Yarn Envy

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Envy is an ugly word.  What it really means is that you want something that belongs to someone and not to content with just feeling that, you want to take it off them.  And technically, the yarn doesn’t really belong to anyone else anyway; it’s available to purchase but having a non-existent yarn budget, I am limited to coveting but I thought you might like to see some pretty things too, whether or not you’re a knitter or not.

(And if someone else did have it, I’d be really chuffed for them but want to pet it.  And I would give it back … eventually).

These are the two most must-have yarns that I have my little idiosyncratic radar on at the moment:-

Signature 4 Ply - Country Birds

Photograph from the West Yorkshire Spinners’ Website

I love sock yarn.  I like knitting socks (however slowly (yes, that is just a lone sock) but sock yarn is so much more than socks.  It’s a very versatile yarn because although it’s basically just four ply (in the English weight terminology), it comes in an apparently endless variety of colours and colour combinations (think variegated, semi-tonal, striped, stripey, faux fair isle ….) and fibre compositions.  And you’re not limited to just socks… Personally, I like knitting (and wearing) shawls too.

So yes, this is just another old variegated/stripey sock yarn… but wait!  Look at the name.  It’s inspired by the humble garden bird, the blue tit, a bird which is very dear to my own heart.

Bluefaced Leicester Country Sock Collection - Birds/ Blue Tit

Photograph from the West Yorkshire Spinners’ Website

They also sell them ready-knitted, if you need to be instantly enabled.

I must be the first knitter ever who actually wants Manky socks!

So that’s the first yarn and the second one?

It’s a German yarn but it’s hugely popular and adored by the American knitters.  Perhaps I am joining a bandwagon but it looks such a beautiful yarn and not just in terms of looks either because it works up beautifully as wel,l which is possibly even more important!  It’s hand-dyed and only has limited available, which seems to make it even more desirable.  (What is with telling humans that they can’t have something that makes them want it more?)

Seriously, go over to the Wollmeise website we can admire and drool together… it’s good, right?

Look at the beautiful rich colours! (Wollmeise’s Blend in Stella Polaris)

Or something more tonal? Wollmeise’s Lace in Sail the Seven Seas

Sock Yarn from Wollmeise

Or something a little funkier? (Wollmeise’s Twin in Glückstag)

What would you choose?  And how?  By colour?  By yarn weight?  By project?

I don’t know because I am like a little child in a sweet shop (or a stationery shop) and I struggle to make decisions at the best of times.  Perhaps it is just as well that I have no money!

So these are the two highest entries on my yarn wishlist and I didn’t even realise that they’re linked.

Any German speakers out there?

Wollmeise means wool tit.

It seems that I always gravitate towards these small birds!

(All photographs in this post have been nicked from their respective websites and remain the intellectual property of their copyright owners)

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A Bird Song

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The words of Christina Rossetti have spoken to me for a very long time; I am no scholar or reader and perhaps am really conscious of just one of her poems.  It was the first poem to ever ‘speak’ to me, the first that echoed some deep, inner sentiment of my own and translated it into solid words, clear, simple, beautiful.  All the other poems I had so far met were either fun or profound, incomprehensible or twaddle.  Mainly the latter two.

I opened up this poem without really reading the title and certainly without paying any attention to the author’s name.  (Or perhaps I should say the ‘poet’s’?)  (I find that poem titles can be awfully disappointing if not misleading so I’ve given up with them).

The title must have registered slowly, in that barely conscious way of mine, because it reminded me and made me smile.  And then I loved the words and thought that must share it with you all.  And then I read the poet’s name.

So here is another poem by Christina Rossetti.  She may have be referring to graceful swallows but I would like to be cheeky and dedicate the first verse to a slightly less refined but no less adorable Manky-bird.

It has been a good spring for blue tits; I hear them sing nearly every day, even from my bed and when I make it to the window or the balcony, I often see them flying past as there is now several (pairs, families?) living in the neighbourhood.  I always wonder who they are.  I always remember.

A Song

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Being a Bird Parent - Blue Tit Baby on Head

There is a certain song that I recognise, the faint piercing notes can be quite a distance away but my ear always picks it up.  But it’s not just my ears, it’s a song that will always speak to my heart.  I try to whistle a few notes back, despite the fact that I have never been able to whistle.  I whistle whilst standing in the street, even in middle class neighbourhoods.  It embarrasses my husband.  But then I catch him whistling the same notes too.  (He can at least whistle though).

They say that a smell, a taste, a noise can transport you immediately into the past.  I know that this song will always be in my heart and whenever I hear it in the future, it will take me back to this summer gone and to a little bird called Manky.

Manky-bird has a very definite hold in our hearts.  It is his song and the song of his kinsmen that we hear, sharp notes echoing through the trees.  Even when we are on the other side of town, we pause and listen, sometimes whistle back.  It’s not likely to be one of our babies that far away but we are captivated all the same, watching for the slightest movement.

But the truth is that we probably will never know how Manky-bird has fared.  Hopefully, she is still faring.  I ask my husband if the blue tit we’ve just spotted has painted toes and we both laugh and stare hard, squinting, trying to focus on fast-moving, tiny legs, whilst knowing that nail varnish does not last forever.   Maybe we should have used a better brand?  Long gone, the tell-tale painted legs, worn or weathered or scratched.

Often I feel guilty, I find it hard to believe that we did enough to give them the best chance in the world, I feel that somehow we should have or could have done more.  It breaks my heart.  Especially when I think of our losses.

But then husband reminds me that from the moment we intervened, they survived a little longer than they would have done anyway.   And I guess we can only do our best.  And do our best for at that time only.  Hindsight always has sharper vision but we were first time parents and all we could do was our best.

(It’s so nerve-wracking for human parents when their offspring learn to drive and get their first wheels, I wonder if bird parents are distressed when their fragile little chick takes to the air for the first time?)

(And isn’t it funny how I still say he for Manky?  She was a little girl, just slower to develop so we couldn’t be sure, but she never sprouted the little funky hairdo of the males).

There is a male blue tit who struts on the telephone wire at the front of the house.  We really need to seal off the holes because we really can’t cope with another birdy summer!  We watch him too.  I think it could be the daddy blue tit from the spring, he’s got quite a pronounced quiff going on.  We watch him from the kitchen window, sometimes the spare bedroom window.  Watching, wondering, hoping that he hasn’t taken up residence again.  He is usually silent but we spot him anyway.  I know that one of the neighbours has been throwing bread on the front grass so maybe that’s why he’s visiting so close to the house.

There is a small flock of birds flying around the back gardens at the moment, some sparrows, some bob-tails (I think most people call them wagtails), some blue tits …  I know.  We stand out on the balcony whistling like nutters.  I just have to hear one note and my heart, I don’t know, soars?  But faint tears come to the corners of my eyes too.  It’s a bittersweet song.  Because we will never know.

A week or so ago, a blue tit actually came to our bird feeder in the garden.  We watched.  (We can spot a blue tit now at quite a distance, trust me).  A little, sprightly thing, perched nearly upside-down by the hole of the seed feeder.  We watched.  It pulled out the seeds, spat the ones that it clearly did not approve of onto the ground and ate the ones which took its fancy.  We looked at each other and wondered.  Wild birds don’t tend to be fussy or picky, you know?  So we grabbed a tripod and camera and set it up for the perfect shot, closeup, just in case there was any paint on the legs, you know.  But it didn’t come a-visiting again.  At least not that we noticed.  And even sentimental me has to draw a line at sitting in the window for twelve hours at a time.  Life gets in the way.  I am not a bird watcher, it seems.

But we’re still wondering.

Manky has a Strong Grip

It’s a Manky Life

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I can’t believe that a month has passed since four of our blue tits fledged!  It’s been a really busy month for me too and this post has been delayed too by an invasion of gremlins in my computer which meant that I haven’t been able to process any photos to share either.  Ugh, backlog of photos.  To add to the already existing backlog of photos.  Double ugh.

We still have Manky.  Manky reigns supreme (which makes me think of the phrase ‘blue tit supreme’ and that’s not a very tasteful pun at all!) in our sitting room.  No, sorry, I lied.  His sitting room.  We are welcome at his screamed invitation to come in and sit awhile with him, talking to him and let him sit on and peck at us.  We are also expected to provide food at appropriate intervals, appropriate food.

Manky has standards when it comes to food, he is a bird of particular tastes.  He has gone off the dry mealworms now and will only eat the fresh ones.  These can only be bought from a shop on the other side of town so it’s not especially easy to acquire them.  We know that he doesn’t approve of the dry ones because he was throwing them at us in disgust.  And not eating them.  There’s not much point in giving him food that he’s only going to reject.  Besides, I don’t take kindly at having mealworms of any kind thrown at me.  (Neither did I ever think that mealworms would be such a dominant part of my life, especially not the ‘fresh’ variety but Manky is definitely the top of this pack and we, his humble servants, acquiesce to his every demand).  He stills loves melon and baby food.  I worry because if and when we get to release then I’m not sure what he’s going to eat.  Neither melon nor baby food are readily available to wild birds, for some reason, and this does mean he’s going to face quite a deficit in his diet.  Fortunately things like mealworms do exist in the Real Bird World and he does pick them out of the tub himself before flying off with them.  I’ve been trying to get him to eat bird food, you know a seed mix, but you’d have thought that I was trying to poison him.  I even went to trouble of finding a baby bite food (tiny pieces instead of whole pieces) but he didn’t eat that either.  I tried sneaking a little bit of it into his baby food.  Oh dear, that didn’t go down well!  So no bird food yet.

(He’s sat on the top of my screen watching me write this post at the moment, he leans to inspect it every few seconds and if I put the mouse to the top of the screen then he’ll quite happily chase it.  Are blue tits meant to chase mice?!)

He loves mud baths (we have a really large pot plant/tree thing in one corner and for some reason all the water sat on the surface rather than sinking through the soil the last time we watered it).  He makes quite a mess.  Talking of mess, birds cannot physically control their um, poop muscles and therefore will never be house trainable.  I know this.  There is an awful lot of evidence to prove this fact too.  So gross.  If he was trainable then you can be sure that I’d have certain expectations.  As it is, visions of little bird nappies keep popping into my head.  But apparently freedom to express ‘normal’ behaviour is one of the welfare standards and that includes for pooping.  Bless his cotton socks.  He pecks at everything.  He’s got quite a fierce peck on him, you don’t expect it of a bird that size.  We found out that he like fruit loops (that neon coloured American breakfast cereal) when I caught him pecking at a friend’s child’s precious artwork.  Half of them were gone!  Our relationship dimmed for a while and the artwork went safely into a cupboard.  Then I found out the damage that he’s done to my dictionary.  Fortunately he had already gone to bed and as his bedtime is sacrosanct (dim the lights, turn down the speakers, whisper), he and I didn’t meet until the next morning when my mood was under appropriate control.  I love that birdy, I promise you that, but there are limits.  I would say that he was leaving a blue tit sized trail of destruction but you might underestimate the damage an 11g bird can do (he can balance on a greeting card).  Let’s go with blue tit scaled trail of destruction.  Well, at least the fruit loop episode proved that he’s discovering new food sources for himself.  And he’s found a new water source too, the filters on the back of the fish tank.  Fortunately there are no fish in there at the moment because I’d have hairy feelings about that.

(He’s now trying to ‘help’ me type, this mainly involves pecking.  Chasing the hands is such a good game!  Even his toenails are as sharp as needles).

His flying has got really confident now, he can swoop and turn mid-flight rather than just plunge from A to B.  This is a good sign of progress but he’s already losing his baby feathers, so tiny!  I worry about him moulting because I’m sure he could do with all the feather he can get!  But the adult colouring is coming through quite clearly now, much more vibrant, especially that blue.

Talking of colour raises an issue that we’re facing at the moment: gender.  We have quite happily used the male for our birds, it’s just easier.  As his feathers develop, Manky doesn’t seem to be male.  He doesn’t have the well-defined top-knot that they seem to develop quite early (Sneaky and Rocky both had it) and the adult colouring on the face definitely suggests female.  So he might be a she.  Which means we’re now rather confused about how to call the bird.  I’ve settled for an intriguing combination of he/she/it.  But Manky doesn’t recognise the expression ‘good girl‘ so I am rather having to stick to male gender terms.  Ah well.

When we go out, we put the radio on and tune it to that highly intellectual talk station so that he has something to keep him company.  It’s often the Afternoon Play.  He has very cultured tastes.

It’s a Manky life.  He seems to be enjoying it.

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Big and Little Personalities

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The other day I saw an article ‘on the news’ (we read our news online, not having a television) about how they (whoever that may be) have just proven that chimpanzees or some other primate have personalities.  Um, excuse me?!  It’s 2012 and you’ve just found that out?!  I may be a bear of very little brain but I kind of thought that was obvious.  Have you ever spent any time with an animal?  Have you ever spent any time with two animals of the same species?

I don’t know why we somehow find it comforting or reassuring or ego-pumping to declare ourselves far superior than our other planet companions.  I notice it a lot.  Animals don’t have feelings, animals can’t work things out, animals don’t have personalities.  It’s a load of tosh.  You don’t have to be an ‘animal person’ to observe that they do.

I’ve just given over a couple of weeks of my life to five baby birds.  Physically they look very similar, four of them especially.  Our little runt might have lagged behind in his development, appearance-wise too.  Within seconds of making their acquaintance, you got a feeling for their individuality.  They all had their preferences.  Birdie was food obsessed.  Rocky had always been so wary of us.  Sneaky loved to perch on the ceiling light.  Feisty loved the water.  And Manky, well Manky is Manky.

If that isn’t personality what is?

There are some species that do reproduce themselves almost by a cloning technique.  I only know of insects that do it, I may be wrong.  It’s a little hard to deduce whether an insect has personality.  They all seemed governed by an overriding military-style sense of instinct, duty and dedication.  But I wouldn’t rule it out.  I just don’t plan on getting to know any bugs particularly closely anytime soon.

There was a cockchafer on our (communal) stairs the other day.  There is a difference between a cockchafer and a cockroach, you can breathe again.  I only know it was a cockchafer because my husband declared it so, myself I identified it as ‘large, shiny, beetle-type, unusual, hm’.  And wondered why it was on my stairs.  I did say that I’m not a scientific type, didn’t I?

(I later discovered that the bug my husband was fancifully calling a cockchafer this year is the common maybug, those giant armour clad frenzied worshippers at lights at this time of year.  I had never seen one looking demure).

(That was a small, random aside.  I return to my subject now).

I found it fascinating to watch our brood (and I could dedicate an entire post to Manky’s unique personality), in fact all creatures much as I don’t declare myself to be an ‘animal person’.  It’s their antics that amuse us humans so much; we attribute easily our own emotions and personalities to them.  We see humour, mischief, cunning, and planning.  If we see it, is it real?

What do you think?

Bird Words

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This is a follow-up to yesterday’s wordless (mostly) post where I uploaded some of the photos of our baby blue tits from last week.

My mind has been on the weather, following the emerging news stories from Mid Wales especially and reports from the flooded out Springwatch team.  They talk of severe ‘summer’ storms but there was nothing summer about this one, even by this country’s standards.  I felt besieged within my home, the storm relentless and I could only think of four fledglings that had just gone their own way in the world.  Where does your responsibility end?  An equal chance to others of their species was all I legally had to promise them.  Can you take responsibility for them once they leave the nest?  Can you somehow change their choices, their decisions?  I don’t know.  I’ve asked myself those questions time and again.  It’s partly my mood and personality anyway.

We lost two.  We know that much.

But the other two?  We don’t know.  They could have roosted, made a sensible decision as to where to perch or hide.  Who knows.  There were quite a few sparrows darting in and out the rambling rose last week, I don’t think I’ve seen any back yet.  Where did they go?  Are they safe?  I don’t know.  I don’t know how this Nature thing works.  Baby birds don’t really come when you call them anyway, even puppies are more responsive but they have grown now and we only know their baby call.  We will keep our eyes peeled.

We are keeping our eyes peeled; husband rushed into the room the other day and grabbed something.  A little while later he wandered back in and I noticed that it was the binoculars that he had secured.  I asked him why he’d wanted those.  He mumbled something about having thought he’d seen something.  Something?  A something.  A blue tit something?  Maybe.  Was it?  No, just a leaf on a bush at a very long distance.  We call from the balcony too sometimes.  There are few birds out even now.

Last week we were starting to think that perhaps Manky would never be able to fly.  There was a lot of flapping but no take-off ever, maybe it just wasn’t going to be possible for him (we refer to them all as ‘he’ regardless).  We built him a ‘ladder’ to the curtain pole so he spend some time at the same level as the others, we had to help him perch then he made the ascent in clownish side steps.  But no, Manky has yet again overcome his odds.  He is flying.  A little clumsy at times, some messy landings but he is getting there.  He even landed upside down on the ‘ladder’ the other day.  I cheer him, going Good Boy Manky whenever possible.  He sometimes must think he’s a budgie because he trills and trills, most unlike his brothers’ calls.  He was yelling his head off on Saturday morning.  I went in and found him perched on the mirror frame.  I asked him if he was stuck.  He took offence and pretended to ignore me.  I told him to fly off he wanted to be somewhere else.  In the end, I lifted him off and let him fly from my hand.  It happened twice.  I’m sure that he was calling me.  Husband is cynical.  Sunday morning he was reaching great new heights, the tops of the bookcases.  Again, I heard him yelling for all he was worth.  I found him and told him he was a Good Boy then he fell silent.  It happened at least twice.  Husband is cynical.  Although he’s increasingly wary, he seems to be prepared to choose company when it suits.

This morning he took a plunge bath in the water bowl.  Sadly and poignantly proving the point that waterlogged feathers aren’t good for flying.  He went and sulked in the little cactus tree until he dried.

He’s self-feeding too, obsessed with melon and still rather too keen on baby food.  But he chased a worm out of the tub the other day and took it off.  It’s a good sign even if like me you don’t like talk of mealworms, especially not fresh mealworms if you get my meaning.

He’s not ready to go out yet though.  His development will be slow.  We may even have to wait upon this wretched Jet Stream.  Apparently, that’s what’s causing all these problems, it moved.  Husband says that he’s pretty sure that was the theme or cause of some recent end-of-the-world disaster movie.  Very encouraging.

It’s easy to think that once returned to Nature, as if Nature embraces them with open and welcoming arms, that an animal, a bird will be fine.  It is a very mouse eared approach to life, a life where Nature is a beautiful, meaningful Mother Figure who cares for all, a protectrice.  Real life Nature isn’t quite the same.  It is the fledglings that will be particularly hard hit, maybe those still in nests will be sheltered by well-built creations and their parents.  The adult birds will hopefully have both sense and good fortunate in choosing their roosts.  Maybe it’s the way a cruel Nature addresses the balance after a very mild winter.  I don’t know.

Manky is roosting too now, high up on the curtain pole at bedtime.  And of course, now that he is self-feeding, we don’t have to get up at five for feeds.  Ah, the joy.  My body no longer does mornings.

 

He also seems to believe that he is a woodpecker.  He pecks at things continually; the tap-tap-tap of his beak is the soundtrack of our day mixed with his choral renditions.  The curtains (for which he was told off), the very annoying piece of thread hanging off the curtains which is just out to get him (apparently) and the wheel of an ornamental campervan (that’s annoying, beak and metal echo combined, never mind the vandalism).  Plus anything else he fancies having a go at.  We’ve no idea why, he’s the only one who has done it constantly.  Beak cleaning is to be expected (and his preening skills are coming along although he looks so fluffy still, you’d mistake him for a duckling) but this is different.  Investigation?  How to drive humans up the wall when sharing the same room as them?  Who knows.

We still have Manky.

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Birds without Words

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Some photos from last week:

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Birdie – Blue

Feisty – Red

Manky – Yellow

Sneaky – Orange

Rocky – Green