The mysterious Mr B is making my garden his own domain
I'd got home somewhat earlier than usual, and walked in the door just in time to listen to the 4pm National Radio news.
It was a superb day, a good 24 degrees Celsius, with a vast blue sky, a vague breeze that stirred the huge poplar down the street, and made the million leaves of the flowering cherry on the footpath dance and shimmer gently. It being a Thursday, I fired a load of washing into the machine to get a head-start on the weekend.
Then, as I often do for an hour or so, I took a glass of wine and a good book to the dining table, overlooking the driveway and the homes of three close neighbours.
And there he was, just where he'd been yesterday, at 5pm; he being a large and somewhat bold blackbird who appears to have taken ownership of a portion of several lawns, rooftops and sundry other perches overlooked by my front window.
Yesterday was the first time I'd really noticed him, though I'm sure he's been around for some time. He has a sort of suave proprietorial air about him, and his certain movements indicate he has a close and detailed knowledge of his patch.
He brought himself to my attention yesterday just after I'd taken the first sip and opened the book – he was 15 metres away and almost at eye level, sitting right on the right-angle edge of the neighbour's gutter on a sun-drenched corner of the roof.
As is usual for male blackbirds, his legs were bright orange, and so was his marlin-spike of a beak. The rest of him had that blue-black sheen of a freshly-oiled gun barrel, although when a small breeze ruffled his chest feathers, the soft grey of an undergarment waistcoat showed through momentarily.
But he had important things to announce, and he did so in a strident, forthright manner, sometimes throwing his head back to add lustre and volume, at other times swinging himself sharply to the left or right to ensure he covered all those in whatever audience he imagined was out there, hanging on his every pronouncement. There was, indeed, a flittering and a scuttering of sparrows, starlings, the occasional thrush, and a small smattering of goldfinch, all of whom were busily taking dust-baths among the driveway gravel or searching for spiders, grubs or seed-heads about the lawns. Rudely, they paid not the slightest attention to His Lordship's diatribe, leaving me to realise he was preaching to the diverted.
Which begs the question – who was he aiming it all at? He pontificated loudly for a good 45 seconds.
Yet he must be extremely sharp-eyed. Out on the street a small flurry of sparrows began a rowdy bickering over a five-centimetre block of bread crust. Mr Blackbird saw the melee, swept off the roof and hurled himself almost 50m to pounce on the crust. Most sparrows fled, but one, gamer than the rest, raced after Mr B as he burst back down the drive with his spoils. Both birds vanished beneath my window and away round the back of the house.
That was yesterday.
Today, he sang for perhaps 30 seconds on the rooftop before dropping directly on to the lawn beneath him and beginning a diligent quartering of the newly cut grass, dabbing here and there, perhaps at small spiders or other little insects.
Then he danced across the driveway on to a pot containing a small camellia on the neighbour's lawn. There he spent five seconds in further song, ran helter-skelter across more lawn while he continued to sing with gusto, and then abruptly buried his beak into the soil and began a tug-of-war with a worm.
He won, and after segmenting the wrigglie into separate takeaways for the kids he flicked away into some heavy foliage and was gone for several minutes.
Then he was back, this time on a lower rung of an adjacent rooftop TV aerial, and from there he gave full voice for some time to his feelings about world politics, the weather, and perhaps requests to Santa from the youngsters.
Away in the distance I could hear other songbirds (I don't know how to tell the difference between thrush and blackbird song, though I'm told thrushes regularly repeat their tunes while blackbirds have a sort of Willie Nelsonish make-it-up-as-you-go method of singing. Maybe they're the feathered version of rap-artists).
This guy seems to have control over a piece of territory about 50sqm and only early in the season were there any differences of opinion over whose plot it was. The loser of these several rather vicious scuffles seems to have gone elsewhere. Mr B now appears to have no rivals.
There he is again – it's now 5.45pm and he's back on the gutter corner, singing up a storm as his breast feathers flutter about him. Thirty seconds of strong song, and then he drops like a stone on to the lawn, hops about and snaps up an invisible grub or two – and has vanished when I next look up from my keyboard.
Ah. He'd been up among the shimmer-leaves of the flowering cherry, for suddenly he came diving down in a series of wide-winged scalloping swoops, then flared his tail and landed with a short run-in beneath a neighbour's dense shrub. He's apparently under orders for further takeaways.
Interestingly Mrs B has been conspicuously absent, not getting tucker for herself or for the kids. But I can't imagine she's sitting on more eggs. Surely they'd kick this lot out before they try for another hatching – that seems to be the norm.
Maybe she's guarding the nest against such horror intruders as neighbourhood cats or – worse – feral rats. Even in towns those silent, skulking, smirking grey-clad killers are common. We just don't see them very often.
Yet the following morning, by six o'clock Mrs B was certainly on the move, flicking rapidly across a section of lawn and quickly gathering a beakful of what appeared to be small spiders. Himself was not yet abroad – maybe it was his turn to guard the nest.
Mrs B vanished with a sudden leaping flight that took her almost straight up to above roof height and out of sight. She was back within a couple of minutes, skipping quickly in a completely haphazard method of search, but which soon gained her another pile of fresh takeaways.
I find watching the common, everyday birdlife absolutely fascinating – noticing how the different species interact; who's there and who isn't; the apparent interchange of his and her duties; the times in which they do and don't do things; and especially with the highly territorial male blackbird, just how closely he guards his patch. It seems the blackbirds are by far the most fixated on having their own slice of heaven all to themselves. Yet they never seem to bother other common species.
Thrushes seem a good deal less numerous, and also appear a lot more circumspect; starlings are boisterous, gregarious groupies; sparrows are gabbling, squabbling street-kids; mynahs obviously form yobbo-gangs and enjoy being bullies; and the little goldfinches and waxeyes both zip about in small chattering flocks, enjoying life and each other's company.
It's all way better watching than telly.
Kingsley Field can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org