyard!