The arrival of Spring
On a sunny morning last week I walked out of the front door into a wall of birdsong – mainly cheeping and tweeting – but birdsong nonetheless.
This is a time of transition. Siskins still flock to my bird feeders and, the other day, there was a male redpoll chasing them off to keep the feast to himself: both winter species. However, for the past three weeks, I have been entertained by, what I can only describe as, some very randy dunnocks. This usually unobtrusive little brown bird that we once called hedge sparrow and must now learn to call hedge accentor becomes extremely visible and frisky during courtship – wild chases, much tail flicking and jumping up and down. And my excited specimens were not a couple but a trio. This is fairly usual dunnock behaviour: the female bonds with two males thus ensuring a larger territory and so greater availability of nest sites and food. Clever stuff!
This dunnock behaviour is very different from that of our resident long-tailed tits. For the last few weeks we’ve seen them frequently, always together and recently to be closely observed as they worked along the outside of our patio doors collecting cobwebs to help bind together the moss and lichen with which they build their beautiful bag-shaped nest. I guess this is now complete – hanging in a nearby bush or hedge and lined with anything up to 2,000 feathers to insulate the eggs.
All this, together with the first bumblebees, butterflies and a few early bluebells, signals the arrival of Spring, as was confirmed for me on the last day of March. I was in the garden room staring out of the windows admiring the sunny scene. Suddenly, on the patio where a small feathery-leaved weed sprouted through the flagstones, a movement caught my eye. A small bird, olive-brown above and pale, tinged with yellow below, was methodically picking tiny insects from the new leaves. It was engrossed in its task for some minutes so I could reach for the binoculars and scrutinize it in detail, especially its legs. They were black so it was probable that my visitor was not a willow warbler but the very similar chiffchaff: my first summer migrant. I was particularly pleased to see it enjoying the sunshine and a good meal after its long journey. Perhaps this week the birdsong here will be enhanced by its repetitive call – chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff .