A Murder of Crows

I’m sitting in my study staring out of the window and trying to think of the next sentence.  There are crows out on the road and in the playground opposite.  I’m just thinking what on earth can crows find to eat over there when I hear the familiar cry of alarm from the male blackbird.  A few moments later that fledgling flutters to the ground near a climbing frame.

‘Stupid bird,’ I think.  ‘Why don’t you run into the thorn bushes near bye?’

But it’s not that clever and after one half hearted dodge, the crows have it.  The blackbird flies around making a racket but is not brave enough to attack the group, who fight over the dying fledgling. A teenage boy passes through the playground eyes straight ahead, oblivious to the drama going on right next to him.  One crow makes to fly off, but is intercepted and drops its half eaten lunch.  The next thing that I see is the cat next door running out of the playground with the remains in it’s mouth.  All that effort by the blackbirds just to provide lunch for a crow and a cat.

Blackbirds in the Grapevine

June was busy; I was away a lot and returned home after a long weekend to find that a pair of blackbirds had almost completed building a late nest in the grapevine, right above my back door.  The female was sitting in the nest but flew out when I came out the door.  I took a quick look through the landing window just above the nest and noted there were no eggs yet. I hoped that my reappearance would discourage the pair from their task.  I imagined that they had already nested earlier and noted that this effort was very late in the season.

Vine leaves hide the nest
Vine leaves hide the nest
Nest from below
From below. nest among the grapes


They must have decided that I was worth the risk and continued to build so when I returned after yet another weekend away, the female was sitting on four eggs.  I was quite cross and concerned for them as I’d planned a party in my very small garden mid July and felt sure that the noise and activity would scare them away.  I decided to carry on as normal, sitting in my garden courtyard, hanging out washing and gardening. I reflected that this choice of location might not be the brightest, but then again my presence could deter predators.  How could they know that?  Had they somehow learned that humans are OK to be around?  Not taking any risk, the bird remained motionless if I was about, believing in her camouflage. She would only leave or return to the nest, beautifully hidden by the vine leaves, if she was convinced that I or any other creature was not looking.  You might wonder what the male was doing all this time.  He didn’t seem much in evidence, but the moment a couple of magpies flew into sight, he was on duty, distracting them away from the area by confronting them and pretending that his nest was several gardens away.  Cleverly he would raise the alarm and take the drama well out of site of my grapevine.

The party date approached and rain threatened.  I decided to erect a gazebo, which would take up most of the courtyard and come within inches of the nest.  I did it in stages putting up the frame the day before.  She sat on the nest all the way through it, so encouraged, I carefully pulled on the covering the following morning.  She flew out of the nest but once the top was on and I could no longer be seen from above, she returned.  It rained hard, clearing up in time for my guests.  I didn’t tell anyone the blackbirds were nesting.  Human beings are inherently inquisitive and children might have insisted on looking in the nest.  While we had been partying away under the canopy, things had been happening above.  When I dismantled the gazebo the following day, there were four chicks in the nest.  Mum wasn’t sitting and there was a very faint sound of cheeping. Both

Newly hatched
Newly hatched

birds were alternating their visits, bringing food to the youngsters, trying to work out which ones needed feeding next.  I didn’t expect all four chicks to survive and some of them looked overheated.  The temperatures at this time of year on a South West facing wall were exhausting.

A week later, I discovered one of the chicks dead by the back step.  A quick look, while the mother was away, first checking no one was looking, showed that only two chicks remained.  There were no clues to the fate of number four.  I removed the dead chick to the other side of the house so that scavengers would not come sniffing and continued to come and go alongside my bird family.  Some days later one of the chicks was sitting on the edge of the nest peering at me through the vine leaves.  Meanwhile the grapes are ripening and it’s time to expose them to sunshine by removing some foliage.  This turned out to be a bad idea as the chick decided to flee the nest, fluttering ineffectually down to ground level and taking refuge at the base of an ivy-clad wall, behind a small statue of a naked woman.  Whatever sound the young bird emitted in this exercise produced parental alarm several gardens away.  Checking for chick number two revealed that the frightened chick was the last one left of the four originals.

Fledgling in the Honeysuckle
Fledgling in the Honeysuckle

I’m generally a Darwinian, but as I’d caused the chick to jump out of the nest, I felt duty bound to put it back, which I achieved by getting out the ladder, throwing a cloth over the chick and returning it to the nest and carefully removing the cloth.  Feeding resumed and for the next few days the fledgling could be heard calling discreetly to be fed and exercising its wings.

The next thing I know, the fledgling has jumped out of the nest again and is perched on the handlebar of my bicycle in full view of any predators.

‘Stupid bird,’ I muttered, and chased it round the courtyard with the cloth.

Its next excursion found it perched on the lower branches of the honeysuckle.

Empty nest & grapes
Empty nest & grapes

‘That’s a bit more sensible,’ I told it.  Young Blackbird was hidden under the canopy and high enough off the ground to give the neighbourhood cat a challenge.  Dad seemed to be the main feeder now and the next day I spotted the youngster away out of my courtyard on a high wall between me and next door.  Then it was gone.  I hope it makes it and I can now attend to my grapes.

Loosing Pride? A response

Loosing Pride?

Huw Lemmey writes in Open Security about the intellectual origins of Pride with the passion of youth and a committed left wing view of LGBT issues. http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/huw-lemmey/losing-pride

He asks questions but offers no answers, prompting me to join the debate bringing the personal into reasons for Pride.  Why do we march and what are we proud of?

I very well remember being young, vetting partners for their left wing credentials and thinking we could change the world.  Thank goodness there are still those who believe that. However, I come from a time and place where homosexuality was illegal and I’m amazed that we have come so far in my lifetime.  I remember my first pride in the late 80’s, walking over Westminster Bridge nervously holding hands with my boyfriend.  It was the only day of the year when we felt bold enough to do this.  It was thrilling, a seemingly defiant act, which in retrospect seems insignificant.  Yes, we speculated about the cameras on helicopters identifying us later – part of the paranoia we’d been programmed into but there was a feeling of empowerment (probably imagined) much like my experience marching against the Vietnam War in the 70s.

Did it make a difference? I believe so, but not necessarily in the ways you might expect.   The sight of Lesbians and Gay men visible to the public and media (The Bi came later, followed by Trans and now Queer – where will it end?) caused derision, hate and laughter from media and onlookers but it gave us confidence to be ‘Out’ to friends and family, the workplace was to come later. So over the years people got used to the fact that we exist.  In what then seemed like an achingly slow journey, acceptance grew to where we are now.  Lemmey cites Stonewall as a pivotal moment in our history, and I recommend Martin Duberman’s book Stonewall – an account of the gay struggle for liberation in the US.  However, the drag queens at the Stonewall Inn weren’t part of a political organisation; they were just pissed off and pushed to the edge by the Cops.  They unwittingly started a revolution.  That’s how revolutions usually begin and the intellectuals quickly move in to invent the ideology.  It’s a very slow revolution and continues with advances and retreats.

The difficulty for intellectuals such as Lemmey, is that we are not a politically or sociologically homogenous group.  We are not, like miners or teachers but can be found in all cultural, class and political groups.  I used to think it inconceivable that any gay man could vote conservative.  I didn’t know any and assumed that if they did exist, were sheltering in ‘The Closet’.  Now, with more experience, and the predominance of centre-ground politics, I know and dare I say, like a number of Tory gay men.  At the other end of the political spectrum I count a Marxist as a dear friend.  That LGBT people inhabit such a wide spectrum is, I believe, a strength in our continuing struggle to be visible to all sections of society.  Our goal must be for our sexuality to be unremarkable to everyone.

So, the representation of workers from banks, supermarkets the Civil Service and other corporations in this year’s pride is surely a good step in spreading the ‘Some people are gay – get over it’ campaign and taking the revolution to new levels.  Back in the eighties Pride struggled for sponsorship (I vividly remember Ian McKellen then running around rattling a bucket desperately trying to get Pride revellers to donate) and was always going broke or having funds embezzled. That companies are now willing to sponsor indicates a new tolerance for their employees, many of whom would have been sacked in the past. Hopefully there is also a more responsible Pride management, because sponsors need looking after.

Pride 14 - That's me on the left holding the baloons
Pride 14 – That’s me on the left holding the baloons

Does all this mean that the battle is won?  By no means, vigilance and visibility will always be needed. As I marched with Out to Swim this year being hotly pursued by Front Runners, I overheard one elderly man say to another –

‘God help us, there’s even a running group.’

While such dinosaurs exist, we need to be vigilant.  A few weeks ago two young men were queer bashed by sixteen-year-olds in Whitechapel, not far from where I live.  Prejudice is also alive and growing in the young – we need to be vigilant and have pride in our sexuality and diversity.