A really interesting day in the garden

The remains of the young blackbird. Note the speckling on the tuft of feathers.

The bat close to the surface of the burn (almost in centre of pic)

The dipper in the burn

The tame blackbird (note the speckling on the breast that made me think it had been the victim of the mystery predator)

I’d a really interesting day in the garden on Sunday. First off there was an unfortunate find: the feathers of a blackbird that had appeared overnight on a strip of grass beside the burn. There were no body parts, simply some feathers including a tuft of feathers that initially made me think that they were from our tame blackbird that has been with us for four years. She has a speckled breast and the feathers on this tuft were speckled. Closer examination showed they were from a young blackbird, so even though it was unfortunate, I was slightly relieved. The feathers had not been plucked, so that made the predator less likely to have been a sparrowhawk. I settled on the bird having been killed by a cat, though events later in the day gave me an alternative……

The interest was centred on the burn that day as, for the second time recently, I watched a bat hunting over the deepest pool in the burn. A dozen times it came swooping towards me just above the water, sometimes creating a small concentric ripple as it took an insect off the surface. Like the last time it was a small bat, probably a pipistrelle. I took several photos but only one showed the bat, and it could easily have been mistaken for a small fly with whirring wings. I wondered afterwards why it always hunted with the flow of the water, not that there was much flow in any case due to the long dry spell. I also wondered why it had the need to hunt in daylight.

I’d been planting leeks in the garden and had been to the house for a cup of tea. I was returning down the drive to the vegetable part of the garden again and started to cross the bridge over the burn when a movement slightly downstream caught my eye. I’ve caught half a dozen or so mink in the burn in the 23 years we’ve been in the house, the last being just over a year ago.  I’ve only ever seen two eels in the burn, the last being at least ten years ago. Here in front of my eyes was a chocolate brown coloured mink struggling with a decent-sized eel. The eel was wrapped round the mink like a spring and would take a bit of killing. I hoped that would give me time to run – well, trot –  to the house for the camera. Unfortunately, even in these few minutes, predator and prey were gone on my return. Why do I ever leave the house without my camera?

I’ve never got around to setting a trap yet but really the mink is too close for comfort to my ducks (10 metre away) and hens (50 metres away). If it attacked them and I was not around to intervene it could devastate my flock of 22 khaki campbell ducks. I’ll need to find a bit of smelly fish somewhere to bait a trap. The mink, of course, could have been the guilty party in relation to the young blackbird.

Later in the day I heard a commotion at the top of the wood. There was the screeching sound of a young blackbird or song thrush in distress. I immediately thought it had been caught by a cat, then wondered about the mink. A small flock of birds had gathered in the trees and bushes chattering in desperation and swooping down on whatever was causing the problem. I could see blackbirds, song thrushes, chaffinches and various tits.  These were joined by half a dozen starlings that strangely didn’t stay the full course of the action and flew off just before I saw the cause of the mayhem: a carrion crow. It may have been robbing a nest of chicks but the sound of whatever bird it got hold of indicated a chick of around fledging stage.

A short time later I was crossing the bridge again and looking downstream in case the mink was still around. Almost at the same place as the mink had been killing the eel a dipper was sitting on a rock in the centre of the burn. My camera was in my pocket and the dipper was kind enough to wait to be photographed.

Lastly I was joined in the garden by the tame blackbird, also photographed. The speckling on its breast explains how I was initially confused by the speckling on young blackbirds. I’m glad it is still here.

And I eventually got my leeks planted out….

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2 Responses to A really interesting day in the garden

  1. John Martin says:

    Hi WD,

    The bat could have been drinking rather than hunting. It’s an activity often undertaken in daylight especially after emerging from hibernation when the body is in need of rehydration.

    Best wishes,

    John Martin Heversham Cumbria

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  2. Many thanks John. I never thought of that but it’s entirely possible due to the amount of times the bat made contact with the water.

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