DESPITE the fact that I have been writing in these pages for more almost two decades, I am not what you might call a computer genius. The clever bits are done by my friends at Daelnet, to whom I turn with distressing regularity when various techno-disasters come my way.
So it is not hard for me to admit that when I received the staggering bit of news that the Woodland Trust charity as linked up with the European Space Agency to allow us to view the arrival of spring in Britain from outer space – on-line! – my mind was well and truly boggled (See News)
But when I had eventually digested the implications of this latest stroke of e-genius, I came to the somewhat stick-in-the-mud conclusion that I would rather view this much longed-for annual arrival in (as I believe they say) “real time” – i.e., out and about in the open air.
And the incident that drove me to this decision was the arrival of Jenny Wren back in my allotment and the possibility that I had helped her survive the worst winter for 30 years.
Many people think that the wren is Britain’s smallest bird, which it isn’t: that is the diminutive and rare goldcrest, a pretty green thing with a distinctive orange streak on its head. Jenny is only slightly bigger and weighs between on quarter and one half of an ounce – roughly the weight of a £1 coin.
It is that lack of body weight that makes them so vulnerable too cold, long winters. They feed mainly on insects and spiders, which can be hard to come by after months of freezing or near freezing weather, and they must use much of the energy they derive just keeping warm. Once that has gone, they die – and ornithologists fear that hundreds of thousands of them may have met this fate this winter.
The difference between life and death can be we humans and the food we put out on our bird tables. Although wrens much prefer their insect diet, they can in extremis take seeds left on the ground – and that is what gave me a warm flow of pleasure – and a little moment of self-congratulation – as I sat my allotment shed this week.
Ever since November, I have been making regular trips to the allotment to fill my birds feeders with seed and peanuts, hang up the suet balls and those square containers of high-fat, high protein blocks as well as scraps of bread. I did this through thick snow, bitter frosts and often heavy rain. Now, I am reaping the rewards.
Sadly, I had scratched the wren from my bird-watcher’s diary...
My blackbirds don’t even bother to fly away now: they just walk past me head down making for the bread. I’ve had dozens of tits, blue, great and long-tailed; chaffinches and thrushes; sparrows, house and hedge; and starlings – the latter three being on the “red list” of species in steep decline – and have watched the noisy and often violent battles of my two male robins over the affections of a single female.
There have been other species, too, not so welcome, like collared doves, rooks, crows various, and magpies but there has been one species missing since before Christmas: I mean, of course, little Jenny Wren.
She used to be an almost daily sight, hunting in the nooks and crannies of my drystone wall which, I assume, is normally an Aladdin’s Cave for creepy crawlies. But, for three months, not a sign.
Sadly, I had scratched the wren from my bird-watcher’s diary when, this very week, I looked up from my sandwich in the shed, my eyes attracted by what at first I thought was a field mouse amongst the seeds I had spread in the parsley patch. Then it turned, and that sharp, stubby tail pointed skywards as she fed.
Jenny’s back, I said out loud and it was like Christmas day in a wet and windy April. Perhaps my seeds were the saviour, I thought with a sense of warm self-congratulation. Funny, isn’t it, as the country goes to the dogs, the politicians spout ever bigger lies, and the Christian churches squabble over Easter, that a tiny bunch of feathers the weight of a £1 piece can restore one’s faith in human nature!