A flicker of dark wings against the sun, a feathered blur hovering by the lime tree, the blue streak of a damsel fly dodging a sharp beak – the pair of Spotted flycatchers are back. Last year they nested above a broomstick mounted on the wall of the cottage, less than a metre from the front door. We inherited the broomstick when we moved in three years ago, along with a blackbird’s nest perched on top. This nest was commandeered by the Flycatchers last June and they successfully reared four young.
Undeterred by our constant presence, by our comings and goings through the door and time on the terrace outside, they swooped back and forth refurbishing the nest before the female began to lay her eggs, tail cocked, sitting tight until the brood hatched. The male kept watch from the roof of the shed or a branch high in the lime tree, occasionally darting out, stopping in mid-air with a quick hover to catch a fly.
A couple of weeks ago we saw them again for the first time this year and noticed the nest had been modified. In the evening sun, golden motes drifted across the garden – seeds, pollen, midges and dust from the recent dry spell. From their perch in the Lime tree the flycatchers threaded their way through this gilded haze picking out the flies. The female is now motionless, wheaten feathers pressed to the nest, her dark eye watching us go back and forth.
Soon the eggs hatched. The nest is full of damp spiky feathers and gaping yellow beaks. The male perches on the roof of the shed while the female is mostly on the nest. Occasionally one of the birds will hover in mid-air to trap an insect. A six-spot Burnet moth made a lucky escape, but the humid weather is providing plenty of food.
When the chicks were around 10 days old and starting to poke their heads up above the nest, they were ringed by a registered person. Three chicks had survived, but one egg hadn’t hatched. The parents are coming in constantly, beaks full of large flies, moths and butterflies, to feed the young. Sometimes one bird will perch on the chair next to mine and look at me for a while before swooping up to the nest.
They seem very tame and trusting of our presence. I get a close look at the fawn stripes on their breasts and have got to know the way they fly. I can tell from the corner of my eye if one is flying past and I know their distinctive chirping sounds. It is an honour to share our home with them. They seem to recognise us, but hold back if there is anyone else around. Perhaps they sense we are a protection against predators. I hope they come back next year.