Tuesday, 22 January 2019

From robbers of the avian world to golden days of Mum’s childhood

From robbers of the avian world to golden days of Mum’s childhood

IT is morning and the raucous noise of magpies is everywhere.

Like the sound of old-fashioned football rattles, it appears to emanate from every direction. There must be some kind of communication going on between the birds.

Some blue-eyed jackdaws are also about. They are very clever birds and quite stealthy too.

Their Latin name, Corvus monedula, is derived from their propensity for stealing shiny and often valuable items.

Why they do this is a mystery. Perhaps they share with us a love of the colour and appearance of certain metals and jewels.

As the Brink’s-Mat robbers of the avian world, I find them perpetually entertaining. I wonder where all these birds find anything to eat at this time of the year but have noticed the emergence every morning of a large number of seemingly suicidal earthworms. Manna from heaven to our winged friends, I suppose.

Living by water, I was interested to read that we should keep feeding swans and ducks with discarded bread.

To me this is sheer madness. It is not good for them. They love to eat grass and for anyone wanting to bolster the dinner table of waterfowl, then lettuce or cabbage is perfect.

The River Thames in Caversham is placid this morning. I cast my eyes greedily at Fry’s Island and wonder how much it would cost to buy.

Apart from the ever-present and familiar waterfowl on this stretch of water, if you keep your eyes peeled you may notice a tufted duck. Looking like an Eighties pop star with its “mullet” and distinctive black and white plumage, this is an entertaining little diver.

My path leads to what is known locally at The Clappers. There is a great reed bed here as you approach the lock and with patience you may spot a water rail (Rallus aquaticus).

Smaller than a moorhen, they spend their lives tucked away in riverside vegetation, making the occasional strange call.

View Island is a step away and well worth a visit.

On my way home I stop to look at Dean’s Farm Cottage, where my mother was born. She tells me that she and her sister would sit in the riverside field opposite making daisy chains among the local farmer’s cows as they munched on buttercups.

I can’t imagine a more perfect childhood memory or a lovelier place to have been raised.

Our country was racing headlong into conflict back then but I often dream of being a young boy at that time gambolling in the natural world that we have subsequently lost much of.

Vincent Ruane

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