Bird feeder news – exciting update

There is a famous tea shop in Harrogate called Betty’s. It’s very genteel and renowned for its beautifully presented afternoon teas. When you look through the window you can see delicate and perfectly formed dainty cakes and sandwiches adorning doily clad silver serving stands whilst over attentive waitresses in crisply starched traditional black and white uniforms fuss over the customers that sip Earl Grey from fine china. It’s the archetypal perfect English tea room setting. Now imagine that scene of sweet charm and refinement and then imagine Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy sitting down to tea.

That’s the kind of image that comes to mind when I look out of the kitchen window at our lovely delicate bird feeding station. We have been thrilled to witness an increasing range of birds visiting the half coconut of compressed fat and the seed feeder over the last few days.

Blue tit

Blue tit

Tiny little blue tits and long tailed tits are delightful as they perch precariously to peck at the rich food source whilst the larger great tit (clue in the name) sits confidently on the perches and munches on sunflower hearts.

Great tit

Great tit

The blackbirds, both male and female love the special food that Gill puts in the small shallow feeder tray which suits their less agile nature. And of course, the super charged robin is still raiding the seeds like a small red breasted bolt of lightning. It’s exactly what we had hoped for when we set everything up apart from one thing. Just like those great burly wrestlers visiting Betty’s, a couple of great big, fat, loved up wood pigeons are hoovering up all the food like a couple of avian vacuum cleaners on turbo mode. They are enormous! They are like the silverbacks of the bird world and I’m worried that the feed station might be suffering from metal fatigue. And their appetites! No sooner have we filled up the tray and the blackbirds have eaten the equivalent of one quarter of a cucumber sandwich, sans crust, of course, but the oversized, over weight pigeons have cleaned up and they are stomping around and demanding seconds. I mean really! We’re not made of meal worms and fat pellets you know?

Fat git

Greedy git

Then there are the magpies. They have been less inclined to raid the food stores but they do take great delight in tap dancing on the roof, particularly early in the morning. We’ve only actually spotted two of them at any one time but when they decide to trip the light fantastic at five am they could give a line-up from River Dance a run for their money.

I suppose I should just be glad that the variety of visitors is growing and we are doing our bit, or lot, in the case of the pigeons, to help our native wildlife.

It’s funny really how we make these arbitrary choices between different species, blue tits and robins being almost universally fawned over whilst the poor old wood pigeons and magpies are castigated as vermin more often than not. But if some visitors are clearly loved or hated the next feathered friend on our spotting list definitely has the potential to divide the judges. I had seen this bird flash between our unit and the next one a couple of times and I had an inkling of what it might be. My hopes were confirmed the other day though when it actually alighted on a fence and sat still long enough for me to identify it clearly as a hobby. A small but lethal bird of prey and one that I have only ever seen on a handful of occasions. I would never have expected to find a bird like this making regular visits to our domain and I was sufficiently intrigued to do some background reading on its habitat and behaviour. It’s a small bird, somewhere between our blackbird and the pigeon in stature but what it lacks in size it can more than make up for in deadly accuracy as a hunter. Which raises a bit of an issue for birds such as robins, blue tits and great tits. Because for the hobby, they are a spectacular lunch. Not only can it pluck them clean out of the air with its razor sharp talons but it can then perform the rather neat trick of dismembering and eating them on the wing. Pretty cool eh? But maybe not if you are blue tit.

Just a random picture of a hobby

Just a random picture of a hobby

So it would appear that we may have created a bird feeder like nothing we could ever have imagined. To the tits, blackbirds and robins it’s like Betty’s tea shop. For the pigeons we seem to have put up a transport café serving all you can eat breakfasts while our newest visitor, the hobby, must be absolutely delighted to have found a new fast food drive thru’ in the neighbourhood. It’s not quite what we had in mind but I think it could be very entertaining.

People we meet

This Larry. He was a bit camera shy at first.

This is Larry. He was a bit camera shy at first.

Today we met Larry, a very young fledgling magpie cycle touring around the north of Scotland. He wasn’t actually riding a bike but he was riding on a bike. He was rather cute and very attached to Kaleb, the owner of the bike he was travelling on.

We have met a lot of people so far on this trip and they add an interesting counterpart to the scenery and the weather. I’m fascinated by the range of reactions when we explain what we are doing. It varies from manic excitement and a barrage of questions to total indifference and a rapid change of subject. Currently we are mostly meeting other cyclists on a mission. The proximity of John O’Groats over the last few days means that everyone we meet is either doing Lands End to John O’Groats (or the other way round) or assumes we are. It’s hard not to deal the ’round Britain’ trump card when asked if we are doing ‘the end to end’ but today we were out trumped by Kaleb, the owner of the magpie. He generously expressed interest in our journey before casually  mentioning that he had cycled from UK to Mongolia last year. (www.iskaleb.com)

Four lovely sisters

Four lovely sisters

In Moydart we stopped to look at a plaque which tells the story of the Seven men of Moydart and bumped into the four sisters of Moydart instead. The seven men were mates of Bonny Prince Charlie and helped him escape when things went a bit pear shaped. The sisters were on a very different mission. They had come together from their various homes, including one from Singapore, to visit the island where their mother’s ashes are scattered. They were lovely and we now have an invitation to stay with Juliet when we get to Suffolk. She isn’t the only one to offer us accommodation either. We have contact details from at least two others who after less than five minutes conversation have potentially opened their homes to us. Including Jan that we met on a campsite near Arisaig and we have arranged to stay with tomorrow night. It is incidents like these that confirm my faith in humanity.

Heidi and Mark. Hitch hikers extraordinaire.

Heidi and Mark. Hitch hikers extraordinaire.

We first bumped into Mark and Heidi as they emerged from their wild campsite near Applecross and enjoyed an enthusiastic exchange about our various exploits before waving them goodbye. Two days later as we strolled through Ullapool we bumped into them again as they unloaded their bikes and luggage from a car they didn’t own. Unbelievably, whilst debating how to get from Gairloch to Ullapool, they got chatting to somebody who offered to take them, their two bikes and all their luggage, simply as a favour. He wasn’t actually planning to go to Ullapool but was happy to make a round trip of 112 miles just to help out a couple of strangers.

We spent a very pleasant hour at the summit of Dunnet Head brewing up and chatting with Jane and Eric about dating agencies amongst other things. They had met in similar circumstances to ourselves but in their case they had both been let down twice before but they got it right third time as evidenced by the fact that they have just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. They too were travelling just like us but as Jane put it they were spending the children’s inheritence on posh hotels so not completely like us. Eric really looked the part in his scottish tartan kilt and Jane was dressed in a stylish country way. We must have looked an odd foursome to a casual onlooker but we seemed to have more in common than our appearances suggested.

Of course there have also been the characters that we have been happy get away from too. Like the cyclist who was terribly disconcerted because we weren’t using a particular brand of tyre or handle bar tape or whatever it was. I don’t remember because I was busy plotting my escape rather than listening to his explanation of relative grip in wet and dry conditions or something. I actually quite enjoy these encounters to be honest. They just add another dimension to the experience.

I could go on and on relating stories of these meetings. They are a very important aspect of this journey and the time we spend with complete strangers means just as much to us as the sites we see and the miles we cover. Some of them we will never see or hear from again but others I am sure will become life long friends and acquaintances. It’s a fabulous part of this journey of discovery and the affirmation of the good that is in most people.

Larry about to settle into his travelling home.

Larry about to settle into his travelling home.

We left Kaleb loading Larry into his handle bar bag ready to continue to their campsite for the night. I have no doubt we will meet many more colourful characters over the next few months but at the moment a black and white magpie is contender for most unlikely encounter. He’s going to take some beating.

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