AND THE JOY OF SPOTTING A JAY
When life gives you lockdown, there's unexpected pleasure in the garden for the first meal of the day, writes Alison Hepworth. Scroll down for a beginner’s guide to garden birdsong, and breakfast recipes to make at home.
A fortnight into lockdown, an unusual looking bird lands on the fence at the end of our garden. It’s light brown with flashes of blue on its wings, and black and white towards to tail. We consult the illustrations on my husband’s bird mug and discover it’s a jay.
Further research reveals it can be found in most of the UK, but as a shy creature living in woodland, it’s usually quite difficult to see. What a treat, then, to see them in our garden, returning to the birdfeeder many times over the following weeks.
That was back in April and May, when traffic noise had vanished, along with the background roar of aeroplanes overhead during the Covid-19 pandemic.
That eerie stillness was broken by not only a raucous dawn chorus, but one at dusk too, and smaller bursts throughout the day. Being at home every day, we celebrated this not-to-be-repeated turn of events with ‘birdsong breakfasts’. A chance to enjoy an egg on toast, sometimes some yogurt and fruit, and maybe even avocado and smoked fish on the weekend – some refried beans, too, for adventurous days - to the uplifting sound of nature.
We began to learn the calls from the various species, from the rasping pigeons and the prehistoric caw of the crow to the background tinkle of the robin and the rattle of the wren.
My favourite is the blackbird. We have two families visiting our garden, and we’ve got to know them well. One of the male birds sits on the roof of the garage, singing its heart out, sounding like a dial-up modem from the 80s. The other sings a line from the pop song Barbie Girl by Aqua over and over. ‘I’m a Barbie girl.’ Pause. ‘I’m a Barbie girl.’ Pause… you get the idea.
Now the traffic noise is returning in this, the unforgettable summer of 2020, the sound of the birds is increasingly enveloped by the buzz of human activity. The jays have long gone, but we’ll still enjoy the breakfasts and the blackbirds for as long as we can.
START IDENTIFYING GARDEN BIRDS AND BIRDSONG IN BRITAIN – A BEGINNER’S GUIDE
- There is plenty of information online to get you started with most british garden birds. We used this list of 10 from the Woodland Trust, with images, descriptions, when you’ll hear them and a recording of the songs.
- This one from the RSPB has more species listed, and describes the dawn chorus as caffeine for the soul. The birdsong ID playlist comes with the challenge to learn how to identify the birds from the song alone.
- The McLaggan Smith Educational Birds Mug, 350ml, that we used to identify the jay in the garden is available here from John Lewis, £12. It features an illustrated flock of British birds including a wren, a swallow, finches and woodpeckers.
- TV host and conservationist Chris Packham created the Self-Isolating Bird Club on Facebook group during lockdown for wildlife watchers and enthusiasts to share pictures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The uplifting posts demonstrate the lengths people go to to attract wildlife to their gardens.
- If you want to attract more birds to your garden, check out the wildlife section of waitrosegarden.com. There’s a selection of feeders, baths and houses, and even a camera you can rig up to watch the action.
Bird images: iStock/Getty
BIRDSONG BREAKFAST RECIPES
If you’re still working at home, preparing the first meal of the day in your own kitchen can be a treat. Try some of these if you want a change from toast and cereal.