The wildlife entertains
The wildlife entertains
Like thousands of others we were entranced by the recent series of Springwatch on BBC TV. The chance to follow so many wild creatures over a period of three weeks demonstrated how quite common species can be just as fascinating as the rare and exotic if you have the time and patience to study them.
Coincidently over the last few weeks we have been much entertained by our garden blackbirds. The resident cock appeared one morning with three fluffy brown chicks which he proceeded to protect and feed for the next fortnight. As a single parent he was exemplary. From dawn to dust, a sixteen hour day, he was on the alert. A marauding magpie would be signalled by his alarm call and the youngsters would flutter into cover. Meanwhile how they ate! He dashed to and fro probing the lawn, turning over the leaf litter in the borders, pecking at the apple we put out for him -and cramming the food into those three gaping bills. The apple was particularly popular and each morning the family would gather for an apple picnic just outside the kitchen window. As well as providing nourishment, through which they rapidly grew till they seemed larger than their thin and harassed parent, he was also demonstrating the various food sources available and how to deal with them. One by one the youngsters began to peck for themselves and, I’m happy to say, are now all both independent and exceptionally skilful at reducing apple quarters to slivers of dried peel in a matter of minutes. Meanwhile the cock is busy singing, maintaining his territory as a second brood is preparing to hatch. It’s interesting to reflect that 150 years ago blackbirds were shy woodland birds; it’s comparatively recently that they’ve made their home in our gardens, a habitat which is now vitally important to their survival as a species.
It’s also hedgehog time again. We have at least three visiting our garden at present. There may be more, but as hedgehogs are solitary creatures, arriving singly and, in the dusk, looking rather alike, it’s difficult to know for certain. Earlier in the season when ranges and feeding times are still being established you may see animals together, and this year I also was able to observe some interesting interactions. I was watching a small hedgehog tucking into one of the little heaps of dried food which we provide for them when a larger animal emerged from the border behind, marched up beside the first comer and proceeded to shove and barge it sideways. It was quite a trial of strength, a sort of push-of-war, but gradually the smaller contender was moved about a yard away whereupon the aggressor polished off the food and returned into the vegetation. Its victim then unrolled and scuttled off. A couple of evenings later I saw a second tussle, this time the aggressor being smaller than its opponent but probably younger and fitter. Again the loser was bumped and barged away from the food and the newcomer tucked in. This time, after a short wait, the defeated animal uncurled and stealthily inched towards a second heap of food nearby. Immediately, its antagonist left off feeding, marched over and gave it several more side-swipes, whereupon it curled up and remained still till the coast was clear. Presumably this kind of slow motion sparring established certain protocols among our local population and they stagger their visits to avoid each other. Now we only tend to see one animal at a time, but perhaps, if young are produced, this will all change later in the summer.