It seemed hardly any time at all between doing the RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch at the end of January and spotting the first signs of nesting around the garden. The unseasonably warm spell in February had the most organised of our feathered friends eyeing up the prime sites around the local gardens.
The magpies were first. One Saturday morning I became aware of next door’s buddleia, which drapes over our fence, being pulled around as a magpie wrestled to break off a pliable twig. This was a radical departure compared to previous years when the magpies usually begin nesting by breaking twigs off of our birch tree and then move on to trashing the stipa tenuissima fountain grasses by the pond. I wouldn’t mind of they neatly pulled out all the dead grass as we need to do that anyway in the spring but, no, they tend to leave bits lying all over the garden.
Later in the spring we usually become aware of robins feeding their young as they tend to visit our feeders every few minutes, usually following the same flight pattern. However, this year we’ve spotted robin’s around the garden with their beaks full of nesting material, we think heading across into our neighbour’s garden. He has many nooks and crannies around his garden so it must be a favoured spot for robins who are notorious for nesting in strange places.
One bird that I really hope will not attempt to nest in the garden is the heron! It’s very easy to forget that herons nest in trees until you actually see them sitting in one. In mid-March the heron normally returns to our garden and is the biggest giveaway that the frogs have returned to spawn. Sadly the frogs then normally become heron breakfast. The heron can often be seen in the early morning standing like a statue by the pond ready to pounce. However, this weekend we looked up from breakfast to spot the heron perched on a large branch of our dead cherry tree! It looked ridiculously large and out of place.
I became really excited at the start of March when, three mornings in a row, I saw a pair of song thrushes in the garden. We do occasionally see a thrush but it’s becoming an increasingly rare sight in south west London and it must be at least three years since we last saw one. So to see two scuttling around the border together was quite remarkable and it would be lovely to think that they may set up home somewhere nearby.
Talking of things arriving in pairs, I spotted not one but two jays in the hawthorn. Jays do tend to divide opinion. There’s no question that their call is raucous and totally lacking any musicality but their colours are stunning. However, they also have the reputation of raiding the nests of smaller songbirds. I feel very torn about them but I do enjoy seeing the flash of blue feathers and it was quite unusual to see two together, although the one that perched on the bird bath looked rather incongruous.
We continue to get the occasional sighting of something less common in the garden. One Sunday in January I spotted a nuthatch in the hawthorn. With their blue and apricot colours and distinct eyeliner, they are a particularly pretty bird and we have only seen one in the garden once before. They are also incredibly shy so the minute I spotted it, I was glued to my chair and didn’t dare move a muscle. This time last year we were thrilled to see a goldcrest in the garden for only the second time in the nineteen years we’ve lived here. We were delighted to see it return in the autumn and I think I spotted one in the trees last weekend.
I am often asked why we encourage birds into our garden when we have three cats. Curiously, with the way we manage the cats access to the garden, it means that our garden is safer than most. The cats are never out early morning or at dusk when birds are most vulnerable and the cat fence keeps our cats in and the neighbour’s cats out. So there are many hours a day when the birds are safe from the local felines and foxes. I’ll write about this more depth in a future Outside the Backdoor.