Yesterday morning, as I watched several robins sparring with a wood pigeon for pecking rights to our elder bush, I noticed my own feathers ruffle a little. I’ve been waiting for the birds to show an interest in the berries – it’s a clear indication of ripeness, but it is a rather irksome one, because I have designs on those berries – given our plans for garden cultivation are on hold, I’ve turned my attention to a wild hedgerow harvest.
Alas, before my eyes and in one fell swoop the birds declared my bounty ready and simultaneously plundered it. As I logged my irritation, visions of elderberry syrup faded fast, and I was minded of some words I’d read recently in Richard Mabey’s The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn. Of his more recent foraging experiences, he notes: ‘…it occured to me that this is how many of the planet’s citizens, of all species, find their daily rations. Working the margins. Making do.’
I quickly called myself up, smoothed down those plumes.
Exactly whose bounty did I think this elder bush was… and who was doing the plundering? Here were some of the planet’s feathery citizens working their margins with playful, if a little teasing, opportunism, and suddenly I felt my own premeditated scheming for what it was. Whose winter was really going to be the hardest? Oh, the irony of my magnanimous bird feeder gesture last year. Rather than adorning the trees with yoghurt cartons of fat, seeds and raisins, perhaps the birds would prefer it if I just left some berries on their branches…