Archive for the ‘feeding birds in Italy’ Category

A Bee See


(Apologies to my email subscribers for the half-finished version of this post that arrived in their in-boxes yesterday, you can blame it on heat exhaustion related finger-slippage)


Last man standing

I recently skimmed (when you are stay-at-home parent to a toddler, skimming is as good as it gets most days) an article talking about an innate human preference for the countryside. Although meeting plenty of people who feel far more at home prowling the urban jungle leaves me unconvinced by the generalisation; I can certainly vouch for the longing for birds, bees and the whisper of breeze through trees that seems to be hardwired into my own DNA.


Probably because I’m lucky enough to come from this

Despite having lived in twelve different communities (over five different countries) during my thirty-nine years, I have always managed to avoid spending much time in very built-up areas. But although my little Italian village is far from being a metropolis, the hankering to be surrounded by even less “civilisation” and be closer still to nature remains strong.

So over the last five years, in an attempt to offset the constant noisy presence of my neighbours, their dogs, their children, the regular putt-putting of the passing rural traffic and bellowing from passing Italian pedestrians, and the fact that I have to look over a car park and a disused olive oil factory before I can at last feast my eyes on a reasonable expanse of greenery; I have been making various attempts to bring nature to me.

The first step was kitting out the balcony with some insect-friendly flora, a process of trial and error given the fact that most information sources on such matters seem to assume you are in possession of an acreage, as opposed to a motley collection of flower pots. So some things have worked and some haven’t. I have developed an obsession with lavender and managed to mostly break my obsession with fuchsia (they have proven too sensitive for a periodically neglectful gardener and a terrace that often reaches a scorching 40°c on summer mornings) and I am currently turning my decidedly un-green fingers to re-potting the Buddleia seedlings that have finally emerged from seed kindly donated by the Mothership.


Lavender blue

And whilst the balcony isn’t as a-buzz with insect life as I had fondly imagined it might become, it does attract enough passing nectar-guzzlers, aphids (bugger), aphid-eaters (yay), ants, spiders and the like, to keep Maya’s interest in creepy crawlies alive.

Once I had regular insect traffic, the natural addition was a “bee hotel”; a winter hidey-hole and/or egg-laying spot for solitary bees, which finally came into its own this year.

Next on my list of creatures to lure were birds. Aside from the occasional black redstart or pied wagtail wandering the rooftops, the profusion of crag martins, house martins and swifts whistling past the windows, a buzzard, kestrel, raven or two circling far above our heads, and not forgetting the waddling urban crap-machines that are pigeons, the avian community here (particularly the songbirds) seems to prefer being heard rather than seen. I was not overly confident that the arrival of a bird table would change that, but I inveigled hubby into making me a couple anyway.



Naturally the first to discover them were the aforementioned urban crap-machines, as opportunistic as ever. So we encased the tables in plastic mesh. But the pigeons still managed to grip onto the edges and, flapping furiously to keep balanced, get their heads far enough in to reach the food (pulling the screws from the wall as they did, whilst their queuing friends tramped impatiently over all my flower pots, snapping branches and digging up bulbs). So I ended up wrapping industrial strength tape around the bottom half of the mesh. It looks awful and blocks our view of more welcome feathered visitors, but it works.

And we were soon enjoying regular visits from pied wagtails (comically nervous about negotiating the mesh with their overly long tails), black redstarts, blue tits, great tits, robins, the occasional finch and sparrow, and one very exciting recce by a blue rock thrush.


Hubby of a madwoman

My neighbours think I am quite mad. For a long time they were convinced the mesh covered bird tables were bird cages. Once they had been informed as to their true purpose, I was first laughed at and then admonished for encouraging the blue tits to shit on their washing – apparently the now constant birdsong where before there was none is not fair recompense. But hey, winning them all wasn’t ever my goal.

With the birds now enslaved by peanuts, sunflower seed hearts, suet pellets and dried mealworms (all shipped in from the UK where, thankfully, vast swathes of the population are utterly bonkers), the finally act of wildlife solidarity was the addition of a bat box. I have already had some bat experience here – who remembers Petronella? Her story can be found here and here and you can read about Lolita’s adventures here.


Bat box under the eaves above the “birdcage”

Despite not having seen any pip casualties for the last year or two (possibly due to the demise of 3 of the 6 locals cats – no, it wasn’t me) I had long be thinking about offering a completely cat-free roosting opportunity on the balcony side of our building. And astonishingly, towards the end of last year, our local supermarket suddenly presented us with a selection of pre-fab roosts to choose from – I chose one with a picture of a bat on, to give the neighbours a fighting chance at figuring out what it is for…

And given the very small space I am working with here, I don’t think there is really any further I can go with wildlife encouragement. Hubby now blanches and scuttles off every time he sees me scanning around for potential improvements, as well he might, given that he is the one who ends up teetering on roofs and railings in order to screw all my mad ideas into place, so the time has come just to enjoy those aspects of nature that have inched a little closer and thank my lucky stars for such a capable, kind, patient – if occasionally bemused – husband to cater to my mad English whims.


And most importantly, let’s hope our happy little scruff bag continues to be as entranced and intrigued by her wildlife encounters as she is now.



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