The onward march of the sparrows and a bad cat day

Three of the house sparrows at porridge oats

Three of the house sparrows at porridge oats

A pair of tree sparrows at the peanut feeder

A pair of tree sparrows at the peanut feeder

Blackbird and dunnock sensing danger and 'frozen' for 5 minutes

Blackbird and dunnock sensing danger and ‘frozen’ for 5 minutes

Dunnock feeding chick

Dunnock feeding chick

Our garden is suddenly alive with house sparrows. We have lived here since 1993 and never had sparrows, but since an old farm steading a quarter of a mile away was knocked down there has been a real difference in their numbers. Six months ago I began to see sparrows in the hedge at the west end of our property. They have gradually moved closer to the house, using a bird feeder that I keep filled with fat balls under three birch trees. Every day the sparrows are also on the lawn, where I scatter mealworms and porridge oats. First there were three or four adults, then young sparrows began to accompany them. It is common now to see a dozen at a time between the fat ball feeder and the porridge oats on the lawn. Considering the drastic decline UK-wide in sparrow numbers it is heartening to see, at least in this area, that they are doing well.

There is a peanut feeder at the front of the house and last week I photographed what I thought were two male house sparrows on the feeder. It was a lovely surprise, when I put the images on the laptop, to discover that they were tree sparrows.  Tree sparrows first started coming to the garden a couple of years ago. I put up three nest boxes so they could start a breeding colony, but unfortunately they failed to take advantage of them and in fact disappeared until now. Hopefully they’ll stay, even if their breeding season is probably over for the year.

Still on sparrows, this time hedge sparrows, or dunnocks, I had an interesting experience this morning. A dunnock and a female blackbird were feeding on porridge oats on the lawn. The dunnock had been feeding a fledgling which was under an azalea, while the blackbird was filling its beak with porridge oats to feed chicks that had fledged a week ago and were taking shelter in the wood. Suddenly both birds froze, with an eye on the larch wood. I looked to see if I could see a sparrowhawk but there was nothing in my view. Neither bird moved for nearly five minutes, save for the blackbird regularly opening its beak to breathe since it had a beakful of porridge oats. I kept scanning the wood, though failed to spot whatever danger they had seen.  The length of time they remained absolutely still was incredible and far longer than I had anticipated. Eventually the blackbird began to cramb a few more porridge oats into its beak and the dunnock, seemingly reassured, also began to feed. The danger had gone and normality was resumed.

I had two very bad experiences with cats today. Domestic cats are not my favourite animals and today put them even further down the ladder of (dis)affection. Firstly, when I was topping up the feeder beside the three birch trees, there was a newly-fledged song thrush lying dead there. It was wet and clearly was the result of a capture by a marauding cat during the night. Song thrushes are scarce here and I had watched a song thrush over the past couple of weeks gathering worms and snails to feed chicks. I had no idea where the nest was but by the regular attendance of the thrush on the lawn it wasn’t far away. Now one of the chicks has been killed and simply discarded. What a waste.

Next, in the early afternoon, I was in the garden gathering vegetables. I noticed that the insect barrier covering the carrots was lying flat at one end and put down my hand to lift it up.  I failed to see that the reason the barrier had been depressed was because a cat had done its business on top of it, somewhat unusual I think for a cat, which likes to bury it. Anyway I failed to spot this pile of light brown, rather watery, cat shit and put my fingers into the centre of it. Bloody cats!

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