For a change I put some cooked rice out for the pigeons. To be honest I didn’t want to see it go to waste. I hate waste. My husband Bob had dropped his mobile phone into a cup of hot chocolate. Someone told him to encase it in a bag of rice to absorb the liquid; so he did. I think this was just an urban myth put round by the producers of rice to be honest. It still cost him £70 for an expert to professionally dry it out. He then threw the abandoned bag of rice into the kitchen wastebin. I looked at the rice sitting in there at the bottom of the bin and thought of all those peasant workers who struggle so hard to grow the stuff in sometimes appalling conditions. I thought Shin Dong-hyuk, the guy from North Korea who was born in a Gulag; the only man ever to escape from North Korea to South. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Escape-Camp-14-remarkable-odyssey/dp/0330519549 He told of how he would steal tiny grains of rice one at a time, on risk of death, and when he had enough he would cook them up as a delicacy. Here I was with oodles of the stuff, all sitting in the bin.
I cooked some of it and put it out on the shed roof to see if I could tempt anyone. The pigeons were confused. They had seen me outside throwing stuff around and like Pavlov’s dogs began salivating at the thought of juicy seed. But this white stuff wasn’t seed. The cooked rice just sat there like a sprinkling of fresh snow across the roof while the pigeons looked at each other. They picked it up but then put it down again. No fooling these guys. Over the coming days I used my culinary skills to ring the changes. Cooked rice with sultanas was only slightly more popular than cooked rice without. Then I went for rice au’ natural and just threw it raw onto the ground. This got a better reception, but only because it was more easily confused with the seed which I sprinkled on top. After a week I had to concede that the pigeons just didn’t like rice, cooked or otherwise. Good job they don’t live in North Korea.
The weather at the beginning of January was awful. Windy and wet. Then wet with more wet and even more wet on top. We live close to the Thames and watched it creep up over the banks and peep menacingly into riverside windows. Many less fortunate than
ourselves were flooded out. We had a leak in the kitchen roof so I can share their pain. It was far too wet to venture outside and put up the bird spy cam. That had to wait for the storm to abate. Finally, in mid January the rain stopped. At least for a while and with tape measure in hand Bob set up the spy cam to take discrete shots of all the birds who visited the mealworm feeders. One was a wire cage designed for peanuts and the other was a new ‘grape coloured’ tray feeder which could manage to hold enough mealworm to outperform their appetites. I was interested to see which of the birds had the courage to go to this new feeder. For many days it had been ignored by everyone as they were certain that it was a trap. I looked forward to seeing the results.
With great anticipation we loaded the sim card from spy cam into the computer. Within seconds the images appeared. Mugshots of all the usual suspects. Starlings on the wire cage tucking into mealworm. Starlings on the ‘grape coloured’ feeder doing the same. Pigeons arriving on the fence and pigeons leaving the fence. All the things I had seen umpteen times from my back door window. Not a single shot of the robin, a supposed ground feeder, clinging briefly to the wire cage to grab a mealworm. I had seen him do this several times, but he was always gone in a blink and long before you could pick up a camera. I was hoping that spy cam would capture an action shot worthy of a spot on BBC Winter Watch. But not a single picture of the red breasted snatcher.
We put the camera to one side, ready to reposition it for another surveillance mission. And there it lay, on the cupboard, its one spy eye closed to the world when the sparrow hawk swooped down into my tiny urban garden and lifted a starling from the mealworm feeder. Spy cam didn’t notice the sparrow hawk deposit the starling by my back door step as it attempted to wrestle it into submission. I did though. Well I could hardly ignore the piercing screech of the distressed starling as it fought for its life on my step. It was pure instinct which carried me outside, waving my arms and clapping my hands shouting ‘Oi, oi, oi’, like I was breaking up some kind of a playground fight.
At first I thought it was just two starlings having a bit of a ruck but when I saw the talons of the sparrow hawk my second instinct kicked in, to run back and fetch my camera. The starling was still loudly proclaiming his reluctance to be eaten and there was no way I could leave a creature in need. I trapped both of them up behind my water butt. Easily done; turn a circle in my garden and you have explored every corner. My arm waving and oi, oi,-ing continued unabated adding to the cacophony and finally the sparrow hawk decided it was all too much. One thing struggling with brunch and quite another warding off a crazy woman. The sparrow hawk took off leaving his meal behind.
The starling remained cowered behind the water butt. I gingerly put my head round expecting to see blood and loose feathers. In fact he was none the worse for his experience and promptly flew off. When it was over I contemplated my regrets. I regretted not rushing back for my camera and I also wondered whether it was right to interfere with nature and deny the sparrow hawk the chance of a meal. I did however, feel a sense of responsibility to one of ‘my starlings’ in a protective mother way and basically, I couldn’t stand by and watch his demise, complete with soundtrack at my own back door. But most of all I regretted that spy cam, who had stood patiently all week through rain and frost had been left to sleep missing all the action.