Last year, around this time, I wrote a piece about some of our summer visitors, the house martens, or as I prefer to call them, The Crazy Gang. For those with short memories (myself included) or for those who didn’t read the story about Marty McNofly, you’ll have to scroll down the page to find it, but the story about Marty McNofly is here.
I love to see our little feathered friends and watch their antics as they swoop and dive around the back garden’s air-space, clearly under instructions from flight control central somewhere – although I couldn’t imagine where that might be. Someone must be controlling their flight paths as I’ve never seen a mid-air collision yet and goodness only knows how they manage not to crash into each other on their manic manoeuvres!
On several occasions I have attempted to video the aerobatics but they just move too quickly and all I’ve managed to capture so far is a load of blurry blue skies followed by several minutes of brick wall, focused on the little mud edifices that they call home. The construction of these nests are a miracle of physics if you ask me – globules of mud mixed with bits of straw and presumably some regurgitated bird-vomit stick these nests to the walls of my home at various points, just under the guttering or the eaves of the house.
In early April we usually see them all flying around, restoring last year’s nests, adding patches on where necessary and lining them afresh with soft feathers to make room for their new arrivals.
The incessant chattering of the females as they sit on their eggs makes it so easy to anthropomorphise their conversations.
‘What do you mean you can’t find any mud? Get back out there and get me some TOP QUALITY mud, or, so help me, I will SCREAM until you do!‘ she berates the poor little chap.
‘Sorry, pet! Don’t get so excited dear, you know it’s bad for the little ones to hear you screeching… I’m going, I’ll be back when I find some of the best mud!‘ the beleaguered male marten attempts to soothe as he hastily retreats into the big wide world…
Yes, it’s an age old story of course. This year was no different. Approximately fifteen house martens returned in mid-April and the daily chit-chattering began in earnest. it is always hilarious to watch them as they come and go.
I was thrilled to see that Marty and/or Martina (his little sister) had most definitely returned to re-occupy the nest they were born into last year. In fact, the day they arrived back was such a lovely warm day, that I’d had my studio door open to let some fresh air flow through as I worked on my latest creative project. The nest is about five or six feet west of the door, so it was an easy thing to miss the nest and mistakenly end up in my studio – or at least that’s what I thought the first time it happened that day. And the second too.
By the time Marty had flown in and out of my studio eighteen times though, I began to realise that he was just saying ‘Hi!’ and ‘Aren’t you glad to see me?’ and ‘I missed you too!’ I was really thrilled that he was clearly communicating his pleasure at returning to me. Delightedly, I chattered back to him for the few moments that he stayed indoors.
‘Oh, Marty! how lovely to see you!’ I exclaimed.
‘Is everything OK? Just how you left it? Good, good, I’m so glad to see you!’ I interjected between his chattering.
So, you can imagine how I felt a few days ago when I saw him popping into the nest, delivering some delicious tid-bit to his new missus. I realised I was behaving like a proud grandparent!
I swear, he smiled at me as I waited to try to listen in to the goings on in the nest… sure enough, there were the same quiet little chattering noises that I’d heard him making last year.
There were definitely tiny baby Marty’s in the nest! They were still too small for me to catch photo’s of, but I was so looking forward to seeing the little baby martens as they popped their little heads up for the first time.
But it’s not meant to be.
A couple of mornings ago, I found this amongst my alpine plants in the nearby flowerbed. A small clump of straw, mud and bird droppings. With a few soft feathers for lining.
It’s the remains of the nest that has clung to the guttering outside my studio door for at least the past two years.
As soon as it dawned on me what it actually was, my eyes shot straight up to the nest-site.
I don’t know what happened. Perhaps the owl or some other night-creature had spotted it and somehow attacked it during the night. Perhaps it was a result of the downpour, accompanied by the gale-force winds from a couple of nights ago. I don’t know what happened.
I only know there’s a hole where the nest was.
And the babies that I’d heard chirruping quietly a few days before were gone.
I now that women my age often have trouble with what is termed ’empty nest syndrome’, but I’m pretty sure that’s not meant as a literal term.
There’s a small part of me that has hope for them. Perhaps, just possibly, maybe, it’s not inconceivable that the baby martens were older than I had imagined and they had somehow fledged before we had a proper chance to get to know each other. They would be flying off somewhere, safe and sound. And they will return home next year. As usual.
I really hope that’s what happened.
Thanks for reading!