Binoculars and Burglars

It is early, cold and dark. The Sparrows are still in their roost at 7.30 am GMT.  I say GMT because I have noticed that some of my followers are from across the Pond and I don’t want them to have any less accurate a post than anyone else! I know the Sparrows are in the roost  because I just passed the hedge where the Old School Clan like to gather and sing! Oh yes and unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS), with one eye open! (see previous very scientific post ha)

 I am walking around the village this morning checking the roost sites and as I approach the sites identified by my enthusiastic village naturalists, I listen. I am sorry to say this site is not doing it for me. I am thinking one two birds maybe. Sounds to me like a cock Sparrow just letting the neighbours know that this is his patch and his nest is nearby.

Photo by Skitterphoto on

I decide to walk on to the next site. A duck flies over.  I scan quickly with the binoculars, the ones that I always carry, and its turns out to be a female Goosander, unexpected!! I must explain that the binoculars are a sort of hedged bet! I am sort of hoping that villagers seeing me out and about in the semi dark will think ‘are, there is a bird watcher with his binoculars’. Unfortunately I stop loiter about and move in random directions. So I am sure, that actually, what the villagers (staring from behind twitching curtains) are really thinking is ‘who is that weirdo with binoculars looking at the houses. Is he checking them out for burglary opportunities, houses empty or windows left open’? So now, not only am I listening to early bird calls but also listening for the sound of a siren and looking out for the distant blinking of a blue light!

Photo by Dom J on

Anyway us naturalists are not easily deterred and progress needs to be made.  I walk on and this time a Cormorant flies overhead. Now these are not really birds we would expect to see flying about in the early morning in a rural village in England. We might expect Blackbird, Thrush,  Robin maybe, but it is surprising what you see and hear if you look and listen. One day, years back, an Osprey flew over my garden, its wasn’t checking the pond out for fish you understand, it was a fair way up, off on migration, I guess. Then another year the Red Arrows flew over. You just never know!

None of our roost sites this morning seem to be behaving like roost sites at all. So, I begin to wonder, have they moved or have my willing helpers not quite got the hang of the characteristics of a House Sparrow roost site. The sound from a roost is really quite loud, easily discernible to a keen ear at 100 yards. Image a miniaturised male voice choir all singing different songs over and over again. You got it loud!

I return to my roost and whilst drinking a good old fashioned hot English cuppa, I make a vow. I will get up early tomorrow and record my roost site in full choral rendering in the hope that this recording thus broadcast over our local social media will sustain my helpers further in their efforts to help me identify all of the village sparrow roost sites.

The two males, one female  sparrow are now returned to the three foot hedge. No sirens, no flashing blue lights, phew!! Have I told you about the hedge,  I must tell you about it some time.

Sparrows Don’t Like Snow….

It was 6 am, dark. I leapt out of bed and looked through the window, no snow! I go back to a warm bed disappointed like a child expecting a day off school but not getting it. I could have stamped my feet but its difficult when you’re in bed and it causes a serious draft! They promised snow, not just snow, but heavy snow!! I checked my phone and find that snow is not forecast until 8.00am. I obviously hadn’t read the forecast very carefully yesterday!   I laughed to myself, how boring things would be, if weather forecasts were that accurate. What would we British have to talk about? I set an alarm clock in my head for 8.00am and drifted back to sleep.

the garden at dawn

I am awake now it 8.05 am. I suddenly remember why my brain alarm clock has woken me up. I leap from bed and look through the window, it’s snowing. I make a mental note to apologise to the met office regarding my early morning cursing of their inaccurate predictions. I’m happy, I like snow. Armed with binoculars, camera and recorder and stout walking boots, thick socks, I dash from House.

I want to know what the village looks like before the virgin snow is spoiled by foot, paw and tyre. I also want to know, what do sparrows think of this snow? The snow is now falling in large 50 pence flakes and melting into the fibres of my woolly hat. My task is to wander the village and listen, take photographs and check out anything that might be of interest.

I say listen because listening is one of the much underrated skills of the naturalist. I walk to the roost site of the Old School Sparrow Clan. I pass the three foot hedge (Have I told you about this? later later!) on route from the back door. The hedge is empty, well actually only empty of sparrows. A male blackbird sits quietly on top and a robin rests inside. They too,  visit the 3 foot hedge, after all, its not the sole property of the sparrows

 I hear that satisfying crunch of fresh snow under walking boot. It’s like the first bite into a crunchie. The sparrows are at home, still roosting, but they a little subdued. They are not full of their usual muddled joyous twittering.

So I am now walking the village street. The matched tracks, small paw and big foot, cross my path here and there. Dog walkers round here are keen! Having checked a hedge or two for activity I make my way to the roost site of the Bayley Hills (that is Bayley not Beverly!) clan. They too are not committed to their early morning choral service but sit resigned in their mixed hedge and small tree roost.

The Blind Corner Clan is relatively quiet. I walk on. The Village Hall Clan, despite access to a wonderful village hall conservation area, are not in the best of Christmas spirits either.  So that leaves the Mac Clan (aptly named because my friend Mac lives nearby. Both he and his good lady wife love the birds in their garden). This particular sparrow roost is the noisiest of them all, but given the relative performances of sparrows at roost this morning, that is not saying much! So it seems,  that from this morning’s investigations, Sparrows, unlike me,  just don’t like snow!