Spring has crept in under the cover of winter, kicking back the blanket of dark mornings and early dusks. Still, sunshine is a fickle beast; weak, and wan, glancing in and out of our days on the farm. Yet, the garden is waking . Golden daffodils nod their heads in time to the trill of a blackbird perched on a hawthorn branch. A string of pearl white snow drops trace along the side of the farmhouse , their delicate flower heads outlining long forgotten borders. Buds and new shoots burst up and out, ready for warmer days.
Bird life on the patch is changing with the coming of Spring. The starlings have left, after a long winter vacation. Their absence is conspicuous. Peace reigns once more, and I do not miss the noisy, whirring, chattering din above our heads.
The house sparrows have reappeared after their winter absence, and have set about tidying up last years nest sites. For the second year in a row a pair of sparrows have stolen the house martins nest. Calf hair from the sheds seems to be a popular choice of nesting material, and the females busily flit about gathering beakfulls of it.
The bird feeders are a constant hive of activity, with blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches and robin being regulars at the ‘buffet’. Four or five blue tits on a feeder in one sitting is common, suggesting our garden provides for up to 20 of this species. A willow warbler has started to appear, shy and flighty, but his visits are infrequent. A pair of collared doves often come to perch side by side on the swing set, preening and cooing at each other. A dunnock, or Hedge sparrow, now comes to sift through the debris at the foot of the feeders. Last year a single pair frequented the garden, this year I have counted four on one occasion. They are busy, unassuming little birds, similar in size to the house sparrow but with a sleaker silhouette. The population expansion on our patch matches the general trend around the uk; numbers are increasing, but the species remains on the Amber list. Their ‘plain jane’ appearance hides a rather quirky reproductive trait. Dunnocks practice monogamy and polygamy. Depending on the territory available to them , their ‘mating’ relationships can be polygynous (one male, multiple females), polyandrous (one female, multiple males) or even polygnandrous (multiples of both sexes). Quite a lot of nest hopping for such an unobtrusive bird.