Friday, 28 September 2007

Prizes, poems and fat cats

I’ve just seen the office copy of BBC Wildlife Magazine, which contains the winning entries in the 2007 Poet of the Year competition. I’m absolutely delighted that my own poem, Hares In December, came 2nd in the adult section. I wrote it for NaPoWriMo in April, although I made the notes for it much earlier, after walking round Rockingham Forest looking for Red Kites one December day (we found them, plus loads of Hares).
My prize, a huge package of bird food, plus feeders and a nestbox, arrived in the post the other day. The slight problem is that I don’t really have anywhere suitable to put any of it, because I have a pretty small garden without trees or high fences, and in addition the main part of the garden is out of sight of the windows (I live on a terrace, and there’s a communal path between the houses and the gardens). The one or two places that would accommodate them would be far too open to cats.
So, I thought I’d pass the prize on to my parents. They have a bigger (although far from huge), much more varied garden, and although it’s in a pretty built-up, suburban location, over the years they’ve managed to attract a fair amount of wildlife. As well as all the more common garden bird species – Robin, Blackbird (loads of them), Dunnock, Wren, Song Thrush, Starling, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove and Woodpigeon – there’s plenty of corvids, including Magpies, a large family of Carrion Crows, occasional Jackdaws, and, a couple of summers ago, a Jay who insisted on filling every available space (including my mum’s peg bag) with acorns, and on trying to collect people’s hair as nesting material. There have been occasional Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a regular pair of Sparrowhawks, a Kestrel, and in winter, visiting Yellowhammers, Goldcrests, Reed Buntings, Pied Wagtails, Goldfinches and Bullfinches. In the summer, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are sometimes around, plus plenty of Swifts and House Martins overhead. A Buzzard flies over now and then, and a Pheasant once found its way there. There’s a Heron that lands in nearby gardens, but hasn’t yet made a visit. All quite impressive, given that they have one (very large and conspicuous) cat, plus a sort of timeshare on another (he flits between several owners). Oh, and next door’s cat likes to pop over for a bit of a light-hearted chase around the plant pots.
The reason why their cat (the unfortunately named Gizmo) is no deterrent to birds goes back to his early days. When he was about six months old, he went and launched himself at a group of Herring Gulls on the lawn (sadly, they never visit anymore, although there’s the occasional Black-headed). He grabbed one by the leg, and it and its mates then turned on him. He just managed to escape before he was carried away or filleted by their beaks, and has since shown little interest in birds (neither did the cats we had when I was a kid, although one was a prolific mouser), often stoically suffering close-range taunting from the Crows, Magpies and that Jay.
He doesn’t bother mousing, either. Again, when he was very young, he chased a squirrel in through the patio window, and it then ran up the curtains, along the pelmet, and back down the other side, before escaping back out of the window. He seemed to take this disappointment quite badly, and now refuses to acknowledge the existence of mammals other than cats. Foxes visit quite regularly, and I’ve seen him sit almost back to back with one, each pretending that the other isn’t there.
I’d imagine , then, that he’ll have no problem with Robins using the nestbox. Now and then, he’ll do that strange chattering thing that cats do at birds (Magpies are the only ones that seem to provoke him), but otherwise, he’s a walking refutation of the claim that cats are wiping out songbirds.

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