Derek – Friday 2nd April

We had lots of rain in the first weeks of March, and then it stopped completely; the rest of the month was dry and hot, with temperatures up to 24ºC. So the hose was used for the first time this year and the garden given a soaking. Our greenhouse plants are especially needful as on a warm day, under glass, it can be more than 10º above ambient.

Over the fence, along Earlham Grove, at the top of a plane tree, I spot what I think is a squirrel’s drey. Dreys are large, untidy nests, made of twigs and leaves, not as neat as birds’ nests usually are. On top of a street tree is a very exposed place for a drey; squirrel young are tiny, easy prey for a crow or gull. I am not quite happy with my assessment, and so watch the drey. And I see a magpie. Is it coming out of the drey, or just flying through the tree? I keep watching, and a magpie definitely comes out of the nest. Not a drey then, but a magpie’s nest. I look them up online, and yes, they do make untidy nests, very like the squirrel’s drey.

It’s likely there’s a mating pair there, she sitting on the eggs to hatch them, and the male foraging. Once the eggs hatch, they’ll both be busy feeding the chicks. The common magpie is Pica pica, one of those repeated names for genus and species, like Rattus rattus, the black rat, Gorilla gorilla, Bison bison. I have never understood the point of repetition, but a name’s a name and there’s no changing it without making one helluva case to the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature.

I’ll take a rain check.

“One for sorrow, two for joy…” is a popular rhyme associated with the magpie. Fortunately, I saw a pair, admittedly with a few minutes between, but I’m sure that counts. The magpie is a member of the crow family, and feeds on carrion, invertebrates, small birds and their eggs. I have seen it in action.

Just outside the garden, about five years ago, I saw a magpie attacking a blackbird in flight. A very savage affair, which stops one being sentimental about nature. The magpie brought the blackbird to the ground in the middle of Earlham Grove, and I am sure would have killed it, but I chased it off. And the blackbird flew into a hedge. I think it was OK. If that had been a fairy tale, one day, I would be at death’s door, only to be rescued by a blackbird…

I’m not counting on it. I’ll take the jab.

In our pond, the tadpoles are hatching. Most are still attached to the spawn; there’s a black, wriggling mass of them on top, but a few are swimming freely, others are attached to pond weed. Another week and the pond will be full of tadpoles. Structurally, they are utterly basic at this stage with a gut, gills, a heart and circulation, and a thrashing tail. Maturity is three months away, when they will have developed sex organs, lungs and limbs. Then they leave our pond, returning, if they survive hungry cats, foxes and birds, to breed.

I spot a green shield bug (Palomena prasina) crawling up an ivy stem. It is leaf green in colour, about a centimetre long, shield shaped, hence the common name. On a leaf, it would be very hard to see, which is obviously the point of the colouration. The bug quickly scuttles off, and I lose it in the foliage.

The smaller cherry at the front has a head of white blossom; the larger tree will take another week or two before it mesmerises us with its head of candy floss. There is so much happening in the garden with flowers and bugs that it is a question of what to leave out in the blog. A month or two back, life here was dormant, and so I wrote about climate change, about re-using as opposed to recycling, about billions of plastic milk bottles, but now it is life in spring profusion.

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