Thursday, 26 May 2011


Last week I was visiting the APs in Devon and took the opportunity to do a little pottering in the garden - the weather was mostly mild and sunny, and the terrace was busy with deep blue damsel flies, orange tip butterflies, even the occasional small blue. My mother and I amused ourselves by counting bird species actually nesting in the garden - we got to well over 30, a count that includes ravens, jays, sparrowhawks, nuthatches...I've just done a similar count for home, and achieved similar numbers of very different birds (and because our northern garden doesn't include many large trees, the way the Devon one does, I expanded our area to include the fields immediately surrounding us, so the buzzards count here, but not in Devon). As I'm writing this at my desk in the window, a pair of bullfinches - regular visitors attracted by my rather laissez-faire atttitude to dandelions - landed in the ash tree opposite.

The high point of the Devon visit, though, was a sighting unlike any I've experienced before: as I walked across the terrace there was a tremendous kerfuffle as two birds hurtled into a pittosporum bush, shrieking their heads off. A high piercing note, an unmistakable screech of fury, and the minute bird emitting the racket was positively bouncing up and down on his branch. Yet despite his tiny size he was highly visible, because he was raising and flashing his crest, a violent streak of fiery orange that flashed in the sunlight. I watched spellbound for several minutes while he bounced and flashed, until the object of his wrath burst from the depths of the bush and fled across the wooded slope below the terrace. The owner of the spectacular headgear was a goldcrest, one of the enchantingly named kinglet family, and our smallest songbird:

Photo from Wikipedia

How such a tiny bundle of fluff could make such a noise I can't imagine, but the picture above does give some idea of the brilliance of his crest. In the past I've struggled to see these elusive creatures, which are more generally "sighted" by tracking their creaky tseeping cry (what Wikipedia calls "a subdued rambling sub-song" - love it!) to a bush and then peering into the murky interior to see the odd flick of a wing - they like dense bushes like yew, and nest in conifers, which makes them especially hard to see. I believe we may have them around us here in Northumberland, I think I heard them in the woodland a couple of fields away, but the tree cover around our garden is not heavy enough for them to visit us here.

I'm back home enjoying the sparrows - my mother is delighted that they now have a regular pair, and envies us our rambunctious flock of more than thirty. Who would ever have thought that sparrows could be rare?