Friday, 13 September 2013

Two Turtle Doves... Not Likely!

What to do?
I'm already running five minutes late and it's only my second day working in a new school.

But just what was that bird which flew up into the ash tree as I was heading back to the farmhouse from giving the chickens their morning feed?
It was similar in size to a Mistle Thrush, or even a Little Owl, yet something just wasn't quite right for either of those birds, both which I see in that very same tree on a regular basis. Maybe it was the length of the tail or the shape of the wings, maybe just the way it flew, but something was nagging me to go take another look. For the bird that came to mind was turtle dove, that beautiful, diminutive dove which graces our shores for the summer  months before heading back to West Africa.

Not too long ago, in the right habitat, I would have expected to run into a few turtle doves during a days birdwatching. But they have undergone a serious and rapid decline, to the extent that it is now a notable occurrence.
Across the whole country, turtle dove numbers have gone down by 93% since I were a lad. In fact, there is a very real chance that they will disappear from this country within my lifetime and that would be a great shame indeed.

Now we'd like to blame those nasty foreigners for this and it's certainly not helping that, as they undertake their annual migration across Europe, they are regularly blasted out of the sky by hunters in countries such as Malta. And surely something must be going on in West Africa? What are they doing to our lovely turtle doves?
So research has finally begun to try to find out why we are losing our little doves at such an alarming rate. All a bit late really, but at least it's happening. And the findings don't surprise me one little bit. It turns out that the number of breeding attempts per year has reduced significantly, almost certainly because of lack of enough wild seed. The figures show that this fact alone could account for the decimation of their population. But hang on a minute! Surely that can't be! Turtle doves breed here. But that means... that means it's our fault! We can't pile all the blame on those nasty foreigners.
Surely it couldn't be anything to do with the fact that our farmers persist in obliterating all nature that stands in the way of their crops and their subsidies?

Now I'm sure that other problems on their migration and in their wintering grounds aren't helping the matter, but the fact is that we have to look closer to home. Not that most of us care. We'll only be happy when every square inch of this country is covered in concrete or sterile farmland maintained by chemicals and poisons. Just as long as our food is nice and cheap.

For me, the cost is just too much.

So, back to this morning. I should really head straight for work, but if that actually was a turtle dove that flew up into the ash tree it would only be the second I'd seen on the farm in three years.  It was a no brainer. I grabbed my binoculars and headed for the garden. And there it was, the beautiful scalloped back of a turtle dove sat right out on a branch.
It flew down into the field edge to forage for seed, then back into the ash tree, before being harassed and chased off by a blackbird.

Aha!! Maybe it's the blackbirds to blame.

Or maybe the blackbird was just not used to seeing turtle doves.

Anyway, I really did have to head off for work now. But it would be a better day after my brief encounter with a turtle dove.
In the car I wondered how many more times I'd see a turtle dove in an ash tree. For it seems that our ash trees are about to experience a drastic decline too.
Probably more chance of encountering eleven pipers piping.

And as for a partridge actually sat in a pear tree. Well, just as turtle doves aren't in this country at Christmas, partridges don't sit in pear trees. And, thinking about it, it's well over a year since I saw a grey partridge around these parts too.

I wonder why that is?

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