Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A little bird told me...

Another week, another set of corpses for the skull collection.  Volunteers and colleagues have hit the jackpot recently, bringing me a barn owl, tawny owl, water vole and something so long dead we can only guess that it was a young fox (all found dead I hasten to add).
Work wise we have been welcoming the warmer weather and the start of a new time of year; everything is catching my eye now as the colours’ start to emerge in the sunlight.  I took this photo of my favourite flower, the Daffodil, with our magnificent veteran Plane tree in the background.  I’ve always thought the fantastic lemon yellow of the Daffodil just trumpets vibrancy and is a soothing balm to the eyes after a winters worth of greys and browns.  And talking of flowers in bloom you may have seen me on ITV Meridian recently, talking about the impact of the late Spring on our Bluebell population.

The blooming of the Daffodils is also a signal that the beginning of the fly fishing season is upon us.  Myself and volunteers have spent the last couple of weeks getting our river beats up to scratch; cleaning the fishing huts, trimming branches from over hanging trees (to allow fishing lines to drift underneath) pulling out old rotten river boarding, taking down old fences and gates and erecting new ones where required and a variety of other jobs to ensure that everything is ready in time.  There really is something to be said for working alongside the beautifully clear water of the Test, with the sun sparkling off the surface and the deep greens of the ranunculus weed rippling in the current below – if the temperature had been hotter it would have been hard to resist a swim…
Now in my last couple of posts I have mentioned some of the array of wildlife to be found around our estate.  I’d like to introduce you to one more which inhabits the gardens and who I take a small amount of pleasure from seeing flitting around Visitor Reception; Goldie, the aptly named Goldfinch (Full name is Goldie-lookin’-finch, a link to musical trivia).
Goldie was found out cold on the garden path at Mottisfont by a visitor back in October with a damaged and bleeding wing.  He (I say ‘he’ but Goldfinches are pretty hard to sex as they are one of those bird species where both sexes are almost identical, however I think it is a ‘he’) was  handed in at visitor reception like a lost child and the women there put him in a box and gave me a call and after testing whether or not he could fly and therefore survive – turns out he couldn’t – I took him back to the office, much to my colleagues disbelief, and then home with me to try and recuperate him.   I’d done some work with small birds before so I knew the correct handling technique to hold him and see to his wing without causing him further damage.  The wing had a wound and a swollen lump of blood under the skin up near the join of wing to body and so I cleaned it with cotton buds, applied antiseptic and then gave Goldie free reign of the house to see if it would heal.  With a plate of bird seed, fat balls and a water dip he seemed happy enough hopping round, pooing on my furniture and investigating every nook and cranny.  However my concern lay in the injury – wings are very hard to treat on birds this size as you cant bandage them up to let it heal – and if it didn’t heal, what to do?  No wild bird should live inside forever; perhaps I was just delaying the inevitable.

Goldie tucked up asleep in a corner of my lounge.

For a time there wasn’t much change, the wound would bleed occasionally and the odd feather would fall out of it.  Soon after I got hold of my old hamster cage and confined him to that, in order to prevent him from trying to use his damaged wing too much when he kept trying to flutter (and fail) around the room.

After a few weeks of wing tending and confinement I noticed improvement – when I’d open the cage he would first hop out, then flutter out wonkily and crash land, then flutter out straight and when the day came when he flew straight out, round the room and bounced off my lamp shade, I knew it was time for the Born Free moment.  I didn’t want to shock him with immediate freezing temperatures after being in the warmth of my house for a month or so, so I waited for the very cold spell to fade out and milder weather to come in and, about a week after his first flight with his healed wing, I took Goldie back to the bird feeders by visitor reception and let him go.  He hopped out and flew straight up into a Yew tree where he sat blinking for a while, then flew off into the gardens.

I was concerned as to whether he would survive the winter and the snow that came later, or if he would find a feeding flock as his own flock of Goldfinches may have moved on, or if his wing would give him problems in the cold or be too weak to fly around properly and find food.  However, a few weeks later, the Visitor Reception gang spotted him on the bird feeder outside their window, alive and well.  He is easily recognizable because he still holds his damaged right wing at a slight angle – when the wings are folded, the left one tucks into the tail whilst the dodgy right one is held slightly lower.

Since then he has survived the winter, is a regular visitor to the bird feeders, has got in with a new flock of finches and even appears to have a mate – I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a new generation of Goldie’s this Spring.  Alan Snook, our in house bird expert took this photo of him on the bird feeder – you can see the right hand wing being held at a funny angle whilst the left hand wing is tucked into the tail.

Goldie ruling the roost at the feeders
One of the quirks of conservation – you never quite know what you’ll end up being involved with day to day, and small bird first aid certainly wasn’t on my CV prior to this job!

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