Thursday, 2 July 2015

Magpies v swallows v .22 air rifle

When I were but a lad and living with my parents, we had a small wooden bird house on the wall just outside the conservatory window.

Providing endless hours of fun, it eventually became home to a pair of young blue tits who spent many-a-day painstakingly building their comfortable nest in which to rear their young.
And rear they did. Some time later the chirping of tiny offspring could be heard as mum and dad dutifully provided morsels of food during their every waking hour. The young grew stronger and started appearing at the opening of the birdhouse as mum and dad continued their endless supply of food, the mouths of their hungry young eager and open wide.
And as the young grew they became bolder and more beautiful and would start fumbling around at the opening, ready to fly where, before our very eyes, they were picked off one-by-one by magpies.

Nemo and Dory watch over the woods, guarding their nest
Bloody magpies. Evil bloody magpies.
Magpies practically ruined my childhood.

And so I trained. I bought an air rifle and I trained hard. I killed tin cans, bottles and our garden fence. I killed Lego men and killed stones balanced on bigger stones. I was arrested when I killed five streetlamps in a perfect circle around our house. My mam went mad because she was having her perm done at home when the police knocked. I got a caution, a £50 fine from the council and 23 Pre-man Points from my impressionable mates.

But I trained.

All these years later I still have flashbacks to those horrifying few days of squawking and feathers and my family rushing outside, arms waving and screaming, only to see the five or six fledglings fledge no more. To endure the heartache of seeing their mum and dad look forlornly around, their chins wobbling, their family gone... <sob>... it's just... <wibble>... I can't.

And that's why I will protect our new family of swallows until my dying day.

Before we went off on holiday for a fortnight we were playing host to Nemo and Dory who were nesting in the apex beneath the roof of Bedroom 3. Their bowl-shaped mud and straw construction had seen a lot of activity from the lively pair of swallows as they spent many-a-day painstakingly building their comfortable nest in which to rear their young.

When we came back we spotted a lot more activity going on - more frantic visits from both birds, more chirrupping from up near the roof... a large white section of the courtyard below which is going to have to be jetwashed... WE WERE GRANDPARENTS!

Careful observation and the dusting-off of the Good Camera revealed at least five swallow chicks up there, one of which appeared to have fledged early as it was already out and about while still expecting to be fed (teenagers, eh?) and the rest were little more than open yellow beaks and big lungs.

5.30am. An early-morning assault caught on CCTV
But, one evening while in the kitchen, I heard the tell-tale squawk of a brazened predator who was eyeing-up dinner. The magpies had found our growing family. They were closing in.
I chased it away, arms waving and screaming... and my childhood PTSD kicked in.
I grabbed my air rifle, loaded it, readied the weapon and stood sentry at the kitchen door, vowing that no more shall we endure the scourge of the magpie. No more shall we suffer the cries of the innocent as they're dragged from their nests and NO MORE shall we look on helpless as the bereaved wipe their runny beaks on their wings and tearfully mourn their losses.

The magpies will not take our swallows!

I haven't shot any yet, but they never know when I might appear next - I've done it twice now for a good 10 minutes at a time. That's dedication right there, kids.

PS. It is legal to shoot magpies in the UK so my mam's blue rinse is safe. I checked.

EDIT - Thursday, August 6

Every day's a school day, and after having my suspicions for a few days that there might be more chicks in the nest I did a little bit of Googling.
And it turns out that swallows are 'double-brooders'! Who knew?
There are already six or seven of the energetic little mites flitting around, including Nemo and Dory, so in a few weeks we're expecting to see 10 or more doing light-speed laps of The Lodge.
That is if the magpies don't get there first... they're sniffing around again but this time the proud parents have reinforcements on their side. And me.

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