Saturday, 24 November 2018

woodpeckers, starlings - and a linnet ...

First to the bird feeders for several days has been a spry female great spotted woodpecker. Splendid in black and white she lacks the red nape of the male but shares the red vent coloration. The numbers of great spotted woodpeckers have risen by 250% in recent years. Modern, unmanaged woods provide more deadwood for the birds to feed in. The rise in the population of great spotted woodpeckers has in part been attributed to the collapse in starling numbers. Until relatively recently starlings were both plentiful and woodland nesters (as they had been since the end of the last ice-age) and there they would compete with similarly-sized great spotted woodpeckers for nest holes. Despite the mighty punching power of the woodpecker beak - starlings would vanquish them. No such competition now - therefore more successful woodpeckers. She bounds away in looping flight into the gloom.

Your cockeyed optimist made five medium sized starling nest boxes and sited them last winter on trees with open access. With depressing predictability none were used - although when I filled a feeder with live mealworms in the summer, it was immediately swarming with starlings. Perhaps there's a clue for me in rebuilding a local starling population.. In December 2015, I counted c130 starlings in the the Woodland Garden canopy, no doubt boosted by migrant birds. Four starlings flew overhead this week.

Mist wraps itself throughout the day. Trees are shadowy outlines. Hens step gingerly through the cold wet orchard grass, then break ranks to charge towards the wild bird seed hopper, skirts hoiked up. Much scratching, backwards shuffling and pecking follows. The hens have synchronised their moult and parade new plumage.

Our 2018 vintage cider has now been bottled. Our hope is that this reaches 'drinkable' status before the beer I bottled two years ago - which isn't.

On the terrace the pink nerine flowers - battered flamingos on slender green legs - await refuge from the frosts in the greenhouse.

A new bird feeder visitor this week - a female linnet - on the sunflower hearts. The books say they do not behave in this way, preferring farmland weeds. She is 2 cm longer than the goldfinches that flitter around her. She: tweed suited and sensible.

Garden work is slow and dirty. A corner of the prairie beds has become infested with couch grass. We work through the sticky soil, removing the long underground strings of of their rhizomes. Barrows full of  slimy roots and broken plants. The afternoon shift is often interrupted by FaceTime calls from the grandson and his mum. The head gardener sanctions (indeed welcomes) these interruptions from 'the little emperor'..
Then back to the mud before returning as darkness gathers to the warmth of the house on platform soles of mud.

Sometimes, only a mug of tea with a shot of whisky will do. 

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