Four years ago, when we elected to give up a comfortable and familiar life and take on a lengthy renovation project in the middle of a high moorland wilderness, our only question was “Will we regret it if we don’t do it?” Knowing our answer, we sold up and moved, confronting adventures and mishaps along the way. We did not know what was in store for us, but somehow, we knew the journey was going to be worth it.
And it has been. Each time we return to Crockern, we both have a strong sense of coming home. This old house, complete with its three-page Excel spreadsheet of projects left to do, hugs us when we cross the threshold, like a fine host who offers a comfy chair and a warming drink. On a windy, wet evening — of which we’ve had more than our share this winter — we feel snug and dry. And nothing beats a warm summer’s day, when we can bask in the beauty of the landscape.
It hasn’t all been Bordeaux and vistas though, and we’ve faced some steep learning curves: Maintaining Generators; Replacing Oil Tanks; Building Concrete Plinths; Repointing; Addressing Damp; Refilling Potholes; Dry Stone Walling; Keeping Chickens; Keeping out Badgers, Foxes and Sheep; Death; Predation; Smashed Fingers and Scratched Corneas; Determined sheep; Leaks; Floods; Rats; and, Rabbits, to name but a few. We’ve also put to use some of our known skills like mixing cement, hanging ceilings, refinishing floors, basic plumbing and electrical work, and gardening.
At the same time, I have been observing and learning more about our local birds. I’m not a twitcher, nor do I proclaim to know much beyond identifying the birds at our feeders, but my desire to uncover a few ornithological abilities has taken on a new dimension: To locate where the blackbirds are nesting and to observe their broods.
We have friends who have a nice little nest at eye height in the hedge along the edge of their garden. My search will not be so easy. To focus, I need to look for the Blackbird’s nest in the kind of real estate these birds prefer: Deciduous trees with dense undergrowth. Hmm. We have a number of trees around the property, but the undergrowth isn’t exactly what I would call dense. Muddy and pocked with mole hills perhaps, but not dense. Blackbirds tend to favour evergreen or thorny bushes such as holly, hawthorn or honeysuckle. We’ve planted these, but the hedge plants have a few years to go before they offer up any real protection for nesting birds. And sometimes, they might build nests in sheds or outbuildings, making use of a ledge or cavity. Oh, and back in the day, you might find four and twenty of them inside pies.
My skill of spying nests is not great, so I intend instead to stalk these birds to see where they come and go. And like any good birder, I must do this with a bit of stealth. Something else I seem to lack. Walking outside usually means I send birds flying. Sam jumps and barks in anticipation of a walk, while the chickens come running up in hopes of a bit of apple or some corn. The grazing sheep and cows all stop what they’re doing to assess me. In short, I am easily observed. Following a bird, with its rapid and evasive flight pattern to its nest will be no easy matter.
To get started, I thought I’d read up on Blackbirds. I already know how to identify the male Blackbirds with their slick, black plumage and a splash of saffron ringing their eyes and covering the bill. It’s the kind of look that says, “I know how to go out on the town, and yet am not at all stuffy.” Sophisticated and yet, whimsical. The female birds are “dressed” more to my style; nothing particularly impressive and that’s okay. Fortunately I also can comfortably recognise the lovely songs of Blackbirds among our community bird choir. This may help me locate them when my visuals fail.
What I hadn’t realised is the lunar symbolism attached to these pretty birds. There are plenty of people who see Blackbirds as dark and mysterious creatures, keeping their secrets safe. Well now, that upped the ante on finding their nests!
While I’m hopeful, I’m not what you’d call driven. I’d like to find the nests and observe the breeding cycle. A few years ago we found a nest of Pied Wagtails in the wall of one of our sheds. Their hidden home had a front and rear exit and I must have walked past it for weeks before I ever noticed it. What drew my attention was the attack flight of a protective parent when I moved too close and paused near their homestead. This well concealed residence was home to seven babies who soon learned to fly.
Last year, we had nearly twenty-five nests for Swallows and House Martins, which isn’t our highest number. I can see the Great Tits bomb into the stone walls tending to their hidden homes. There are probably wrens and Robins nesting in these walls, too. Since moving here, I’ve hoped to find the Blackbirds setting up camp nearby. I’ve spotted two males and one female. One of these males likes to sit outside the window where I work. Could any of them be living within a short distance to our front door? Or, are they just stopping by for the afternoon to observe the chickens and resident Jackdaws and sing us a happy tune?
Crockern captivates and enchants, providing a deep sense of place and belonging along with a peace and quiet that befalls one upon arrival. I can think of no reason why at least one pair of Blackbirds wouldn’t make their home here.
Returning from putting the bird feeders away and the chickens to bed, Roger said, “You’ll never believe what I saw in the shed.” As it turns out, there was a pair of Blackbirds flying about where we store the bird and chicken feed. Perhaps their nest is in there? I go into this shed a half dozen times a day and haven’t thought to search here. Instead, I’ve been preoccupied looking around the yard and area gorse bushes. Have I missed the obvious while I singularly search for one thing? And then it hits me, like so many answers to unasked questions which stare us right in the face: Despite all my efforts, I may or may not locate the Blackbird’s home anytime soon, and it doesn’t matter as we found ours.