Spring is coming and soon we will be hearing the Blackbirds sing their
wonderful early morning song. I have always loved Blackbirds and
learned quite a lot about them just by watching them.
Mother Blackbirds aren’t black at all, they are brown. Father Blackbirds
are black and they are the ones that sing. Baby Blackbirds are brown.
Blackbirds don’t sing all the year round, only at nesting time, starting in
Spring until mid Summer. Robert Louis Stevenson knew that, when he
wrote in his book, “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” …
Of speckled eggs the birdie sings.
If they are confident in themselves they will sing from the top of the
tallest tree, because they consider themselves to be top bird. They don’t
sing from the tree they are nesting in.
Don’t think they are singing just to make a pretty sound, or because their
hearts are filled with joy (although I’m not so sure about that one) or to
please you. They start at first light to let all the other birds know that this
is their territory and all the other birds had better not come too close.
Blackbirds are mean to that other lovely European songbird, the
Thrush. They will occasionally share the birdbath with sparrows and
Piwakawaka (white eyes) and will tolerate Sparrows and White eyes
pecking the bread and apple pieces I toss on the lawn, but will chase
Thrushes away. I think it is because they are both ground feeders
pecking for the same worms on the lawn.
Thrushes enjoy snails more than Blackbirds do and will smash the snail
shells against something hard, sometimes dropping them from a height
on to the roof or path in order to break the shell and get to the flesh
inside. Hedgehogs gobble snails up shells and all.
Baby Blackbirds need to leave their nest before their tail feathers
develop otherwise there would be no room for them in the nest. I don’t
know how many eggs start off in the nest but most successful nestings
of experienced adult Blackbirds result in 3 baby Blackbirds running
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around the garden.
It takes about a week for tail feathers to grow and during that time the
baby birds are very vulnerable to attack, by cats especially, as they
chirrup very loudly to their mothers and fathers for more food. Their
parents talk back with soft sweet voices.
My front garden and my back garden are ideal places to bring up baby
birds because they can stay under cover of plants until they are able to
fly… when they have their tails. Even then they still need their parents to
feed them. Shortly after they have to fend for themselves, because their
mother will be back in the nest keeping a new clutch of eggs warm. She
and their father take turns sitting on the nest and feeding themselves
and later take turns keeping the new nestlings fed. I read somewhere
that when both parents look after their young, male and female birds
look similar, but when only the female tends the young, then male and
female birds look quite different, as is the case with Peacocks and
Usually, but not in times of drought, Blackbirds bring up three families in
a Summer, but in the Autumn they chase all the young ones away
because there is room for only one nesting pair there. I have a big
garden and I always have a front garden pair of Blackbirds and a back
garden pair and they don’t mix. The back garden pair even try to keep
the front garden pair out of the birdbath.
Early in the season Blackbirds sing at first light, at midday and at mid
afternoon and towards evening they fuss and fret and fly around
squawking to let the other birds know that this is their place, and keep
At the end of Summer the adult birds have their Summer moult.
Their feathers moult off and their heads look particularly skinny. They
look worn out, tired and jaded from all their effort of rearing the new
generation of young Blackbirds.
Sometimes they leave the garden for pastures new, but this is a big
mistake, because when they come back, around June or July, thinking
about where they will build their nest this year they very often find a new
pair of Blackbirds have taken over and they will have to fight, very often
to the death, to get their garden back. I find that very often the same pair
will stay in the garden for years, sensibly never leaving.
Sometimes a new male will come, challenging the resident male for his
territory and his mate and the fighting will go on sometimes for six
weeks, with both of them injured by sharp beaks and beating wings. In
the end one of them will be the victor and the other be dead or will fly
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away. One male bird that had lived in my front garden for a year or two
and had been beaten off after a long struggle that had lasted all of six
weeks came back sometimes, but always got chased away by the
stronger bird. The lady bird and the usurper made several nestings, but
not in the old familiar place in the Pittosporum tree. The male sang from
the power line, not from the Golden Elm as the defeated bird had. At the
end of Summer the first male came back and the two males had the
most terrible brawl which the usurper lost to the first male. The first male
and the female flew away. They came back to reclaim their garden some
time later. He sang from the Golden Elm and they nested as always, in
the Pittosporum and lived in my front garden for many years.
If you are not sure if you are hearing a Blackbird or a Thrush singing,
just remember these lines from Robert Browning, living in Italy and
missing England. He wrote these lines in his “Home thoughts from
That’s the wise Thrush,
He sings each song thrice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
that first fine careless rapture.
Spring is not far away. The Thrush at the bottom of my garden, where
generations of Thrushes have lived, is singing now. It won’t be too long
before I hear the song of the Blackbird, the days will warm up and we
will all delight in the wonderful renewal of the Earth that Spring brings.
THOUGHTS ON GROWING OLD (AND OLDER….)
The injunction “Do not resent growing old, it is a privilege denied to
many” is well said and I think we can all agree with it. However, regret
rather than resent is another matter. I have some profound regrets,
though I scarcely dwell on them. The first is that I have enjoyed my
sojourn on this planet and have no wish to bid it goodbye. The second is
that as the years pass many much loved relatives and dear friends are
no longer around. The third is that I have neither the strength nor the
agility to do the things I once enjoyed doing. No doubt there are others,
but enough said.
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In contrast to the above, there is much to treasure as the years advance.
For many there are new relatives or friends to take the place of those
passing on. There is also the pleasure of looking back and recalling
memories of all the good things we have experienced while journeying
toward the present. And is not a treasure chest of good memories a
valued travelling companion as our journey gets closer to its end?
Just last week, my wife Barbara was trying to downsize the amount of
“stuff” we have accumulated over the years and came across three old
78 records. One of them was Wilf Carter singing “By the Silvery
Moonlight Trail”. This was a romantic cowboy song I loved listening to. It
was part of a collection that my Granny had in Te Kuiti in the 1950s. My
brothers and I used to wind up Granny’s old mechanical player and listen
to the records. I hadn’t heard the Silvery Moonlight Trail since that time
and was keen to hear it again. Not having the necessary device to play, I
tried Google and Utube – it immediately came up and the song was just
as I remembered it. I have played it many times since – it brings back
precious memories from the time when Granny still lived. The last lines
of the song are “It’s three years since we parted, my love has never
failed, and now we are together again on the silvery moonlight trail”.
Barbara and I were only parted for two and a half years – make what you
like of that.
I have tried to recall what my most treasured memories are – several
come to mind.
The first was on 6 June, 1958.
I was a student at the Engineering School at Ardmore, near Papakura.
There was a girl named Barbara Walters at the Teachers College, just a
stone’s throw from the Engineering School. We met at the Ardmore
Christian Fellowship. The New Zealand Opera Company was putting on
La Traviata in His Majesty’s Theatre in Auckland. I was rather fond of
Opera and knew the story and music of La Traviata very well but was
reluctant to go to an opera by myself. So I plucked up courage and
asked Barbara if she would like to come and see an opera with me.
Barbara hardly knew what an opera was and didn’t know me very well,
but she accepted. La Traviata begins with a grand ball and the scene
that greeted us when the curtain went up was truly stunning, as was the
remainder of the show. Barbara was quite enchanted by it all. The rest,
as they say, is history, well no, not quite – Barbara and I have no
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immediate plans of departing this earth so there is still time to create a
little more history.
The second was in March, 1960:
I was a passenger on the Italian ship Neptunia, and I woke up early and
in great excitement went up on deck for my first view of the country that
was to become my immediate home – and an important part of my life
ever since. The Neptunia was anchored in Tamjung Priok, the port of
Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, waiting for the tugs to guide her to her berth.
I have vivid memories of the scene that awaited me, and of the sharp
realisation it gave me that I was indeed in a strange new world. There
were large numbers of small fishing boats all around, and several
hawker’s boats alongside ours, endeavouring to make some early
morning sales of various items of Indonesian handcraft to those on
board. The boats and the people in them were naturally strangers to me,
with a somewhat untidy and lackadaisical air about them. I also recall
well a noticeable smell in the air, not exactly unpleasant but neither
particularly enticing. I suppose it was a mixture of spices, salt air, fishing
leftovers, and miscellaneous rubbish strewn along the shore or floating
in the harbour. There was also that sticky feel common in the high
humidity of the tropics.
The third was in 1970.
The Indonesian government was planning a new highway through jungle
in South Sumatra to the coast where a new ferry terminal was to be built.
I was responsible for the soil investigations and testing along the route. It
was not very long, about 30km if I remember correctly with numerous
deep valleys. The route had been surveyed and a narrow track cleared.
With several technicians and a local guide we set out to walk it in a day.
After about four hours walking, we heard a loud and angry roar not too
far from us, followed by the sound of something crashing through the
undergrowth. We all “froze” except the village guide at the front who
didn’t seem very concerned. “Apa itu?” (What’s that?) I asked, and the
guide replied “Macen, tidak apa, sudah lari ” (A tiger, no worry, it’s
running away). He knew the habits of tigers very well. Late in the day we
reached our destination – a small village by the beach. We were to
spend the night here and a boat would pick us up the following day.
Accommodation was in a village house; our beds were thin mats spread
on a floor of horizontal bamboo poles. If you have tried sleeping on such
a bed you will know that the restful night I was hoping for did not
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And a last one was in March 1997.
I was 60 years old. I must have been trying to prove I was still young, as
I was taking part in my first ironman triathlon. It is now held in Taupo but
in those days it started and ended at St Heliers. I recall being excited
and very nervous standing in my wet suit on the beach at St Heliers
waiting for the starting gun to go off at 7am. I felt out of place among all
the young muscular athletes (about 800) around me. However, I
completed the 3.8km swim and the 180 km cycle OK and was on the last
lap of the 42km (marathon distance) run heading along Tamaki Drive
toward the finish line at St Heliers. I was not exactly bursting with energy
and was covering the distance with a mix of running and “rest” spells of
Conditions had been good all day – not too hot and with little wind. It was
a wonderful evening and by this time (about five km from the finish) it
was starting to get dark and the moon was rising above the horizon
ahead. It was a full moon and its light reflected on the water creating a
shimmering scene. By that time I knew I would get to the finish line, and
my excitement was rising along with the moon. Running down the
finishing chute and crossing the finish line is one of my truly memorable
moments. All who do the ironman agree that crossing the finishing line
is a truly unique feeling that only those who do the ironman can
experience. It is a strange mixture of sheer exhaustion and exhilaration.
To finish, I should mention that I had hoped the age reversal drug would
be discovered before I got too old. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the
case, in fact the scientists haven’t even started w
Readers’ Contributions – August 2020
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