The Frenzy of Nesting

When I put up a nest box years ago, I would have never imagined the joy it would bring. I’ve watched blue tits rearranging their furniture every spring, followed by the mysterious chirping of hungry bills and the secret fledging of new life. I always promise myself to set a camera in the box, and then I think about it again when it’s too late!

I cleared the box this winter, so that the new couple may rebuild their nest in a clean environment. This is the beauty I found when I opened it.

I’d happily take a nap in there myself, it looks so cosy! I find nests fascinating beyond belief. The architecture, the care in the choice of the materials, the strength obtained from such delicate organic elements. It’s mind-blowing. Again this year the female examined the place and vehemently defended it from other buyers. She flew in and out, carrying the necessary bits and pieces, although something tells me she may be a beginner …

We helped by leaving a bucket of soft dog’s hair (hubby is a groomer) in a peaceful spot of the garden. Many benefited from it, from sparrows to crows. Birds would use sheep wool, however, in its absence, I guess fluffy canine fur will do!

Blue tits usually lay their clutch at the end of April, which explains the excitement around the nest box over the past couple of weeks. The female will incubate for two weeks once the last egg is laid, with the male providing for her. May and June will be the busiest months, as new-borns will demand caterpillar after caterpillar, sending mum and dad back and forth at impressive speed. They will eventually fledge after three weeks, when I usually find a few downy feathers on the step at the entrance … and it all sounds too quiet.

But I’m running ahead now. It’s still early stages and I cannot wait for the whole process to unfold! I’ll soon keep my ear on it, waiting for those mini dinosaurs to fill the air with their chirp. To be continued …


Minute Signs of Spring

Budding vegetation, longer days, the blessing of sunshine, swallows. These are the most visible signs of spring coming back, but much more is happening that may go unnoticed. And that’s because other creatures may not be as visible. Take this dancing swarm, for instance … all busy mating in the air. Some insects live only for the time necessary to reproduce.

And then you get these fellas too. The stink bugs. Now that’s a bit unfair; they don’t release their defensive odour unless they are threatened, and where it’s true that some feed on fruit and plants, others eat insects that are detrimental to crops, so they are welcome by farmers. This specimen was stretching its wings around my house and didn’t mind posing for me. I used to see many more years ago, especially during the warmest months. As autumn approached, they would fly into the house to seek warmth.

I admit it took me years to comfortably be around the millions of tiny beings that share the planet with us. Partly because I seem to be the equivalent of chocolate fondant to them. If they can take a bite, they will. ‘You must have good blood’ people suggest. That’s consoling as my skin swells and itches for days. I must say I look at them in a different way now. Beetles especially fascinate me; their structure, their iridescent colours, their unusual habits (like the dung beetles, building and fighting for their majestic ball of poo!). I caught the guy (or girl) below -not a dung beetle- during a hill walk. Busy busy.

Now that my understanding of them has grown, I miss them, and I’m sorry for a time when I used to be scared of these creatures. Which shows that one thing is absolutely true: you fear what you don’t know. With this I’m not saying that I’m going to pet the next insect I’ll see, but I will surely want to know more about it. And this, I guess, is my hope for the next generation; that they may be interested in what is not immediately visible, that they may wonder about all the beings that wake up when they go to sleep. After all, who knows what it feels to be a bug with the strongest of shields on your back, or an aphid on a gigantic rose, or a worm making the soil rich? The tiniest force in an immense universe.


What the Quack!

Let’s face it, we all have our favourites. Mine happen to be ducks. A childish enthusiasm grips me every time I see one, no matter what colour, size or quack.

I mean, if there were no hunters on the planet, how cool would it be to be a duck? You soar the sky, master the water and … wobble the land. You can bask in the sun and rest in the rain, and still be happy. Top that with amazing features, like mesmerising feathers (for both boys and girls), a grid- type structure to filter water while snacking, and palmed feet. Unbeatable!

So it’s always a pleasure when I visit Banteer Pond in Co. Cork, Ireland. I can spend hours and not feel the time pass. If fairies existed, they would hang around there.

I joined the gang on a crispy Saturday morning and then again later in the afternoon. Love was in the air, with the boys showing off flight displays, fitness and resounding calls. The girls swam graciously pretending to mind their own business. Two geese turned out to be a welcome addition to the group, although one of them was quite ‘bossy’. The moorhens dotted the air with their soft clacking from under the vegetation. A bird’s haven.

Smaller specimen were unafraid of catching up with them when food was offered. I had bought specific duck and swan food, which was gobbled down and ordered multiple times during my visit. They all enjoyed it both on the ground and in the water. It has become common knowledge that bread is not the best food for ducks (or in fact for any other bird). Bread fills you up but lacks relevant nutrients. With time it can even cause damage to the wings, making the ducks unable to take flight and migrate (this condition is called ‘angel wing’). I found the food at a pet store and it’s quite cheap, actually the same price of a loaf of bread!

Because Banteer Pond is all about protecting wildlife, the birds have had time to study human behaviour. As soon as they hear a car door slam, a very specific call is sent out to the whole group, and in a split second a feathered assembly reaches the gate, welcoming the new bipeds and, of course, requesting treats. Here I should add that this is done quite politely, as if they knew that misbehaving won’t bring the humans back. As I offered food, more was ordered by the geese, who walked nearer, tilted their heads and tuned two soft-spoken quacks. How could you say no to that?

It was a busy day under changeable weather. After feeding, swimming, flying, chasing, preening and chatting, it was time for a well-deserved nap. That’s when I sat among them. The first rule to be around wildlife is to respect their space – it’s a matter of safety, but above all, it’s consideration for the animals. We can be an invasive species, it’s in our nature to be explorers, and the temptation to get closer and closer is huge, but that’s not how nature works. With that in mind, I sat with them after making sure that nothing about me would disturb their rest. I sat there quietly, breathing slow and smiling for the privilege of being surrounded by those beauties.

In the calm of the moment, amid the scent of the earth and water and the birds’ voices, something tightened in my chest. The innocence of these creatures was almost palpable. The trust they put in humans is the result of an ideal environment created for them. A place where they can feel safe and live the life every duck deserves. These amazing birds are lucky, many others not so much. So I raise my hat to Banteer and the small perfect world they built. And a thought remains, of how easy it would be to peacefully cohabit.