Garden wildlife

It just so happened that ever since I was born, I've been traveling all over the world. Life of a tumbleweed suits me well, but up to a certain point the concept of home was not tied to a spot on the map. Home was wherever my family was, and that could have been the back seat of a car or a temporary apartment, whatever. It was all about the people I love, it still is. When I grew up and began living on my own my home was just a place of residence, and that was all that it was, nothing more. I only found out what a home really meant when my family got our country house. The entire family put effort, time and love into building and setting up the house, establishing the garden. Now, even though we can be very far from each other, we have a place where we can feel the presence and the love of those dear to our hearts. That's how I got a home I could find on the map. More-so, I want to find it on the map when fate takes me across the globe. This is where I want to return to, which is a relatively new thing for me. Getting me out of this place is no easy trick, at least, I traded my city life for a life in the country. Only a promise of a new adventure and the call of the roads untraveled can convince me to leave my country lair.

It was decided from the very beginning that wild birds will always be welcome in the garden. Berry bushes were planted, some of them were specifically planted to attract birds. Five bird feeders were set up. In winter we used to hang up chunks of fat, and in summer the birds - as well as people and a certain glutenous mutt - were allowed to take their share. At most we would cover the bushes we wanted all to ourselves with a special net. The feeders have been maintained for years now, the only time I stop refilling them is in the summer. The birds let me know when it's time to stop. In May they almost completely stop visiting the feeder, and in fall they may even knock on the window glass to let us know it's time to open the free kitchen.

Over the years we've gotten some regulars, who aren't afraid to look into the windows, knock on the glass or almost sit on your head. They even show their offspring where to find an easy meal. At first the crowd was only Great Tits and sparrows, but their loud scuffles drew out the shy forest dwellers. Over the years that we have been maintaining the feeders and keep an eye out for newcomers, we have noticed more than 50 species, including quite rare ones. Migratory birds find a safe pit-stop here, wintering species find shelter. Although relaxing too much would be a mistake. The hawk, too, knows where to find an easy meal.

Other predators can pop in. Once I noticed a Eurasian pygmy owl. Different owls come, as well as a shrike. But the hawk rules the roos, so to speak, and is the one too stop by regularly.

Despite their presence, bird songs never die down in the garden. By my most modest estimates, there's about a 100 birds in the garden at once. Per each visible tit there are three more nearby that you cannot see. Snow Finches are also regular patrons and can be seen here even in the summer. A Snow Finch isn't a migratory bird. With the arrival of warmth it just moves deeper into the forest. Or at least, it usually does. Fat glistening balls of feathers that I've helped fatten up can afford to disregard such nonsense.


Some guests can be very unexpected. Once, a large flock of waxwings descended upon the barberry bushes. I have long wanted to add some nice images of these birds to my collection, and here they were coming to me.

Before I got my dog a flock of grey partridges used my garden as a winter hideout for three years in a row (12 to 18 birds depending on the year). Not the smartest birds out there, these chubby little nuggets are certainly cute. Having wild animals live serenely side by side with you brings a special kind of joy into the daily life. The partridges used to sleep right outside of my bedroom window under the cover of the soft bushy cedar branches.

In the morning I could set up a blind near a feeder and photograph them.

I was not so fortunate with other wanderers - the long-tailed bushtits. These little curious birds like to fly up close whenever I don't have my camera with me. They can even hang off a birch branch right in front of my face. They move on very swiftly, so there's no point running for the camera - they'll be gone before you get back. So all that's left to do is grind your teeth down to the gums in frustration. But last year I got lucky, I caught a bushtit drinking birch juice!

The greenfinches have long since become a common sight.

A pair of larger spotted woodpeckers are frequent visitors, sometimes we are graced with the presence of the rarer green and grey-headed woodpeckers. The black woodpecker is always around, one time it even nested right outside of my fence.

After having observed the spot one by one over a year or two, the grosbeaks now come in a group. These guys are very assertive, calmly they bulldoze over smaller birds to get to the food. Beforehand they ususally like to observe the situation from the nearby trees, never rushing in.

Colorful little siskins are completely different, but they aren't easy to push around. They have a lot of attitude and a short fuse! For a very long time siskins would only feed on the thuja seeds. Now they shoot straight for the very thick of battle amongst sunflower seed lovers, adding to the chaos and commotion.

Recently a new and unusual pair of birds was seen amidst the chaffinches. They turned out to be bramblings. They must have recommended us to their friends, because last year we had three pairs.

Last year we had a very unexpected goldfinch invasion. They have never before shown interest in the feeders, even though they were seen in the surrounding fields. But this time they terrorized our fat and lazy regulars throughout the entire spring. A full dozen raiders! Loud, noisy, bold, they quickly learned to ignore me and focused on the sunflower seeds. Can't wait to see if they show up this year.

So far this spring brought a pleasant surprise in the shape of common redpolls. If they ever popped in before it was one at a time and for a very brief moment. But a few days ago I noticed a small group feeding alongside of the tits.

It took a long time to create favorable conditions for such abundance, but now the efforts are paying off. An entire chorus of birds entertains me year-round and I cannot wait for the nightingales to start their songs, or the baby owls to start whistling all through the night again. I wonder who else will get the courage to join this merry band of feathered freeloaders.

Unfortunately, at this point I do not have a proper place to do photography, but that could be rectified easily enough if I get around to it. I can shoot from the windows of my house or from the garden without arranging landing spots for the birds or a hide for myself. For some reason I keep forgetting to fix this situation. Some birds are still cautious around the big shiny eye of the lens. Nevertheless, we coexist peacefully and mutually benefit from our arrangement.

I haven't gotten good images of all of the species of birds in my garden, but the process is a captivating one. It makes me happy when we get birds who not only want to get a nice quick meal, but who are ready to nest and raise young on our land. The tits nest above our porch regularly. For the past few years one of the bird houses on a birch has been claimed by a feisty pied flycatcher. Last year a pair of great gray owls performed an aerial courtship dance right above my land. I didn't even know we had them, so it was a joyous discovery.

In reality the world of neighboring wildlife is far richer. There's a marten that messes up things in the shed, a fox that runs just outside the fence driving the dog insane, a lynx that hunts hares in the same woods where we pick mushrooms. The forest hides moose and boar and roe deer. Even wolves. And the abundance of birds you can find just walking around the village! We have many different biotopes, so the list of species is extensive. But feeding birds in your own garden is a very simple way of establishing contact with local wildlife. Even the very lazy and the very busy can do it, benefiting both nature and man.

Any time of year my garden is teaming with wildlife. It's not only birds who are welcome, but toads, newts and lizards. I am happy that I have an opportunity to create a corner for myself where I can draw comfort from the proximity of wild and diverse fauna. It feels even more like home when I sit in the spring sun, listening for new voices in the choir of bird songs. It's moments like that when I feel that I am exactly where I should be and, more importantly, where I want to be. Trading this serenity for a 24-hour noise of traffic and the huge city population is now impossible.