Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Return of the Fieldfares

As usual we have returned from our French home to the house in Surrey to spend Christmas. We arrived at the beginning of December, when I was immediately struck by the record number of berries on the holly tree which grows on our front boundary. A spectacular display, far more than I could remember from previous years.

In all previous years, however, by the time it came to select the best sprigs for our festive decorations, all the berries had virtually disappeared. Assorted birds feasted, but one species in particular, the fieldfare, seems to have made a special expedition, year after year, to strip our tree. Never to be seen at any other season, they arrive in force and systematically work their way through the tree until every trace of red has gone.

But this year has been different. A week before Christmas I was able to cut as many berry-laden sprigs of holly as I needed - and was even offering them to the neighbours, such was the bounty.

A heavy crop, they reckon, is the sign that it is going to be a harsh winter, but Christmas has passed and still we enjoy mild weather. I began to fear the worst for the fieldfares, who have never bothered about the weather before; they swoop and strip regardless. We are constantly reminded that the numbers of garden birds are declining so I feared that the fieldfare had been suffering with the others.

Until about 10 o'clock this morning - when the tree was alive and rustling with activity. A lone blackbird and his mate were pecking greedily, but when we looked closer, so too were a handful of fieldfares.

Great relief that the balance of nature has perhaps not been too upset, after all, and great respect for a garden visitor who, for once, has had the decency to wait until after Christmas before stripping the holly!

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