As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.
After yesterday's terrible photo of a Chiffchaff I vowed that I wouldn't give up and would continue to try and get some photos of the birds in my garden.
In the past week I’ve noticed that a pair of Jays are flying into the garden each morning at 09:30. You can set your watch by them. Jays are very wary birds and if they detect any movement in the house (like me trying to grab my camera and get a photo) they fly off. But this morning I was waiting for them…
I decided to camouflage myself and I hid on the (green) sofa in front room with a (green) towel over my head.
If you look very closely in this picture you may just be able to make me out on the right hand side of the sofa, between the cushions and Elvis.
It seemed to work because when the Jays flew in this morning they didn’t notice me. They flew into the garden and up onto my neighbour’s tree. I slowly pressed the button on my camera and 'click'…
Okay, well that first picture wasn’t too good but then the Jay hopped onto another branch, I zoomed in and 'click' …
Well, I’m quite smug about that photo. It's certainly an improvement on the Chiffchaff's ass from yesterday. Of course the reason it’s a great photo is nothing to do with the photographer (all I did was press a button on my camera while disguised as a piece of furniture). No, the reason it’s a great photo is that the subject is stunningly gorgeous.
Jays look fabulous. With extravagant pink plumage, a drooping black moustache and a snazzy electric blue flash through the wings it’s no surprise that eminent Sussex naturalist W.H. Hudson called it ‘the British Bird of Paradise’. Surprisingly, it’s a member of the crow family. But while the related Ravens, Rooks, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws all wear black funereal feathers the Jay obviously didn’t get the memo about the dress code. Gather the crows for a family portrait and the Jay stands out like Danny La Rue in full drag amongst a crowd of coal miners.
Danny la Rue (above) and a Jay (below)
photo © Mambaman
But when the Jay opens its beak it reveals its family heritage. The song of the Jay is a rough, rasping, nails-down-the-blackboard shriek which would make any crow proud. I’m surprised to see the Jays here in the spring – although I often see them in the garden in September and October. The reason we see more Jays in the autumn is because it's then they are at their busiest. Jays are nuts about acorns and at that time of the year their favourite food is in plentiful supply. Aware that there are lean times ahead Jays start making a long-term investment for surviving the winter. If you thought all those people stockpiling pasta, paracetamol and toilet paper were crazy you should check out the Jay. They can stuff an incredible nine acorns in their beak and throat and will fly far from the woodlands to obsessively hide these nuts in nooks and under dead leaves.
Juggling Jay. Photo by Alan Price
With an impressive ability to remember exactly where they have stashed them the Jay will return to tuck into these life-saving larders in the cold days of winter. One Jay can store up to 5000 acorns in a season. Not all acorns are remembered and retrieved though and from these lost acorns mighty oaks grow. I often wonder how many of the huge oaks we see in Sussex were originally planted by Jays. Through the centuries these birds have been architects of the English countryside: a landscape created by the forgetfulness of a pink crow.