Saturday 18 February 2017

Beautiful Exceptions

I know it's still February, but I'm itching to see my first butterfly of the year. Six species have already been logged on the Butterfly Conservation website (beginning with Red Admiral and Peacock both on January 1st), but I've yet to see one, and it's been too long - three and a half months in fact, since I saw one last Holly Blue on All Hallows' Eve last year.
 Yesterday being sunny and just about warm, I went down the garden to eat my lunchtime sandwich - first time this year - and hoped that perhaps some early butterfly would flutter my way. No such luck, I'm afraid, but I was amply entertained by the next best thing - the goldfinches flying down to feast on my nyger seed feeders. These birds have been a constant, and very welcome, presence ever since I put those feeders up - or rather ever since the day, several weeks later, when they finally plucked up the courage to come and feed.
 It's a wonderful thing that these brilliantly coloured little birds are now so abundant over much of the country. When I was a boy, it was quite an event to see one at all, but now they are, in effect, the new sparrows - they're everywhere, flying about with their darting, dipping flight, twittering their silvery song, feasting on nyger seeds when not busy with thistle heads. And it's a joy to see them - especially in these times, when almost all the birds that are thriving in suburbia are big, noisy, aggressive types: all our corvid friends and, round here, the phenomenally successful and phenomenally raucous ring-necked parakeets.
 I recently read a book about the bird life of Australia which painted a nightmare picture of burly, loud-beaked, thuggish birds dominating the parks and gardens of suburbia to such an extent that they pose a threat to life and limb - human as well as avian; deaths and injuries from bird attacks are quite common Down Under. And yet their besotted human victims continue - despite legal bans - to feed these monstrous birds, often with gobbets of raw flesh. It's a kind of avian Stockholm syndrome...
 Happily we in this country are not there yet, and it's unlikely that we'll ever have to cope with the likes of cassowaries and brush-turkeys - but the trend towards larger, louder and hungrier birds driving out the weaker songbirds is worrying enough. Along with the still thriving tits - and the easily overlooked dunnock - goldfinches are the beautiful exceptions. Long may they thrive.


  1. Our garden is thronged by them largely attracted by our sunflower heart feeders although we have a nyger feeder too. Appropriate that you favour the latter of course. Talking of bully birds have you seen this headline occasioned by aggressive urban seagulls? "Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan says failure to act has led people in her Berwick upon Tweed constituency to 'wander the streets with firearms'"

  2. Yes, can't say I blame them. I feel much the same way about my pesky grey squirrels...

  3. Sure. PS Vanessa Atalanta seen today!

  4. Lucky you! Still living in hope here...

  5. Here in the States, our cassowary-equivalent is the Canada goose - they were a novelty when they first appeared here in my youth, but have now overrun suburban areas in enormous numbers (and now apparently have such a good thing going here that they don't bother to migrate back to Canada in summer). It's almost not worth living adjacent to open water, where the geese congregate and make a ruckus and a mess. True, they're not big enough to fatally attack humans, but they'll give you a sharp bite if you cross their paths. For some reason, none of the local governments ever make any effort to cull the wild flocks.

    Our goldfinches are here year-round, though you have to look very closely to identify them in winter, when their brilliant yellow plumage has faded to beige. They binge on the thistle I put out for them.

  6. We have those Canada geese over here too, Pete, and they're no more welcome - another loud aggressive vandal of a bird. The used to control the population by pricking the eggs, but those days are long gone...
    I think your goldfinches are different from ours, more yellow on the body - I saw a lot of them in Ontario. Lovely birds.

  7. Here's the American version.