Last week I went out for a walk with my son and our new dog. My son took his bike and after rambling for a while, jumping ditches and puddles enjoying Max the dog’s enthusiasm for every nuance in the path, we found ourselves in a wood. Patches of fresh bluebells and older daffodils gave the woodland floor a garden feel but the uncontained vibrancy of the greenery and contrasting sculptural timber debris invited the feeling of being in a woodland playground.
So we set about building a den: pulling dead branches from where they lay and setting them against the trunk of a tree. Dead bracken lay all around, the perfect thatch for our structure. However, the weather had other ideas and, as only the month of April can deliver, the temperature plummeted from a pleasant 17 degrees Celsius to just above freezing. Hail began to fall and we realized that, with only a basic structure in place we needed to seek more effective shelter and quick!
A nearby spruce gave us the umbrella we needed and we ducked under and watched the little white pellets bounce on the leaf litter. As we stood there unbeknownst to us, a mother Song Thrush was weighing up her options: sit tight and go unnoticed or assume discovery and flee. She chose the latter option and with a sharp tsick alarm note ducked out of the fronds just above my head alerting us to her presence.
With a sudden rush of guilt mixed with boyish excitement I realized we had flushed the thrush from her nest. Guilt because nesting for these shy (and increasingly scarce) birds is always a hazardous time of the year and disturbance is never welcome. But also an excitement that is difficult to explain but that goes back a long way to childhood memories of discovered nests, invariably in out-of-the-way places in the midst of some adventure or exploration. Discovering a nest, especially with eggs in it, is to discover one of nature’s secrets and be ushered in to a hushed world, out of sight of the noise and bustle of human activity. It is as if we have had the privilege of suddenly being invited in to royalty’s home to be shown their most treasured possessions. They are not there but surely they will be return soon so we back out quietly, whispering with wonder but careful not to let on what we now know.
That at least is how I responded, quietly ushering my son and the dog out too, but not before I had confirmed that the thrush was indeed sitting on some eggs. The nest was perfectly hidden at my head height but using my phone camera raised above my head I was able to take a bird’s eye shot of the nest. A moment’s pause as we bent over the phone while the photo loaded and we both gasped! Nothing had prepared us for the startling turquoise blue clarity of the four eggs lying in the soft brown bowl of the nest. Like jewels in an open case they sat there, objects of perfection in a mud-lined bower.
We left quietly, hoping that the thrush would quickly return and see her task through to completion. In that nest lay her hopes and legacy – not just a mechanical ‘continuation of the species’ but a marvel and a miracle of beauty evidenced in every carefully woven twig and piece of moss. We are so used to seeing chicken eggs in boxes that seeing eggs in their true context – the nest – is a revelation of nurturing love and watchful care that does not just get the job done but does it with spectacular grace and beauty.
For my son and me, our ‘Boys Own’ adventure will stay with us (he is already asking when we can build dens again) and, for me, be filed with a similar memory of discovering a Dunnock’s nest at a similar age. Searching for a cricket ball during a school game I chanced upon its nest perched amidst brambles and nettles behind a pile of rubble. A Song Thrush’s nest in miniature, I remember marveling at the little turquoise blue eggs, vowing to return with my camera and then remembering I had a cricket ball to find!
Come the winter, I always wonder at the number of nests revealed when the leaves have left the trees. There are so many and yet each year can pass with out me ever discovering more than one or two! And of course, that is how it should be so please don’t go out looking for nests and eggs. Our breeding birds are thin enough on the ground and need their privacy. If, like us, you stumble on a nest by accident, know that you have been privileged to witness one of nature’s best-kept secrets and above all, endeavour to keep it just that: a secret!