Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Gather ye rosebuds...

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying
And this same bird that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
(With apologies to) Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674)

I realise that I saw two red-listed birds of conservation concern, and one amber-listed, this morning. They were starling, house sparrow and dunnock. All seen from my living room window while I sat sipping my second coffee of the morning.

The starlings were perched on the telegraph wires that cross our garden, impersonating curlew, tawny owl , dog whistlers. Not rough approximations, but perfect copies. I should have been amazed. They were silhouetted against the sky, so I couldn't pick out their smart, purply-black speckled plumage, just their slim, almond-shaped outlines and their thorn-sharp beaks.

The house sparrows came in twos and threes, their grey and dun plumage reflecting the colours of the morning. They arrived in the hedge at the bottom of the garden and gradually worked their way up to the bird table, calling encouragement to each other. After a quick snack they moved on to see what the next gaden had to offer. I should have gazed in wonder.

The dunnock comes regularly to feed on the seeds we put out (I assume it's the same bird). Usually ground feeders, this one seems to have learnt to avoid the easy pickings that fall from the plastic seed hopper - we have two young cats. Instead it perches on the wide plastic skirt we have installed below the table to discourage our nimble grey tabby from jumping onto the platform. The bird teeters over the edge, leaning out as far as it can reach to grab a single seed. It scuttles round the rim with its prize, scanning the garden for danger before returning for another titbit. I should have been awestruck.

Now I know their status I will of course look at the dunnock, the house sparrow and the starling with new appreciation - they're threatened, they might be on their way out. But what about the other 'common or garden' birds - the tits, finches, robins, blackbirds et al that I also see most days. Of course I enjoy seeing them, of course they're beautiful and fascinating, but if asked if by a birdy type if I'd 'seen anything interesting today' I'd probably have said 'just a blue tit, only a chaffinch...' Do they really have to be on the list before we stop taking them for granted?

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