Staying hopeful in lockdown





I have a library book that should have been returned eight weeks ago. I normally download my books but this time I didn’t. It is called ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou. I think I do too. We must do what we can to stay happy.

But will the library be happy with me? What is the fine for all those weeks, I wonder? Should I just post it through their letter box and make a run for it? No, some sort of amnesty will apply. Hopefully, things will work out.

Another thing that makes me hopeful is that the spotted flycatcher has arrived again in our garden. The last of our migrant birds is on the RSPB red list, there is cause for concern about how few there are left. Their numbers have dropped over 90% in recent years. We don’t know why, but if you see this little bird in your garden you may have the right conditions with enough food, lookout perches and perhaps suitable nest sites.

The spotted flycatcher is a brown bird, like a house sparrow but a little larger. It looks unremarkable. However, if you watch for a moment you will see that its behaviour is unusual. It sits on a branch, until an insect comes past, then the flycatcher is off in a flash. It catches the creature mid-air with a snap of its beak and returns to its original perch. Remarkably, it always returns.

This bird’s journey has been remarkable too. It has come all the way from west Africa which is a journey of about 3,000 miles.

Last year a pair nested in our climbing rose near our sunroom window, there were three fledglings. I am wondering if this is one of those birds. Has one come back to perch on the same branch, on the same stem, exactly where the old nest was? How can it do this?

In the years when people kept birds, like nightingales, in cages, the bird fanciers noticed something strange happening at the end of the season. Their birds began to put on weight, became active at night and started to try and fly in one direction, hitting their heads on the top of the cage. The thinking was that they were trying to migrate.

Experts are still baffled. Perhaps the magnetic field helps, and recent research also shows that a sense of smell may help. Maybe it’s an innate, inherited a memory, an inbuilt genetic programme. We are still not sure. It is all something of a mystery.

Mystery or not, our spotted flycatcher is back here from Africa perching on our garden chair, just like he did last year. He can’t sit there for long though because he needs to find a mate. They will then make a nest, rear young and be off back, in under four months. Our coronavirus crisis will not affect them and, for our flycatchers here, the world is working as it should.

(Taken from my column in the Shropshire Star)

The spotted flycatcher has chosen to nest in our climbing rose again



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