(This article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
Thomas Hood famously wrote:
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
Well, Hood’s prophetic poetry still holds for the most part, except for the intervening variable of global warming.
In anticipation of the storms of October and the murk of November I tidied up my garden. I trimmed back the dead foliage and flower heads and upped the ante on fat-balls for the feathered visitors. The untidy corners are deliberate nature havens, not, as the boss says, evidence of indolence.
Storms certainly came… I watched the forsythia bush at nearly seven feet high touching the pavers with its topmost leaves as it bent double. I wondered if we would still have a fence by morning… last time it went missing I only found one panel in our street the rest is most likely still English Channel flotsam.
My shed roof already leaks. I pondered the possibility that it would not be a problem because the whole roof might blow away.
When it finally stopped raining some days later we put back the fragile feeders and thanked providence for an intact fence and bushes with flexible foliage.
November dawned drearily… then the sun shone and our four feet high osteospermum is newly smothered in its third batch of bright yellow flowers. A few hoverflies are still picking over it.
Then the wind again blew, it rained and the temperature dropped ten degrees only to bounce back at first overcast then sunny.
The storm had bought on my sun-envy and I started arranging my annual trip… I still think of it as annual despite the fact that circumstances have conspired to keep us in blighty for over two years.
The drear continued and it rained, and it rained and, in between times, it rained some more. Then it waned. A November day dawned like the perfect January day… crisp and cloudless. Cool but bright. Through my office window it could have been high summer… gulls soared and drifted, doves purposely crossed the clear blue sky in every direction. Seven parakeets looped in a line towards the park ignoring our strung out apples. (Who isn’t strung out in these stressful times) The sparrow hawk pair drifted low over the garden at my eye level. On the feeders it was like spring as tits and finches, starlings and sparrows noisily queued, squabbled or fed.
A robin rasped and posed for his Christmas card photo session.
In the pyrocanthus bush a wren moved like a woodmouse while dunnocks vacuumed the floor under the feeders. A ‘brown cap’ found the minute insects that inhabit the flowerpot microverse. I took the day and stored it for when the wind lashed rain next obscures the view.
My son visited and braved the rain to take the grandchildren to our seaside ‘amusements’. We stole an early morning hour or two together to check the storm-tossed sea. It was neither stormy nor tossed but flat calm. Distant gannets were gliding in sixes and sevens a mile or two out passed the enormous array of wind turbines and we mused on what avian harm they might do. He laid on the beach to photograph Rock Pipits and we trailed inland to see if the winter thrushes were yet stripping berries, but the hedged fields were bare of birds.
November – no birds? Hardly. But they take more finding as increasingly November is the switchover month that October used to be.
The agri-desert is still our environment’s worst news… farmland birds continue to decline and we can only save them by caring more about them and less about profit.
But there is good news for November.
A newly published report shows that the vast majority of seabirds and migrants have little to fear from turbines as they tend to fly between two and five metres above the sea. Tall turbines can be a problem for gulls. They fly lower than many migrants but higher than virtually all other seabirds.
High flyers always escape adversity unscathed, low flyers know how to get by even in the worst times and places. It’s the middle classes that seem unable to cope in hard times.
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