“Enough with the birds!”

“Don’t write about anymore birds!” exclaimed the Mrs, my greatest and dearest critic. ” For someone who claims that he isn’t a birdwatcher you haven’t done bad. Since you’ve been on WordPress you’ve mentioned jackdaws, crows, sparrows, starlings, wrens, robins and magpies.”

“And sparrowhawks” I helped out.

“And sparrowhawks. That’s enough. Write about something else.”

I have learned to take on board the advice, especially if I want to get fed, of my own, old bird. (Furtive glance over my shoulder/ Listens for the sound of padlocks being fitted to the kitchen cupboard.)

So time for a break, but…one last thing…

…the Mother of all Coincidences:

jackdaws have started to nest in the cavity in the fascia boards beneath the gutter of my next door neighbour’s house. Making a right racket. No doubt city jackdaws too. Casting a pale eye to sleep deprived consternation.

I am constantly amazed at how this universe works. Can creation instigate a law of attraction?

I am thinking of re-naming my blog.

Winning Saturday Lottery Numbers.

Cue record views and followers.

Sparrow Enclave

Well April has arrived. Don’t you just love this time of year? Easter, spring, daffodils, butterflies, honeybees, birdsong, snowmen.

Alright, where I am there is no longer snow on the ground, but it is just as cold. I think we are the April fools, expecting our seasons to adhere to the old custom of things when our world now seems turned on its head. This time last year we had temperatures up in the 70’s. Expectations of a Summer heatwave rose with the mercury, only to be washed away in the wettest Summer since records began, the second wettest year on record, and now the coldest Easter on record. All after fears of a drought.

I’m dreaming, of a white Easter.

I took the dog just around the block yesterday morning-it was freezing after all. He is no husky and I am no Scott. With a cold wind sweeping down from the Pennines, and chasing us westward,  I tracked the usual route through Sparrow Enclave. Forget visions of a wooded conservation area or sweeping valley. Sparrow Enclave is how I think of two short rows of houses, facing each other, named Hesketh Walk.  With the help of a long garden turned wild (I think possibly by design by either a sympathetic wildlife lover or reluctant gardener) this area appears to be a last bastion for the humble sparrow in our community. Every morning when my four legged friend and I , goosebumps and all, arrive here on our somnambulistic   saunter, they can be heard singing from the guttering of the houses in whose cavities they nest. I usually see several of them flitting among the trees and hedgerows that line the path we take.

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Joining in this morning’s avian love fest was a dumpy Wren-the Druid’s bird. Another day, last week , I was nearly hit by a low flying female Sparrowhawk- obviously learned by word of beak that there is a great new takeaway in town. Why do the Winterwatch team set up camp annually in the Highlands when all the action they crave can be found on this small concrete walk? Just putting your wheelie bin out is like going on a Bill Oddie odyssey. Catchy.

It’s the sparrows that catch the eye, just because of their presence.

I don’t feed the birds all year around, just in the Winter when it is life-or-death time. At that time of year the birds are better fed than the kids, with marginally worse toilet habits. I get blackbirds, magpies, robins, but the two species that used to be the most prevalent to my garden are now conspicuous by their absence. The RSPB say the number of sparrows in the UK have dropped by 71% between 1977 and 2008. Starlings have fared little better. And have further decreased in the years since.

But for whatever reason,  Hesketh Walk is the place where the sparrow is, if not flourishing, hanging on. The Portuguese Neanderthals of the bird world. Having located in my dog-lead meanderings Sparrow Enclave, hopefully somewhere around these parts I will stumble across Starling Alamo.

I will keep an eye out tomorrow. In the meantime I will place my long johns next to my sunglasses next to my waterproofs next to my distress flare. It won’t be until I open the blinds that I will know what season we are in for for that day. Or at least for the morning.

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Why City Jackdaw?

Birds. I like birds.

I am not a birdwatcher, and try to refrain from twitching. But when out and about I try to take notice of what is around me, whether I am walking along the coast, through the woods, or down the street. Birds pay no heed to our borders and our boundaries. They are everywhere. I like that sense of freedom.

 Corvidae is the latin name for the family of birds that includes Crows, Ravens, Jays and Magpies.  These are considered to be among the most intelligent of birds. Crows can do all sorts of things, regularly featuring on YouTube. Look them up. Google ‘Crow funerals.’ Crows dance. Use tools. Fly upside down (really!)  Recognise human faces. Upset a crow and its personal. I have been out and about and found a Crow studying me. Figuring me out. (Good luck says my wife.)

Jackdaws are the smallest of the Corvidae family. Maybe pushed to the margins by its larger cousins. They can be shy. Inquisitive. Raucous. Riotous.

But smart.

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In Celtic tales they sometimes spoke.

Generally wary of people in the forest or countryside, they are much tamer in urban areas. I am exactly the same since watching Deliverance.

‘This bird is considered sacred because it frequents church steeples and builds its nest there. It is said to be an innocent bird, though given to carrying off things and hiding them in out-of-the-way places. When ignorance of a fault is pleaded, it is a common saying, “I have no more knowledge of the fact than the Devil has of the Jackdaw.” The Devil evidently will have nothing to do with this bird, because it makes its home in the church steeple and he hates the church and everything belonging to it.’

–  Wales, Folklore, Myths and Legends.

City Jackdaw was a weekly penny magazine that was published in Manchester from 1875 to 1880.

I first came across this publication when I was reading a book about those oh so nice Scuttler boys of Victorian Manchester. The hoodies of their day, what was described as Britain’s first youth cult emerged from the slums and degradation of industrial Manchester, this fair city in which I now live, in a fury of swinging belt buckles and thrusting knives.

City Jackdaw advertised itself as a humorous and satirical journal. Its subject matter was broad, covering all things current.  Poetry, articles, sections on the theater and ‘Claws of the Week’ were regular features. With many advertisements, covering the front and back covers both inside and out, sometimes other pages as well. Twelve pages long, it was illustrated with plates.

I discovered it at a time when I was looking for a title for this blog, and I appreciated the synchronicity. It seemed to bring together many of the subjects I am interested in- poetry, literature, history, current affairs, and in its very title joins together my love of the natural world, with that of my urban surroundings, rooted as the original magazine was in this very place where many generations of my ancestors walked, and possibly scuttled, along these northern streets I know so well.

There is a great line from Birds of Britain about Jackdaws, which I think could also equally apply to some of those people of  19th Century Manchester, highlighting two similar aspects of our distinct species’:

-‘They may be rogues, but they are intelligent rogues.’ 

And so- City Jackdaw.

Look forward to seeing you.

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