July/Aug 11 – A Lesson from the Birds Next Door

The Spotted Flycatcher with a wasp carefully held in it's beak.

The Spotted Flycatcher with a wasp carefully held in its beak.

I’m writing this hmm on my return from the second day of the third Test against India at the new look Edgbaston. What a cracking venue it is now and how wonderful to see England playing so splendidly. I hesitate to say it, but surely we’ll be the number one test nation very soon. Time will, as ever, tell.

Yet my trips to Birmingham have been in the immediate aftermath of the riots and looting that have plagued our cities this summer. It was odd travelling on a double decker through a City centre that featured so many boarded up shops like broken teeth in a losing boxer.

A mix of good and bad I guess which, strange as it seems, leads me back to a pair of Spotted Flycatchers that nested down the lane this year. The spotted flycatcher may look rather dull and inconspicuous but we really got to know them well as they raised their family in next door’s wisteria and they really are characterful. The parent birds worked so hard to find enough insects for their hungry youngsters and we delighted in watching them hunt from a favoured perch. The hunter always sat bolt upright and then of a sudden leapt upwards and outwards in a boomerang assault upon a flying insect.

What, I wondered, was their favourite prey? The answer (at least in part) was revealed when I used my car on the driveway as a makeshift hide and waited. The birds liked to use the picket fence as a staging post to the nest after a successful foray. I hoped I’d get a good photograph in front of some beautiful blue delphiniums. Within an hour I got some close up shots of a returning parent with its beak full of food although sadly not in front of the delphiniums.

As I blew up the images on the back of my camera I was astonished to see the food was a wasp. The parent held the dead insect transversely across its abdomen such that the sting had been popped and rubbed out.

How clever I thought that by removing the bad our flycatchers had something nutritious for their young. Perhaps it’s time for us to take a leaf out of the flycatchers book and deal appropriately with the poison that our society seems to be feeding its young. As a chief exec of Coca Cola is once reported to have said, ‘You can’t have healthy businesses in a sick society.” (And being No1 at cricket doesn’t change that).