This year, for the first time ever, I am keeping a nature diary. For the past six years straight I kept a daily log of every bird I had seen for every day of the year, in a purpose built log-book. As good as that was it had limitations; the space to write in for each day was so small I had to keep to the names of the birds only and could not write down other wildlife I had seen. I yearned to have a proper wildlife log-book (like Edith Holden’s) that I did not have to write in every day and would allow me to jot down important details of behaviour from all aspects of wildlife; plant, insect, bird or otherwise. This year I have one and already I have noticed a change; whereas before I had to remember throughout the day all the birds I had seen, I can know focus on other creatures and remember different things that before I might have forgotten.
There is a pyramidal-shaped Cyprus that grows out of someone’s garden visible from my bedroom window; near the apex of the evergreen tree is a mass of twigs resembling a pile of dead seaweed you would find on a beach. This globular mass of sticks grows in size every day, becoming ever more noticeable; the culprits are a pair of industrious magpies who seem to be attempting to construct a nest. It has yet to resemble one but then magger nests are not the usual cup shape; they are domed affairs, like squirrel drays and I suppose the avian equivalent of a country pile – seeing as all other bird nests are exposed to the elements.
This morning after work I looked out of the kitchen window to see a pair of candy-floss lollipops hopping through an oak tree like wood sprites, they alighted upon one of the larger limbs and proceeded to tear shreds of moss from a patch of the stuff growing upon the branch. I have never seen a Long-tailed Tit nest and would dearly like to, so hoping that they might reveal where their nest was (a marvelous cosy creation made of spider-webs, moss, lichen and the best eider-down) I watched them flit away with their construction material – alas, they disappeared around some distant buildings and I doubt I will find their nest.
In my local park there is a wide stream running through a wood, part of one of the banks collapsed a few years ago from erosion and now a huge wedge of land lies at a steep angle facing the sun, dipping its bottom edge in the cool water. This face of mud seems to have been perfect for mining bees, which although technically solitary do like to nest together – perhaps because suitable burrow sites are hard to come by. I happened to notice some bees crawling upon this wedge a few days ago, on closer inspection there were quite a few small brown bees scurrying about on the surface and wrestling each other whenever they met. I then noticed tiny granules of soil trickling from certain points on the wedge; they were being produced by the diggings of very fresh, slightly damp, black and fawn bees emerging from their winter catacombs. This was their first glimpse of sunlight yet they did not seem to have time to enjoy it – they rapidly flexed their stained-glass wings and took to the bracing March air with vim. It was like witnessing a birth, with the soil itself acting as the womb in which their mothers had lain the eggs, wonderful, yet I still have no idea what those other smaller bees were doing.
In the same park yesterday I watched as a pair of obsidian Carrion Crows swished through the sky way above my head and landed like ballet dancers on the thin outer twiglets of a tall Oak. They each had a ball of dry leaves in their beaks which they proceeded to add to their large nest that was sitting very solidly like an eagles eyrie in the fork of two branches; one of the pair squatted in the nest and wiggled about to keep the shape of the cup just right. Just two trees away from the broody corvids a freshly arrived (or awakening over-winter-er?) Chiffchaff sung unseen from the bud-swollen branches of an Ash, repeating his name over and over yet still tripping up every now and again – ‘silp-salp-silp-salp-silp-silp-salp’.
I await now with some impatience the drumming of the Great-spotted woodpeckers, I have so far heard only brief snatches and one-off salvos, usually by now the unmistakable hollow vibrations are constant and regular from every copse in the area. I was surprised the other morning when I heard an ambulance siren emanating from a bush on the other side of the road. Upon closer inspection by ear I realised that it was a Starling, ruffled up against the cold and his iridescent, jewel-studded plumage hidden by the dark – I was most impressed with the accuracy of its mimicry. Spring is without a shadow of a doubt here and I look forward with great relish (and chutney) to keeping track and note of all the breeding creatures and flourishing plants I come across.