It's full steam ahead in nesting season just now and I've been enjoying watching various birds from my desk by the window as they search for suitable nesting materials. I leave autumn leaves, roots and twigs on the soil surface for them to find and they pick through them and select what they need. The jackdaws have taken masses of lamb's wool and fibrous organic matter, while the blackbirds have collected moss and rotting leaves.
The birds I spend most time around, the robins and blackbirds, have suddenly changed their behaviour. A couple of weeks ago, a pair of blackbirds and a pair of robins were coming daily for mealworms and had been for many months, but all of them have become very shy. The blackbirds stayed away for a week before coming to ask for worms again and I haven't seen either of the robins for about ten days now. Are they just busy? Have they been predated? There is no way to tell, but their absence is notable.
Now that I don't see him at all, I find I miss the bold male robin, though there is robin song to be heard nearby. A few times I've stood and looked into the trees and the hedge at the back to see if he's lurking, but he isn't. Maybe he'll come back after a break, as happened in 2015 when he had a territory dispute in spring, but returned in the autumn. Maybe we've seen the last of him, we'll see.
The birds up at the woods have also become shy. The woodland robin, which had been in such enthusiastic attendance lately has become very timid. I can only put it down to the worries associated with nesting season – finding building materials and the right nesting spot, finding food, avoiding territory disputes and evading predators. It must be a nervous time for any creature which lives outside.
Duck duck go
Another bird in the woods was a cause for some consternation very recently. One day, in the middle of the woods and about half a mile from the nearest water, we discovered a duck's nest with 11 eggs in it. The female wasn't on the nest at the time, but we noticed that she'd returned later on. According to the RSPB, ducks lay up to 12 eggs at one or two day intervals, so she did well to stay hidden when people were working close by.
All of this would be just fine, but the woods are opening to the public for Oxfordshire Art Weeks from April 6-28 and there will be groups and families exploring. Disturbing the nest was out of the question, and in any case illegal, so we wove a hasty screen of brash to protect the duck's privacy and put out food and water several metres from the nest.
Then we started pondering the issue of the eggs hatching during Art Weeks and wondering whether or not we'd need to help guide the duck and her chicks frst through the woods, and then a meadow full of young cows, to the relative safety of a pond at the bottom of the hill. Fraught emails were sent back and forth amongst the team and we discussed closing the woods to the public.
As it happened, two days later the duck had gone and the nest was empty. What happened? There were no feathers, the nest was undamaged and there was no sign of eggs or shell, so I wonder if it was a fox or badgers, for both inhabit the area and badger latrines are numerous in the woods.
Eu-phoria at bee news
On a more cheerful note, I read that the European Union is to ban bee-harming pesticides. It is to be hoped that the 75% reduction in flying insects in some places now stands a chance of being turned around.
*Please note: the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS