The robins have gone

The robins have gone

Just like that. Disappeared. Decamped. Absconded. Fled. So many words. The thing is I wasn’t prepared for it to be so sudden, so I feel a need to say it again and again.

I felt anxious that something horrid had befallen them. A fat cat occasionally prowls our garden, leaving its excrement barely hidden – very un-cat-like.  I thought they tidied up after themselves. There’s evidence a fox is using our back patch as part of its run. I’m sure I caught a glimpse of its bushy tail scrambling over the gate having used the lid of the garden recycling bin as a launchpad. The other day there was a tell-tale pile of earth scooped out of the wooden-boarded slightly raised bed where I grow herbs. The curly parsley had had the ground swept from under its roots and the flat-leaf and oregano were almost submerged in fine, freshly-dug tilth, some of which had landed outside the wooden surround and covered the eager shoots of a fern in a terracotta pot and the tentative signs of the hostas on whose behalf I’m in a constant battle to deter slugs and snails. All this, a great reminder of the trials of urban gardening. 

So, there are predators about looking for a bit of casual, existential violence and a snack; dangers lurk day and night out here in the semi-suburban sprawl of Middlesex back gardens. I reassure myself that there would likely have been some residue of tiny feathers or bones on the paving stones below the nest site had my robins and their brood been victims of such savagery. I have found none.

I resort, guiltily, to my browser and instantly expand my knowledge of the life-cycle and nesting habits of robins ten-fold. I sometimes wonder if it’s that I’ve forgotten basics about nature or that I never knew. I feel sure we would have done something on this in Nature Study at primary school, writing the story on the ruled page in our best joined-up, then using the plain page opposite to draw a picture of the wee bird. My grandmother was good at drawing birds; that, along with knitting, was the main thing I learned from her. She attempted to teach fortitude in the face of adversity but, thus far, I don’t feel I’ve had sufficient cause to test out how much of that I absorbed. But my Nature Study book contained decent likenesses of birds and I can knit. 

In any case, if we did study them, my memory traces are much too faint. I have the sure sense that I have no idea. No idea that courtship feeding goes on – the equivalent of a bloke taking a girl out to dinner for a few consecutive evenings until she agrees to live with him and have his babies. Such chutzpah! No idea that eggs are laid one by one, day at a time and take a mere 13 days to incubate. Then, 14 days later the chicks, born bald as coots, have amassed all the feathers they need to fly and so, they fledge. Around three weeks of parenting and they’re off. Vamoose.

It’s about 10 days since I last saw the conjugal pair. I miss their busy-ness, their constant flitting about searching for food, the frantic fluttering as they hovered outside the kitchen window adjusting their altitude until they were dead level with the two ivy leaves that concealed the entrance to their nest, then swooping, folding their wings down, slipping in out of sight. Always the same gap between the ivy leaves. Astonishing accuracy – or maybe that gives me away as ignorant of the habits and capabilities of an everyday garden bird. One of the upsides of ignorance or forgetting is the sense of wonder you get when you discover some new fact of nature. Losing one’s ignorance is bliss.

I feel cheated, though, that I never saw them move out, never saw the chicks fledge, wasn’t paying enough heed. I’m sorry they didn’t say they were leaving, chirp away until they’d caught my attention and let me watch their farewell flight. I feel a bit bereft without them. I’ll get over it. And maybe another family will move in later this year. Or next.

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