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!

Moving House

It’s Christmas day and it’s much like any other cold winters day as far as the sparrows are concerned. But the sun is up early and ready to play and it is now casting beautiful red and orange waves of light across the dawn sky. The cock sparrow arrives back. If the sun is out the sparrow comes early.

He sings, so I guess it’s time for another sparrow story. My friend Ashley made me a beautiful three hole sparrow apartment many years ago. Yes, a much appreciated Christmas present and that’s why this observation on sparrow life is so interesting. Well at least I think so and hope you will to.

The old sparrow apartment nestbox – far left occupied!

Any nestbox is best placed in view. It must be seen without too much effort, from the house window or easily watched as you go about your gardening tasks. The old box was screwed to the wall on the gable end of my neighbours house and about twenty foot up. Do you know, I just can’t remember if I asked permission! Oh well, this wall just happens to be about a third of the way down our garden and visible from the house, shed and other garden locations.

After the first 9 years it began to look a little sad, unloved and the roofing felt was coming away. It had, however, not only served the nesting needs of a pair of house sparrows in recent years but also seen several successful broods of Great tit and three broods of Tree Sparrow (be impressed because that is very uncommon in my garden and unheard of  here about.)

So I built another, with much love and care. I took the old box down. It was no easy task, up a ladder with a screw driver in one hand and box in the other! Anyway, down it came and up went the new box which was practically the same size and I put it back in the same position.

I must tell you at this point (because it is vital to my tale) that the sparrows, until then had been making their home in apartment 1 (far left). I must also tell you a few well know scientific facts about sparrows. Firstly they mate for life, not necessarily a very long one, but for life. Secondly sparrow nest boxes are visited by their owners all year round and often birds will roost in their box at various times in the year. Finally sparrows are very and I say very faithful to their nest sites. The same pair will use the same nest site year after year. We have lived here for 28 years and the sparrows have used the same nest sites both in the eaves of our house and our neighbours every year.

So having removed the old box I contemplated its fate. Should I knock it apart and burn it on the fire, not a very dignified end for a faithful servant! Then I thought, it’s not in that much of a bad state, I will repair it. So I did. I decided that the rejuvenated box once finished would fit nicely on the gable end of our house. I would carefully position it to avoid ‘anything’ falling on the windows as the birds went about their business, raising a family, courting, feeding each other etc.

In spring, hazel leaves appearing, the cock sparrow sits here to claim his nest site in the box on the wall above his head.

Out comes the ladder. Drill in one hand and box in the other. A precarious process at the best of times because you really need an extra hand to hold on with!!! I was to position it at the same height off the ground because the old sparrows obviously had become acclimatised to this height and it was deemed suitable.

So I watched and I waited. The new box in all its nicely finished glory lay empty! The old box, newly positioned had new residents and where were they? Well, the sparrows had moved into apartment 1 on the left hand side! Maybe the faithfulness of sparrows to their nest sites goes well beyond our initial understanding. jOn

The Sparrow sings loudest when the church bells ring?

It’s nearly 10 am now and I am watching the news and eating some fresh bread rolls. The bread bit is irrelevant I know, but we love to make bread in our house and have done so for the last 37 years. Now the funny thing is, the three foot hedge is directly behind the TV and clearly visible through the window . So you see this is how it all began. We sit down to eat breakfast, have coffee or lunch and next minute you find yourself watching Channel Sparrow and not the TV 😄and to be frank (Jon normally) sometimes it’s a lot more interesting. I don’t want you to think this is all we do, watch daytime TV, because nothing is further from the truth. We may do this a little bit more often on wet days in winter months and that’s all, I promise!

The cock House Sparrow is back in the 3 foot hedge. It’s miserable, the weather is miserable and he is miserable, sitting in the middle, about a foot down from the top. He is rather half heartedly chirruping, not preening, not tail flicking, not spinning his head from side to side or tilting it up or down to check for possible predators or interested hen sparrows, just pathetic uninterested chirruping.

It is now 10 am. The church clock strikes 10 bells for the hour.  It seems like this is all the Sparrow needs to get seriously on the job, at last, a little encouragement. He launches into the full show, moves up to the top of hedge, checks to make sure there are no hawks about and lets us have it all at full throttle, full volume, nothing held back!

Now you might say that there was something else that triggered this sudden burst of enthusiasm. Perhaps a hen sparrow was sat out of my sight on the corner of the roof? Perhaps a neighbouring cock sparrow had just burst into competitive song in the hedge next door. But for me, the sparrow sings loudest when the church bells ring?

Sunset Heaven

It’s 8.24am and just getting light. The cock House Sparrow is back in the 3 foot hedge. In my head I am saying “your early this morning boy”. Quietly though, because after yesterday, people are already wondering why I am photographing apparently empty hedges! He isn’t bothered anyway and sits a respectable 2 foot down and chirrups repeatedly. I say respectable because no self respecting Sparrow is going to sit on the top of the hedge and offer our local Sparrowhawk a takeaway. A sparrow did that, on my neighbours hedge, a few weeks ago and it WAS taken away! Did I mention the three foot hedge. One of these days I must explain.

Now I am walking through country and around the village, I began to think? Should I go to see my daughter at Christmas and our newly arrived grandson. I was trying to think through it logically, pros and cons, but worrying, like millions of others. What are the risks and what potential changes will there be to Covid rules between now and then. What Boris decisions are on the way or not! Then I spot a bird dropping out of Holly tree and it flys down to the ground. Was that a Fieldfare or Mistle thrush?  Mistle thrush, excellent, I don’t see many of these! I crossed the field and entered a small copse with a pool in the middle and here I found the remains of a fish on the bank. Now I am thinking otter, mink? Big fish, a Carp I would guess.  A female Goosander comes from cover and heads off across the pool. The light is closing and the last remnants of cloud on the horizon is doing a very good job of the sunset. Out comes the camera as a wonderful orange glow spreads across the sky in the direction of the Wrekin. The moon had already climbed and shadows and reflections began to charm me. Out comes the camera. After taking far too many photographs I begin walking home.

Sunset across the Weald Moors

Back home the House Sparrow has sung until its hoarse and decided that enough is enough. Everyone should know by now that this is his spot, keep out, though I guess the Sparrowhawk won’t pay any attention to his boundaries! Two Blackcaps arrive on MY homemade fat balls. This makes me feel good. Male and female and they are feeding side by side (how romantic), Blackcap and brown cap! You start to wonder don’t you? Are these middle European migrants coming here for winter or are they are local birds that breed here and love us so much that they just can’t  leave (my fat balls)?

Well, we often say, ‘I am going for a walk to clear my head’. I don’t think a walk in the country does clear your head.  I think we reorganise our thoughts, clear some things out maybe but that is only half the story. We also refocus and reconnect with the natural world around us and take a rest from this crazy  man made world we live in. The sparrows are off to bed, they are not bothered!