I have just been away for a week. No surprises there, and Costa Rica was sensational. However when I came back look what I discovered is now in my garden.
Persons unknown have dumped a huge unsightly pile of sticks in the top of my beautiful Monkey Puzzle tree. What was a lovely candelabra shape, a thing of precision and of daily happiness is now a complete mess. Whilst it is tempting to blame the children or squirrels, the actual perpetrators are a pair of industrious Magpies who are in the process of making an absolutely gigantic nest. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am very pleased – I will be able to watch a family of Magpies at close range – the new turret at Chateau L is at exactly the right level to get a really good view of all of the comings and goings. Magpies are characterful birds with bags of personality, clever and inventive. More interesting you would say than a Blackbird.
On the other hand my Monkey Puzzle tree is a source of great joy to me – it is, as older readers will perhaps recollect, the main reason I live in Chateau L. I doubt the nest will be detrimental to the health of the tree, but it just looks terrible, and might get worse as the parents and (hopefully) chicks start chucking waste out of the side of the nest. And then of course there is the threat that Magpies as a species pose to smaller birds, several of which also nest in my garden – Blue Tits, Robin, Goldcrest. The eggs and chicks of all of these are excellent foodstuff for Magpies and are known to form part of their diet, albeit that studies suggest that Magpies do not pose a conservation problem to garden birds. I’m not sure what a “conservation problem” is in this context, but I suspect that it means that a certain level of predation by Magpies has no discernible impact on common species at a national level, but that at a local level (as local, say, as my garden) there could be huge variation. Personally I now have great concern for the other birds that I know live and breed in the grounds of Chateau L, but it is what it is and nature will run its course. My Blue Tits are in a nest box and should be OK, but the others are not. Red in tooth and claw as they say. But why couldn’t they be Oropendolas?