In addition to the daily excitement provided by our family of house martins, busily getting on nicely under the front eaves of our house, we are now focused on the activity in and out of Christopher Wren’s old nest box, where the blue tits are busy with their babies. Since our wren last used it, this little box – put up on the fence by the oil tank long before we came here – has mostly stood unused, though every year tits have shown an interest, preparing bedding, cleaning the entrance hole and even, one year, laying their lovely little eggs but then abandoning the unfinished job of rearing them.
This unprepossessing and rather old nest box, which is only about four and a half feet from the ground (we would never have sited it there ourselves!) and lies just to the right of the rubbish bins, has really taken the tits’ fancy. The site is just outside the kitchen window behind the sink, so perfect for bird-watching; though we thought they’d given up on the idea of nesting there, when the tits seemed to disappear to an alternative spot after several weeks’ attentive action around and about it, recently the feeding frenzy began, alerting us to the joyful fact that this was now indeed the chosen home to their new family.
Before it became obvious from the incessant to-ings and fro-ings that child-rearing was underway inside, and when we were all convinced that the box’s curious location had probably been its undoing, Kemo Sabe ventured a peek inside, just to see what they’d been up to – if anything. And there, in a small nest at the back (a tiny nest of felted feathers and fur from Barnaby), was a little group of chicks, newborn, all giant, opaque eyes, stock still, playing dead. Not so much as a gaping mouth.
All day long the faithful parents come and go, bearing nutritious caterpillars, midges and tiny moths, their flight path typically taking them up and over the buddleia and into the woods beyond where the pickings are rich. The wild roses covering their nest-box provide both superb cover and a useful perch from which to re-enter their home, every movement done with artistry and efficiency. When the pair meet outside, they beat their wings behind them with intense energy, speaking silent thoughts and communicating wordlessly, perhaps urging each other to take a break and call in at the fat ball feeder for a little something. Darkness, up here in north Northumberland, comes very late in June, long after we’re a-bed. By nine, activity around the nest has long ceased. As we wash the last cups of the evening, we imagine the family hunkered down within their cosy home, well provided for, safe within their thorny hedge. We know that with any luck all our lives will remain intertwined for years to come, as their surviving babies join them and the community of other fowls at the feeders in much, much harder times; when our house martins have thrown themselves upon the mercy of the wind in ways which none of us could ever have the courage to do.