3.50 a.m.: Not so much a dawn chorus as a dawn solo as the song thrush goes through it’s varied routine in the half light. It’s not until about an hour later that I hear the five-note cooing of a wood pigeon.
At breakfast-time, on our front lawn, which is shaded by the house from the morning sun, a young blackbird is repeatedly picking up some tiny food item, probably ants. It’s at that halfway stage: still brown and streaky above, but, in contrast, the tail and wing feathers are already showing up in black, so this is a young male.
1.30 p.m.: One of the song thrushes is bashing a snail against the concrete edging alongside the pavement. That corner of our garden should be a good hunting ground because last week, on a warm wet evening, I spotted a dozen garden snails nibbling the leaves of the hosta by the front door and I relocated them by chucking them diagonally across the lawn into the bottom of the beech hedge. Most likely they have slowly made their way back to the hosta.
But garden snails are getting on for twice the size of the other snail that we get in our garden, the brown-lipped, Cepaea nemoralis, and, so far, the song thrush is going exclusively for the smaller snail.
Having extricated the snail, the thrush goes to one of the clumps of sedge we’ve planted and wipes its beak against it, probably to remove the slime. It then takes a look around, probably on the look out for more food items to take to its young in the beech hedge.
It pounces on a large earthworm that it’s spotted beneath the rowan. It’s giving it a good tug when a blackbird flies in and there’s a head to head with lots of bluster and threat. At one stage the two birds are locked beak to beak in a tug of war with the unfortunate worm stretched between them.
But despite the spirited defence put up by the song thrush, the larger blackbird takes possession of a three inch length of worm and flies off behind next door’s leylandii hedge, pursued by the thrush. The thrush now has back-up: it’s mate has appeared.
The thrush might have lost the battle but when it returns it picks up the remaining section of worm which is twice the length of the piece snatched by the blackbird. The song thrush is feasting on this when the blackbird returns and tries to grab it but the thrush retreats across the road and continues to wolf down the worm. This time the blackbird doesn’t get the chance to snatch it away.
The song thrushes are now running a shuttle service feeding their young in the beech hedge behind the wheelie bins in our front garden. While one parent watches warily with a beak-full of food before flying down to the back of hedge the other is foraging for the next feed in the back garden, dealing with a small slug on the patio, leaving a sticky mess on the paving slab.
The meadow, no longer grazed by a pony, is now a regular hunting ground for a kestrel, which hovers at forty or fifty feet and occasionally plunges down among the grasses.
The fresh greens of spring are now over and trees have filled out with lush deep green foliage. Already I have to lean over as I pass the car in the drive because the rowan has put out so many soft ferny sprays of leaf.
Strings of yellow keys – pairs of ‘helicopter’ seeds – are hanging from the sycamores.
A song thrush is taking food to a nest hidden in the beech hedge at the front of the house. A month or so ago, I watched them taking nesting material into the leylandii hedge next door but when the beech came into a leaf a week or two later they started nest-building there instead.
8.30 a.m.: Our revamped front garden got a vote of confidence at breakfast-time; five birds of four different species were using the bark chip mulched flower border which slopes down to the lawn from the pavement.
A song thrush was using the upended paving slab that edges the bed as an anvil, expertly bashing a snail against it until it had removed the shell completely. It then ate it, so it probably hasn’t got any young in the nest clamouring for food. A second song thrush looked on from the hedge.
When we cleared this bed a month or two ago, I kept finding stripy brown-lipped snails amongst the ground covering ivy and rather than consign them to the compost bin, I gave them a second chance by tossing them into the bottom of the beech hedge.
At the time I thought that I would probably live to regret this as the snails will probably repay me by nibbling the flowers on the primroses that I was about to plant but I’m glad that they’re proving an attraction for our resident pair of thrushes. A few weeks ago they were taking nesting material into a thick leylandii hedge in next door’s front garden.
A male blackbird hopped between the plants, pausing to pull back the bark chippings mulch with a swift backward hop. The bark chipping are steadily rolling down the slope towards the lawn leaving bare patches so I’ll rake them back into place next time I’m in the front garden.
The other two species hopping about on the bark chip mulch were robin and house sparrow. I’m pleased with the way the new bed is shaping up and now that the miniature daffodils are fading away the next step is to add some ‘perfect for pollinators’ flowers to take us through the summer.
8.30 p.m. The brown ants that nest under the paving stones at the end of the drive are running around excitedly on this still, warm summer evening, as they do when the flying ants (the queens and the males) are preparing to take off on their nuptial flights. This activity has attracted a song thrush which is sitting with its tail bent beneath it, enjoying an anting session.
With all the recent ant activity, I was thinking the other day that it’s a long time since I saw this behaviour; in fact this might be the first time that I’ve actually seen it in real life, rather than in a wildlife documentary.
After the song thrush had finished, I went out to take a closer look at the ants and there were no winged ants amongst them. Perhaps they took flight earlier in the day, or perhaps this was a false alarm from overexcited worker ants.
When I first uploaded this post, I identified it as a mistle thrush but the arrow-shaped spots show that it’s a song thrush.
3.45 a.m.; It’s too early for the dawn chorus proper but a song thrush is making up for it with a spirited and varied solo.
At first when I hear the disjointed snatches of song I wonder what the commotion is and I think that I pick up the brief ‘ki-wick, ki-wick, ki-wick!’ of a tawny owl.
Some parts of the song are rather more melodious so it crosses my mind that a nightingale might have returned to Coxley Valley for the first time in over a century. It’s early in the morning but even so I realise that this is unlikely and that only a song thrush could cobble together such a franticly varied stand-up routine as this.
There’s a sound-bite that reminds me of lapwing and a snatch of starling too. But it’s definitely song thrush because it keeps repeating most of its short phrases three times.
Another song thrush is answering it from two hundred yards away near the quarry. No wonder when I hear the dawn chorus proper there’s a background of birdsong that I can never quite pick up. It never sings from the same song sheet often enough for me to spot the tune.
2.30 p.m., 22°C
FLIES, INCLUDING one bluebottle and three glossily metallic greenbottles, are attracted to the slimy stain on this fragment of sandstone in the bottom corner of the garden. The Song Thrush has been using it as an anvil, leaving fragments of the shells of at least three Brown-lipped Snails and one Garden Snail. I think that the plain ochre yellow snail in the middle is a colour variation of the Brown-lipped Snail.
You might think that the colour would provide suitable camouflage in this corner of the garden but it evidently wasn’t enough for it to escape the attentions of the Song Thrush.
Soon after I’d started drawing this stump, a Bank Vole appeared, pausing under the stump before disappearing beneath it. Later I had a glimpse of its white front paws (do voles have ‘paws’?) beneath the adjoining log pile. Bank Voles have chestnut fur and a longer tail than that of the greyer Field Vole, which is also known as the Short-tailed Vole.
I’ve stacked the stump and sawn-up branches here as a habitat pile, so I’m pleased to see the vole using it.
But I have removed another habitat that it had been using; voles (or perhaps Wood Mice) had excavated a small network of tunnels beneath a clump of the Flag Iris that we removed from the pond. That has now gone on the compost heap.
There’s more than usual ant activity on the patio by the kitchen window this afternoon. It’s a still, warm settled day and it’s been chosen as the time for ant colonies in the area to release their winged queens and smaller winged males on a nuptial flight. Barbara said that on her walk home from work at 5 p.m. there were lots of them about, some of them landing on her as she walked down Quarry Hill.