HOME: BEAUTY IN ISOLATION #1

Approximately ten months ago, I finally completed my last of four posts about our trip to South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini. Since then, my six-month-old has somehow become a walking, chattering, climbing, singing, dancing, 16-month-old; I’ve undergone chronic back problems and subsequent surgery (1 month ago – recovering well, thanks!); and of course we’ve all faced a global pandemic. Lockdown #1 with a very small baby’s ten-second attention span was tough in many ways: they say it takes a village to raise a child but what do you do when you can’t see your village? But Indy consistently brought us joy and so we survived. Now we thrive and are very much looking forward to the end of lockdown #3 and to showing little Indy the world beyond our house: family and friends, forests and beaches, swimming and play dates. We can’t wait!

Anyway, at the end of the last post, I mentioned I had been photographing our garden (in Derbyshire for anyone reading who doesn’t know). Usually – due to little Indy – this was from inside the house, although I did manage to venture outside from time to time during her naps. I shared a photo a day for 100 days on social media in a series I called Beauty in Isolation. This post and the next are a summary of the thousands of photos taken last spring/summer, plus some from this winter. In this first post are our garden’s birds while the second will contain our garden’s mammals, insects and flowers; a few photographs from local walks; and some very recent photos of birds in the snow.

I’ll start with the pheasants. There are lots around and they visit the garden regularly because we live in a countryside hamlet. One was pecking on the conservatory door last week! Last year, I think there were five females (the brown ones), three normal males (we refer to them all as Fezziwig) and one grey-feathered male (Vincenzo). This year there are definitely at least nine females and six males, possibly more – we saw them all mooching about in the field opposite the house a couple of weeks ago. I love the spectrum of colours on the males.

Next up are the tits. We have four species – blue, great, long-tailed and coal – but I only have photos of the first three. Here are the blue tits. Many of the photos, of these and of other small birds, are taken in our photogenic corkscrew hazel. The first photo on the slideshow – hands-down my favourite – was taken by Dean and shows blue tits in next door’s beautiful purple callicarpa bush.

One sunny day in early June, I sat and watched a pair of hard-working great tit parents tirelessly fly off to find caterpillars, take a breather on a little branch in our hedge, then expertly navigate into a small hole in the quarry wall at the top of our garden. I could hear the chirping babies inside get very excited by each arrival. The adults would soon leave again though, sometimes, having had a little tidy up, removing one of the babies’ white fecal sacks. It was lovely to see those same fluffy babies, a little later on, visiting our bird feeders.

Our long-tailed tit story was a bit of a rollercoaster. In the early part of the year, we had a contented little pair that visited us regularly, always together. Then one day, I heard a bang on the nursery window while changing Indy and saw a bird tumble downwards. I was pretty convinced it was one of the long-tailed tits, especially when only one seemed to visit thereafter. However, a few months later, we spotted both adults again (I’m assuming they were the same ones as I think they have territories) with three fuzzy-headed, healthy babies! So mama must just have disappeared off to nest.

Now the finches. We have three species. The greenfinches are least common although I do have one photo.

Goldfinches visit quite often but they don’t come down to the feeders near the house, preferring to eat from a nyjer seed feeder higher up the garden – I’ve never yet managed to get a decent photo of them. Then we have the chaffinches who are very regular visitors.

Early on in lockdown #1, a great spotted woodpecker began dropping by most days. We named him Webster. He seemed to like the tall trees fir trees at the back of the garden (not on our land) but would also venture down to the feeders. I was constantly looking out for these flashes of red to try and capture a photograph as he rarely stayed long. We haven’t seen him as much since then but I’m hoping he starts to visit more often as spring comes around again.

Robins seem to be a favourite of a lot of people so here they come! We had three adults last year but have spotted five simultaneously this year. They’re some of the bravest birds and are very happy to come close to the house.

It was really special to watch the babies, who emerged around the start of May. No matter how many worms, flies or seeds their parents brought them, they would sit, squawking grumpily begging for more! As mother to a six-month-old at the time, I empathised!

One of my absolute favourite birds is one I’d not even heard of this time last year: the nuthatch. Last spring/summer we had infrequent visits from just one but currently we have a pair who drop by many times a day to forage.

Another bird which we caught only rare glimpses of last year is the tiny wren. This year, so far, it seems to be out there almost every time I look, always very busy.

Dunnocks are another bird I didn’t know of until moving to this house. I guess I always just assumed they were sparrows. We had three regulars last year. The males do a funny hoppy, wing-flicking territorial dance which is amusing to watch.

The birdsong in the garden, and the wider village, is amazing: constant, loud and varied. I love it. We spent many of those warm days last year out in the garden, listening, but we can also hear it from inside the house, particularly the conservatory which is Indy’s playroom. She is so attuned to the bird song and the calls of the crows in the high trees that she is forever stopping midway through making an imaginary cup of tea or building a tower to stare out of the windows and listen. Outside, she talks to them too: ‘caw caw’ was one of her first consistently intentioned words and we didn’t teach her it. We can also hear the Briggy the village peacock who was very vocal during spring and summer but who I only very recently actually met!

The most melodic players in the orchestra are the robins, blackbirds and song thrushes. I think we have a couple of song thrushes and a pair of blackbirds.

For a couple of weeks, the colourful swallows came to stay. They didn’t come in the garden, just landed on the telegraph wires out the front.

And finally, the wood pigeons and collared doves (a pair).

We’ve also had visits from field fares, jackdaws, treecreepers, crows, pied wagtails, buzzards, magpies, house sparrows and, once, a pair of mallards! Dean keeps a list!

That’s all for now. Part two will be coming soon.

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