We are moving slowly, gently, through Autumn into winter again. I passed this spot the other evening: it’s no longer a car park, but has been adopted by skate-boarders and roller skaters for practising their skills. The trees and bushes behind the railway fence are as inaccessible to humans as ever so provide safe roosting for little birds through the dark nights. Even our messiest corners can be used creatively by other creatures.
Last year we had the sparrows in residence, last week it was the starlings, chuckling away in chorus as I walked by. They were close at hand but out of sight in the gloaming, so here they are getting together one afternoon before flying off to gather in greater numbers on their way to the roost.
Mrs Sparrow has got bolder over the last few days; you see that I have managed to take her picture.
When I was alone in the garden, eating lunch, she flew to the table – there’s a corner of it in the photograph – hopped to the edge of my plate, and took a beakful of sardines to feed the babies. She has come down when friends and family were present and entertained them, taking crumbs and morsels from the ground or table. Did people feed the birds around the Temple in Jerusalem?
I am glad there are no regular cats in the garden these days!
I had been sitting at the garden table, taking tea with Mrs Turnstone and Grandson No 2, but they had to go to find his parents. I sipped on.
I feel I have short-changed you, dear readers, because the central character in this story does not appear in the feature photograph, but she would have been even more camera shy than Mrs T is, and I was enjoying her company too much to send her packing by pulling out my phone.
She is one of the hen sparrows that nest in the roof of next-door-but-one. The landlord could do with fixing the roof but will have to wait now until the breeding season is over. The sparrow flew down to the table and attacked one side of the sliver of cake; these was a waspy looking creature opposite who probably would have posed for a photo, but Mrs Sparrow is not that bold, so what you get to see is a sliver of cake, slightly ragged at the edges. I got a shared meal with Mrs Sparrow, an uninvited guest.
Not that she sees it that way. As far as she is concerned, we humans are part of God’s providence (Luke 12:6). Food was provided, and food was accepted. She tucked in herself before taking a beakful home. At some point later the cake fell to the floor and was scattered across the flagstones; but it grew too dark for photography, and by the time a tardy human drags himself downstairs tomorrow morning, the crumbs will be gone.
I expect this bird is one of those that help themselves to Mrs Turnstone’s sphagnum moss, leaving her hanging baskets denuded; I daresay, too, she knows about the flowers pecked to ribbons for their sweet petals and nectar. Some things just have to be forgiven.
Other translations have swallow for turtle; turtle being the turtle dove of course. Not as noisy as our local collared doves, I imagine.
How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host!
My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.
For the sparrow hath found herself a house,
and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones:
Thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
my king and my God.
Swallows were being discussed on the radio this morning, but no, we have not yet seen any around here, though we’ve had blackcaps and willow warblers among the UK’s migrants. This photograph of swallows’ nests was taken a few years ago at Brant Brougham near Lincoln at snowdrop time, so these were the previous year’s nests which might well have been repaired and reused a couple of months later.
It’s rather delightful that they should have built against the roof boss of the pelican on her nest. And the picture brings to mind the famous verse from the Psalms:
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. Psalm 84.3
We were about to sit down to a family lunch in the garden, with all the furniture arranged for social distancing, when there was a mighty clamour from the roof of next-door-but-one. That roof has a hole, some 20cm square, where a tile has fallen. This has been a godsend to the sparrows who seem to be on the increase locally; they’ve moved back into a hole under our eaves which was abandoned for a few years and found a new spot at the back of our house. Two sparrows in particular are tame enough to come near to our al fresco table and suggest that we might spare a crumb. How could we say no?
It turned out that the racket on the roof was from the combined forces of sparrows and starlings, combining to chase away a pair of magpies who were taking too close an interest in the hole in the roof. The magpies left the scene, apparently empty-beaked, and life seemed to return to normal for the little birds.
Except that there was a little chick, still flightless, struggling at the edge of the garden pond. With wet feathers it was becoming more difficult to get out, till Mrs T stretched out her arm and pulled the sorry sodden sparrowlet to safety. The little fellow seemed to know that safety lay in camouflage, hiding in the herbaceous border, but loud ‘feed me’ chirps told us he was still around. The danger from cats has diminished.
I think the sparrow may have been involved in the magpie incident, perhaps pulled out of the nest but dropped to the ground as the bigger birds fled. Let’s hope his devoted parents’ efforts to feed him in hiding were enough to bring him to the joys of flight!
And may we find ways to bring joy to those who have been hiding away from the Corona Virus.