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Monday, May 31, 2010

Bittersweet Sunday

I arose quite early yesterday morning to find hubby coming out the shed with the garden spade. "What are you doing?" I laughed, as 99% of the gardening jobs are mine and it was too early for spadework. The smile soon left my face when he told me he was going to bury one of the robin chicks which he'd found lying lifeless on the path. It didn't have any apparent injuries, so we ruled out cats and bigger birds, and guessed that it could have been blown against something when attempting to leave the greenhouse, as it was very windy yesterday. We were devastated but had to put a face on things as we'd promised Charlotte, our daughter, that we'd have a look over to the coast.

This is the beach at the village of Hawthorn in County Durham, looking down from the cliff-top. It's a fantastic view and to get down to the beach from here, you have to climb down a winding series of wooden steps, which was lovely because you get to see all the beautiful tiny wildflowers at eye level, growing on the cliff-side.

You can see some wonderful photographs of these wildflowers by going to Phil Gate's blog. Click here. I'd been to Hawthorn many years ago and it was Phil's post that made me want to return.

This is a closer view of the beach which has been blackened by the tipping of colliery waste during the industrial days of coal mining. The pits were closed by the 1990s and the action of the sea is restoring the sand to its natural condition.

It was very windy and the sea was rough as the waves pounded the shore. Exhilarating! We even managed a game of tennis with the plastic racquets that Charlotte had bought from Poplar Trees Garden Centre at Shincliffe, when we stopped there for something to eat. Whilst attempting a magnificent tennis dive I had a fall and grazed my right knee but it could have been much worse..... if I'd fallen on my left side, I would have broken my camera which was in the left-hand pocket of my coat!

Evidence of pre-medieval settlements have been found all along the Durham coastline, being ideal for fishing and foraging for other foods further inland. We found traces of modern-day campfires and empty bottles of Frosty Jack.

Fungi growing on a felled tree

To get to the beach, we walked through Hawthorn Dene. Some parts of the woodland here has existed for 400 years!

Although tinged with sadness, it had been a good day out and when we came home I saw that the nest had been lined with new pieces of moss...... so it looks like Mrs Robin will soon be laying a new clutch of eggs. They're still busy feeding the other chicks at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth getting so involved in watching wildlife closely....... but how can we help ourselves?


  1. I think you have to be slightly hardened to things when dealing with wildlife Lesley. The reason these birds have numerous chicks and more than one clutch of eggs in a year is because they know that the mortality rate for young is very high. The chicks can be taken in so many different ways through predation, weather and even unforeseen circumstances. Although there were no visible marks on the poor creature it may have encountered a cat and just died of fright/stress. Anyway, i am philosophical about watching wildlife and i do get very upset myself at times that's nature with all its beauty there are times when you get to experience the other side of things.
    I did a circular walk from the coast and inland to Hawthorn Village and back out via the dene last year. I had a lovely walk and remember enjoying the dene so much. It was a bit later in the year and there was lots of fantastic fungi about. I DO like my fungi in the autumn and winter, so it's always a bit of a bonus when you spot a fine specimen at this time of the year.
    Moving on to the coast. The other thing that sticks in my mind from that walk was dropping down to Blast Beach. I remember standing there looking around and thinking what strange environment. I later found out that the beach was used in one of the Alien films ..........not surprised.
    Keep your chin up and keep enjoying the wildlife.......its amazing if sometimes brutal.

  2. Thanks John. Yes I'm very sensitive and, like you, I need to learn to be more philosophical, be sad.... and move on, like Mrs Robin who is already making refurbishments to her nest. :)

    I googled Blast Beach and see what you mean about the strange environment! Doing the coastal walk is something we have planned for the Summer holidays. I'll have to get in training as, walking up and down all those steps in the dene yesterday was more strenuous than I remembered it to be! :O)

    Thank you for the encouraging words.

  3. Hi Lesley..I am like you and find it very sad when some creature dies, especially if they are just starting out in life. We have lost several baby birds to a Sparrow Hawk that swoops through the garden and grabs the babies so fast they don't have a chance. It is upsetting to see but on the other hand I expect they hve young to feed. As my mum says, 'nature is cruel.' Pleased you had a nice day at the coast to take your mind off the Robin family.

  4. We've had our share of these wildlife tragedies over the years too - recently a wood pigeon's nest robbed by crows (they've built another one and laid again) and a male blackbird that was nesting in our front hedge killed by a car.... but the hen bird is still on the nest. Resilient animals, birds....

  5. Hi Helen. Yes, I was always distressed when a Sparrowhawk swooped down and 'pinched' one of the birds. Then I read that only about half their numbers make it through the Winter. Like you, I've come to realise that they have their chicks to feed as well and that helps to make it bearable.

  6. They are indeed resilient Phil. We could learn a lot from birds and animals..... if only our emotions didn't get in the way! :O) Our sense of instinct doesn't seem to be as highly developed as theirs.

    We have a Woodpigeon's nest in one of our trees. It was used a couple of years ago but not since. However, two young blackbirds are using it as a 'tree-den'. It's amusing to see one settled on the flat pile of twigs with the other young bird perched on the branch next to it. :)

  7. Watching wildlife really does expose you to some highs and lows doesn't it and its hard not to be moved by such things. You did your bit by providing a safe and warm place for the Robins to build their nest and there's not much more you could have done, wise words from Johnny. Best wishes, Linda

  8. Thanks Linda. :) The parents are still feeding the surviving chicks at the bottom of the garden. They're not coming up to the patio for food as often.... perhaps they're getting more insects in the trees and shrubs at the far end. I miss not seeing them as much! :O)

  9. Reminds me of the coast just a few miles west of Margate?

  10. I bet the sand is a different colour though, Gf! :)