25 March 2011

All about the birds

To start with I've sorted out the mad time issue I know at least one reader has spotted, the miracle of how I can enjoy a few hours at the allotment, sit in the warm sun and it still be only 8am - in Scotland. I had my time zone set for some exotic location in the Pacific, but it's set back to Blighty Time now.

After yesterday's exertions at the allotment and then spending hours on the phone chatting to friends, today is a wash-out. The sun is shining (though it's a lot colder), but I have absolutely no energy today at all. That there will be napping this afternoon is a given, which is a real pity because I was hoping to get out and about. No chance. In fact D is going to have to do the shopping and housework on his own while I lie on the sofa. What a nuisance.

So today's blogs is about birds.

My minuscule back garden, as well as being home to hens, also has a fair few wild bird visitors to the various bird feeders hanging from the apple trees. I have regular visits from a pair of blue-tits; a pair of coal-tits; a charm of chaffinches (isn't that a great collective noun?); a pair of sparrows (who also happen to be resident in the clematis hedge that I should really have cropped back, but didn't have the heart to so they could have winter shelter), and a pair of blackbirds.

Today the blue-tits have been hard at work nest building, they've been stopping on the apple tree with beaks full of moss, before heading onto wherever their nest is. The blackbird - the female one in particular - has been amusing me by her "lawks-a-mercy" antics. She'll quite happily land on the bird-seed tray while you're in the garden, and ignore you while she feeds, them as soon as she's done, she pretends to be outraged and terrified that you're there, and flaps off screaming indignantly. She'll repeat this process endlessly, which always makes me wonder why she is astonished at finding me in the garden with her...

So yes, it's very nice seeing these signs of spring and sap rising and all that.

However, the big neon "IT'S SPRING" indicator arrived back in Scotland yesterday: EJ the ospey returned to Loch Garten.

I've been hooked on the story of EJ and ospreys for years. These raptors who eat only fish, who come to Scotland every Spring to breed (the long Scottish Summer days means they can fish almost 24 hours a day, ideal when you've hungry mouths to feed), and whose life stories have thousands as glued to their daily antics as any soap opera. Who were extinct in the UK only 50-odd years ago due to hunting but who now number 250 breeding pairs. I am so enraptured by these birds that I decided to volunteer at the David Marshall Lodge in Abeerfoyle, in the Trossachs, where there is a healthy osprey population, to share my enthusiasm with others.

Flying back from Senegal and the Gambia in March, these birds travel hundreds of miles in 3 weeks, returning to the same nest they left back in August. When they arrive, their stories are ones of adultery, violence, infanticide, heroism, desperation, sacrifice, heartbreak and miracles.

So now the games begin again and the questions which are posed at the start of every season will be eventually answered.

Will Odin, EJ's regular mate return in time to stop her mating with Red8A, a male who has at least one other mate and nest on the go?

Will the "camera'd" nest at Aberfoyle be successful this year? The last two have seen empty nests when fighting males kicked out the eggs.

Will a miracle occur and allow Lady, Scotland's oldest osprey, to return, or will she have died on her migration south last year after some of the most incredible events last year which had people all over the country weeping, and then cheering as events unfolded on webcam?

Stay tuned :-)

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