Wildlife is not usually something that I boast about in our suburban garden but this week we seem to have taken a leaf out of Lou Reed’s songbook. Foxes scampering along the back wall, sightings of squirrels and then something which has had the girls and I glued to the window for days now. On a grey and dismal January day, Primrose, Poppy and I whooped with delight at the darting flashes of crimson which we spied as we consumed our porridgey breakfast at the kitchen table. A sweet little pair of robins seem to be building a nest in Jerry’s shed. When I say ‘shed’, it could more accurately be described as a garden cupboard – far too close to the house, has to be opened by jimmying a booted foot towards the sky and has a dodgy door with panels which fall forward suddenly and forcefully, giving a mild concussion if one is not wise to their evil plan. One might say that it was a perfect nesting place for our red breasted lovebirds, not least because Jerry uses it but once a year when he makes us all clear the garden ready for firing up his barbecue. Something which he hasn’t done in at least 2 years I might add. However, dear Reader, I am sure you can imagine that Jerry was none to pleased to hear about our feathered friends’ choice of shelter. The phrase “It’s my shed. They should find their own”, was used and comparisons were drawn with recent evictions at Dale Farm. To be honest (and I must confess to never having shown much interest in birds other than as food) the whole thing has been rather fascinating. Primrose has taken to sketching them and Poppy, SW London’s mini Dr Doolittle, stands by the window, talking away and the dear little birds seem to obligingly tweet back. I wonder if she has let them know that her father would rather that they moved on?.. We now have a makeshift hide (Primrose has erected a mini tent by the door) for ‘RobinWatch’ and we observe as both Mr and Mrs R take turns sitting on the back door handle, chirping away and showing us their nesting materials! After rather a hot debate with both Jerry and my dear Mamma, I delved into some research on how to identify male from female. I was ‘surprised’ (and smug as I was almost entirely sure I was right in the first place!) to find out that both Mr and Mrs have a vibrant red breast and according to the RSPB, are almost identical. There was some talk of V shaped breasts for females and U shapes for males but I gave up in the end as the website kept churning out irritating birdcalls. Ooh with all the birdwatching shenanigans, dear Reader, I felt like Michaela Strachan poised to turn to camera and utter commentary in a hushed whisper as Primrose, Poppy and I waited for the daily to-ing and fro-ing from the shed to begin every morning. I half imagined our little cottage garden appearing on ‘SpringWatch’ with Chris Packham’s lispy banter in the background and me in the foreground, sporting my best kaftan……..”and now we turn to a little corner of SW London where Margot, our rather glamourous naturalist, awaits ready to talk us through the daily habits of a pair of robins nesting in her outdoor cupboard, sometimes known as a shed”…. (Dear Reader, as I wrote naturalist, I had to just double check that I wasn’t accidentally misrepresenting myself as one of those nudist fellows. Apparently, they go by the name of ‘naturists’. Very confusing. One can see how an unsuspecting birdwatcher might become entangled in a rather embarrassing scandal if they got that one wrong on the way to a nature reserve).
Bitten by the birdwatching bug, I took Primrose and Poppy on a little jaunt to the London Wetlands Centre. A Twitchers’ haven – I am reliably informed. This was quickly evidenced by sightings of several anorak types with binoculars, consulting notebooks and wearing those stomping Gore-tex boots. Far too much breathable fabric for my liking. The river and reedbeds did not disappoint, however. I cannot think of the last time I experienced such tranquility outside of the countryside. Not one single distinguishable sound could be detected that would give away the hubbub of daily grind in the Big Smoke from the other side of the river bank. Primrose, Poppy and I sat in a hide, mesmerised and rendered silent. A rarity for all three of us I can assure you, dear Reader. Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows came to mind and I was overcome with the memory of many meandering river walks that were the reason Jerry and I moved to this little corner of suburbia in the first place some 6 years ago.
“By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” (The Wind in the Willows, Chp 1 by Kenneth Grahame)
Primrose ended the silence first with “You promised me a hot chocolate, Mummy”, which of course I had (Primrose is never wrong. Wonder where she gets that from?), so off we trotted. Mole and Ratty were not to be found bobbing along the bank but we did manage to catch a glimpse of a family of otters who have a permanent ‘holt’ at the Wetlands Centre.
On the way home, Primrose and I speculated about creatures we might encounter in our new country garden. Primrose is desperate to meet her first ‘hedgepig’ and I have never seen a badger. Poppy delights in all manner of wildlife from a ‘squiggle’ to a ‘tweet’ and will, no doubt, find some way of communing with anything that lives at the bottom of the garden! For now though, we must all be content with watching the robins and their resplendent vermillion. Hating to disappoint my darling girls, I simply couldn’t resist creating a spiky friend for Primrose and Poppy at suppertime. Do not worry dear Reader, I do know how to identify a real hedgehog but everyone knows that the only hedgehogs around these parts look like this!