Sunday 4 March 2018

Further Fieldfare News 3rd March 2018

Yesterday, after our crab apple tree was stripped of its last berries by the Fieldfares in the late morning some of the birds remained after the majority had departed, sitting quietly on the frozen snow or flying back and fore into the tree as if they could not believe that all the berries had gone. I felt sorry for them, as time and again they kept returning to the tree but always to find nothing to eat. The tree had been stripped bare and the birds, in desperation, tried to glean even the smallest morsel of berry left on the bare twigs, such was their extreme hunger.

I had nothing else to offer them and just had to hope they would survive the night until I could get to the village stores tomorrow morning by when, hopefully, they might have had another delivery of apples. I was not optimistic.

Saturday morning arrived and I walked over to the village shop. Newspapers and milk had been delivered along with bread but no fruit of any sort and definitely no apples. This left me with but one option, the Co-op in Chipping Norton, four miles away. The roads here were still far too treacherous to drive on so there was only one thing left to do and that was to walk.

I took a large backpack and headed off down the road. It was early, about 7.30am but by the time I would get to Chipping Norton the Co-op would be open and hopefully they would have apples. It was a calculated gamble about the apples but if they did not have any, there was always the option of Sainsburys and Aldi, the two other big stores in the town. I was determined to do everything I could to help the starving Fieldfares.

There was not a car on the road so I had the rare pleasure of walking down the centre of the road. Not something I could ever contemplate in normal times. I passed the Village Green and then the Primary School and after that was out in open country heading for the next village, Churchill, up on the hill. It was a veritable winter wonderland around me, the gentle,  thaw creating a light mist that hung over vast acres of white, snow covered land as far as you could see. An eerie silence hung over the land as if the snow had blanketed all sound as well as the topography. Occasionally a Fieldfare would chuckle in alarm as it flew over me under the leaden sky, 
its white underwing feathers illuminated by the snow below.

I came to a place called Churchill Crossing where the long defunct railway line from Kingham to Chipping Norton used to cross the road and looking to my left I saw a small thrush sat motionless on the snow. I walked up to it but it did not move, could not move, as it was virtually moribund, its eyes closed and obviously near to death. Starved and beaten by the prolonged ice and snow. How many other birds have died a slow lingering death from starvation in this cruel spell of weather, hidden from view as they succumb in dark ditches and under hedges.

I picked the bird up and could see it was a Song Thrush. My fingers felt the un-natural  sharpness of its breast bone through its emaciated body, now nothing more than skin and feathers. Gently I put it in a pocket of my backpack hoping it might survive until  I could get it home but I feared the worst.

I trudged onwards up the long rising incline to the village of Churchill high on the ridge and that lies by the road that runs north for a couple of miles to Chipping Norton. Turning onto the road to Chipping Norton I saw a car coming up another steep incline called Hastings Hill. It nearly made it but just before the junction of the two roads it lost traction and with wheels spinning on the icy snow it came to a halt. I walked over and started pushing the rear end and the car slowly started to move and we made it to the road where it was clear of snow and ice and it once more  gained traction. The driver wound down his window to say thank you. 'Any chance of a lift to Chipping Norton?' I enquired. 'Sure, hop in' he said and so I saved myself a lot of time and energy. 

Some minutes later the driver dropped me in the town. It was surreal as the town was deadly quiet, no people, no vehicles. Usually on a Saturday morning the town would be humming with life and traffic but not this Saturday. As if in some post apocalyptic movie I made my way through the silent town and thick snow to the Co-op and taking the escalator up to the main store found,  it too, weirdly empty but to my immense relief a stack of apples were ranged  before me on the otherwise empty shelves. I wasted no time in loading a trolley with a vast quantity of apples. The lady on the till took one look and said 'Making cider are we?'  I told her no and proceeded to explain that the apples were for birds but really I should have just said yes to the cider enquiry. She was pleasant enough but clearly thought I was deranged having walked all the way from my home in Kingham just to fill my backpack with an unseemly amount of apples to give to some birds. She thought me even more eccentric when I removed the Song Thrush from the side pocket of my backpack to check if it was still alive. Sadly it had died so I put it back in the pocket. 

Never mind. I bade her good morning and swung the back pack on my back. Ouch! It was so heavy but there was nothing to do but get on with it and head for home. I staggered off back to the escalator to take me to ground level and before heading out of town made a stop at the Mill House Cafe over the road for a take away skinny mocha to drink on the way.

The caffeine fix soon had its effect and suitably fired up I marched steadfastly along the road and out of town. A mile or so along the road and out in open country again I found another Song Thrush. This one had also just expired so it joined the other in the side pocket. I know of someone who would like the skins so they were worth saving for that alone and their death, although sad, would not be in vain.

The two dead Song Thrushes resting on the apples I had bought. If only I had
found them earlier maybe they could have been saved
Some minutes later the first vehicle to pass me on the road, a Landrover, slowed and came to a halt. I opened the door to be offered another lift by the kindly driver and was saved from a long, tedious and backbreaking yomp home, laden down, as I was, with the apples. The driver was a farmer from Daylesford, a huge organic enterprise and estate adjacent to Kingham which is owned by Lady Bamford, the wife of Lord Bamford of JCB fame. JCB are his late father's initials.

I got a lift right to the end of our drive and thanking the driver profusely I walked up the drive and once inside my house wasted no time in cutting some of the apples into halves and distributed them on some cleared ground by our snowbound driveway. 

Apples safely delivered!
The Fieldfares were so hungry and desperate they abandoned all fear and descended as I was dropping the apples to the ground. I retreated indoors to leave them to it.

The numbers of Fieldfares slowly increased until there were in excess of twenty or so. As they fed on the apples they regained some of their energy and truculent spirit so that after a couple of hours the males were chasing each other around, raising, fanning and flicking their black tail feathers outwards and spending as much time jousting as feeding. Other Fieldfares, now with full crops sat quietly in the denuded crab apple tree, the ivy growing up a lilac tree  or in the holly hedge by the drive until they felt hungry again when they would fly down once more to pick at the apples. They were quite content on their perches, assured now of a regular food supply that they could fly down to at their leisure. 

I  too felt the same sense of relief knowing that these Fieldfares in my garden were at least assured of  an immediate future and would survive. There are plenty of apples to feed them and with the thaw setting in, all bodes well, as soon they will be able to return to the surrounding fields for more nutritious food than apples.

The invasion of huge numbers of starving Fieldfares and to a lesser extent Redwings, into gardens and places they are not normally seen has been quite a phenomenon,  with many images of them being posted on social media. I posted a short video on Twitter of the Fieldfares stripping our crab apple tree and so far it has had over five hundred and fifty 'likes' which just goes to show how this invasion of such a beautiful bird has caught the public's imagination.

After a brief visit this morning the Fieldfares have all left as the thaw exposes more and more land for them to forage on. 

Fieldfares indeed.


  1. Replies
    1. Oooh! but my legs ache.I walked ten miles that morning as after getting back from Chipping Norton I walked another five miles to Foxholes BBOWT looking for Woodcock! Seemed a good idea at the time!

  2. Well done, I thank you on their behalf.
    We are feeding a collection of goldfinch, sparrows and possessive blackbirds. One visiting song thrush looks particularly thin.

    1. Thank you Mary and likewise well done for thinking of the birds
      Best wishes

  3. Good on you Ewan. Sad that if you found 2 Song Thrushes during that walk, it makes you wonder how many more died!! If only the hedgerows were not cut so severely every Autumn there would be so many more berries for these birds.

    1. Hi Bob

      Absolutely right about the hedges.They are flailed relentlessly round here. Hope all is well
      Best wishes

  4. Well done mate you are a kind soul.

    1. Thank you kindly.Sometimes you just know what is the right thing to do.So I did it

  5. Brilliant. You give back to those that have given you joy.