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Assorted Wildlife, Beekeeping, Birds, birds

Harry Houdini

…it’s not*.

I may be stuck....

I may be stuck….

No, this isn’t some kind of weird ornament or Victorian curio. And, yes, it is alive. And oh so compliant because it knows we are its only hope at this point. God only knows how long it had been stuck in this fat ball feeder, surrounded by a circular cage to keep out, ahem, larger birds and squirrels.

But try telling that to a pubescent starling, of the firm belief that anything edible is fair game and within reach if you are determined enough. I say pubescent, because as you have seen from posts past, as youngsters they are of a kind of subdued grey color. Their one defining feature is a resemblance to common depictions of aliens–

It’s the eyes…. (from Wikimedia Commons: Drawing of a Green Alien head. Illustration made by user LeCire for its use on Wikipedia, technique of pencil with digital painting. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alien_head.jpg)

Which you can see even from the awkward positioning of the first photo. However, by the age this little one has achieved, the dark, iridescent feathers of the adult are already starting to fill in. Probably not so obvious from this photo.

As mentioned before, it was compliant as we tried to extract it using the ‘pliers of life’. Uncharacteristically  compliant, as a more argumentative bird you will not find. The number of times a pleasant, peaceful summer’s day will be disturbed by arguments at the feeders, around the food on the ground, well you lose count after a while. They argue in an almost human ‘I have to have the last word’ manner:  two will squabble over food, the loser sulking off, the winner tucking into the food, only for the winner to follow the loser to shout into its face again and then stomp back to the food.

Anyway, no such ructions while we were handling it, trying to extract wing, head, leg, foot. Finally, with the help of the pliers of life, we were able to set it fee:

Free at last!

Free at last!

This came about because all our feeders have taken such a battering, this particular one having lost its top (to attempted squirrel incursion when it was suspended from the pole with which it was sold). We have seen blackbirds pecking at the fat balls from the top opening when it is fully loaded, squirrels squeezing their bodies into the tube to reach the fat balls etc. We had not seen any bird try to wedge itself down, and so thought it was relatively safe. We had not reckoned on the determination of starlings…

Of course, not everyone escapes unscathed

I came out one morning to carnage beneath the clothesline: a pile of feathers, two wings and a tail flung about. I had noted a collared dove that I suspected might be poorly at various places around the yard. No matter how close I approached it did not run away. I even mowed the lawn in close proximity to it; it did not move a muscle.

I suspect the dove was the victim, but who the culprit? My usual observation of cat kills has been that there will be a lot of feathers but no body, cats (and foxes) preferring to cart their victims off to the nearest hedge or group of bushes to enjoy their prize in private. Our suspicion is the resident escapee eagle, or perhaps one of the wild sparrowhawks. I had a photo, but can’t remember which device it is on (a 21st century problem!). Perhaps not a sight for more delicate readers at any rate.

Yes, Summer can be a cruel season

 And as it comes to an end, some creatures can become not so choosy about their sustenance (I would also say desperate, given the starling at the beginning of this post. But that wasn’t desperation, that was starlings being pure bloody-minded as usual):

These look interesting...

These look interesting…

These very sweet Polish cookies were intended for the birds (magpies love dunking them), but this wasp quickly laid claim.

After a day....

After a day….

Wait, it gets better or scarier depending on your view of things waspish:

After I moistened the cookies with water...

After I moistened the cookies with water…

This may be totally fanciful, but I think it is the same wasp. And I think now that it has eaten the harder, sugared surface, it has now gone onto sugary sources new. What gives me that idea?

Not honey, but not bad...

Not honey, but not bad…

These pieces of dried fruit captured its interest, especially the cranberries which are a bit plumper. It set to work this morning, and has worked determinedly at it for most of the day:

This is a lot easier than that cookie...

This is a lot easier than that cookie…

Moral of the story: instead of all those wasp catchers that kill the little buggers, why not strew a few cookies and pieces of dried fruit around your hives, conservatory, lawn chairs? Then everyone is happy!**

So many other things to write about

I still have not written about the collared dove and magpie wars, Bossy our blackbird pal and his Bossy girl setting up house near our mailbox. And the little bats flying around our heads at dusk the other night.*** There are too many stories in one humble English garden!

And beautiful things to look at. What the heck are these and did I plant them?

And beautiful things to look at. What the heck are these and did I plant them?

And the bees. They are doing well, no real cause for concern. Next week, we will move our nuc dwellers into their own hive. They are extremely busy and getting a bit tetchy when I mow the lawn. Usually a sign summer is coming to an end.

But can’t afford to become too complacent, because this notice is making the rounds:


Dear ….

In many areas of the UK nectar flows have ceased and reports are coming in from Regional and Seasonal Bee Inspectors of starving bee colonies, where the beekeeper is not aware that the bees are severely short of food, or the colony(s) have already starved to death. It is also apparent that Wasps are becoming populous in many areas and they too are desperate for nutrition so Beekeepers should be mindful of the need to protect colonies from Wasp invasion particularly where feeding is taking place in the apiary.

Colonies particularly at Risk are:
• Bee Colonies where supers of honey have been removed this season and no feeding has taken place.
• Splits / Artificial Swarms and Nucleus colonies made up this year.
• Swarms collected this year where little or no supplementary feeding has taken place.

Immediate action:
• Firstly – Check all colonies feed levels by ‘hefting the hive’ – Check the weight of the colony by lifting below the floor on both sides of the hive to see how much it weighs (Photograph attached – Hefting a Hive). Where the hive is light, liquid feed should be applied directly above the bees. Remove any supers from above the brood box which are empty or have few bees in them. This will help the bees get to the food quickly.
• Feed can be sugar and water mixed at 2:1 ratio or one of the proprietary ready mixed syrups available from Beekeeping Equipment Suppliers.
• Fondant can be used in an emergency if nothing else is available – but liquid feed will be more appropriate at this time of the season.
• Large starving colonies of bees will take 1 gallon (Approx 5 Litres) of syrup very quickly – smaller colonies ½ gallon (Approx 2.5 Litres) may be sufficient to keep them going, but after feeding heft hives again and check the weight – if in doubt feed some more in a few days time.

Further information and Guidance:
Further information on supplementary feeding can be found on Beebase – Best Practice Guideline Number 7 – ‘Emergency Feeding’

Kind regards,
National Bee Unit.

That’s me told then.

*All photos (except one from Wikimedia Commons) taken with my very old, unfashionable phone. View at own risk.

**By the end of the day, the first cranberry had totally disappeared, as well as the raisin.  The next morning, as I write it has started on the second cranberry. It’s got to be the same wasp….

***There is a thing here now, bamping I think it is or bat champing, where people camp out in old churches to watch the bats in the belfries, I presume. See http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/latestnews/2015-07-22/Bat-Champingbat-watching-event-in-Cambridgeshire/


9 thoughts on “Harry Houdini

  1. The flowers are crocosmia and could have been a transplant from anyone else or there already, I don’t think you’ve bought any.

    Posted by Josephina | August 14, 2015, 3:28 pm
  2. I’m not a fan of starlings (declining in your part of the world, exploding in population in my part of the world–wanna exchange??), but…poor guy. Glad he’s free to go and be mouthy, munchy and argumentative. They are argumentative, aren’t they? I agree that the flowers are crocosmia. Too hot here in Texas to grow them, but I have crocosmia envy. I think they’re gorgeous.

    Posted by Tina | August 15, 2015, 12:53 am
    • As I am writing this to you, I am hearing the little buggers fighting over the fatballs. I know there is a problem with starlings in the US, as there is also with sparrows. We have both gangs in the yard, and both birds are as aggressive as the other. People think fondly of sparrows over here, but they are food bullies: I have seen them shake down baby robins, and surround a blackbird with worms in its mouth and steal them. But the are what they are. I am surprised about the crocosmia; I would have thought something with a scorching color like that would be perfect for the Texan climate!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | August 15, 2015, 10:00 am
  3. I wouldn’t have known that was a young starling if you hadn’t told us! I’m glad you rescued it in time.

    Posted by Emily Scott | August 16, 2015, 5:20 pm
    • For my sins, I am familiar with the various stages of starling development, from nestling (one nested in our attic a few years back) to adulthood. The young pretty much get dumped on us over the summer, so it’s bickering all season long….

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | August 16, 2015, 6:18 pm
  4. I know the crocosmia by the alternative name of montbretia and they are currently putting on a fine display in our garden. They can definitely be a nuisance and need regular thinning.
    They conjur up fond memories for me of South West Ireland where they grow wild along roadsides at this time of year.

    Posted by philipstrange | August 17, 2015, 4:53 pm


  1. Pingback: The Inept Beekeeper and the Beekeeper’s Excellent Apprentice | smallholding dreams - August 16, 2015

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