A baby redstart landed on me!
I had the most amazing experience today; I was innocently photographing our huge dill plant; it's beyond imagining how large it has become with all the hot weather we've had over the last few weeks combined with the torrential rain brought about by thunderstorms. I was very focused on this, and my partner Katie was pottering around picking beans. We could hear nearby in the lilac tree a grey redstart clicking, clicking, clicking in an agitated manner. We should have realised that her babies had fledged because yesterday, when Katie was out watering the tomatoes in the evening, Mother redstart was flying around her head and following her everywhere she went - clicking and clicking, hovering above her, her wings fluttering noisily. Katie, of course, retreated.
We've been living with this redstart family for the last few months; we have been watching the mother feed her babies. The attention she has given them is beyond belief; from early morning to dusk in the evening, she provides for them. Ceaselessly working and feeding them hour by hour, day after day, she must be absolutely exhausted. She has a route - she flies from the stone fence post to the roof of the garage, then onto the drainpipe, and underneath the eaves flying directly into the nest, dropping off the food in one motion. If the babies are not ready and they're not quick, they don't get the food.
Yesterday we could for the first time see the babies; they had vacated their very scruffy nest, by no means a work of art, and were standing on the ledge under the eaves, and we could see the "gape": baby birds have the ability to open their mouths wide so that the food can immediately be dropped in. We watched them being fed from a safe distance; we thought they must be close to fledging, but they still seemed so small.
We visited the nest at 8:00 am this morning; we could still see the babies, and they were still being fed, but we retreated again because the mother sounded a little bit agitated, but redstarts click the whole time, and they always sound a bit fed up! We went and ate our breakfast, returning after an hour. The babies had gone. We were a little disappointed, but we also realised that the time had been right, and Mother had not wanted an audience. We couldn't see the babies, but we looked around, checking that there were no cats in the vicinity. We decided it was very unlikely we would ever see the young ones.
Before we went in to begin our day properly, Katie decided to harvest our dill, so I was innocently photographing the dill plants before Katie cut them down when suddenly a baby redstart flew out from one of our high beds where she must have been hiding in the beetroot plants. This was possibly the second flight of her life. She came around the corner but realised that we were there; the little baby was fluttering in the air, and suddenly she ran out of energy. I was standing stock still, really terrified that I would hurt her in some way, I was really in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she landed on the side of my back and just rested there for about 20 or 30 seconds. Mother redstart was for once completely quiet and untroubled; she knows how much we love her and her babies - this is the fourth year we have had them nesting in our garden.
This is an experience I will never ever have in my life again, and Katie was able to take just one photograph - thank goodness for mobile phones! What a moment it was when a baby redstart landed on me!
I couldn't really see where the baby redstart was, but I could feel her tiny, tiny weight on the side of my body —an overwhelmingly beautiful moment. I wanted to share this with you, so I've included this terrible picture of me in my underwear with the bird clinging onto me for you to enjoy -I don't think the photograph will win any awards, but I will always remember the moment.
After the baby flew away, she visited our pavilion, and with a long lens, I was able to get some shots of her sitting quietly and looking at the world properly for the first time.
As we were having this experience with the redstarts above us clinging to the telegraph wires, we were being watched by a hundred swifts, swallows, and house martens. Flying so low in order to catch insects that we could see them clearly. We stood by quietly, admiring their daring dives and their skill. The air was filled with their constant chattering and squeaking, all underscored by the continual clatter of mother redstart's clicks and the first cheeps of her babies.
This is the summer we will call the summer of the grey redstarts - we are very proud parents.
Update: We awoke this morning to find two more babies outside our front door.
Amelia Marriette is the author of Walking into Alchemy: The Transformative Power of Nature, published by Mereo Books. Also available as Alchemie des Gehens: Selbstfindung in der Natur.
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