An early spotted flycatcher, and wrap-around birdsong

In the garden on 26 April, an extremely early spotted flycatcher

In the garden on 26 April, an extremely early spotted flycatcher

I’ve just had a lovely morning in the garden. The fact that six drills of second earlies are now in the ground (Charlotte and Kestrel for those interested) was secondary to the enjoyment of working among wrap-around bird song. The vegetable garden is bounded on one side by a hedge, the other side by 6 conifers and at the bottom end by the burn and a wild banking of primarily ash, rowan, elder, hawthorn, some ivy (unfortunately) and some blackthorn next to the field at the top of the banking.  A pair of mallard were in the burn, though slowly swam downstream when they saw me.  They are there most mornings and I suspect the duck’s nest will be among the undergrowth on the banking. I hope they are successful this year; I never saw a single ducking in the burn last year and it was the worst breeding year for mallard that I remember in this area. In the trees on the banking a whitethroat sang for the first time this year. It is a lovely song but, even at 0730 I was hearing the last of it. It took me days last year before I managed eventually to spot it, with no better luck today. A blackbird was singing from the top of one of the conifers, but its song was in the final half hour as well.

The ‘late shift’ started about 0900 with a chaffinch singing from the telephone wire on the other side of the conifers. I’ve seen no nests in the garden yet this year (or even birds gathering material) but with the weather getting slightly warmer the birds should be thinking about it now. The chaffinch kept me entertained and was joined by a woodpigeon in the conifers. It was quietly croaking rather than giving vent to the full blooded cooing. There had been a pair in the tree, since after one flew out the croaking continued, then changed to the lovely cooing. Woodpigeons and collared doves regularly nest in these conifers, though seldom have success. One day last year I heard clattering in the tree, and realised it was a woodpigeon trying to defend its eggs against a carrion crow. I clapped my hands and the carrion crow flew off.  Half an hour later I heard the clattering again, but when I clapped my hands this time two carrion crows flew off. The eggs – if not already taken – were now doomed, and I wondered how a carrion crow could communicate to its mate that it needed some help to get an easy meal. Later that day a picked eggshell was at the bottom of the tree.

My next songsters were a robin and a wren. The robin was perched on a tree on the banking and for a while part of its song reminded me of a louder version of a dunnock’s song. The wren was singing from the centre of honeysuckle overhanging a fence. How such a wee bird can make such a noise amazes me. Wrens seem to be back in decent numbers now after the bad winter of 2010/11, though I did give mine some grated cheese on areas clear of snow to keep them going.

The last bird in the orchestra was a collared dove. It sang from the roof of the house, with its cooing rhythm resembling I don’t know, I don’t know. As I looked up at it I saw that the chaffinch on the telephone wire had been replaced by a spotted flycatcher. This is the earliest by far that I have ever seen a spotted flycatcher here. It perched in exactly the same place as the male from last year. The female from that pair nested in an open-fronted nest box. I’m sure chicks fledged yet I never saw one in the garden. Hopefully they will nest again.

I barely noticed that I had finished planting my Charlottes and Kestrel, and walked up to the house for a cup of tea. I had barely reached the house when I heard the caw, caw, caw of a carrion crown. I turned round and there was one checking out the conifers by the vegetable garden, going from branch to branch and clearly looking for a nest. I ran down and clapped my hands, seeing it off, but I’m sure I wasted my time. I can’t say they are my favourite birds.

I’m glad I had an early start; the garden is now white after a hail storm!

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