The middle of November is the time for the redstarts to migrate to sunnier climes in Africa, they have been with us all summer, raising their young in the garden. I have watched them follow their daily routines; singing from the chimneys and buildings, fighting off their enemies in neighbouring territories and feeding their fledglings. I am always sad to see them go, as I know this is the beginning of the long winter ahead.
There is always a consolation however – a robin takes over the garden, singing in the hedge outside my back door every morning and night, and most of the time during the day. He is proclaiming his patch for the winter, now that the redstarts have gone, and that his children have also moved away to find territories of their own. His song is plaintive and mournful, and so beautiful – the signature tune of winter, and I have been watching him dart from the hedge to the ground picking up the last of the summer’s insects. It has been a comfort to me to see him outside and to hear his song as I work from my little hut.
I have also been sitting out in my regular sit-spot these last few sunny days and yesterday noticed activity going on around my car, parked at the bottom of the garden next to the hedge; a flitting and flapping around, constant movement going on. It was only when I brought it into my conscious mind and focused on what was going on, that I saw the robin sitting on the wing mirror. He was flying up and down; first to the roof and then to the windscreen of the car, moving up to look at himself in the wing mirror and then perching on top of it. He would repeat this again and again with a flurry of chirps and chirrups. Then he would fly into the hedge and sit and sing his beautiful song.
I realised at once that he was seeing his own reflection in my wing mirror and thinking it was a rival in his territory. He must have been spending most of the day trying to attack it. I knew that this behaviour was fine if it was with another bird who could be scared off but his reflection would never disappear and that was the problem; he would never be able to stop himself from fighting this other bird.
I didn’t want him to wear himself out by behaving in this way day after day; He would not have stopped to have fed himself or been aware of any cats that were lurking underneath the hedge watching him so I looked around for something to cover the wing mirror with.
I didn’t have any small bags, so I was in the process of measuring up the mirror ready to quickly sew a pouch out of a scrap of fabric I had found in the cupboard when my husband waved an empty sack, which had contained tangerines, in front of me. It was made of hessian and fitted over the wing mirror with a drawstring as if it had been made for it.
And so, I tied the pocket onto the car, first cleaning off all the droppings that had collected whilst the robin had been perching on it and went back to my spot to check that he would no longer be interested in his own reflection. I kept telling him that it was for the best, that he was tiring himself out trying to attack this other bird all day and that now he could go back to his regular routine finding food and watching out for cats. Surely enough, two minutes later, after watching me grumpily from the hedge, whilst I was attaching the bag, spitting and chirping all the while, he came back to inspect my handiwork. By this time, I had my binoculars trained on him and I could see the look on his face as he eyed up the bag from above.
Instead of looking at it and then moving off, something else happened I did not expect. He landed on the bag and started to pick at it and pull it up with his claws as he flapped his wings with all the force he could muster. This made me smile but then I connected in with him again to find out what this was all about and I realised that he thought there was a bird trapped underneath the bag and that he was trying to release it. Even though I told him that it was just his reflection, that there was no bird and that he did not need to lift it up to release it, the robin carried on desperately trying to pull the bag off the wing mirror.
This could not go on much longer for the sake of the robin, but the only thing I could do in the end, was to move the car into another parking space across the road, away from the hedge. I kept the pouch over the mirror just in case he decided that his territory extended across the road too. When I came back from my walk later on, the robin was singing happily from the top end of the hedge away from the road. I put some food out for him on a tree stump next to my back door and watched him as he flitted down to feed again and again. I sensed the relief in his little body, and he was happy to eat the crumbs that I had put out for him rather than occupying himself with the robin caught inside the bag on the car.
Today, I found a companion to share my dark days with. He tells me that the crumbs are yummy and that the cats won’t bother him and he also mentions a female robin who pops into see him from time to time. He will never need to worry about the strange and persistent intruder at the bottom of the garden again.