Spring Encounters

A short ‘rehab ride’ on a wider-Q fixie and not feeling too bad in the joints. The weather’s doing that very pleasant ‘English Spring Sunshine’ thing that it pulls out of the hat every year but which, in the depths of a grey winter, it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever see again.

Quite a lot of blossom’s out already; buds abound and the blackbirds are noticeably frisky. In other ‘nature notes’:

  • today saw a very close encounter with a Red Kite – he was engrossed in a splatted squirrel and didn’t see me until I was within 10 feet of him. The ensuing flapping was spectacular – they don’t get off the ground easily.
  • in another contest for a branch, it seems a Magpie trumps a Crow, which is news to me.
  • and deer – how do they find each other? I came across the local herd today trying to cross a lane. They were disturbed by a van and so about eight made it across, with the remaining 15 or more (one Stag, the rest seemingly all Does) frightened away. I stopped to see what would happen and the eight in one field ran to safety in the middle, stopped there and just waited – very obviously very alert. After several minutes, the rest of the herd appeared from a completely different direction, so they must have run in a fairly broad arc, found an alternative place to cross one or perhaps two roads, and come back up to where they’d originally intended to be. Fine … but I didn’t hear a thing the whole time, which left me wondering how they communicate.

Once again, I find myself wondering about my learned relationship to nature. I don’t have a clue what the equivalent feeling is amongst those who are decades younger.

And let’s not forget the light at this time of year – another aspect of nature, after all. (OK, there’s the atmospheric pollution aspect, but let’s overlook grim realities for once.)

That soft spring light

That soft spring light

A Dearth Of Birds

Three people within a local two-mile radius who I know regularly feed the birds in their urban gardens are reporting far fewer feathered visitors than usual. Someone else, a few miles away and out in the country, is saying the same.

Possibly, it’s just a function of a mild summer and early autumn, and there being lots of natural food around. Possibly.

On the other hand, if that were the case you’d expect to see more bird life in the country, but as I cycle around the lanes of South Oxon and Berkshire, I’m fairly sure I’m seeing far fewer birds about in fields, hedgerows and so on.

Possibly, the weather has changed migration patterns. Possibly. On the other hand, I think I’m right in saying we’ve plenty of native birds that don’t migrate. And besides, even if migration patterns had been disrupted, I’d have thought that would just mean different birds being here at different times, not fewer birds.

I’m not a dedicated, knowledgeable bird-watcher. None of the people feeding birds that I’ve referred to are, either. Hopefully, these are just inaccurate impressions and nothing’s amiss.

I suspect if our collective impressions are correct, whatever’s going wrong will have very serious implications.

Rooks over a field

Just a few

Never Before

Riding today, it struck me that never before have I seen so many dying bees on the roads. There aren’t hundreds of them, but I’ve noticed several of late and I think that’s a first. Climate change? Disease? I’ve no idea. I know worker bees do die off, but if what I’m noticing is unusual we should all be very worried.

I’ve never noticed young Wrens, newly fledged, before but I did earlier this week, in undergrowth to the side of woods near Mapledurham. And today I saw a female Blackbird busy feeding what I guess will be a second brood; I’ve seen more second-brood-related activity this year than ever before, both in my garden and out and about.

I’ve never noticed so many fallow fields before; today I wondered whether that was because of subsidies for ‘set aside’ land, depressed markets or similar; or whether it was because crops planned for them had failed with the late seasons this year.

Fallow fields

Fallow, or a sign of failed crops?


I don’t think I’ve ever before been quite so conscious of my shorts having settled down as I rode around to being a good half-inch above the permanent ‘farmer’s tan’ mark on my legs: a pallid tide line isn’t a pretty sight – I know that. I can only apologise.

And never before have I contemplated killing government officials but today, as I dodged pot-holes, I found myself wondering whether that’s what I might do – perhaps even ought to do.

Let’s say someone I loved hit a pot-hole while cycling, fell off and died. People will have been responsible for that hole – some single person, some people in a chain of command, some people responsible for employing other people, for setting budgets, for setting the low quality standards that are deemed acceptable these days. My loved one’s death would be the direct fault of people – real, accountability-dodging people. No court would do anything about them. Some public hand-wringing and trite, bogus, hollow ‘our thoughts are with the family’ statements by the representatives of the apparatus that employs those responsible people aside, nothing would change as a result of that death – unless I took personal action.

I’ve no desire to be judge, jury or executioner, none whatsoever, but as I rode around today I wasn’t sure what would be morally right if people in a chain of responsibility killed my loved one; I wasn’t sure whether exercising such an extreme form of retributive justice could be argued to be right in the absence of a legal system willing to act, in the name of both natural justice and – as long as the reason for the killing was explained – in the name of trying to raise standards and thus prevent other unnecessary deaths on the road. I just wasn’t sure.

If the law fails, if the law is wrong, ‘taking the law into your own hands’, surely, can’t always be the wrong course of action. That is a very unsettling thought.

Strange Sights?

Bluebell in sunlight in June

The hitherto unencountered

So, let’s say you’re a migrant bird flying in to England as normal in June. Hey up – what’s this? Bluebells. You don’t normally see bluebells; you’ve never seen bluebells before.

That’s quite conceivable, and I just wondered today while I was out up near Christmas Common whether that does occur in any way in the minds of animals; how do they see the world? Of course, the whole Dr Dolittle fantasy is common enough, one way or another. And I know that anthropomorphic thoughts aren’t really helpful. Nevertheless, it is something to muse on, however inconclusively, as the world changes. Even if animals are seeing the world merely in terms of survival strategies, those strategies still must include coping mechanisms for the hitherto unencountered.

Perhaps one of the keys to how the future will pan out will be which animals can best understand a changing world. I’m not sure humans are the best placed to survive.

Oh! Deer!

Several dreary, grey, bitterly cold February days have been and gone since I last was out riding. Call me a wimp, but it’s simply not a great deal of fun cycling when it’s hovering just above freezing and there’s not even the hint of any sunshine. It’s been largely dry, true, but the stiff easterly wind has strongly mitigated against that being anything like a benefit.

So, no, I’ve not been out riding and I’m not going to berate myself for it. I have been on the turbo-trainer again but, I have to admit, in a fairly desultory way: doing enough to keep some ‘cycling fitness’ in my legs; doing it hard enough to make me sweat and work my heart and lungs a bit … but that’s all.

So, getting out today was a real treat. I didn’t go that far, I wasn’t out for that long really, and it was still a dreary February day, but it wasn’t quite so cold and the effort was rewarded by the simple pleasure of being out riding, and by the sight of a herd of, I think, Fallow Deer but I’m not wholly sure on the identification. They were near May’s Green, on the way to Henley.

From the photos it looks as if I disturbed them and maybe I did, they are very shy and wary, but there was a fair old interval between the first photo and when they started to move off, and they weren’t in any hurry.

With apologies for the photo quality – they were taken with a compact camera on its maximum zoom.

Deer, just sitting around. (click on the image to view gallery)

(Click for a full-size version and more images)

Time to move on ...
But no great hurry

But no great hurry


Off, off and away
Follow the leader and away into the distance

Watching Life And Death

There’s not a huge amount of inspiration to be found on a ‘turbo-trainer’, and snow’s been keeping me off the bike for a few days. (I suspect if I never saw another snow flake I’d be quite happy about it.)

What is interesting to watch is what goes on outside the window in harsher weather – the bird life.

Birds in the snow

‘This too must pass’

At the various feeders and bird tables:

  • There’s one super-aggressive male Blackbird who’s willing to have a go at almost anything else – the other two male Blackbirds who are visiting, and any other nearby smaller bird.
  • The plumped-up female Blackbird more-or-less does her own thing but studiously avoids the males.
  • There are a few Starlings who descend as a group whenever there’s any fresh food that’s not mixed grain out. These aren’t afraid of the aggressive Blackbird – in fact the reverse is true, even though Starlings are smaller.
  • Unusually, I’ve had two Jays visiting simultaneously, but they’ll only barely tolerate each other and most of the other birds flee when they arrive. Any that stay keep their distance.
  • Magpies don’t tolerate anything else, and, as with the Jays, nothing else wants to be anywhere near them.
  • The Collared Doves have just kept on doing what they always do: hanging around, seemingly a tad gormless but always attentive, and carefully picking their time to feed.
  • There’s one Pied Wagtail who just does what he or she wants, neatly side-stepping the other birds as necessary and – it appears – getting the food it wants and needs.
  • The Blue Tits and Great Tits are like the Wagtail – canny feeders who can look after themselves.
  • There are pair of Bullfinches, relatively recent visitors, and they also seem self-contained, not fussed by any of the other birds except, occasionally, the Greenfinches who’ll have a bad-tempered go at them if they’re close enough.
  • There are more Wood Pigeons than normal – which is to be expected as they come in to the suburbs looking for food.
  • The solo Song Thrush I’ve seen is, I guess, doing the same as the Wood Pigeons, but he or she’s often chased-off by the stroppy Blackbird.
  • There are two Robins who fight as much as they feed but only seem interested in each other.
  • Greenfinches appear as contentedly greedy once they’ve settled on the feeders as they are all year round. They’ll squabble amongst themselves but, seemingly, without consequence.

And all of the ‘interest’ I’m seeing outside my window, one way or another, is about survival – no more and no less.

If I were describing starving humans fighting for scraps there would be an outcry. The same would be true if I were talking about domesticated mammals that people feel some affinity with, dogs perhaps.

Watching birds struggling to live though, that’s OK. I don’t think that I’m putting food out makes it any better or changes anything. They’re still struggling. As always, everything is relative.